Brighter outlook for US as vaccinations rise, deaths fall; new virus variant detected in India

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More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture, with 70% of Americans 65 and older receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths dipping below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

Also, dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. And the White House said 27 million doses of both the one-shot and two-shot vaccines will be distributed next week, more than three times the number when President Joe Biden took office two months ago.

Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday he isn’t ready to declare victory.

“I’m often asked, are we turning the corner?” Fauci said at a White House briefing. “My response is really more like we are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen.”

Public health experts in the U.S. are taking every opportunity to warn that relaxing social distancing and other preventive measures could easily lead to another surge.

In other developments:

  • A new and potentially troublesome variant of the coronavirus has been detected in India, as have variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
  • A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the rate of U.S. households homeschooling their children doubled from the start of the pandemic last spring to the start of the new school year last September.
  • Disposable masks, gloves and other types of personal protective equipment are safeguarding untold lives during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re also creating a worldwide pollution problem, littering streets and sending an influx of harmful plastic and other waste into landfills, sewage systems and oceans.
  • With the memory of the pandemic’s toll in nursing homes still raw, the COVID-19 relief law is offering states a generous funding boost for home- and community-based care as an alternative to institutionalizing disabled people.
  • The European Union moved toward stricter export controls for coronavirus vaccines, seeking to make sure its 27 nations have more COVID-19 shots to boost the bloc’s flagging vaccine campaign amid a surge in new infections.
  • Pandemic-weary Americans starved for human interaction and physical touch are taking advantage of a growing wellness option once reserved for Hollywood actors, rock stars and elite athletes: boutique stretching.
  • The former chief science adviser for the U.S. effort to rapidly develop COVID-19 vaccines has been fired from the board of directors of a medical research company over sexual harassment allegations, drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said.
  • Pope Francis has ordered pay cuts for cardinals, priests and nuns at the Vatican in a bid to save other Holy See employees’ jobs. Francis, in a letter made public by the Vatican, noted that the pandemic emergency “negatively impacted all sources of revenue” for the Holy See and Vatican City State.
  • The University of Pittsburgh’s former director of emergency management stole more than 13,600 face masks meant for school employees and students and sold them online in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal indictment.

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Virus by the numbers