The Latest: Study finds masks, dining rules help curb spread
NEW YORK — A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study Friday. It looked at counties placed under state-issued mask mandates and at counties that allowed restaurant dining — both indoors and at tables outside. The agency’s director says it shows decreases in cases and deaths when people wear masks. And it found increases in cases and deaths when in-person restaurant dining is allowed. The study was released just as some states are rescinding mask mandates and restaurant limits.
The scientists found that mask mandates were associated with reduced coronavirus transmission, and that improvements in new cases and deaths increased as time went on.
The reductions in growth rates varied from half a percentage point to nearly 2 percentage points. That may sound small, but the large number of people involved means the impact grows with time, experts said.
Reopening restaurant dining was not followed by a significant increase in cases and deaths in the first 40 days after restrictions were lifted. But after that, there were increases of about 1 percentage point in the growth rate of cases and — later — 2 to 3 percentage points in the growth rate of deaths.
Gery Guy Jr., a CDC scientist who was the study’s lead author, says the delay could be because restaurants didn’t reopen immediately and because many customers may have been hesitant to dine in right away.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths.
— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department confirmed reports of altered nursing home deaths
— AP-NORC poll: Americans largely back Biden’s virus response
— Canada OKs Johnson & Johnson shot, getting 4th vaccine for nation
— Pope urges Iraq to embrace its Christians on historic visit
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW YORK — After growing cobwebs for nearly a year, movie theaters in New York City are reopening, returning film titles to Manhattan marquees that had for the last 12 months read messages like “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.”
As of Friday, cinemas in the city are operating at only 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 per each auditorium. As in other places, mask wearing is mandatory, seats are blocked out and air filters have been upgraded.
For a theatrical business that has been punished by the pandemic, the resumption of moviegoing in New York — is a crucial first step in revival. Screens had been closed there for almost a year.
Less than half of movie theaters are open nationwide, but reopenings are quickening.
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has lifted capacity restrictions at gyms, restaurants and other businesses, citing lower COVID-19 cases and increased vaccination.
His order Friday does not change mask mandates imposed by cities and counties, which remain in effect across most of the state.
The decision to lift capacity restrictions applies to gyms, restaurants, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars providing dine-in services. Ducey again ignored the guidance issued by his own administration last year, which says those businesses should be closed altogether under the current “substantial” level of virus spread across most of Arizona.
“Today’s announcement is a measured approach; we are not in the clear yet,” Ducey said in a statement. “We need to continue practicing personal responsibility. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands frequently.”
Until Friday, gyms were required to operate at 25% of their typical capacity while restaurants, movie theaters and water parks could operate at up to 50%. Ducey’s order lifts those restrictions but maintains other requirements, including mask requirements while not eating and social distancing between parties.
The move was met with opposition from most of the state’s big hospital chains. “Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus,” the Health System Alliance of Arizona wrote in a statement.
Sal DiCiccio, a conservative member of the Phoenix City Council, thanked Ducey “for opening up Arizona” and wrote on Twitter, “This is a major win towards full recovery.”
Baseball teams can play spring training games with a state-approved plan for safety protocols and physical distancing. The Cactus League and leaders of cities with stadiums in January asked MLB to delay spring training. COVID-19 case counts have dropped since then, and games began last week with limited fans.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is issuing an executive order mandating that all public schools provide universal access to in-person learning by the month’s end for students up to fifth grade and by mid-April for older students.
The state’s coronavirus case numbers have fallen significantly and Oregon put teachers ahead of older residents in the line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The order states that students in K-5 must have an in-person learning option by March 29. Students in grades six through 12 must have one by April 19. Students who prefer to remain in online class will also have the option.
ROME — Italy surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, the third straight day this week that daily new caseloads exceeded 20,000 cases.
With the 24,036 new confirmed infections registered by the Health Ministry, Italy has reached 3,023,129 cases. The actual total is widely considered higher because testing wasn’t extensive early in the pandemic.
The virus variant first found in England is potentially fueling the increase, along with another variant, detected in Brazil. Italy registered 297 more deaths, raising the confirmed death toll to 99,271.
“We can’t wait for more vaccines and doses of vaccines to arrive,” said Dr. Gianni Rezza, a health ministry official, noting the slow delivery of shots.
In Italy, some 3.5 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization called for patent rights to be waived until the end of the coronavirus pandemic so vaccine supplies can be dramatically increased.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says countries with their own vaccine capacity should “start waiving intellectual property rights” as provided in special emergency provisions from the World Trade Organization.
“These provisions are there for use in emergencies,” Tedros said. “If now is not a time to use them, then when?” He said WHO would be meeting soon with representatives and the industry to identify bottlenecks in production and discuss how to solve them.
Tedros commended AstraZeneca for sharing its COVID-19 vaccine technology with companies, including the Serum Institute of India.
Tedros noted although the U.N. backed effort known as COVAX has delivered vaccines to more than 20 countries this week, the amounts are only enough to protect about 2 to 3% of each country’s population.
NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department confirmed reports late Thursday that members of his COVID-19 task force altered a New York state Health Department report to omit the full number of nursing home patients killed by the coronavirus, but insisted the changes were made because of concerns about the data’s accuracy.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, citing documents and people with knowledge of the administration’s internal discussions, reported that aides including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa pushed state health officials to edit the July report so it counted only residents who died inside long-term care facilities, and not those who became ill there and later died at a hospital.
The state now acknowledges that at least 15,000 long-term care residents died, compared to a figure of 8,700 it had publicized as of late January that didn’t include residents who died after being transferred to hospitals.
WASHINGTON — The White House says two new mass vaccination sites will soon be open, in Atlanta and Cleveland, each with the ability to provide 6,000 daily coronavirus shots.
Coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt says the FEMA-supported centers will operate from Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, which is home to the NFL’s Falcons, and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.
Slavitt says it brings the total of FEMA-supported sites to 18, with the capacity to provide 60,000 daily shots. There are 450 community vaccination centers already in operation.
More than 54 million Americans have received at least one shot. Nearly 28 million people, representing about 8% of the population, have completed their vaccinations.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb received his COVID-19 vaccine shot Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the opening of the state’s first mass vaccination clinic.
Holcomb wore a face mask in the front passenger seat of an SUV while getting the shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the drive-through clinic.
Holcomb says his message is: “This is going to help us beat COVID-19. The more, the faster.”
The state health department says nearly 17,000 people had filled up four days of appointments for the speedway clinic held Friday through Monday. About 630,000 people, or nearly 10% of Indiana’s population, were fully vaccinated through Wednesday.
TORONTO — Canada is getting a fourth vaccine to prevent COVID-19, approving the Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose.
Health experts are eager for a one-and-done option to help speed vaccination. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Health Canada is the first major regulator to approve four difference vaccines.
Canada doesn’t have domestic production and has struggled with a shortage of vaccines. The U.S. isn’t exporting locally made vaccines, so neighbors Canada and Mexico must get vaccines from Europe and Asia.
Canada has pre-purchased 10 million Johnson & Johnson doses, with options to buy another 28 million.
The U.S. approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says one dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness in a massive study that spanned three continents.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency is urging people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus when given the opportunity, no matter which vaccine is offered.
The comments Friday from Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler come amid reports some have declined the AstraZeneca shot.
Germany’s independent vaccine committee on Thursday approved AstraZeneca for people 65 and over. Several countries, including Germany, initially restricted it to people under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.
Germany is also administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“If you are offered a vaccine, please get yourself vaccinated. They are safe and effective,” Wieler says, adding that vaccinating large numbers of people is “the way out of the pandemic.”
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government plans to open temporary hospitals and impose partial localized lockdowns.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski says the government will open more temporary hospitals on Wednesday because of a rise in infections. Niedzielski says it’s partly because of the British variant.
With nearly 16,000 new cases recorded Friday, Niedzielski says that level could rise to 18,000 new daily cases or more next week.
ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani official says authorities are hoping to start receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in the middle of this month under the WHO’s COVAX Facility.
Sajjad Hussain Shah, a spokesman at ministry of health services, says Pakistan will receive 17 million doses coronavirus vaccines under the COVAX program from March to June. It will be in addition to 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine which Pakistan will get from Beijing next week.
China had promised to donate 1 million doses of vaccine to Pakistan. Last month, Pakistan received 500,000 doses.
Pakistan is currently using Chinese vaccines for health workers and elderly people amid a steady increase in deaths and cases from COVID-19. Pakistan allocated $250 million to buy vaccines, and authorities say they were still in talks with manufacturers of vaccines.
Also, Pakistan had allowed its private sector to import vaccines, but so far no private laboratory has started vaccinations for unexplained reasons.
Pakistan has reported 13,128 confirmed deaths among 587,014 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has a 60% approval rating of his job performance from Americans and even more backing for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Support for Biden’s pandemic response extends across party lines. Overall, 70% of Americans back his handling of the virus response, including 44% of Republicans.
Biden has made the pandemic his central focus, urging Americans to follow stringent social distancing and mask guidelines and vowing to speed up distribution of critical vaccines. He’s also argued that until the spread of the virus is under control, the economy won’t fully recover.
Overall, 48% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37% in December.
BAGHDAD — Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns.
Iraqis men were seen welcoming him along roadsides, most without masks. Iraq’s foreign minister described the visit as a historic meeting between the “minaret and the bells,” saying Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis’ “message of peace and tolerance.”
The pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress. But health measures appeared lax inside the airport despite the country’s worsening coronavirus outbreak.
The 84-year-old pope, the Vatican delegation and travelling media have been vaccinated; most Iraqis have not. Iraqi security forces are on hand to protect the delegation, along with the expected first use of an armored car for the popemobile-loving pontiff.
SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo has vaccinated nine great apes for the coronavirus after a troop of gorillas in its Safari Park became infected.
Officials say four orangutans and five bonobos received COVID-19 injections in January and February.
Three bonobos and a gorilla also are expected to receive the vaccine, which is experimental.
The vaccinations followed a January outbreak of COVID-19 at the zoo’s Safari Park. Eight western lowland gorillas got the virus, probably by exposure to a zookeeper who tested positive for COVID-19.
The gorillas had symptoms ranging from runny noses to coughing and lethargy. But they are recovering.