Texas, Mississippi end mask mandates; Senate taking up stimulus bill, $1,400 checks: Live COVID-19 updates


2021-03-03 20:50:32

The Senate is expected to begin debate Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan under a timeline that could start rolling out $1,400 stimulus checks within two weeks.

The bill also includes funding for state and local governments, tax credits for families and bigger unemployment checks.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that Democrats are “on track” to pass the bill by March 14, when the current federal boost to unemployment benefits expires.

“I expect a hearty debate. I expect some late nights on the floor,” Schumer said.

Far outside Washington’s political beltway, Dolly Parton was vaccinated in Tennessee, months after donating $1 million to vaccine efforts. The steady decline in hospitalizations prompted Texas and Mississippi to drop all mask mandates. The governors also cited the vaccine rollout’s accelerating pace – although a USA TODAY investigation shows some states are finding the federal government’s rollout tracker cumbersome and of little value.

Also in the news:

►New York state is testing a high-tech “Excelsior Pass’ allowing participants to confirm vaccinations or recent negative COVID-19 tests and gain entry to events at theaters and arenas.

►The federal government has crossed the 100 million mark vaccine doses distributed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

►The variant of coronavirus first identified in Brazil has emerged in Oregon, the first known case on the West Coast, medical authorities said Tuesday. There have been 10 other cases of the P.1 variant reported in the United States: five in Florida, two in Minnesota and one each in Oklahoma, Alaska and Maryland, the CDC says.

A new report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center identified more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health care workers and facilities last year. Researchers found that about 400 of those attacks were related to COVID-19.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 516,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 114.8 million cases and 2.55 million deaths. More than 102.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 78.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: More COVID-19 variants are emerging closer to home: What to know about the ones discovered in Brazil, New York, California.

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.

Dolly Parton, who helped fund vaccine, gets ‘dose of her own medicine’

Exhale, country music lovers. Dolly Parton has received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. The country music legend — who helped fund the Moderna vaccine with a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt researchers — received her shot Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, per an Instagram post. Her caption simply reads: “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine.”

In a video published Tuesday, Parton, 75, encouraged viewers to get vaccinated because “the sooner we get to feelin’ better, the sooner we are gonna get back to being normal.”

Fed’s high-tech vaccine tracker is too complicated for many states

Operation Warp Speed spent $16 million on Tiberius, a high-tech system meant to track shipments of vaccines and guide local decisions of where to send them. Tiberius – a tyrannical, moody Roman emperor and the middle name of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk – would allow “granular planning” all the way down to the doctor’s office, provide “a ZIP code-by-ZIP code view of priority populations” and “ease the burden” on public health officials, the federal government said.

But for many states, Tiberius proved either so irrelevant or too complicated. That has contributed to a patchy vaccine rollout, where access depends more on where you live and how Internet savvy you are.

Even if local officials opted to use Tiberius, “they would be giving us data that they got from us,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, deputy director of public health for Solano County, California. “Local public health officials have an immense amount of data and know their communities well.

Aleszu Bajak and David Heath

Ominous variants gain foothold in US

The country has more than 2,500 cases of coronavirus variants that can spread more easily and dodge some treatments that were successful for the original virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

More than 100 new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom were reported just since Sunday, bringing the nation’s total to 2,506. The number of known U.S. cases of the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa has risen to 65. The United States has 11 known cases of the P.1 variant first seen in Brazil.

– Mike Stucka

Texas, Mississippi governors defy health officials, end mask mandates

Defying warnings from federal health officials about the need to stay vigilant against the coronavirus, the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi said Tuesday they’re lifting COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’s moving to “open Texas 100%” and will issue an executive order to take effect March 10 rescinding most of his earlier orders, including restrictions on business occupancy and the July 2 statewide mask order.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Tuesday that, starting Wednesday, all county mask mandates would be lifted and businesses allowed to operate at full capacity. Hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed, he said: “We are getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.”

COVID-19 can affect immune system in complex ways, research shows

In some COVID-19 patients, scientists say unprepared immune cells appear to be responding to the coronavirus with a devastating release of chemicals, inflicting damage that may endure long after the threat has been eliminated.

“If you have a brand-new virus and the virus is winning, the immune system may go into an ‘all hands on deck’ response,” said Dr. Nina Luning Prak, co-author of a January study on COVID-19 and the immune system. “Things that are normally kept in close check are relaxed. The body may say, ‘Who cares. Give me all you’ve got.’”

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

– Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News

Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Ledyard King, USA TODAY, The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID update: Texas cancels mask mandate; Senate stimulus debate

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