Most Americans won’t be advised to wear masks under new CDC guidance: Live COVID updates – USA TODAY

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Most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public places as a COVID-prevention measure, as federal health officials take a different approach at a time when infections and hospitalizations have been declining.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will announce Friday a shift from looking at case counts in determining its guidance to a more holistic view of risk from the coronavirus to a community, the Associated Press reported. Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people living in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.

Under the new guidelines, which take into account caseloads but also local hospital capacity, the vast majority of Americans won’t be located in areas where masking is recommended.

With the omicron wave subsiding, nearly all states that had mask mandates have already dropped them or announced they will, except for settings like schools, public transit and medical facilities.

The CDC has been criticized for being too cautious in its reactions as the pandemic  evolved, and its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, had indicated a change was coming.

“We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer,” she said at a White House briefing last week. “Our hospitals need to be able to take care of people with heart attacks and strokes. Our emergency departments can’t be so overwhelmed that patients with emergent issues have to wait in line.”

Also in the news: 

►Oregon will remove its mask mandate for indoor public settings and schools on March 19.

►Alaska legislative leaders on Wednesday voted to make mask wearing optional at legislative facilities, including the state Capitol. The vote by the Legislative Council was unanimous; many members did not wear masks even before the vote.

►Los Angeles County’s masking requirement for vaccinated people at indoor public places will end Friday.

►The CDC updated its guidance for when to receive a second vaccine dose. Moderna and Pfizer vaccine receivers should consider waiting up to 8 weeks instead of the previously advised four and three weeks, respectively, between doses.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 942,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 430 million cases and over 5.9 million deaths. More than 215 million Americans – 64.8% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we’re reading: Experts worry a lack of data may be obscuring where to target strategies for vaccinating kids of color, who disproportionately suffer severe illness from COVID-19 but may lack access to the shots.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Sanofi, GSK say vaccine shows 100% efficacy against hospitalization

European drug manufacturers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline announced they are seeking approval for a new COVID-19 vaccine they say shows 100% effectiveness against hospitalization in human trials.

The trials also showed two doses of the new vaccine had 75% efficacy against moderate or severe disease, and about 58% against any symptoms, the manufacturers said in a news release Wednesday. They also said that, among study subjects who received a previously approved vaccine such as Pfizer or Moderna and took the Sanofi-GSK vaccine as a booster shot, the extra dose “induced a significant increase in neutralizing antibodies.”

“We’re very pleased with these data,” said Thomas Triomphe, an executive vice president at Sanofi. “No other global Phase 3 efficacy study has been undertaken during this period with so many variants of concern, including omicron, and these efficacy data are similar to recent clinical data from authorized vaccines.”

The Sanofi-GSK vaccine received $2.1 billion as part of former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed to quickly develop and manufacture COVID vaccines, but the companies announced a delay in late 2020 because trials showed an insufficient immune response in older people. 

Sales of Moderna vaccine take off, lead to $12B profit in 2021

With the right timing, a single product can deliver enormous riches.

There might not be a better example of that than Moderna, the Massachusetts-based biotechnology company that makes the Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine, its only marketed product.

Moderna announced Thursday that its vaccine sales jumped 44% in the final quarter of 2021, and that it has signed purchase agreements for about $19 billion in sales for 2022 with options for an additional $3 billion that would cover any updated boosters the company is developing.

The Moderna vaccine is now available in more than 70 countries, leading to a profit of $12.2 billion in 2021, compared to a net loss of $747 million in 2020.

Pfizer-BioNTech (59%) and Moderna (38%) make the two leading COVID vaccines authorized in the U.S., with a third one by Johnson & Johnson (3%) trailing far behind in the number of shots administered in this country.

Trucker protest convoy gets stuck in DC traffic

A trucker protest convoy bound for the nation’s capital with thoughts of creating traffic gridlock arrived late Wednesday only to get stuck in rush-hour traffic. The convoy’s leader, Pennsylvania businessman Bob Bolus, told Fox News he got stuck in “bumper- to-bumper” traffic 30 miles outside Washington, D.C.

“I’m down to 2 mph,” he told Fox News, but maintained his convoy was “the tip of the arrow right now.” The convoy included a few trucks and other vehicles. Bolus said some drivers who had joined the convoy from Scranton had dropped out over concerns they would be arrested.

The convoy was inspired by truckers in Canada who paralyzed Ottawa for three weeks while airing complaints primarily centered about coronavirus-related mandates. Bolus is protesting mask and vaccine requirements along with a host of issues that include rising fuel prices, trucking industry regulations, illegal immigration and overall government overreach. 

“What they’re seeing today is just a prelude of what’s going to come if they don’t sit down and listen to us and get rid of these restrictions,” Bolus said. “Because then we’ll shut the country down. We control this country. Not the government.”

A larger convoy of about two dozen trucks left California on Wednesday, planning to arrive in D.C. on March 5.

The Pentagon has authorized use of up to 700 National Guard members through March 8 to keep traffic moving should protests clog downtown streets.

Substantial increase in maternal deaths seen during pandemic

Maternal deaths in the U.S. increased markedly in the first year of the pandemic, largely  among women of color, according to a new study from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The rate of maternal mortality, referring to deaths during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, rose by 18.4% in 2020 – from 20.1 to 23.8 per 100,000 live births – compared to 2019, the last year before the pandemic.

Black women fared the worst among the racial and ethnic groups studied, as their rate of maternal deaths grew from 44 per 100,000 to 55.3, nearly three times the number for white women (19.1). Hispanic women’s mortality rate remained below that of white women, as it did the previous years, but shot up from 12.6 per 100,000 to 18.2.

“It’s disheartening, but it’s not shocking. We’ve been in this for a long time. And we’ve seen these patterns for a long time,” said Dr. Allison Bryant, senior medical director for health equity at Mass General Brigham health system. “It’s disheartening that we haven’t gotten where Black women deserve to be.”

– Nada Hassanein

Contributing: The Associated Press