As US nears 600,000 deaths, 70% vaccination goal likely to fall short; California on track for Tuesday reopening: COVID-19 updates

As the nation nears 600,000 COVID-19 deaths, the U.S. may be unlikely to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

More than a dozen states have already hit that goal, and about a dozen more are on pace to reach the milestone. But a USA TODAY analysis shows U.S. vaccinations are on track to reach only 67% of adults by July 4. 

California has already met the goal and is set to lift its historic stay-at-home order on Tuesday as cases in the state remain low.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on Friday lifting most of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, effective June 15. In addition to the rescinded stay-at-home order, there will also no longer be capacity limits or social distancing requirements imposed on businesses.

A handful of orders will remain in effect indefinitely, including directives making state fairgrounds available for pandemic response and allowing pharmacy technicians to administer doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Residents who have been fully vaccinated won’t have to wear masks in most public settings, while those who remain unvaccinated will still be required to do so.

Also in the news:

► Starting June 15, Walt Disney World will no longer require guests who have been fully vaccinated to wear face masks in most areas. All guests, however, must continue to wear their masks while on Disney transportation, including Disney buses, monorails and the Disney Skyliner aerial gondolas. 

 Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has been suspended from posting content to YouTube for one week, after the company said Johnson violated the platform’s COVID-19 “medical misinformation policies” with a series of video clips. 

Last year, about 19.5 million kids missed out on the fun of summer camp because of the pandemic. This year, even though most camps are set to reopen, COVID-19 restrictions and a pandemic-induced labor shortage will keep numbers well below a normal threshold of about 26 million summer campers, said Tom Rosenberg of the American Camp Association. 

Even though the pace of vaccinations has slowed within Major League Baseball, two additional teams have been able to relax coronavirus protocols after reaching the 85% vaccination threshold for players and other on-field personnel, raising the total to 22 of the 30 clubs. 

Honolulu is loosening some of its COVID-19 restrictions on social activity now that more than half its population has been vaccinated against the virus, including allowing outdoor social gatherings of up to 25 people and indoor gatherings of up to 10. 

► The growing spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in England may jeopardize suspension of the country’s remaining lockdown restrictions; the variant “now makes up more than 90% of cases,” according to a report from Public Health England. The variant also accounts for about 6% of U.S. infections, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 599,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: over 175 million cases and almost 3.7 million deaths. More than 142 million  Americans have been fully vaccinated – 42.8% of the population, according to the CDC. 

📘 What we’re reading: Scientists say biology tells us why it has been so much easier to vaccinate against COVID-19 when other medical problems remain intractable.

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.

World’s richest democracies vow to donate a billion vaccine doses

Facing criticism that they are hogging vaccines, the leaders of seven wealthy industrialized nations are competing to be the global champion of so many wounded by the virus.

With 3.7 million people lost in the pandemic, the world’s richest democracies are eager to show themselves the champions of the afflicted and have committed to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.

The U.S. is set to donate 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses in the next year, while the U.K. plans to share 5 million doses – out of a 100 million total – in the coming weeks; France and Germany each plan to donate 30 million vaccines.

The COVAX vaccination campaign got off to a slow start as richer nations locked up billions of doses through contracts directly with drug manufacturers. The alliance has distributed just 81 million doses globally, and large parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.

“It is vital that we don’t repeat the mistake of the last great crisis, the last great economic recession in 2008, when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after leaders posed for a formal photo by the sea.

US vaccine surplus grows by the day

The U.S. is confronted with an ever-growing surplus of coronavirus vaccine, looming expiration dates and stubbornly lagging demand/

The stockpiles are becoming more daunting each week. Oklahoma has more than 700,000 doses on shelves but is administering only 4,500 a day and has 27,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses that are set to expire at the end of the month. Millions of Johnson & Johnson doses nationwide were set to expire this month before the government extended their dates by six weeks, but some leaders acknowledge it will be difficult to use them up even by then.

“We really cannot let doses expire. That would be a real outrage, given the need to get vaccines to some under-vaccinated communities in the U.S. and the glaring gap in vaccinations and the inequity of vaccinations that we have globally,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Each week, states are allotted a number of doses from the government and are allowed to order shots from that. But more states, including Oklahoma, Alabama, Utah, Delaware and New Hampshire, have stopped placing orders for new doses in recent weeks because they have such a large inventory. That has added to the ballooning federal stockpile.

Despite their limited effectiveness in reducing vaccine hesitancy, incentive programs – million-dollar prizes, free beer and marijuana and raffled-off hunting rifles – may be a worthwhile tool for states struggling to improve their vaccination rates and convince reluctant citizens.

Gov says Kentucky succeeded in fighting COVID-19 by putting science over politics

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday declared his state’s deadly fight against COVID-19 a “success story” as he ended most pandemic restrictions and said his state lessened the crisis because Kentuckians ultimately put science ahead of politics.

Kentucky “beat back” three surges of infection without having its hospitals overrun with virus patients, the governor said. The rollout of vaccinations was “pretty successful”: More than 2.1 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of vaccine, he said.

Beshear lifted Kentucky’s statewide mask mandate with a few exceptions, keeping the measure for such “high-risk settings” as public transit, health care settings and long-term care facilities. Prior to lifting the mask mandate, he vented his frustration with the divisions over donning a facial covering.

“Masks have been used to reduce infection in health care settings for decades,” Beshear said. “Yet somehow it became a question of liberty.”

Shortly before announcing he was lifting capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars and other public venues, Beshear said the pandemic was “a test of our humanity” and posed “the single deadliest threat” of his lifetime. Kentucky’s virus-related death toll has surpassed 7,000. Beshear said bringing the coronavirus under control required collective efforts of Democrats and Republicans, offering a lesson to move beyond the partisan strife that “can just be toxic.”

“I’m the guy that has to try to lay my head down every night and sleep knowing that Kentuckians that we’ve lost, the grief that’s out there, the fact that so many couldn’t say goodbye and be at that bedside,” Beshear said. “That we had thousands of Kentuckians die alone or with a nurse holding their hands. And so that perspective, each and every day, I never looked at any of this in any of the red or the blue discussion, and the rest of the country shouldn’t either.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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