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Dr. Anthony Fauci is offering hope despite dark warnings about the coronavirus variations slowly spreading around the globe, and President Joe Biden is further trying to boost America’s chances in the fight against the pandemic with a deal in the works to purchase 200 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says there could be a modest weakening of the vaccines against some variants, but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”
He also warned that more mutations are possible and said scientists are preparing to adapt the vaccines if necessary. Fauci also forecast a “strong turn toward a degree of normality” but did not provide a timeline.
In the headlines:
►Steven Brandenburg, a Wisconsin pharmacist and admitted conspiracy theorist accused of trying to spoil dozens of vials of COVID-19 vaccine, is facing 20 years in prison after he agreed Tuesday to plead guilty in federal court, prosecutors said. The vials contained enough doses to vaccinate more than 500 people.
“Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a statement.
►The global total of coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard. The U.S., with a little over 4% of the world’s population, has more than 25% of the infections and nearly 20% of the deaths.
►Legendary basketball coach Rick Pitino said Tuesday that he has recovered from COVID-19. Pitino, who coaches for Iona University, said nine of the team’s 17 players, two coaches and two managers have tested positive since Jan. 4.
►Some travelers to England will have to quarantine in hotels amid concerns about new variants under a proposal Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to unveil Tuesday or Wednesday, the BBC reported. Most foreigners from high-risk countries are already denied U.K. entry, so the new rules will mainly affect returning U.K. residents.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 25.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 424,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 100.1 million cases and 2.15 million deaths. About 44.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 23.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: There are multiple COVID-19 variants in the U.S. Where are they? How dangerous are they? Here’s what we know.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday his administration is closing in on an agreement to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine supply by 50% with the purchase of an additional 200 million doses, half each from Pfizer and Moderna.
The increase would give the U.S. a total of 600 million ordered doses of the two-shot vaccines, enough to inoculate 300 million Americans and more than enough for the country’s estimated 260 million adults. Biden said he expects the new supply to be fully delivered by mid-summer and for the majority of the population to be vaccinated by late summer or early fall.
“This is a war-time undertaking. It’s not hyperbole,” Biden said. “And as such, I directed the team to be ready to exercise all the authorities I have under the Defense Production Act and expedite these vaccines.”
Biden also said the weekly allocation of vaccines would increase from 8.6 million to at least 10 million doses by the middle of February, and that states, territories and tribes would be notified of the estimated amount in three-week increments to help them plan better.
Evidence from the U.S. and other countries indicates schools can operate safely with precautions, and they should open for in-person instruction as soon as possible, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.
In an article published Tuesday in JAMA Network, the researchers wrote that wearing masks and maintaining social distance have proven effective at limiting transmission of the coronavirus in schools, but activities like indoor sporting athletics can promote spread and should be diminished.
The scientists also said instituting measures to contain the virus in the community — such as restricting indoor dining, bars and gyms — would also help make school reopenings safer.
“The preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring,” the three researchers wrote. “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
Minnesota can start signing up Tuesday for a vaccine lottery after a first-come-first-served inoculation website crashed amid overwhelming demand. Less than 5% of the state’s population had received a shot as of Sunday.
Gov. Tim Walz has unveiled a series of changes to vaccine distribution efforts, including a pop-up, mass vaccination event for teachers, school staff and child care workers at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starting Thursday and ending Monday. The state has reserved 15,000 doses for the event.
The push comes amid revelations that a highly contagious coronavirus variant initially discovered in Brazil has landed in the U.S. – in Minnesota. The state Department of Health said the resident had recently traveled to Brazil and became ill during the first week of January.
Appalachian Trail thru-hikers planning to attempt an end-to-end hike of the 2,190-mile trail from Georgia to Maine should postpone their journeys until next year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy says. The nonprofit group, which manages and maintains the trail that runs through 14 states, says the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to make long-distance hikes unsafe. Morgan Sommerville, the trail’s southern region director, said authorities are concerned for the safety of hikers, trail volunteers and the communities along the route.
“Our advice, as long as the pandemic is raging and vaccines aren’t widely available and the CDC hasn’t given us the all-clear signal, we’re recommending that long distance hikes not be taken on the AT,” Sommerville said.
The world set another record for deaths in a week, at 99,978, on Monday and surpassed 100 million infections Tuesday. On Wednesday, January could become the deadliest month for the U.S., closing in on December’s record total.
Coronavirus deaths and cases per day in the U.S. dropped markedly over the past couple of weeks but remain alarmingly high. The U.S. is recording just under 3,100 deaths a day on average, down from more than 3,350 less than two weeks ago. New cases are averaging about 170,000 a day after peaking at almost 250,000 on Jan. 11. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has fallen to about 110,000 from a high of 132,000 on Jan. 7.
Campus leaders had hoped the lessons from the fall would better position them for the spring semester. That was before a post-holiday winter surge pushed the number of COVID-19 deaths in America over 400,000. Before more contagious variants of the coronavirus emerged. Before the vaccine rollout proved slower than anticipated.
Now, returning student populations may be at even greater risk than they were in the fall – not to mention their surrounding communities, where research has suggested greater outbreaks in college towns.
Despite those concerns, colleges are pushing ahead. The stakes are high; enrollment plummeted at most colleges last semester, and the loss of income from in-person services like campus housing and dining could be devastating to schools that depend on that money. College towns would feel the economic pinch as well.
But when administrators talk about the need for reopening, they focus on what went well in the fall – and the advantages of the full university experience.
– Chris Quintana, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press