Saturday, May 15, 2021

California body bags; Texas reports 1.5M cases

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USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as vaccines begin to roll out nationwide. Just this week, the U.S. marked the stark milestone of more than 300,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates on vaccine distribution, including who is getting the shots and where, as well as other COVID-19 news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines:

  • Texas has become just the second state to surpass 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins data. Only 10 countries have topped that somber milestone.
  • The other state with more than 1.5 million cases, California, has ordered an additional 5,000 body bags and stationed mobile morgues to hospitals in the hardest-hit counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
  • Coronavirus cases have declined in the past few weeks in some Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska. Hospitalizations and deaths, however, are still on the rise due to an earlier surge of positive COVID-19 cases.
  • Dr. Lester Morehead, a hospitalist in the COVID-19 unit at Queen’s Medical Center, was “honored” to be the first person in Hawaii to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. “My biggest fear is that people won’t get the vaccine,” he said.
  • Oregon reported a record 54 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, a day before the first vaccinations of health care workers at hospitals in Portland and Ontario, according to Gov. Kate Brown’s office.
  • Ronald Begay was one of the first health care workers on the Navajo Nation to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility on Monday. Navajo Area Indian Health Service officials distributed 3,900 doses of the vaccine to several health care facilities.
  • The U.S. has 16.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 303,500 deaths. The global totals: More than 73.4 million cases and 1.6 million deaths.

FDA authorizes first at-home, over-the-counter COVID-19 test

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the nation’s first home COVID-19 test that doesn’t need a lab or medical provider’s prescription. The test, made by Australia-based Ellume, can deliver results in about 15 minutes and will cost about $30.

The FDA authorized the Ellume tests for people age 2 and up, with or without symptoms. Ellume’s rapid antigen test includes a nasal swab for users to collect a sample and place into a cartridge. A smartphone app instructs consumers how to use the test and displays results. It allows results to be shared with a health provider.

The Australian company, which signed a $30 million National Institutes of Health contract to develop the test, said it will deliver 20 million home tests to the United States through June 2021.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Ellume’s home test is “a major breakthrough for Americans’ ever-expanding access to convenient COVID-19 testing options.”

– Ken Alltucker

COVID-19 vaccine trials report cases of brief facial paralysis

Americans are increasingly concerned about vaccine safety after four people in Pfizer-BioNTech trials and three people in the Moderna trials developed Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles. While it may sound scary, experts say Bell’s palsy is more common and less severe than people think.

Bell’s palsy, also known as peripheral facial nerve palsy, can occur at any age, according to the Mayo Clinic. The exact causes are unknown, but it’s believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face, or a reaction after a viral infection.

Dr. Anthony Geraci, Northwell Health’s Director of Neuromuscular Medicine in Great Neck, New York, says at least two Bell’s palsy patients visit his office a month, and they always recover within several weeks.

He said it’s important the public understands Bell’s palsy is just a “bogeyman side effect” and shouldn’t prevent someone from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s a cautionary tale that should not mitigate the larger good that both individuals and society are going to derive from all of these vaccines,” Geraci said.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Kansas mayor resigns after backlash to USA TODAY story

A Kansas mayor has resigned following backlash to comments she made in a USA TODAY story in support of a mask mandate in her city. Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw, citing concerns for her safety, resigned Tuesday, effective immediately.

Since the Dec. 11 publication of the USA TODAY story, Warshaw said she has been met with aggression, including threats via phone and email from Dodge City citizens. Some threatening emails have been turned over to police, she said.

“We just felt like we had to do something so everybody was aware of how important it was for everybody to be responsible for each other’s health and well-being,” Warshaw was quoted in the USA TODAY story.

Dodge City, one of the largest cities in western Kansas, passed a mask mandate on Nov. 16 after more than 1 out of every 10 county residents had contracted the virus.

– Vincent Marshall, Dodge City Daily Globe

Contributing: The Associated Press

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