Coronavirus updates: Biden’s ambitious plan will take time; Florida combats ‘vaccine tourism’ by limiting shots to residents


COVID-19 has killed more than 410,000 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.

The cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 strategy plan rests on using the Defense Production Act to strengthen the supply chain and make vaccines – but experts say the plan will need time.

Biden unveiled many points of his strategy that will use the Defense Production Act to get the raw materials needed and support expanding capacity to make lipid nanoparticles, a crucial and complex part of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

Biden’s plan, which he called “a wartime undertaking,” is unique in the annals of U.S. medical history. In a 198-page comprehensive national strategy to address the pandemic, he calls for improved vaccine distribution, enhanced testing and broader use of masks, including new requirements in airports and many trains, airplanes and buses.

It comes at a time when the nation needs solutions for stopping – even slowing – the coronavirus. The U.S. passed 410,000 deaths this week and 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. 

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages.

In the headlines:

►Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on CNN that the lack of candor and facts around the U.S. pandemic’s response over the last year “very likely did” cost lives. Asked Thursday about his experience working on the pandemic response for two different administrations, Fauci also said being able to share science was “liberating.” Fauci said he did not enjoy having to correct information provided by former President Donald Trump during briefings.

►President Joe Biden on Friday is set to sign two executive orders that will give low-income families easier access to federal nutrition and food assistance programs and start the process for requiring federal contractors to pay their workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour and give them emergency paid leave. The actions are part of Biden’s efforts to provide economic relief to Americans still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

►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.

►After weeks of railing against “vaccine tourism,” Florida officials will limit the scant supply of COVID-19 vaccine to residents only. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an executive order requiring people seeking an appointment to get the vaccine to provide proof of residency, or proof of being a health care provider directly involved with patients. Until now, a person only needed to prove they were 65 or older.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 24.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 410,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 97.6 million cases and 2 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: Campus leaders hoped the lessons they gleaned from the fall would better position them to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19 during the spring semester. But that was before a post-holiday surge in cases and deaths. What comes next?

Scientists applaud Biden’s decision to rejoin World Health Organization 

The scientific community applauded President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the World Health Organization and other global efforts designed to stop and prevent COVID-19. The move had both symbolic and practical implications, said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Practical, because U.S. funding will help the agency balance its budget, fulfill its commitments to boost public health, and protect Americans from new strains of COVID-19 and future disease threats.

And symbolic, because the United States was the agency’s largest funder and has long been a key player on the global health stage. 

In the short term, the United States retracting its notice of withdrawal means that it will fulfill its financial obligations to the organization and stop its drawdown of U.S.-provided staff at WHO. In the longer term, U.S. participation means it will help advance pandemic preparedness, reverse the health consequences of climate change, and promote better health globally, the Biden administration said.

– Karen Weintraub

Texas doctor charged with stealing vial of COVID vaccine

A fired county public health doctor in Texas was charged with taking a vial of COVID-19 vaccine, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced in a Thursday press release. 

Dr. Hasan Gokal took a vial that contained nine doses while working at a county vaccination site on Dec. 29, according to the district attorney’s office. He told another employee what he did a week later, and that employee reported him to supervisors. 

“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said.  “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”

Gokal was charged with theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that “carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine,” according to the district attorney’s office. 

Chicago teachers vote to defy orders to report for in-person classes

Chicago teachers began voting Thursday to defy orders to report for in-person class next week ahead of elementary students’ return, actions the nation’s third-largest school district said could lead to “an illegal strike.”

The Chicago Teachers Union fiercely opposes Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plans over safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. The roughly 355,000-student district, which went online in March 2020, has gradually welcomed students back. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students chose in-person learning this month. Teachers who didn’t show were punished.

Roughly 10,000 educators in kindergarten through eighth grade are expected to report for duty next week, but the union’s House of Delegates approved a resolution late Wednesday to skip classroom teaching and continue remotely. Students in kindergarten to eighth grade have the option to return two days a week starting Feb. 1. No return date has been set for high school students.

Expansion of vaccine eligibility blamed for shortages

The Trump administration’s push to have states vastly expand their vaccination drives to the nation’s estimated 54 million people 65 and older has contributed to vaccine shortages, public health experts say.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

As states have ramped up their distribution chains, authorities in California, New York, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia and Hawaii warned their supplies were running out. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer even inquired about buying vaccines directly from manufacturer Pfizer, but have not been authorized to do so.

Some state and local public health officials have complained of not getting reliable information on the amount of vaccine they can expect, making it difficult to plan the inoculations.

– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY


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