As new cases rise, Fauci says easing restrictions ‘is really risky’; Senate gets $1.9B stimulus package: Live coronavirus updates

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The much-ballyhooed, steady decline in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations appears to have stalled. Experts now are trying to determine whether a new surge is underway.

In the seven-day period ending Thursday, 17 states had rising case counts over the previous seven days. In the seven-day period ending Friday, 21 states were up over the previous seven days.

The week ending Saturday saw new cases rise in 23 states from the previous week.

Yet some governors and mayors, encouraged by the steady declined and pressed by small business owners struggling to survive, are easing restrictions. New Orleans is allowing gatherings of up to 75 people indoors, 150 people outdoors. Massachusetts on Monday lifts an order requiring all businesses, including restaurants, to close by 9:30 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he thinks easing restrictions could be premature.

“It is really risky to say, ‘It’s over. We’re on our way out. Let’s pull back,’” Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

Also in the news:

►Israel on Sunday announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements. Israel has come under international criticism for not sharing its vaccine stockpile with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

►The Senate becomes the focus of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after the House approved it Saturday. The measure would provide millions of Americans $1,400 stimulus payments, ramp up vaccine distribution and extend unemployment aid through the summer.

►The federal government has agreed to buy a 100,000 doses of a COVID-19 treatment by Eli Lilly, the company announced Friday. The drug, bamlanivimab, is a monoclonal antibody, meaning it mimics one of the natural antibodies the immune system uses to fight off the virus. The FDA authorized the drug late last year.

►The U.S. on Friday administered the most vaccines in a day so far: nearly 2.4 million shots given, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 511,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 113.8 million cases and 2.5 million deaths. More than 96.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 72.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: Already had COVID-19? You might not need that second vaccine shot. 

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.

Pope Francis heading for Iraq despite concerns of infectious disease experts 

Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq is setting off alarm bells with infectious disease experts who point to that nation’s a sharp rise in cases, fragile health care system and crowds the pontiff will draw. Francis, who has been vaccinated, will be the first pope to visit the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a spiritual boost to Iraq’s Christians, a small, beleaguered minority within the overwhelmingly Muslim population.

“It’s a perfect storm for generating lots of cases, which you won’t be able to deal with,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine.

COVID count blurry for Arab Americans

Across the nation, Arab Americans and their advocates fear alarming rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths in their communities. But there is little data to back up these concerns because most are categorized as “white” by the federal government. The nation’s 3.7 million Arab Americans are unable to self-identify as such on the Census and other government forms. As a result, official health care data can be hard to come by as experts and community leaders are forced to rely on patchwork, often self-compiled data.

“We are told we are white when in reality we are deprived of proper and accurate statistical data,” said Hasibe Rashid, with New York City’s planning department. “We are expected to conform to something we do not agree with, and worse yet, something society does not see us as. We do not live the life of white privilege.”

Marc Ramirez

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a third COVID-19 vaccine for public use. As expected on Saturday, acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock granted an emergency use authorization for a vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company. 

About 4 million doses of the new vaccine should be made available next week, 20 million total during March, and another 80 million by the end of June. Because the vaccine requires only one dose, it will help protect 100 million people and take effect more rapidly than the two-dose vaccines.

 (Photo: Getty Images)

Plunging demand for COVID-19 tests may leave US exposed

After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies. U.S. testing hit a peak on Jan. 15, when the country was averaging more than 2 million tests per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%. The drop mirrors declines across all major virus measures since January, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Officials say those encouraging trends, together with harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season, pandemic fatigue and a growing focus on vaccinations are sapping interest in testing. But testing remains important for tracking and containing the outbreak.

“We need to use testing to continue the downward trend,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been advising Biden officials. “We need to have it there to catch surges from the variants.”

Vegas-area schools latest to reopen among large US districts

School bells ring Monday for the youngest students in Las Vegas, where the nation’s fifth-largest school district will return kids to classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic with a “hybrid” schedule for preschoolers through third-graders.

The move in a region hard hit both physically and economically by COVID-19 makes the sprawling Clark County School District, with 315,000 students, the latest of the largest in the U.S. to resume face-to-face but hands-off instruction.

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