With coronavirus cases dropping and 50% of American adults fully vaccinated, Memorial Day weekend figures to be a test of whether the U.S. can avoid the spikes in infections and hospitalizations that occurred amid, and after, the winter holidays before vaccines were widely available.
According to AAA, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home between Thursday and Monday – a 60% jump compared to last year, but still 6 million people fewer than the pre-pandemic Memorial Day weekend in 2019.
“If you are vaccinated, you’re protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday. “If you’re not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you. You remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions.”
Walensky’s comments come after the CDC mask guidance was revised to say that fully vaccinated Americans can discard masks and the need for social distancing outdoors and in most indoor settings. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of Americans feel unsure about adjusting to in-person interactions once the pandemic ends. Similarly, 46% said they don’t feel comfortable going back to their pre-pandemic life.
“The return to normalcy is not a quick jump; it’s incremental,” Jenny Englerth of Family First Health explained to the York Daily Record, part of the USA TODAY Network. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicted last week that virus deaths and cases will continue to plummet through the middle of summer.
Also in the news:
►Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told ABC on Friday that the U.S. is taking “a very close look” at the possibility of using vaccine passports for international travel. However, officials would have to ensure any passport system “is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised,” Mayorkas said.
►CVS offers a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a Bermuda vacation, or cash prizes to bring in more customers for COVID-19 vaccinations. Kroger is also offering customers, workers, or individuals who get the shot the chance to win $1 million or free groceries for a year.
►According to the country’s drug regulators, Mexico gave emergency use authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
►Just over 50 days away from the start of the Olympics, Japan on Friday extended its COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days. The Games have already been delayed a year, but worries about variants and Japan’s slow vaccine rollout have raised fears of a possible cancellation.
►Oxford University is launching an effort to bring together academic, industry, and government experts worldwide to use the lessons learned from COVID-19 in the fight against future pandemics.
►A Tennessee woman faces felony reckless endangerment charges after she sped through a vaccine clinic, shouting “No vaccine,” the Blount County Sheriff’s Office said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 593,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 169.1 million cases and 3.51 million deaths. More than 132.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 40% of the population.
📘 What we’re reading: Numerous studies conducted since last March have shown a depression spike among college-age young adults and an increase in anti-depressant drug refills. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines for summer camps Friday, saying centers where everyone is fully vaccinated can safely open at total capacity and without masks or physical distancing. For those not fully vaccinated, including children above the age of 2, mask use and physical distancing are still “strongly encouraged” indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
“Although people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, camp programs should be supportive of campers or staff who choose to wear a mask,” according to the guidelines. “Camps may also choose to continue to require masks for vaccinated and not fully vaccinated campers and staff.”
More: Thousands of summer camp counselors can’t come to the U.S. because of COVID-19 visa holdups
The new guidelines urged camps to use multiple prevention strategies, including testing, health checks, and hand washing, to limit the spread of COVID-19. Camps, where not everyone is fully vaccinated, could also group campers into cohorts that stay together throughout the day and distance themselves to minimize exposure, the guidance suggests.
The agency’s previous guidance issued in April called for campers and staff to wear masks at all times, even outdoors, and to physical distance. The new recommendations align more closely with the CDC’s guidance released on May 14 that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or physical length, except when required by other state or local ordinances.
President Joe Biden appeared at a rock climbing facility in Alexandria, Virginia, alongside Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday to tout the state’s progress in combating the coronavirus. Northam said more than half of Virginia’s adults are fully vaccinated, and case counts have dropped for weeks. Overnight, Northam lifted all social distancing and capacity limits two weeks earlier than initially planned.
He thanked Virginians who have gotten vaccinated and Biden for his support. “We are closer to a normal life than we have been in the last 14 months,” Northam said. “We are further along in this fight than anyone thought possible,” Biden added. “We aren’t just saving lives; we’re getting our lives back.” The president also urged Virginians and Americans to continue getting vaccinated to meet his goal of getting 70% of adults their first shot by July 4.
The company announced Friday that the biopharmaceutical company Humanigen submitted their drug Lenzilumab to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
If authorized, the drug will join a growing list of treatments approved by the FDA for COVID-19. Lenzilumab focuses on preventing and treating an overactive immune response commonly known as a “cytokine storm,” which causes the immune system to kill healthy and diseased tissue.
In a Phase 3 study, the drug improved the likelihood of survival without ventilation by 54% in newly hospitalized patients. Survival was enhanced by 92% in patients who also took certain steroids and remdesivir.
“There is a need for hospitalized patients who require supplementary oxygen,” said Dr. Cameron Durrant, Humanigen’s chief executive officer. “Treatments can be lifesaving; despite vaccinations, infections and significant breakthrough disease will continue.” – Adrianna Rodriguez.
Several immigration detention centers in the U.S. are experiencing new spikes in COVID-19 cases. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials attribute the ends to newly arrived immigrants transferred to ICE detention facilities from Border Patrol facilities near the border with Mexico, where there has been an influx of migrants and asylum seekers.
Many critics, however, say a failure by Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Biden administration to systematically administer vaccines to detainees has led to the rise in new cases. Medical experts fear that recent outbreaks in some ICE detention facilities not only endanger the health of detainees and staff but could spread to surrounding communities at a time when more states are relaxing COVID-19 safety precautions.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that there are still COVID-19 outbreaks taking place in immigration detention six months after vaccines have been approved and given that there was a surplus of the unused vaccine in the United States,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. – Daniel Gonzalez, Arizona Republic and Maria Clark, The American South
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California is hopping on the trend of cash prizes for vaccinated individuals hoping that the incentive will stimulate its plateauing vaccination rate. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the state is offering the nation’s most considerable vaccine prize money — $116.5 million — to get millions more inoculated before the state’s reopening next month.
“This is all to incentivize and build momentum,” Newsom said. Ten vaccinated residents 12 years and older will have the chance to win 1.5 million dollars apiece, and another 30 will win $50,000 each on June 4 and June 11. Anyone 12 and older who has received at least one shot will be eligible, even if they have already received their photo.
The state is also giving $50 grocery or prepaid gift cards to the following 2 million Californians who begin and complete their vaccination starting Thursday. California isn’t the first state to offer vaccine lotteries or cash incentives for vaccinations. Read more about the others conditions here.
Contributing: The Associated Press.