European Union to open for vaccinated travelers; Dr. Anthony Fauci says public ‘misinterpreting’ CDC mask guidance: Live COVID-19 updates

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The European Union on Wednesday announced plans to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, as well as people coming from a list of countries considered safe, with the United States expected to make the cut. 

It’s unclear when these new rules will go into effect, but an updated list of countries that meet the new criteria is expected soon. Up until now, the list included only seven nations. The EU’s 27 ambassadors agreed to ease restrictions on nonessential travel and on those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 after imposing strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus last year.

“The council should also soon expand the list of non-EU countries with a good epidemiological situation from where travel is permitted,” said EU Commission spokesman Christian Wigand. The EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will give advice on the list.

EU nations have been struggling to support their vital tourism industry during the pandemic and hope to recover some income over the peak summer season.

The U.S. ranks among the world leaders in vaccinations, with 60% of Americans adults having had at least one dose, and new infections and hospitalizations are steadily falling. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped to numbers not seen since March 2020, essentially the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also in the news:

►A study of 280 nursing homes in 21 states across the U.S. provides real-world confirmation of the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness: About 1% of residents tested positive for the virus within two weeks of receiving their second dose, and only 0.3% did more than two weeks after being fully vaccinated, researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the cases did not produce any symptoms.

►The Las Vegas Strip and surroundings will fully reopen to vaccinated diners, dancers, shoppers and club-goers beginning June 1.

►The Argentina Health Ministry reported 745 more deaths and 35,543 new infections, the highest number yet in the nation of 45 million, even though nearly 20% of Argentinians have received at least on COVID-19 vaccine shot. Less than 5% are fully vaccinated.

►Cafe and restaurant terraces reopened Wednesday in France after a pandemic shutdown of more than six months kept a quintessential French gathering spot off limits. In addition, the country’s 7 p.m. daily curfew is getting pushed back to 9 p.m.

►Japan continues to struggle with COVID-19 but is still planning to hold the Summer Olympics beginning July 23. “Japan is not ready to hold such a big event given the current situation of (the) COVID pandemic,” Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University in Japan, wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports. “The world, likewise, is not ready.”

? Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 587,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 164.4 million cases and 3.4 million deaths. More than 349 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 277 million have been administered, according to the CDC. Nearly 125.4 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 37.8% of the population.

? What we’re reading: A network of barbers and stylists in Maryland is offering fresh cuts and COVID shots to communities of color. Read more here.

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.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday, six days after announcing new guidance on mask wearing for fully vaccinated people.

Walensky was asked repeatedly about the new recommendations and the impact they could have on getting Americans vaccinated. She emphasized that the country is not “homogenous,” and given the disproportionate rates of vaccination – particularly for people of color who are more at risk – said decisions about whether to remove mask mandates must be made at the local level.

“That scientific data was enough for us to move forward,” Walensky said of the decision on the mask guidance. “People said we moved too slow, we moved too fast. We moved at the speed that science gave us.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, told Axios on Wednesday that the U.S. public did not correctly understand the CDC’s latest announcement.

“I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,” he said. “It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”

Fauci stressed that the CDC did not advise unvaccinated people to go without masks, though experts say the new guidance will allow unvaccinated people to flout rules without consequences.

House Democrats investigating a contractor the Trump administration hired to help make COVID-19 vaccines blasted the company’s officials for not correcting serious deficiencies that resulted in millions of ruined Johnson & Johnson doses.

During Wednesday’s joint hearing by two House committees investigating Emergent BioSolutions’ failures under a no-bid, $628 million contract, Emergent Chief Executive Robert Kramer revealed that last year multiple batches of another COVID-19 vaccine, being made at the same Baltimore factory for AstraZeneca, also were contaminated.

Emergent has received more than $271 million from its contract with the government but hasn’t produced any usable doses.

The company was handed the contract in May 2020, despite multiple Food and Drug Administration inspections documenting poor quality controls and inadequate strategy for preventing contamination. Despite FDA warnings, Emergent didn’t correct those problems, leading to contamination of about 15 million J&J doses since discarded. More than 100 million additional J&J doses are undergoing FDA safety testing.

Under questioning, Kramer admitted Emergent didn’t notice contamination of the J&J doses in February. J&J tested them and discovered material used for AstraZeneca’s vaccine somehow contaminated J&J’s vaccine. The FDA said Wednesday it’s working with J&J and AstraZeneca to find out whether any vaccine from Emergent can be used.

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, condemned the CDC’s decision to lift masking recommendations for fully vaccinated people and urged the agency to bring them back.

NNU leaders argued in a press conference Wednesday that the U.S. is still struggling with 35,000 new COVID-19 cases per day and the continued circulation of variants. They also said persisting unanswered questions about the vaccines – like how long protection lasts – highlights the need for masks.

The CDC’s new guidance could potentially harm those who have yet to be vaccinated, such as children under 12 years old and underserved communities, as well as  immunocompromised people who don’t respond as robustly to the vaccines, said NNU president Jean Ross.

“As guardians of public health during the worst global pandemic of our lifetimes and as the essential care workers who have held this medical system together through this horrific past year and a half, it is our duty to speak up and advocate for what we know is in the best interest of people’s health,” she said. “The guidance the CDC issued on May 13 is disappointingly not in the best interest of public health.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

The early part of the pandemic significantly increased the number of Californians going hungry, a situation that became dramatically acute among those who previously lacked enough to eat, a UCLA study has found.

Researchers at the school said the number of California households with insufficient food rose by 22% during from late April to late July 2020. Households already struggling to put food on the table before the pandemic were 40 times more likely to go hungry. 

“In particular, disadvantaged households in the San Francisco Bay Area – where income and educational levels are higher, but income inequality and cost of living are also higher – seem to be at higher risk for food insufficiency,” said May Wang, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

India’s total virus cases surged to 25.5 million Wednesday as the country registered more than 260,000 new infections and a record 4,329 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

The numbers continue a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks Monday. Active cases in the country also decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday — the biggest dip in weeks.

But deaths, a lagging indicator, have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.

The nation of nearly 1.4 billion has reported more than 400,000 daily new cases several times over the course of May, shattering global records. It has been slammed by a spike in infections since February, partially driven by a dangerous variant now found in 49 countries, including the U.S.

Contributing: The Associated Press.



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