COVID-19 has killed more than 400,000 Americans in less than a year and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.
A COVID vaccine being developed by New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson could dramatically speed up the fight against the pandemic because, unlike the two vaccines already in use, this one would require only one dose and would not need to be stored at super-cold temperatures.
Results from clinical trials of the new vaccine – developed and produced by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division – are expected by the end of this month. The vaccine could become the third authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“If it comes through, that’s a game-changer,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
Johnson & Johnson had promised 100 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. government by the end of the year. Leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the federal program to develop and manufacture a COVID vaccine, said this month that unspecified production issues likely would slow the arrival of the initial doses.
– Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com
In the headlines:
►President Joe Biden will sign an order today requiring people to wear masks in airports and on many trains, airplanes and intercity buses, the White House said.
►Britain’s National Health Service is preparing at least two London buses to serve as makeshift ambulances so four COVID patients can be transported at once, The Guardian reports. The buses, to be staffed by intensive car physicians and nurses, are designed to ease the strain the pandemic has put on London ambulance services.
►The push to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus is hitting a roadblock: A number of states are reporting they are running out of vaccine, and tens of thousands of people who managed to get appointments for a first dose are seeing them canceled. Last week the Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations for how much vaccine was on the way.
►Florida’s surgeon general urged the federal government Wednesday to increase allotments of coronavirus vaccine to states like his where large concentrations of seniors face the greatest risk of illness and death from COVID-19.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 24.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 406,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 96.9 million cases and 2 million deaths.
📘 What we’re reading: The U.S. COVID-19 death toll now exceeds 406,000. That’s more than the number of Americans who died in WWII – and enough to fill every existing burial plot at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Biden administration’s pandemic response team continues to express shock at the lack of a vaccine distribution plan under the Trump administration. CNN reported Thursday that one Biden administration source claimed no plan was left for them and that “we are going to have to build everything from scratch.”
The revelation is not really new – the Biden team has been complaining for weeks about the lack of cooperation and planning from the previous administration. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat from COVID, although he attempted to claim credit for the development of the vaccines. Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID-19 czar, said publicly Wednesday that “what we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined.”
President Joe Biden will sign an order Thursday reflecting U.S. intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world, Dr. Anthony Fauci said. Fauci, Biden’s top pandemic medical adviser, said the U.S. also will cease reducing American staff counts at the World Health Organization and will pay its financial obligations to the agency.
Biden will also sign an order requiring people to wear masks in airports and most planes as he presses his national strategy to beat back the pandemic. All this comes hours after a busy Inauguration Day that saw Biden approve 15 executive orders, including a mandate requiring face masks be worn in buildings and on land controlled by the federal government.
– Joey Garrison
Amazon is offering its help to President Joe Biden with the rollout of COVID vaccines and is working to get its employees inoculated “at the earliest appropriate time.” In a letter written to Biden and dated Wednesday, Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Dave Clark said the e-commerce giant is prepared to leverage its operations to help vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of the president’s administration.
“Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort,” Clark wrote.
– Brett Molina
A drug developed by Eli Lilly and Company dramatically reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 among nursing home residents, the company said. Of 299 residents, half of whom received a placebo, those randomized to receive the drug bamlanivimab had up to an 80% lower risk of contracting COVID-19, according to a study that has not yet been published. Health care providers at the same nursing homes also were statistically less likely to contract symptomatic COVID-19 after receiving bamlanivimab, which was delivered in a 4,200 mg dose. Among 41 residents who already tested positive for the virus, none died after receiving the drug compared to 4 deaths in the placebo group.
“The results of this innovative study further support the belief that bamlanivimab – and potentially other monoclonal antibodies – can reduce symptoms and may even prevent COVID-19,” said Dr. Myron S. Cohen, who helped lead the study and directs the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina.
– Karen Weintraub
Nationally, about 259,250 people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia were expected to die last year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But federal data analyzed by the association shows that the number of dementia deaths, at least through the end of November, was 16% higher than expected. Experts working on explanations for the added 40,000 deaths say it’s possible some people died from undiagnosed cases of COVID-19. It’s also possible that some saw the level of care they received from overworked caregivers decline with the pandemic. And there is the issue of coronavirus protocols that change routines, curtail visitors and force isolation.
“If you are confined in a place like that, you don’t have anybody to prod and do the things with you,” said George Pitchford, 78, a retiree in Sylvan Lake, Michigan. “I can’t imagine it not having an impact on your decline.”
– Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will extend an order preventing landlords from evicting tenants to March 31, protecting as many as 40 million Americans from displacement, new CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky announced Wednesday.
“We must act to get cases down and keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings – like shelters – where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold,” Walensky said in a statement.
A study by global investment firm Stout estimates up to 14 million households could already be close to eviction, with a rental shortfall of more than $24 billion.
The order, issued by former President Donald Trump in September, was set to expire on Jan. 31, but the CDC was directed to extend it during a flurry of executive orders signed Wednesday by President Joe Biden.
– Joey Garrison and Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Preliminary numbers show 2020 is on track to become the deadliest year in U.S. history, with more than 3.2 million total deaths – about 400,000 more than 2019 – a sharp increase that public health experts attribute to COVID-19 and aligns with reported deaths from the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,835,533 U.S. deaths in 2019. Before the pandemic, models projected a slightly higher number, about 2.9 million deaths, for 2020, said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
It’s not a coincidence, he said, that the 400,000 excess deaths closely resemble the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S., which had surpassed 407,000 as of Thursday at 2 p.m. ET, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
“That is not a seasonal change or just a random bad year,” Faust said. “That is what every person who can correctly attest to these numbers can plainly see is a historic increase in excess mortality. If we put that together with the number of coronavirus deaths, it’s game, set, match.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press