White House vaccine supply; WHO; California variant

New York City will reopen public schools to middle school students on Thursday, providing in-classroom learning for another 62,000 students whose parents opted out of remote education.

About a quarter of the district’s 1 million students will be back in schools, many for five days a week. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he hopes to have an announcement on reopening high schools in the next few weeks.

“A lot of cities didn’t even dare to reopen their schools,” de Blasio said. “We said, ‘We’re going to do it.’ It’s the New York way. We’re going to do great things.”

School reopening in New York, as in many other cities, has prompted clashes between teachers and administrators over safety provisions. The mayor said the district is adhering to guidelines set up for schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines include universal and correct use of masks, physical distancing in all elements of the school, hand washing with sanitizer “everywhere,” clean and well-ventilated spaces and contact tracing when infections are discovered, he said.

Also in the news:

►A new initiative by the federal government will study so-called COVID long-haulers, patients who endure residual symptoms months after contracting the coronavirus.

►Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday acknowledged sharing vaccines with several countries that have given favors to Israel in the past. Israel faces international criticism for not doing more to share its vast stockpile of vaccines with Palestinians in the territories it controls.

►The U.S. government will start delivering 25 million cloth masks to low-income Americans through food banks and community health centers, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID coordinator, said Wednesday. He said the program will cost $86 million.

►CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start vaccinations in more states Thursday, citing  additional doses from the federal government. CVS Health Corp. says it will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Walgreens said it will expand into California, Oregon and Virginia, among other states.

►British scientists have found viruses similar to the strain that causes COVID-19 can survive on commonly worn fabrics for up to three days. The study by De Montfort University tested a model coronavirus on polyester, polycotton and 100% cotton. The results suggested polyester posed the highest risk.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 503,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112 million cases and 2.49 million deaths. More than 82.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 65 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: In one year, COVID-19 has left more than 500,000 dead in the United States. If we were to bring them together, the resulting community would be filled with grandparents, great-uncles and aunts, making it the oldest large city in America. View the data.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Are you on Clubhouse? If so, tune in to our live discussion on COVID-19 here at 7 p.m. ET Thursday.

HHS, squeezed by pandemic, releasing more immigrant children

The Department of Health and Human Services has drastically cut its capacity for immigrant children because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly all of the department’s 7,100 beds for the kids are full. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day. The Biden administration is working to expedite the release of children to their relatives in the United States. HHS on Wednesday authorized operators of long-term facilities to pay for some of the children’s flights and transportation to the homes of their sponsors.

An internal memo sent Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press authorizes facility operators to use government funding for transport fees “in the event that a sponsor is not able to pay fees associated with commercial airfare, and a child’s physical release would be otherwise delayed.”

South African variant rolling across US

Menacing coronavirus variants are sweeping across the nation even as new cases of the original virus are dropping quickly. The United States reported 1,932 variant cases through Tuesday night, up 49% from a week earlier. The variants appear to spread more easily, dodge some immunities and treatments, or both. They remain, however, a very small percentage of all cases.

The B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa was reported over the last week in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Tennessee for the first time. According to the CDC, 46 cases of the variant have been identified, covering 14 states. On Sunday, South Carolina said it had two cases; on Tuesday, it reported 21. Experts warn the variant might spread more readily than the original virus and might reduce the effectiveness of some COVID-19 vaccines.

Mike Stucka

Fauci says CDC could soon ease rules for vaccinated people

Dr. Anthony Fauci says a new, eased guidance for people who have been vaccinated should be coming soon from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, told CNN the update should will particularly focus on  people in the same family who have been vaccinated. Easing the rules is nothing new: Two weeks ago, the agency said fully vaccinated people didn’t have to follow quarantine rules.

“If I’m fully vaccinated, and my daughter comes in the house, and she’s fully vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Do we really need to have the stringent public-health measure that we would if it was a stranger who was not vaccinated?”

FDA: Johnson & Johnson vaccine raises no red flags

Detailed information on a Johnson & Johnson candidate vaccine for COVID-19 raises no safety concerns, according to a report released early Wednesday. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is holding an all-day meeting Friday to review the data and is likely to give the vaccine a thumbs-up. That could lead to an FDA authorization for the vaccine within the next few days. The J&J vaccine differs from the two already authorized because only one shot is recommended instead of two, and it doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer.

The FDA advisory committee, called the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee or VRBPAC, is expected to sign off on the vaccine because it seems to have met all the criteria for authorization the FDA established last year.

– Karen Weintraub

Churches serving as vaccine sites in many communities of color

More faith-based groups are stepping up as vaccine sites, particularly in communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. During the pandemic, vaccinations have become the latest public service in a health and economic crisis that has seen places of worship offer canned food, clothing, housing and other assistance.

“There’s a comfort level with the church,’’ said the Rev. Karen Curry, an associate minister at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “Familiarity is important. We’re providing what people want and need.”

Deborah Barfield Berry

2,400 doses wasted in Tennessee

More than 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee’s most populous county went to waste over the past month while local officials sat on tens of thousands of shots that they thought had already gone into arms, the state’s top health official said.

The finding comes after the state Health Department launched an investigation over the weekend into a report that recent severe winter storms caused 1,000 doses to be tossed in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the problems were far more widespread and date back to Feb. 3.

“The people of Shelby County deserve efficient and effective vaccinations,” Piercey said. “It is our largest population center. It is also one of our centers of color, as far as disadvantaged and minority communities, but the people deserve to have good access to vaccines.”

The US supply of vaccine doses is increasing again

States will receive about 14.5 million vaccine doses this week, marking a nearly 70% increase in distribution over the last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. Psaki also said governors were told that the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week. Before last week’s winter storm delayed vaccine doses to many states, the rollout of shots had been steadily increasing. At least in some states, like Texas, vaccinations had resumed by the weekend. But others hoped to get back on track this week.

The rollout could get even faster as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers emergency-use authorization for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Richard Nettles, the company’s vice president of medical affairs, said Tuesday that J&J hopes to supply 100 million vaccine doses by the end of June.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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