Pizzeria owner in jail for violating virus rules; spectators from abroad barred from Tokyo Olympics: Live COVID-19 updates

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Biden on spa shootings: ‘Hate can have no safe harbor in America’

President Biden spoke at Emory University in Atlanta to discuss the string of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff video, USA TODAY

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Atlanta to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and discuss ongoing efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

While vaccine supply continues to increase, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Friday the pandemic has plateaued to an average of about 50,000 cases per day and is not showing any signs of slowing down. 

Florida may be on track to becoming the third state to report its two millionth COVID-19 case, after California and Texas. As of Friday, the state reported nearly 900 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K., according to CDC data.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said in the Friday briefing the variant likely accounts for 20 to 30% of infections in the U.S., “and that number is growing.” 

Also in the news: 

The European Union’s executive arm is increasing its pressure on pharmaceutical companies to speed up their vaccine delivery to the continent as virus numbers are rising again in many member countries. 

► The White House is canceling the annual Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

► Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s opening COVID-19 vaccines to people age 50 and older on Monday. The governor says the next step will be opening vaccines to anyone, likely before May 1. 

► The Idaho Legislature voted Friday to shut down for several weeks after at least five of the 70 House members tested positive for the illness in the last week. Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the move to recess until April 6 with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut.

► The World Health Organization’s expert committee on coronavirus vaccines said in a Friday statement its review of the AstraZeneca vaccine indicates it has “tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths” and “the available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions”

► Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee are poised to make it official that most fans from abroad will be prohibited from attending the postponed Olympics because of the coronavirus. The announcement is expected to come after this weekend. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 541,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 122.2 million cases and 2.7 million deaths. More than 154 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 118.3 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. 

A western Michigan restaurant owner was arrested before dawn Friday and hauled to jail for her persistent refusal to comply with orders and restrictions tied to the coronavirus.

State investigators said Marlena Pavlos-Hackney had allowed indoor dining at Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria when it was banned, wasn’t enforcing mask rules and was ignoring capacity limits. Her food license was suspended Jan. 20, but the business remained open.

She will remain in jail until she pays $7,500 and authorities confirm that the pizzeria is closed, a judge said.

As Italy’s death rate pushes upward once again, the victims remain predominantly elderly with inoculation drives stumbling in the country. 

Promises to vaccinate all Italians over 80 by the end of March have fallen woefully short, amid well-documented interruptions of vaccine supplies and organizational shortfalls. Just a third of Italy’s 7.3 million doses administered so far have gone to people in that age group. 

But other countries in Europe have made progress to protect those over 75. 

Britain is the first country in Europe to authorize widespread vaccinations and the percentage of fatalities among those over 75 is diminishing. Spain, France and Italy also prioritized vaccinating residents of nursing homes. 

– Associated Press 

 Biden makes $10B available to K-12 schools for testing 

As part of the push under President Joe Biden to reopen schools, the administration announced this week it would make $10 billion available for K-12 schools to expand COVID-19 screening of staff and students. 

Biden administration officials say more details are coming, but the lack of national coordination so far has states and districts charting their own paths.

Quick, rapid antigen tests that offer results in 15 minutes are likely to be adopted more broadly as a growing number of medical experts say screening using such cheap tests could help K-12 schools keep the virus in check. 

– Erin Richards and Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY

New CDC report shows most states lag to get vaccines to vulnerable communities

Vulnerable counties tend to have lower COVID-19 vaccination rates, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released this week.

The study looked at vaccine administration data for more than 49 million U.S. residents between Dec. 2020 and March 1 and found that, on average, less vulnerable counties had a vaccination rate 2.5 percentage points higher than counties with high social vulnerability. 

Researchers found the the largest disparities were in counties that ranked high in socioeconomic vulnerability, such as high rates of poverty or unemployment.

– Nada Hassanein, USA TODAY 

Spectators from abroad will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months, the IOC and local organizers said Saturday. The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee, and local organizers.

The move was expected and rumored for several months. Officials said the risk was too great to admit ticket holders from overseas during a pandemic, an idea strongly opposed by the Japanese public. Japan has attributed about 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.

“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the Tokyo organizing committee said in a statement.

— Associated Press

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.”

Read the full story. 

One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Indianapolis and NCAA officials are attempting to instill some normalcy into this year’s tournament, which opened Thursday. 

Beginning March 1, per changes in local ordinances, bars could open at 50% and restaurants at 75% capacity, though eateries are still facing seating limitations based on social-distancing protocols. The six arenas hosting tournament games are allowed up to 25% capacity, though the final decision on attendance has been left up to the venue. 

Teams have largely been sequestered inside downtown hotels, attending online class, busing to practice and remaining inside rooms and sanitized meeting areas since most arrived earlier this week. 

“I think we feel comfortable and confident where we are with planning for fans,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball. “Many of these venues have hosted some levels of fans recently… We’re confident they’ve had some experience welcoming guests and have those plans in place to keep everybody healthy and safe.”

Read the full story.

– Paul Myerberg

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Friday they’ll allocate $2 billion – $7,000 per family – for COVID-related funeral costs incurred after Jan. 20, 2020, starting in April. 

The reimbursements are part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, both signed into law earlier this month.

Caskets, urns, burial plots, headstones and other required costs are eligible for assistance. Costs relating to obituaries, flowers, printed materials, catering, transporting guests to funeral services and gratuities are ineligible for assistance. 

– Minnah Arshad, Detroit Free Press

Contributing: Associated Press

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