US marks one year of pandemic as nation reaches ‘critical nexus’; More states lift vaccine eligibility requirements. Latest COVID-19 updates

Thursday marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. 

Since then, life in the United States has drastically changed. From remote work and school schedules to new ways to attend events and church services, COVID-19 has altered how we live. And some of the changes could go on long after the virus is gone.

Since the first case in January 2020, the U.S. has suffered a devastating loss: Nearly 530,000 deaths, along with 29 million cases. 

There are signs of both hope and trouble ahead. The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to three coronavirus vaccines. Nearly a third of the country has been given one dose of the vaccine, and the Biden administration has secured enough shipment by May to vaccinate every adult. 

But the U.S. has reported more than 3,300 cases of the three variants found throughout the world. Arizona, Massachusetts, Ohio and Tennessee on Tuesday each reported nearly doubling their tallies of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has described the nation as being at a “critical nexus” in the pandemic. 

The decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths shows signs of stalling as variants are circulating. At the same time, she said, measures that have been taken to stop the pandemic are “now too often being flagrantly ignored.”

“Fatigue is winning,” she said. 

Walensky called the next three months a pivotal period as vaccinations ramp up.

“Even though it’s counterintuitive,” added White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt, “it’s actually the most important time for people to make sure we run through the tape and finish that up.”  

Also in the news: 

►The Biden administration has arranged to purchase an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine — enough when added to vaccines from other sources to provide the nation with more than enough doses to inoculate every American, the White House said Wednesday.

►A video that shows a ride-sharing passenger ripping off her mask, coughing on a driver, attempting to steal his phone and breaking the driver’s mask has prompted a police investigation and bans from both Uber and Lyft.

►Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine criteria starting Monday to everyone 55 years and older, plus younger adults who are overweight or have serious health conditions, making more than two-thirds of Georgians who are 16 years and older eligible for vaccination. Further south, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that after the state makes people 60 years and older eligible for the COVID vaccine next Monday, it will soon drop the age to 55 and then probably open it up to the rest.

►Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says all adults in the state will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines on April 1. Alaska lifted eligibility requirements for the state Tuesday. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 529,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 117.9 million cases and 2.61 million deaths. More than 127.8 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 95.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill was approved by the House. Here are 10 components you might not know about.

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.

Black community fights COVID vaccine lies on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Name a COVID vaccine conspiracy theory circulating on social media, and hairstylist Katrina Randolph has heard it. So every time a client slides into her chair, she snips away at fears and misconceptions. 

No, the vaccine isn’t an effort to sterilize Black people. It can’t alter your DNA. It won’t implant a microchip to track your movements. And no, people of color are not being used as guinea pigs.

Randolph has put herself on the front lines of the Black community’s fight against COVID vaccine misinformation, part of a network of barbershops and beauty salons working with Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, who runs the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

The Health In-Reach and Research Initiative – or HAIR – used to focus on educating people about chronic diseases such as diabetes and colon cancer, Thomas says. 

Now it’s taking on something just as dangerous and more insidious: Viral misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines that is contributing to Black Americans getting vaccinated at a much lower rate than white Americans.

– Jessica Guynn

Democratic-led states fared poorly early in pandemic, then rallied ahead

States led by Republican governors fared better in the first few months of the pandemic, but the trend reversed in early June, and from mid-year through early December, states with Democratic governors had a lower incidence of coronavirus infections and deaths, a new study found.

The report, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says researchers theorized Democratic-led states would do poorly early on because of entry points in the U.S. coasts, which are mostly Democratic strongholds. That indeed happened, but while most states issued stay-at-home mandates when infections skyrocketed in March and April, Republican governors were slower to respond and kept the orders in place for a shorter time, the researchers said. They also pointed out Democratic governors were more likely to require the use of masks.

“Gubernatorial party affiliation may drive policy decisions that impact COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S.,” the study concluded. “Future policy decisions should be guided by public health considerations rather than political ideology.”

COVID-19 vaccine now available at some Target stores

The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived at Target stores in 17 states.

The retailer announced Wednesday the rollout of vaccines for those who are eligible at more than 600 CVS in-store pharmacies at Target locations in parts of the country. CVS Health acquired pharmacies in Target stores for $1.9 billion in 2015.

Target told USA TODAY that select stores in the following states are offering vaccines by appointment through CVS: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Which of the vaccines are available varies by location.

– Kelly Tyko

Contributing: The Associated Press

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