CDC study a ‘warning’ against lifting mask mandates early; Oregon orders reopening of schools: Latest COVID-19 updates

A recent CDC report found that mask mandates were associated with decreases in COVID-19 cases and deaths whereas reopening dining was associated with increases.

The report “serves as a warning” about the dangers of lifting mask mandates prematurely, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday. 

Daily COVID-19 cases and deaths have plateaued around 60,000 to 70,000 cases per day and 2,000 deaths per day, numbers that are still “too high” and around where they were in the summer surge, Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 news conference.

Meanwhile, the Senate continued debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Saturday, a compromise was struck to extend a weekly $300 unemployment benefit after hours of negotiations.

Also in the news:

►The White House announced two new mass vaccination sites will soon be open, in Atlanta and Cleveland, each with the ability to provide 6,000 daily coronavirus shots.

►Albertsons will continue to require Texas shoppers to wear masks in its stores after the state lifts its face covering requirement March 10.

►Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration successfully pressured New York’s health department to strip the full COVID-19 death count attributed to nursing homes from a state report released last July, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported.

►The creator of a viral GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $100,000 is being sued by a California woman who shamed a barista online for asking her to wear a mask inside a Starbucks store in San Diego.

►California officials are allowing people to attend Major League Baseball games and other sports, go to Disneyland and watch live performances in limited capacities starting April 1.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 522,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 116 million cases and 2.57 million deaths. More than 114.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 85 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Public heath experts have been critical of states that tossed aside mask mandates this week. But they also warn of another threat at a critical juncture in the nation’s pandemic – the number of Americans getting tested for coronavirus has dropped significantly.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. 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.

Oregon orders schools to send kids back to the classroom

Oregon’s schools must reopen for in-person or hybrid learning by mid-April, according to an executive order from Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday.

The order, which is forthcoming, will require every district to offer in-person instruction to K-5 students by March 29 and, in areas where counties meet the COVID-19 metrics, students in grades 6-12 by April 19.

“After the weeks of March 29 and April 19, all public schools in Oregon will operate under either a fully on-site or a hybrid instructional model when counties meet or exceed Oregon’s advisory COVID-19 metrics,” the Governor’s Office stated in a news release.  “Individual students or parents who want to remain in comprehensive distance learning, or who have health needs, may do so.”

– Jordyn Brown and Natalie Pate, Register-Guard

Arizona lifts restrictions on occupancy at businesses

Citing expanded vaccine availability and declining COVID-19 case numbers, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday announced he would relax emergency restrictions previously placed on businesses.

While mask and physical distancing requirements will not change, businesses including bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and water parks can now operate at full capacity. Spring training and Major League sports can also pick up after submitting and receiving approval for safety plans. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” Ducey said in a statement accompanying the surprise announcement, which came two days after he ordered schools to return to in-person learning by March 15. 

– Maria Polletta, Arizona Republic

Americans less hesitant about COVID vaccine, survey shows

Only six months ago, nearly half of Americans in a a Pew Research Center survey said they were either adamant or unlikely to get a vaccine against COVID-19. That number has shrunk by double digits over the months with 30% of Americans saying they do not currently plan on getting a vaccine, a new Pew survey found

About 69% of Americans say they have already or are planning to get the vaccine, the survey found. 

The number of people hesitant about the vaccine has slowly dropped over the months. In September, a Pew survey found 49% of Americans were unwilling to get a shot at the time. In November, that number dropped to 39%. This latest survey, taken in February, found it dropped to 30%. 

Those opposed to getting a vaccine lay out a variety of reasons, from concerns about side effects and the quick pace of their development, along with wanting to see first how effective they are in combatting the disease. 

– Christal Hayes

All Supreme Court justices have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus

The nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a court spokeswoman said Friday.

The effort took several weeks: The court said in January that the justices were “in the process” of receiving their vaccines and CNN had reported in January that Chief Justice John Roberts had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The news comes almost exactly a year after the court stopped holding in-person oral arguments because of the pandemic. Those arguments are now held over telephone. 

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg confirmed Friday that the vaccinations are now complete for all nine justices. 

– John Fritze 

Cuomo administration recrafted report on nursing homes to conceal COVID-19 death count: reports

The Cuomo administration’s reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes drew another round of criticism late Thursday after it was revealed the total death count was stripped from a state report last July.

The report released by the Department of Health last summer had long been criticized for not including the number of nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals, leading to a drastic undercounting.

Now the reason is more clear: The Cuomo administration pressured the health department to not include the full death count attributed to nursing homes in the report, according to The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Instead, the report indicated more than 6,200 nursing home residents had died, instead of nearly 10,000 at the time who were residents of the homes and either died there or at a hospital.

The lower count allowed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to more affirmatively tout the state’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 48,000 New Yorkers. He wrote a book in October to burnish his image over lowering the state’s death count and cases through government action.

– Joseph Spector, USA TODAY Network in New York

CDC study: Mask mandates associated with decreases in case and deaths; reopening dining associated with increases 

A new report about the link between face masks and COVID-19 cases and deaths “serves as a warning” about the dangers of lifting mask mandates prematurely, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday. 

A recent report found that mask mandates were associated with decreases in COVID-19 cases and deaths whereas reopening dining was associated with increases. According to the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: 

  • Mandating masks was associated with a drop in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of the order taking effect.
  • Allowing restaurants to reopen for inside or outside dining was associated with an increase in daily case growth rates within 41 to 100 days after lifting a ban and an increase in daily death growth rates 61-100 days after implementation.

The study looked at county-level data on mask and restaurant orders and found mask mandates applied to 73.6% of the 3,142 U.S. counties from March through December 2020, while 97.9% of U.S. counties allowed restaurants to reopen for on-premise dining during the same period.

– Ryan W. Miller and Christal Hayes

Contributing: Jordan Culver, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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