• BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said Thursday he is “confident” the company’s Covid-19 vaccine with US partner Pfizer is effective against a coronavirus variant first identified in India, a strain, known as B.1.617, that contains two key mutations that have been found separately in other strain and referred to as the “double mutant” first spotted in India, where it’s thought by some to be behind a recent surge in new Covid-19 cases there.
  • The more the virus spreads in India, the more chances it has to mutate and create variants that could eventually resist current vaccines, threatening to undermine other countries' progress in containing the pandemic, experts warn, saying the outbreak there needs to be looked at as a global problem, with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, saying "If we don't help in India, I worry about an explosion of cases" around the world.”
  • Millions in the Pacific Northwest are facing new shutdowns, including an indoor dining ban, as COVID-19 cases rise at an alarming rate, with Washington state, the first to be hit when the pandemic began, seeing another surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations up 15%, while in neighboring Oregon, hospitalizations rose 18% and Governor Kate Brown extended the state of emergency for another 60 days, saying "lives are at stake."
  • A new study finds evidence that schools can be a source of coronavirus spread to staff and the families of students if those schools don’t take precautions such as requiring masks and limiting extracurricular activities, and in households where at least one child was back to school full-time in-person 38% were more likely to report someone infected with Covid-19 or a Covid-like illness, the team at Johns Hopkins University reported in the journal Science, but the risk went down if schools imposed mitigation measures - by 9% for each measure added, and if schools imposed seven or more different precautions, the increased risk disappeared, the team reported.
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show 37.8% of American adults are now fully vaccinated, with many public-health experts saying the 40% benchmark is an important threshold where vaccinations gain an upper hand over the coronavirus, based on the experience of further-along nations such as Israel.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration will be able to skip the time-consuming advisory process for deciding authorization of coronavirus vaccines for older children and teens, a government official said Thursday, but it will likely undertake a lengthier review for younger children.
  • With an overwhelming majority of US seniors now vaccinated, the Biden administration is turning its focus to working Americans under 50, looking for ways to incentivize businesses to encourage vaccination and trying to ensure ease of access with appointment-free vaccination at local pharmacies, with officials conceding progress will look different this time because there are fewer people eager to get vaccinated, leading to an emphasis on new metrics like death rate.
  • The State Department is advising US citizens to avoid travel to India or “leave as soon as it is safe to do so” due to a devastating coronavirus outbreak that has engulfed major cities and overwhelmed the country’s health-care infrastructure, and In a high-level travel advisory issued Wednesday warned that “Access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited. . . . U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options now.”
  • COVID-vaccine maker Moderna announced early Thursday that it will make as many as 1 billion doses of its shots this year and up to 3 billion next year, with most of next year’s doses to go toward vaccinating young children and for booster shots, which are likely to be needed as immunity wanes with time and in the face of new variants.
  • A new United Kingdom study has highlighted the potential for tension between those that are vaccinated and the unvaccinated, especially if there are travel restrictions on those that have not yet received a Covid shot, with the British poll released Friday showing the potential for so-called “vaccine resentment” is present and that nearly one in five people who haven’t had a Covid vaccine said they’ll feel resentful toward those who have, if they don’t get one in time for their summer vacation.
  • India recorded 1 million Covid-19 cases over the last three days, pushing the total number of cases in the country to more than 18 million since the pandemic began, according to figures released today by the country’s Health Ministry, with authorities reporting 379,257 new coronavirus case and 3,645 deaths on Thursday, both new single-day records for India, and the eight day in a row total cases topped 300,000.
  • India’s severe medical oxygen supply crisis is expected to ease by mid-May, a top industry executive told Reuters today, with output rising by 25% and transport infrastructure ready to cope with a surge in demand caused by a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases.
  • The Indian Health Ministry announced Thursday that more than 10 million Covid-19 vaccines - both AstraZeneca and Covaxin - are currently in storage with states across India, and 2 million more will be distributed within the next three days, rebutting recent statements on severe vaccine shortages in multiple cities and districts across the country.
  • Britain is at its lowest level of coronavirus cases and a third wave is likely to be less severe than previous outbreaks, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said at a Downing Street news conference Wednesday, adding that the public has been instrumental in the country’s handling of the health crisis and praised Britons for following government instructions to stay home.
  • Turkey is bracing itself for its first national coronavirus lockdown as infection rates continue to climb in the country, now the highest in Europe, beginning on Thursday at 7PM local time and lasting through the remainder of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and over the Eid al Fitr holiday, ending at 5AM local time on May 17, according to a statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
  • President Emmanuel Macron of France outlined plans on Thursday for the gradual reopening of the country, plotting a path out of the labyrinth of restrictions in place and fueling hope that life might finally return to normal after waves of infections forced the country into three national lockdowns.  [See Outbreak – Global for the new measures announced]
  • The European Union’s much awaited “Covid-19 certificate” must "facilitate free movement without discrimination," the Parliament said Thursday, adding that the document, which may be in digital or paper format, will neither serve as a travel document nor become a precondition to exercise the right to free movement.
  • India’s national airline, Air India, is planning to reintroduce near pre-pandemic frequency of direct flights to the US in the first half of May - in spite of the country's surging cases.
  • Job growth picked up in March, with 916,000 payrolls, and some economists expect that trend has continued, with the number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits falling to a fresh pandemic low of 553,000 for the week ending April 24, a decrease of 13,000 compared to last week and putting the insured unemployment rate around 2.6 percent, the Labor Department said.
  • The Consumer Price Index, the measure of the average change in the prices paid by US shoppers for consumer goods, increased 0.6 percent in March, the largest rise since August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • More than 60% of companies in the US will require proof of vaccination from their employees, according to a new survey conducted by Arizona State University with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, with a broad majority of employers, 65%, planning to offer employees incentives to get vaccinated and 63% will require proof of vaccination.
  • After weeks of pushback from the cruise industry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday detailed a pathway for US cruising to resume by mid-July. And, as with most travel guidelines in the pandemic era, vaccinations will be key, and notably, the CDC said, ships will be able to skip “simulated” test voyages - one of the requirements in the agency’s conditional sailing order for trips to resume - if the cruise line can attest that at least 98 percent of the crew and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated.
  • Undergraduate enrollment in colleges and universities saw the "steepest decline" for the spring 2021 semester since the pandemic started, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released on Thursday, with overall enrollment down 5.9% compared with one year ago, while community colleges saw an 11.3% drop, and the largest decline among 18-20 year-olds, who account for more than 40% of all undergraduate students.
  • Hackers have targeted companies that distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to a degree previously unreported, according to research from IBM Security, and starting last year, attackers attempted to access sensitive information about the vaccine's "cold chain" distribution system by phishing 44 companies in 14 countries across Europe, North America, South America and Asia, but it is unclear if the hackers were successful in breaching systems.

US Outbreak

  1. Roughly 35% of the population is estimated to have been infected as of March, according to data shared Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the agency estimates the virus has led to 114.6 million infections, 97.1 million symptomatic illnesses and 5.6 million hospitalizations from February 2020 to March 2021, meaning total infections are estimated to be about four times higher than what’s been officially reported.
  2. Potential COVID surges may have collapsed in nearly all states, a USA TODAY analysis of the data shows, and national case-count leaders New York, Michigan and now Florida all have reported falling case counts, but the threat has also fallen in most states with smaller populations.
  3. An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 583,000 to 595,000 coronavirus deaths in the US by May 22, down from the previous forecast published on April 21 that projected up to 596,0000 deaths by May 15, and predicting the number of new deaths will remain stable or have an uncertain trend over the next four weeks.
  4. The State Department said it’s allowing families of staffers at US missions in India to leave the country due to record levels of cases, while embassies and consulates in the country will remain open.
  5. Colorado’s outbreaks are rising in elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools as the state endures a fourth wave of infections, and as of Wednesday state data showed 210 active outbreaks in schools, the highest since the beginning of December.

US Restrictions & Schools

  1. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said Thursday that on May 1, the curfew for businesses in the state will move to midnight and outdoor restrictions will be lifted that same day, with the use of masks in outdoor settings not required, and there will be no table size limit for outdoor events,
  2. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a plan Thursday to tie the lifting of restrictions to the state's vaccination rate, setting specific benchmarks that must be reached to return to normal.
  3. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said today he plans to “fully reopen” the city on July 1, explaining “We are ready for stores to open for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength," and when asked if that even included indoor dining said “based on all the progress that we’ve made in this city, we can go back to full strength.”
  4. New Orleans is ready to let the good times roll - with some caution - as officials said that starting Friday restaurants, bars and other businesses will be able to operate at 100% capacity, but city mask mandates will remain in place, and there will be limits for large indoor gatherings.
  5. Chicago peeled back capacity restrictions and announced a series of re-openings Thursday following a decline in new infections, and speaking at the city’s iconic Navy Pier, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the reopening of the pier, lakefront beaches and the United Center indoor arena.
  6. More than 100 colleges across the US have said they will require students to receive vaccines in order to attend in-person classes in the fall, according to a New York Times survey.
  7. The American College Health Association, a trade group representing college health professionals, urged colleges and universities to adopt vaccination requirements for all on-campus students for the upcoming fall semester, if state laws would allow.
  8. Baylor University in Texas and Calvin University in Michigan have both announced that students who have been inoculated can skip mandatory testing.
  9. The University of Wyoming is offering vaccinated students and staff members a chance to participate in a weekly drawing for prizes such as tickets to football or basketball games and Apple products, with employees who are fully vaccinated eligible for a personal day off.
  10. Manhattanville College in New York, where students will need to provide proof of their shots before returning to campus, had one student started a petition to reverse the school’s mandatory vaccination policy, saying that the decision was deeply personal.
  11. Stanford University’s College Republicans, a student group, condemned the administration’s plans to require vaccinations for the fall.
  12. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said House members will continue with spaced-out voting and mask-wearing inside as long as the Capitol physician says they should, adding that there are still an unknown number of lawmakers who are unvaccinated.