Virus in 2021 surpass 2020 total; Johnson & Johnson seeks FDA clearance for booster shots

In the history of the pandemic in the U.S., 2020 will be remembered as the most disruptive year, a time when the coronavirus shut down businesses, schools, sports, travel and many more staples of everyday life.

But 2021 has surpassed its predecessor as the deadliest year.

That threshold, especially lamentable considering the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the country since the spring, was crossed Tuesday when the U.S.’s world-leading total of coronavirus deaths went over the 704,000 mark. The 2020 tally was 352,000, or half that number.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Washington National Cathedral plans to toll its funeral bell 700 times in memory of the lives lost.

The solemn ceremony comes as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. are trending downward, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Compared to four weeks ago, hospitalizations for the latest week are down 26.9%, and the number of ICU beds occupied by likely COVID-19 patients has diminished by 25.3%. The pace of fatalities has decreased as well, about 12% from the Sept. 22 peak.

But the combination of the hyper-infectious delta variant with the misinformation-driven refusal by so many Americans to get vaccinated — some 70 million who are eligible have not received the free shots — has left the country vulnerable to a virus that continues to adapt and find new victims.

More of them, in fact, than in what will likely be regarded as the worst year of the pandemic.

Also in the news:

►Award-winning hair and makeup designer Marc Pilcher, who according to his agency was fully vaccinated and had no underlying health conditions, has died of COVID-19 at 53.

►The FDA on Monday authorized a new coronavirus home test that the agency says will soon double the nation’s limited supply of non-prescription tests.

►Northwell Health, New York’s largest health care provider, said 1,400 employees, less than 2% of its total workforce, have been fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. A statewide vaccination mandate for all hospital and nursing home workers took effect Sept. 27.

►A New York man was charged with a felony and could face seven years in prison for faking a COVID-19 vaccine card.

►The European Union’s drug regulator gave its backing Monday to administering booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and older.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 43.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 704,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 235.6 million cases and 4.8 million deaths. More than 185.8 million Americans – 56.3% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: COVID-19 vaccines could be available for younger children in a matter of weeks – but experts worry whether communities of color will have an equal shot at protecting their kids. Read more here.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Chicago CBP office confiscates fake vaccine cards, unauthorized medications

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working at the International Mail Facility at Chicago O’Hare found 41 counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards M, along with ivermectin tablets and hydroxychloroquine pills, according to Chicago Field Office spokesperson Steve Bansbach. Neither of those medications is authorized for treating COVID, although some people have used them for that purpose.

The cards were found in two shipments from China that were destined for Houston and Seagraves, Texas. One package was labeled “greeting cards,” according to Bansbach. The cards resembled the authentic CDC certificates provided by healthcare practitioners when administering the COVID vaccine but “appeared to be fraudulent due to their low-quality appearance and other discrepancies,” CBP said in a statement.

“Our CBP officers continue the fight against these crooks who are using this pandemic to make a profit by selling these fraudulent documents,” said LaFonda Sutton-Burke, Director of Field Operations at the Chicago Field Office.

— Grace Hauck
CDC urges unvaccinated Americans to delay trips

The CDC says unvaccinated Americans should delay planned trips within the country until they’ve had their COVID-19 shots.

“People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization can travel safely within the United States,” the CDC said in a Monday update of its domestic travel guidance, which also outlines recommendations for unvaccinated people who must travel.

Also Monday, the CDC’s list of countries where Americans should avoid travel because of “very high” COVID-19 cases grew again, with Barbados and Croatia the most notable additions.

More than 80 countries are now on the ever-changing list of countries travelers should avoid, including Jamaica, Aruba, Belize, the United Kingdom, Greece and other popular tourist destinations. Read more here.

Leave a Reply