Disneyland to reopen for Californians; Latino vaccinations lag in Texas; FEMA could help pay for funeral costs: Live COVID-19 updates

Federal health officials have directed states to make all adults eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccination by May 1, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response Andy Slavitt said Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the directive days after President Joe Biden set the May 1 target – and a goal that on July 4 Americans will “not only mark out independence as a nation but our independence from this virus.”

The White House says that more than 22 million vaccine doses will be distributed in the next seven days, a new high that would send the daily average over 3 million for the first time.

Also Wednesday, Massachusetts and Iowa announced plans to open up vaccination appointments to all adults next month, joining a growing list of states removing eligibility requirements as doses become more readily available.

Iowa will open up eligibility to all residents April 5, contingent on the state receiving the increase in doses it’s expecting, Gov. Kim Reynolds said. Mississippi and Alaska are already vaccinating anyone who signs up; Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said his state will do so within two weeks, and Connecticut is starting April 5.

Also in the news:

►All vaccination sites and testing locations were closed in Mississippi on Wednesday in advance of severe weather that could also jeopardize vaccine activity in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.

►Public health officials in England say the number of people getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be “significantly constrained” for most of April because of a reduction in the vaccine supply to the country.

►California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is preparing for a likely recall election fueled by backlash to pandemic restrictions: “We will fight it. We will defeat it.”

►The first major wave of stimulus checks should become available in bank accounts across the nation – up to $1,400 per person; a family of four could see $5,600.

►More than 15% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated and 28% have had at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 537,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 121 million cases and 2.67 million deaths. More than 147.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 113 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Outdoor seating isn’t always safer than indoor dining. Some structures may be relatively safe, others could be worse, trapping aerosols inside.

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.

Latino vaccinations lag behind whites across Texas, especially in capital city

About half the 770 people who have died of COVID-19 in Travis County, Texas – home of the state capital of Austin – have been Latinos. And yet, an analysis by the USA TODAY network shows only 22% of people vaccinated in the county have been Latinos, even though they made up one-third of the 1.2 million residents in 2019, according to census data.

In Travis County, white-majority ZIP codes had average vaccination rates 1.7 times higher than ZIP codes where people of color were in the majority. The disparity was most pronounced in ZIP codes with a Latino majority, and Travis County’s gap for Latinos was bigger than in all but three other large Texas counties: Cameron, Harris –where Houston is located – and Dallas.

Overall, in the 20 largest counties in Texas, ZIP codes with white, non-Latino residents in the majority had vaccination rates 1.3 times higher than other ZIP codes on average through the end of February. No Latino-majority ZIP code had a higher vaccination rate than white-majority ZIP codes, according to the analysis.

– Sarah Asch and Jayme Fraser, Austin American-Statesman

FEMA may help pay for COVID-19 funeral expenses

Families who dealt with the pain of losing a loved one to COVID-19 may get some help covering funeral expenses – and perhaps even a sympathetic voice on the phone.

A new program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will allow them to apply for reimbursements, and they won’t have to do it online. FEMA administrator Bob Fenton said a toll-free number to apply by phone would be set up in April.

“With empathy being the priority, we want to be able to case-manage and have that human-to-human interaction as we do this and make sure that we do it in a way that supports everyone’s needs,” Fenton said.

– Emma Austin, Louisville Courier Journal

Woman with double lung transplant feels ‘pretty normal’

A suburban Detroit woman infected with COVID-19 gave birth then underwent a double lung transplant just weeks later to save her life. On Wednesday, while holding 3-month-old daughter Mia, she and the medical team at Henry Ford Health System shared her amazing story.

“I feel actually pretty normal,” said Jackie Dennis, 31, a teacher in Wayne County, Michigan. “Things are still a little hard, maybe taking too many steps, going up and down the stairs. But generally speaking I can do almost everything I want to besides picking up Mia just yet.”

Dennis was 36 weeks pregnant on Nov. 20 when she went to an emergency room with a cough, headache and breathing problems. She tested positive for the coronavirus and was admitted to the hospital. Doctors decided to induce labor a week later, and Mia was born.

Dennis developed pneumonia and her lungs deteriorated to the point where a ventilator was necessary. She was subsequently placed on another special breathing device but her lungs weren’t improving. Without the transplant, performed Jan. 16, she would not have survived.

Lynn Cummings receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday at the Auburn Mall in Auburn, Maine.

Lynn Cummings receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday at the Auburn Mall in Auburn, Maine.

Europe’s struggle with latest surge could serve as warning to US

COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and new infections are in decline across most of the U.S., prompting states to ease restrictions on personal freedoms and vaccinations. But across Europe, another wave of infections is triggering new lockdowns, closing schools, cafes and other businesses. Part of the problem may be a wobbly vaccine rollout. But health experts in the U.S. say what’s happening in Europe should serve as a warning against ignoring social distancing or dropping other safeguards too early.

“Each of these countries has had nadirs like we are having now, and each took an upward trend after they disregarded known mitigation strategies,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director. “They simply took their eye off the ball.”

Disneyland to reopen April 30, but only for Californians

Disneyland Park & Disney California Adventure Park are planning to reopen to state residents on April 30, with limited capacity, Disney said in a statement. Disney will manage attendance through a new system that requires all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. A park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date will be required for guests ages 3 and up.

Reservations will be limited and subject to availability “and, until further notice, only California residents may visit the parks in line with current state guidelines,” the statement said.

Spread of variants accelerates across nation

Cases of coronavirus variants are exploding across the United States, with more than 1,000 new cases reported in a five-day span, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. The U.S. now has 4,855 known variant cases, up 27% in less than a week. The variants the CDC tracks – mostly one first seen in the United Kingdom, but also ones traced to South Africa and Brazil – can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or all three. Some variants also appear more likely to kill their victims, researchers say.

The national tally of known variant cases has already doubled in March, even as coronavirus cases in total have been falling across much of the nation.

– Mike Stucka

WHO official backs AstraZeneca vaccine, says clots are ‘very rare’

People should feel comfortable getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if health authorities turn up a link to “very rare” blood clots, a top World Health Organization expert said Wednesday. Dr. Kate O’Brien, who heads WHO’s department of immunizations and vaccines, said the U.N. health agency and the European Medicines Agency are trying to investigate whether the vaccine has anything to do with the clots. The potential side effect has prompted several European countries to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Initial results of the EMA analysis are expected Thursday.

“I think the reassurance to the public is that regardless of whether or not the committee ultimately assesses that there may be an association between these events and the vaccine, that in any event, these are very rare events,” O’Brien said at a news conference.

Many U.S. experts also believe the vaccinations should continue. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, warned that the suspensions create a perception that vaccines are dangerous.

“The only way out of this pandemic is by vaccination,” he said.

Vatican says J&J vaccine OK – if it’s the only one available

Catholics might be somewhat confused by the differing messages about the acceptability of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to a cell line from an abortion being used in its production.

The differences have been resolved and Catholic teaching is clear: Catholics have a moral duty to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by being vaccinated. However, if given the choice, they should pick one of the other authorized vaccines over the one made by Johnson & Johnson, according to the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Should they choose not to be vaccinated, Catholics have a moral obligation to mask, socially distance and “do their utmost” to avoid becoming infected or infecting others, the Vatican said. Read more here.

Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID updates: FEMA may help pay funeral costs; Disneyland reopening

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