Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan. 25: EU to Relax Travel Rules, Judge Strikes Down New York Mask Rule

Free N95 Masks Are Starting to Appear at U.S. Pharmacies, Israeli Panel Recommends Fourth Dose of Vaccine

By Jonathan Spira on 25 January 2022
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A face mask notice at a Ford dealership in Suffolk County

A new version of the highly transmissible omicron variant is slowly spreading in parts of Europe and Asia and the World Health Organization is studying the mutation to see if it will pose any new challenges to a global population that is simply fed up with the pandemic.

In other news we cover today, New York State’s mask mandate was struck down, free N95 masks are arriving at pharmacies throughout the country, and the EU is relaxing travel rules for vaccinated residents.

UNITED STATES

A New York Supreme Court judge on Long Island struck down the state’s indoor mask mandate, saying that officials had needed approval from the legislature for such action. The rule requires masks in most indoor settings including shops, schools, and transit hubs, the latter which is also covered by the federal mask mandate.

Judge Thomas Rademaker said that the rule needed to have been “tailored, necessarily related, and attached to a law that the State Legislature has passed.”

The state’s Education Department filed an appeal that resulted in “an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such a time as an appellate court issues a further ruling.”

The free mask program announced by President Joseph Biden several weeks ago is starting to hand out the coveted N95 face coverings.  Several grocers and pharmacies in the Midwest including Meijer and Hy-Vee said that they have started to distribute them, and Walgreen’s will start to give them, upon request, to customers starting Friday. 

Even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that individuals with weakened immune systems get a fourth jab, some pharmacies are turning such patients away, with the pharmacists apparently unaware of the new guidance, Kaiser Health News reported.

The unvaccinated Minnesota Covid patient who was at the center of a legal battle to keep him on a ventilator after physicians at the hospital determined otherwise has died in a Texas hospital he was transferred to. Scott Quiner’s family had filed suit to keep him on the ventilator, saying that doctors at the hospital had declined to provide a treatment requested by his wife.

GLOBAL

The pandemic won’t be over until the fat lady sings.  The World Health Organization said Tuesday that BA.2, a descendant of the original omicron variant, is now under the microscope.

“The BA. 2 descendant lineage, which differs from BA. 1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries,” the WHO said in a statement on its website. “Investigations into the characteristics of BA. 2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA. 1.”

The European Union said it would relax travel rules for vaccinated residents and for those who have recovered from the virus in the past six months.  The recommendation by the European Commission said that individuals who have been vaccinated in the past nine months or recovered from the coronavirus should not face additional entry restrictions such as testing or quarantine.

Finally, a medical panel that advises the Israeli government on the pandemic recommended making a fourth dose of vaccine available to people 18 years of age and over, the Health Ministry announced.  The panel said that there had been early signs of the efficacy of a fourth dose in helping prevent serious illness from Covid.

The recommended timeframe for a fourth dose was five months after the third, the panel said.

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Tuesday, January 25.

As of Tuesday morning, the world has recorded 356.4 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 3.7 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and 5.63 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 282.6 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 2.2 million.

Worldwide, the number of active cases as of Tuesday is 68,222,525.  Out of that figure, 99.9%, or 68,126,679, are considered mild, and 0.1%, or 95,846, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical fell is largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 1,029,906 new cases on Tuesday for the previous day, compared with 199,744 reported on Monday, 337,388 on Sunday, and 825,052 new cases on Saturday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 668,312, a 9% decrease, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 2,083, an increase of 25% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Tuesday, recorded 72.9 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 891,595. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 39.8 million, and a reported death toll of 490,682.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 623,412, and has seen 24.1 million cases.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Tuesday, 250.9 million people in the United States – or 75.6% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 63.4%, or 210.5 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 535.7 million. Breaking this down further, 87.4% of the population over the age of 18 – or 225.8million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 73.9% of the same group – or 190.8 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 43.2% of that population, or 82.3 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 60.6% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Tuesday, a figure that is up .1 percentage point  in the past 24 hours, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.93 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 9.7% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.

It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.

Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity.  Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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