More than a dozen states roll back mask mandates; teacher unions call for reopening all schools this fall: Latest COVID-19 updates
More than a dozen states have adjusted their mask-wearing rules after the CDC updated its guidance, saying fully vaccinated Americans could discard masks outdoors and, in many situations, indoors.
The new guidelines announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represent a major step toward a return to normalcy for a nation battered and, at times, divided by a pandemic that has lasted more than a year.
"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,'' Walensky said. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.''
Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Ohio, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Kentucky, Washington, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Rhode Island announced plans to fall in line with the CDC guidance either immediately or in the coming weeks.
"When you get vaccinated, the CDC says it is safe to take that mask off, so go on out, get that shot," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said. "Let's defeat this pandemic once and for all."
Meanwhile, New Jersey and Hawaii joined a handful of states that said they won't yet relax requirements for residents. Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday said it could be weeks before the Garden State follows the CDC's latest guidance.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said: “We are unable to determine who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated. The best mitigation measure is for everyone to wear a mask.”
Also in the news:
►Trader Joe's, Walmart and Costco will not require customers who are fully vaccinated to wear a mask, but none will require proof of vaccination. Other major major retailers and restaurant chains, like Starbucks, Target, CVS and Kroger, are keeping their mask requirements for now but said they will reevaluate policies.
►In a letter in the journal Science, 18 infectious disease experts, immunologists and epidemiologists joined a global call for more information about the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak. It's still unclear how it originated, and the the lack of information feeds conspiracy theories and prevents scientists and policymakers from taking steps to prevent the next deadly pandemic, the experts said.
►Many U.S. Latinos who remain unvaccinated want a shot but are concerned about losing work hours, having to pay for the vaccine or facing immigration issues, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. It also found that 47% of Hispanic adults have received at least one dose. That's below 60% for white adults and 51% for Blacks.
►Japan expanded its state of emergency while Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga repeated his determination to hold the Olympics in just over two months. “Infections are escalating extremely rapidly in populated areas,” Suga said.
►Washington is on track to fully reopen its economy by June 30, and a full reopening could happen even sooner if 70% or more of residents over age 16 have received at least one dose of vaccine by then, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
►Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are at their lowest rate since September and deaths are at their lowest point since April 2020, averaging about 600 a day. But some experts still worry that the emergence of variants could disrupt that momentum and create another surge, especially as the virus continues to rage in other parts of the world.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 585,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 161.3 million cases and 3.3 million deaths. More than 341 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 268 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 120 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 36% of the population.
📘 What we're reading: The CDC's new mask guidelines are great for some, but confusing for others. Here's what experts say this does to the agency's credibility.
Aishwarya Tandon knew that her grandmother, feverish and breathless, had COVID-19. But no hospital would admit her without already having a positive coronavirus test, which was hard to come by.
"We were basically just going to hospitals door-to-door, and nobody was helping us," said Tandon, 28. "There were literally no leads. You really had to plead (with) people."
As India reels from a new variant and a second wave of COVID-19, its health care system is overwhelmed. And so are its citizens, grappling with the physical, mental and emotional onslaught of caretaking and loss.
The nation of nearly 1.4 billion reported more than 400,000 daily new cases several times over the course of the month, shattering global records. Public health professionals estimate the true infection numbers could be 10 times higher than the official reports.
Some have reported skyrocketing prices for lifesaving – and life-ending – medical needs. In Jharkhand, a primarily rural state in eastern India, a report of a black market emerged for medicine and medical supplies, and many people are turning to home remedies. Crematoriums have also been overwhelmed.
Another major issue: Testing. According to Dr. Nilesh Thackeray, COVID-19 patients in some places have been "stigmatized" by villagers, and some have lost their jobs as a result of infection. "In such a fearful atmosphere, no one wants to get tested," Thackeray said. Read more here.
– Sanket Jain and Grace Hauck
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced anxiety Thursday about a rise in the U.K. of the coronavirus variant first identified in India, after a closely-monitored study of infections in England found it becoming more prevalent — just ahead of the next big easing of lockdown restrictions.
“It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”
Johnson’s comments have stoked speculation that the government will ramp up vaccinations alongside testing in areas that are seeing a rising incidence of the virus.
In the United States, the variant makes up 3% of cases but is gaining traction, according to data from the CDC. The variant has spread to 44 countries worldwide.
On Monday, the World Health Organization designated the new version of the virus a “variant of concern” as the variant ravages rural India.
The head of the nation's second-largest teachers union Thursday called for fully reopening K-12 schools this fall, adding that efforts to convince some families to come back to class may require the zeal of a political campaign.
The announcement from Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, signals a shift after local unions in some communities put up fierce resistance to reopening while pushing for better safeguards for teachers.
"Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open," Weingarten said. "We're all in."
The National Education Association, the country's largest national teachers union, issued a statement Thursday saying it supports school buildings being open to students for in-person instruction in the fall.
A minority of schools — about 12% — were operating remote-only instruction as of March, according to government data. But many families, particularly those of color, have continued with virtual learning even after schools have reopened for in-person learning.
Among the majority of schools considered reopened, about 1 in 3 were allowing students to attend only a few days a week on a hybrid schedule, the data shows.
– Erin Richards and Alia Wong
The U.S. public health system was thrust into the limelight by the coronavirus pandemic, and a survey published Thursday found many Americans aren't happy with its performance. According to the survey, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in February and March, ratings of nation’s public health system declined from 43% in 2009 to 34% in 2021. Positive ratings for the CDC fell overall from 59% in 2009 to 54% in 2021.
“How the public sees public health is incredibly important,” said Dr. Robert Blendon, co-director of the survey at Harvard. “When it comes to trust with health information, which is the heart of what public health is about, they’re much more likely to trust clinical physicians and nurses than public health institutions and agencies.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Contributing: Associated Press