Coronavirus update: TSA extends airline mask mandate

Photo (c) Aleksandr Zubkov - Getty Images

A study suggests that the death toll is three times higher than the official numbers

COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 79,455,416 (79,413,957)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 965,468 (963,869)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 453,689,563 (452,078,663)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 6,032,035 (6,024,869)‌

TSA extends mask mandate for flights

If you're planning a spring break trip that requires air travel, don’t forget your mask. The Biden administration has extended the mask mandate, set to expire next week, for an additional 30 days.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implemented its mask mandate with an expiration date of May 2021. However, the TSA extended it a few times as cases of the coronavirus persisted, most recently in December.

While many venues have dropped mask mandates, some areas that are densely populated still require them. One administration official told The Hill that government health experts will work with government agencies to determine the circumstances under which the mandate can safely be dropped on planes, buses, and trains.

Study challenges official death toll

The official COVID-19 data since March 2020, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, puts the official worldwide death toll at just over 6 million, with almost 1 million of those deaths occurring in the U.S. A new study claims that the actual numbers are much higher.

A data analysis, published in The Lancet, says the true number of lives lost to the pandemic by the end of December 2021, was closer to 18 million – three times as many as the official count. The researchers attribute the undercount to spotty reporting in many countries.

Study co-author Haidong Wang, a demographer at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, says nearly every country has a higher-than-reported death toll. “Understanding the true death toll from the pandemic is vital for effective public health decision-making,” Wang said.

Wide areas of the U.S. have little COVID-19

On the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans live in areas where the virus is no longer top of mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only 2% of Americans live in counties with a high transmission rate.

According to the CDC’s latest guidance, which was updated Thursday, nearly 73% of the U.S. population now lives in a county considered to have a "low" community level, where indoor mask mandates have been discontinued.

In a statement, the CDC said the new information "can help counties make informed decisions and take appropriate public health actions." 

Around the nation

  • Massachusetts: State government officials plan to use different metrics next week in the way it tracks COVID-19 deaths. As a result, the state’s death toll will drop by about 15%. The change will result in 4,081 deaths that were once linked to the virus being recategorized as stemming from other causes. Roughly 400 others will be labeled as COVID-19 deaths.

  • Nevada: The reports from Nevada hospitals have begun to show significant improvements over the last two weeks, especially with fewer COVID-19 patients in intensive care and patients on ventilators. ICU patients are down 47% from Feb. 23, and patients on ventilators are down 61%.

  • New Mexico: The state’s positivity rate has dropped below 5% but remains elevated. State health officials on Thursday announced 384 additional COVID-19 cases, including 107 in Bernalillo County. The state reported 14 deaths over the last week.

  • Vermont: The Vermont Catholic Diocese has removed a Windsor County pastor who challenged calls by the state’s largest religious denomination for COVID-19 vaccinations, masks, and other pandemic precautions. Bishop Christopher Coyne informed church members this week that Rev. Peter Williams is no longer head of Holy Family Parish of Springfield and neighboring Chester. 

  • Alabama: COVID-19 cases are dropping across the state, and most restrictions have been lifted. But state lawmakers are still debating measures that limit or prevent health mandates. A Senate bill requires any future “state of emergency” issued by the Alabama State Health Office that “restricts, limits, or otherwise burdens” private residents or businesses to not take place until it’s approved by the governor.

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