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COVID Cases Climb in the Midwest as British Variant Takes Hold in U.S.

THURSDAY, April 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- As new coronavirus cases soared across the Upper Midwest on Wednesday, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a highly infectious variant first discovered in Britain has now become the most common source of infections in this country.

"Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House media briefing. There are now 16,275 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the United States, according to the CDC.

Scientists and federal health officials have warned repeatedly that a fourth wave of coronavirus cases could arise in the United States this spring because of the emergence of more contagious variants and the easing of social distancing measures, even as the country's vaccination campaign gathers steam.

In the Upper Midwest, Michigan has been slammed: New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks, and the six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan, The New York Times reported.

Several other states in the Upper Midwest have also reported significant increases in new infections and hospitalizations. In Illinois, the daily average for new cases has jumped about 56 percent in the past two weeks, to about 2,832 a day, the Times reported. Hospitalizations have risen about 28 percent from two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Wisconsin and North Dakota have seen their average case counts jump 50 percent or more in the last two weeks.

Nationally, new cases have stalled overall, while hospitalizations have leveled off and deaths remain near an average of about 800 a day, according to the Times. The average number of new cases had reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, up 19 percent from two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Michigan's troubles drew attention at the White House briefing.

Andy Slavitt, a senior health policy adviser to President Joe Biden, said during the Wednesday media briefing that the Biden administration had not ruled out sending extra vaccine doses to Michigan. He added he was in direct touch with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her aides about what federal assistance might be helpful.

"Nothing is off the table in those conversations," he said, the Times reported.

The U.S. coronavirus case count passed 30.9 million on Thursday, while the death toll passed 558,000, according to a Times tally. On Thursday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3.7 million cases; Texas with over 2.8 million cases; Florida with over 2 million cases; New York with more than 1.9 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.2 million cases. Worldwide, more than 133.3 million cases had been reported by Thursday, with nearly 2.9 million dead from COVID-19.

Nearly 8 in 10 school, child care workers have had first shot of COVID vaccine

In findings that bode well for the full reopening of schools across America, a new government survey shows that nearly 80 percent of school employees and child care workers have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, the latest figures came as the Biden administration pushes to reopen schools by the president's 100th day in office.

In total, about 8 million teachers, school staff and child care workers said they had received their first vaccine dose by the end of March, with about 2 million receiving their shot through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, the CDC said in its report. In total, the agency received almost 13,000 responses from education staff and nearly 40,000 responses from child care workers.

"Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and child care workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Biden also welcomed the new findings while visiting a vaccination site in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday, the Times reported.

"That is great progress protecting our educators and our essential workers," Biden said of the latest statistics. "And because our vaccine program is in overdrive, we are making it easier to get a vaccination shot."

As of Thursday, 4 in 10 American adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot and one-quarter have gotten their second shot, CDC statistics show.

Schools have already been responding to the increased vaccination efforts.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, only 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were fully remote by March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November, the Times reported. At the same time, 41 percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that same period.

On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a survey of more than 1,700 of its members that largely mirrored the CDC results: Just over 80 percent of association members said they had been vaccinated or had made a vaccine appointment.

Federation President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that, "AFT members have embraced vaccines as vital to getting back in the classroom."

"They want to return, the road map to reopening is robust, and if we instill trust and meet fear with facts we can finally end this national nightmare," Weingarten added.

Federal government won't mandate vaccine passports: Fauci

The U.S. government won't require vaccine passports for travel and businesses, the nation's top infectious diseases expert said Monday.

"I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept," Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a Politico Dispatch podcast.

The federal government "may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is going to be the leading element of that," he noted.

The idea of vaccine passports -- proof that an individual is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 -- has already become controversial, as local governments and businesses consider whether to mandate them, CBS News reported. They've also become a partisan issue, with Republicans across the country saying the idea is government overreach and an invasion of privacy.

Last week, New York became the first state to launch such a passport -- a voluntary app that allows people to upload proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result that can be scanned before entering a business. Next week, California will launch a new policy allowing event venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative test result, CBS News reported.

Things are far different in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week banning vaccine passports statewide. In Arkansas and Montana, Republican lawmakers are pushing similar measures, CBS News reported.

Some businesses, including airlines, already require proof of a negative COVID test for customers. Meanwhile, Israel introduced an app-based vaccine passport in February, and the European Union is planning to introduce them over the summer, CBS News said.

During his Monday interview, Fauci said he believes "individual entities," including theaters and colleges, will be the ones to make the call on passports.

"You could foresee how an independent entity might say, 'Well, we can't be dealing with you unless we know you're vaccinated,'" he said. "But it's not going to be mandated from the federal government."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: The New York Times; CBS News; Associated Press

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