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Here’s how mRNA viruses like COVID-19 mutate, and why certain viruses are harder to develop vaccines for. USA TODAY

New COVID-19 cases are declining across most of the nation, and seven of the eight states where cases are rising have below-average vaccination rates, new data reveals.

Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming have seen their seven-day rolling averages for infection rates rise from two weeks earlier, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. All of them except Hawaii have recorded vaccination rates that are lower than the US average of 43% fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some states are seeing increased immunity after high rates of natural spread of the disease, which has so far killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“We certainly are getting some population benefit from our previous cases, but we paid for it,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. “We paid for it with deaths.”

Meanwhile, more than 70% of Americans – vaccinated and unvaccinated – are comfortable gathering with friends now, compared with just over 40% in March, according to a CBS poll released Friday.

But 29% of Republicans who responded to the poll say they do not have plans to get vaccinated, while just over 20% of independents and 5% of Democrats say the same. The top reasons? 50% say they are waiting to see what happens.

Also in the news:

►An Iowa man convicted of following a man to a car and assaulting him after being told to raise the mask on his face in November was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday.

►Sen. Ron Johnson was slapped with a one-week suspension Friday from uploading videos to YouTube after the company said he violated the website’s COVID-19 “medical misinformation policies.”

►The Food and Drug Administration decided at least 60 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine must be discarded because of manufacturing problems, an individual familiar with the situation told The Washington Post.

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday joined calls for further investigation into claims that COVID-19 originally leaked from a Chinese lab but said at the moment he doesn’t believe that’s what sparked the global pandemic.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 599,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 176 million cases and over 3.8 million deaths. More than 143.9 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 43.4% of the population, according to the CDC

📘 What we’re reading: Effective COVID-19 vaccines were developed in under a year. But a half-century after the country declared war on cancer, and 40 years after the first reported case of HIV/AIDS, there remains no way to prevent either disease, or many more. Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox an join our Facebook group.

Britain expected to extend restrictions 4 more weeks, court challenge possible

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce today that Britain won’t be dropping all remaining pandemic restrictions next Monday after all. The BBC and other British news outlets reported that senior ministers had approved a four-week delay, during which most existing restrictions would remain in place. The culprit is the Delta variant, which now makes up more than 90% of new coronavirus infectious. Public health officials are concerned about the variant because it partially evades vaccines, is at least 40% more transmissible than other variants and could double the risk of hospitalization, the BBC reported.

The UK Weddings Taskforce – an industry group – estimates that 50,000 weddings planned in the four weeks from 21 June could be canceled. The Night Time Industries Association said businesses such as nightclubs had already spent millions preparing to reopen, and the association will legally challenge any delay to reopening.

“It’s going to be catastrophic to us,” said Will Power, owner of the Lab 11 nightclub in Birmingham.

Dialysis clinics providing vaccinations to high-risk patients

Dialysis patients are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and its severe complications. With people of color suffering disparate rates of both COVID-19 and kidney failure, the Biden administration made providing vaccine directly to outpatient dialysis clinics a part of its $10 billion vaccine equity plan. Charles Brown received both his shots at Fresenius Kidney Care in Columbia, South Carolina, where he goes three times a week for dialysis treatment to rid his body of toxins and excess fluid, functions his kidneys can longer perform.

“I have a full-time job and go (to dialysis treatment) Monday, Wednesday, Friday after work,” said Brown, a truck driver. “I was excited when they said they have the shots for us.”

Nada Hassanein

Novavax COVID-19 vaccine shown to be more than 90% effective

A COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is more than 90% effective in preventing infections and completely protected trial participants against severe disease, a company study shows.

From late January to late April, the company tested its vaccine in nearly 30,000 volunteers in the United States and Mexico, giving one person a placebo for every two who received the active vaccine.

Of the 73 people who were infected with COVID-19 during the trial, only 14 had received the active vaccine and none of them fell severely ill, company data shows. It proved effective in people over 65, as well as those with medical conditions putting them at extra risk and was tested in a diverse group.

The two-dose vaccine was also found to be safe, with side effects comparable to other COVID-19 vaccines, including pain at the injection site, headache and fatigue, all of which passed within a day or two.

The company said it plans to request federal authorization some time this summer to distribute its vaccine in the United States. With nearly 145 million Americans already fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Novavax’ shots will likely be used as boosters in the U.S. but as primary two-dose vaccines elsewhere in the world.  

– Karen Weintraub

Wisconsin positivity rate declines; New Jersey hospitalizations lowest since start of pandemic

The seven-day average positivity rate in Wisconsin declined to 1.1%, the lowest mark since the state Department of Health Services began recording the stat.

Average COVID-19 cases declined again to the lowest mark since early spring 2020. The seven-day average of daily cases declined to 121, down 388 cases from a month ago and the lowest mark since March 27, 2020. 

Meanwhile, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Jersey reached its lowest point Friday – 385 – since records of the pandemic began being publicly reported in March 2020.

The overnight low was less than 5% of the peak on April 14 last year, when 8,270 patients were hospitalized and facilities scrambled to convert cafeterias and doctors’ lounges to critical care areas. Without those emergency steps, the state would have fallen short by more than 250 beds. 

And Friday’s low also slipped below the summertime nadir of 389 patients, reached in September.  

“New Jersey may finally be putting the worst of the pandemic behind us,” said Cathleen Bennett, CEO of the state hospital association.

– Drake Bentley, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Lindy Washburn,

Here come the kindergarteners. Schools will have their hands full

School districts across the United States are hiring additional teachers in anticipation of what will be one of the largest kindergarten classes ever as enrollment rebounds following the coronavirus pandemic. 

Educators are also bracing for many students to be less prepared than usual because of lower preschool attendance rates. One report found that the number of 4-year-olds participating in preschool fell from 71% before the pandemic to 54% during the pandemic, and low-income children were much less likely to attend in-person classes.

“The job of the kindergarten teacher just got a lot harder,” said Steven Barnett, a co-author of the report and senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Houston judge rules hospital can fire workers who refuse vaccination

A judge in Houston has dismissed a lawsuit by hospital employees suspended and facing termination after declining a COVID-19 shot — a decision that could have a ripple effect across the nation. 

The case involved Houston Methodist, the first hospital system in the country to require that all its employees get vaccinated. Federal Judge Lynn Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate. 

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More than 170 health care workers at Houston Methodist Hospital were suspended from their jobs for refusing their employers vaccination mandate. Video Elephant

After months of warnings, Houston Methodist had put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on unpaid suspension Monday. They were told they would be fired if they weren’t vaccinated by June 21.

The hospital had made it clear it meant what it said: It fired the director of corporate risk – Bob Nevens – and another manager in April when they did not meet the earlier deadline for bosses.

– David Heath


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