CDC: Students can social distance at 3 feet apart; 100M vaccine goal ahead of schedule, Biden says: Live COVID-19 updates

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Students and educators reflect on stories they’ll tell in 20 years

Students and educators reflect on what stories they’ll tell 10-20 years from now about teaching and learning during COVID-19

Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

The CDC on Friday relaxed social distancing rules for students as President Joe Biden says his goal of administering 100 million coronavirus vaccinations will be accomplished 42 days ahead of his target date.

The 100 million dose goal was first announced Dec. 8, days before the U.S. had authorized any vaccine for COVID-19, let alone the three that have now received emergency authorization. By the time Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, the U.S. had already administered 20 million shots at a rate of about 1 million per day.

The president promised to unveil a new vaccination target next week during a White House briefing Thursday, as the U.S. is on pace to have enough of the three currently authorized vaccines to cover the entire adult population just 10 weeks from now.

But even as vaccine supply continues to increase, some of the most important sectors of the population remain unvaccinated. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than 4 in 10 health workers say they haven’t received a vaccine. 

Only 52% of front-line health care workers said they received at least their first dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 3 said they weren’t confident vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness. 

The poll follows trends from a recent study that found 38% of nursing home staff accepted shots when they were offered, according Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released in February.

Also in the news: 

►A new analysis says the coronavirus pandemic probably started in China’s Hubei province a month or two before late December, when a cluster of cases tied to a seafood market was first detected.

► The French government imposed a soft lockdown for Paris and several other regions. Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a patchwork of new mandates including closing nonessential businesses and restricting travel, but schools will remain open.

►The Orlando Sentinel filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health Thursday for “allegedly violating the state’s public records law by not releasing location information on mutated strains of COVID-19,” even as variants rapidly spread around the state, the paper said.

►AMC Theatres said it will have 98% of its U.S. theaters open by Friday, including more than 40 locations in California. Movie theaters have been among the hardest-hit businesses by the pandemic.

►Utah is among the latest states to announce an expansion in COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, with residents 16 years and older allowed to get the vaccine starting March 24. Maryland looks to do the same by April 27, while Illinois is aiming for April 12. Nevada is also making its vaccines available to those 16 years and older starting Monday, but only if they have an underlying health condition. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 539,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 121.7 million cases and 2.68 million deaths. More than 151 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 115.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

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.

Students no longer need to maintain a distance of 6 feet in school according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines announced Friday which shortened social distancing recommendations to 3 feet.  

The agency said elementary school students can distance at 3 feet apart in classrooms while wearing masks regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial or high.

Middle and high school students may also follow these recommendations if community transmission is low, moderate or substantial. However, they should remain distancing at 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high.

“Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”

People of color, who were more likely to die and lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis, were also less likely to have access to paid leave. That benefit would enable them to take time off to care for themselves and their families during the pandemic, a new report found.  

Among workers, 50% of Latinos and 37% of African Americans say their employers did not offer time off with pay, compared with 34% of white employees, according to the report from the National Partnership for Women & Families, citing pre-pandemic data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The U.S. is one of the few nations in the world to not have a national paid leave policy. With the decision to provide that benefit largely left to employers, nearly 80% of private-sector workers do not have paid family leave through their jobs to care for a new child or other loved one. 

The consequences of that gap are more critical for Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous workers who tend to earn lower wages and experience higher rates of unemployment as well as to be out of work for longer periods of time. 

– Charisse Jones

The United States reported a record 949 new variant cases Thursday night, bringing the country to 5,804 known cases of variants that threaten a declining level of coronavirus cases. With Vermont’s reported cases, every state in America has now discovered variants.

The variants can spread more easily, dodge treatments and immunities, or both. In all, the U.S. has added more than 2,000 variant cases in the last week. Thursday’s report is the first since Tuesday’s.

The biggest changes were in Texas, which added 182 cases to reach 420; Florida added 159 cases to reach 912; Pennsylvania doubled its tally to 138; and Iowa went from 25 variant cases Tuesday to 63 on Thursday.

Vermont reported its first five cases of B.1.1.7, a variant first seen in the United Kingdom. It is America’s most common variant.

The P.1 variant first seen in Brazil was spotted in several new states, with four cases in Arizona, two in Nebraska and one in Massachusetts. The B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa was detected in Hawaii, which reported five cases.

– Mike Stucka 

A new study is adding to the growing body of evidence that low-dose aspirin helps lessen the harsher effects of contracting the coronavirus.

The study, conducted by George Washington University researchers and published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, examined the records of 412 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals with COVID-19 from March to July of last year.

Of those, nearly 24% had taken aspirin seven days or less before hospital admission or within 24 hours after admission. More than 40% of those patients had improved results in key areas compared to patients who did not take the cheap, widely available drug.

“Aspirin may have lung-protective effects and reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, ICU admission, and in-hospital mortality in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the report concluded.

The researchers warned that a randomized controlled trial would be needed to establish a causal relationship. But a study conducted around the same time last year in Israel also found a link between taking so-called baby aspirin and better COVID-19 outcomes.

The week after then-President Donald Trump first used the hashtag #chinesevirus on Twitter, the number of people using the hashtag increased more than tenfold, and they were much more likely to include anti-Asian hashtags than those who used #covid19 in their tweets.

Anti-Asian bias and attacks have grown exponentially over the past year in conjunction with anti-Chinese rhetoric. This week’s deadly shooting in Atlanta, in which six of the eight people killed were of Asian descent, has contributed to fears throughout the Asian-American community.

Trump’s use of the phrase in speeches and on Twitter, which critics called racist, preceded a cascade of its use by others online. The mean number of daily users in the #covid19 group rose by 379% after Trump’s tweet, compared with an increase of #chinesevirus by 8,351%.

“There were a lot of arguments that ‘Chinese virus’ was a scientific term and was no different than COVID-19. But in fact, you see a large difference,” said Yulin Hswen, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

She was one of a group of researchers who tracked the number of anti-Asian hashtags that were used together with the neutral hashtag #covid19 compared with #chinesevirus. They found evidence of an association between the latter phrase and anti-Asian language. Read the full story.

– Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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