Half of new cases are in 5 states; UK variant becomes dominant strain in US; Brazil endures deadliest day: Live COVID-19 updates

Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states – a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.

Half of new cases are in 5 states; UK variant becomes dominant strain in US;  Brazil endures deadliest day: Live COVID-19 updates

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections, or nearly 197,500 new cases, in the latest available seven-day period, according to state health agency data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The heavy concentration of new cases in states that account for 22% of the U.S. population has prompted some experts and elected officials to call for President Joe Biden’s administration to ship additional vaccine doses to those places. So far, the White House has shown no signs of shifting from its policy of dividing vaccine doses among states based on population.

Also in the news:

►The seven-day average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 53,651 on March 23 to 64,791 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, while the average number of deaths – a lagging indicator – declined from 821 to 774.

The European Union’s drug regulator says it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder but said the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks. In a statement released Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency placed no new restrictions on using the vaccine in people 18 and over, although several countries have imposed them on their own.

Puerto Rico will make all those 16 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccines beginning Monday, prompting celebrations across a U.S. territory facing a spike in cases. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also said Wednesday he’s implementing a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that will go into effect Friday.

►The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed he has received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Unlike other governors from both major parties who have been vaccinated publicly to reassure their constituents that the shots are safe, DeSantis was inoculated away from the cameras.

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A third of COVID-19 patients in a study of more than 230,000 mostly Americans were diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months, scientists reported in the journal Lancet. Among patients who required treatment in ICU units, more than 4 in 10 suffered disorders, the researchers found.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 30.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 559,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 132.9 million cases and 2.88 million deaths. At least 225 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 171 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Why do children fare better than adults against COVID-19? Their innate immune response may stop the virus earlier, according to a new study. Read the full story.

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.

Variant first detected in UK is now the dominant lineage in US

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning since January that the highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain would become the dominant strain in the U.S., and that time has arrived.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the variant, formally known as B.1.1.7, is “now the most common lineage circulating in United States.”

Though not surprising, the acknowledgement is significant because B.1.1.7 is considered at least 50% more transmissible, and it’s also more virulent, than the virus’ original strain. The variant is believed to be a major factor in the current surge of infections in Europe as well as the recent increase in U.S. cases after an extended decline. Of the 17,017 variant cases reported in this country, 16,275 are of the U.K. lineage.

The three vaccines authorized in the U.S. have proved effective against the variant, adding further urgency to the nation’s inoculation program.

Reinfections not closely tracked, but likely not source of latest surge

There is some evidence, as well as a general assumption, that those who contract the coronavirus are protected from reinfection for several months. And indeed, the known number of reinfections represents an infinitesimal percentage of the nearly 31 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.

But the assumption has not been confirmed because neither the federal nor the state governments closely tracks COVID reinfections, which are hard to assess because so many cases are asymptomatic. Still, they are not considered major contributors to the nearly 20% increase in daily new cases nationally compared with two weeks ago.

“We anticipate reinfections will be a part of the epidemiology at some point, but I don’t think they’re accounting for the cases now in any major shape or form,” Michael Diamond, a viral immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told the STAT website.

Allergies and symptoms of COVID-19: How to tell them apart

With COVID-19 cases rising again in parts of the country, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that a sore throat or a runny nose could be signs of the disease. That kind of reaction might be even more common at this time of year as seasonal allergies start kicking in because of the high pollen count.

The CDC says nearly 8% of the U.S. population deals with these kinds of allergies, which typically lead to symptoms centered around the nose, eyes and throat, much like COVID-19.

Some colleges will require vaccines this fall

The class of 2025 entering college this fall could have a new prerequisite: Getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Rutgers University in New Jersey and Cornell University in upstate New York were among the first universities to announce that their students would be required to be vaccinated if they wanted to study in-person during the fall semester. Brown in Rhode Island, Northeastern in Boston, Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Fort Lewis College in Colorado have all announced similar policies. More schools likely will join the list.

“It doesn’t just make us safer. In the end, it makes our entire community safer,” said Antonio Calcado, Rutgers’ chief operating officer. “That’s why we think requiring is the way to go versus encouraging.”

Chris Quintana

Itchy rash after your vaccine jab? You’ll be fine, expert says

Getting COVID-19 can cause all manner of odd skin reactions. A new study finds some of them can be rare, brief side effects of getting the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The itchy and annoying reactions were seen in a database of 414 cases of delayed skin problems linked to the vaccines and reported to health care professionals. The cases were collected between December and February before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was authorized, so it was not included. None caused a life-threatening reaction, a finding the study’s senior author, Dr. Esther Freeman, found reassuring.

“People can get full-body rashes, and that can be surprising and a little scary, but these patients did extremely well, recovered and were able to go back and get their second dose,” said Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Elizabeth Weise

Asian Americans among most affected by pandemic shutdowns

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are grappling with the nation’s highest rates of long-term unemployment more than a year after the pandemic shuttered hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, beauty salons and other sectors of the economy. Even as unemployment levels driven by the economic shutdown have returned to near pre-pandemic levels, many Asian Americans are unsure when they will be able to return to work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 48% of the Asian community’s estimated 615,000 unemployed had been without work for six months-plus through the first quarter of this year. The figure surpassed long-term unemployed among jobless workers in the Black population (43%), white population (39%) and Hispanic population (39%).

Marc Ramirez

Tech officials ‘Apollo 13-ing’ vaccination scheduling programs

Local health officials faced with the daunting duty of vaccinating their corner of America have had to piece together information technology systems in the face of unstable vaccine supply and strained staff and resources. Though the federal government spent millions on vaccine scheduling and supply management programs, they were of little use to local officials, who scrambled to come up with systems on their own.

Becky Colwell-Ongenae, geographical information system manager for Will County, Illinois, said she feels like tech experts are “Apollo 13-ing this vaccine rollout,” a reference to the 1970 space flight during which makeshift engineering averted a disaster when an oxygen tank failed. “I got a plastic bag and some tweezers, and I gotta moonshot home,” she said.

US behind other nations in crucial tracking of variants

The United States lags well behind many other countries in employing the essential tool for keeping abreast of variants – gene sequencing – increasing the risk that a new variant could spread undetected here. Sequencing involves taking samples from positive tests to another lab to seek the genetic code of a virus, laying out for scientists a precise map for how to defeat it.