Europe records 60% drop in infections; 7-day average of US deaths falls below 500: Live COVID-19 updates

Despite a recent drop in coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, Europeans should remain cautious because the threat of coronavirus remains present, the World Health Organization said Thursday. 

Europe has recorded a 60% drop in new coronavirus cases over the past month, said WHO regional director Dr. Hans Kluge. The news comes as the European Union eased travel restrictions for vaccinated visitors and any traveler from countries where COVID-19 is under control.

“Where vaccination rates in high-risk groups are highest, admissions to hospitals are decreasing and death rates are falling. Vaccines are saving lives, and they will change the course of this pandemic and eventually help end it,” Kluge said.

The European Union’s executive arm on Thursday finalized a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shot to share between the bloc’s countries except for Hungary, which opted out of the deal.

But vaccines alone will not end the pandemic, Kluge added.

“Without informing and engaging communities, they remain exposed to the virus,” he said. “Without surveillance, we can’t identify new variants. And without contact tracing, governments may need to reimpose restrictive measures.”

Also in the news:

►For the first time since March 2020, the 7-day average for deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. has fallen below 500, White House coronavirus response senior adviser Andy Slavitt tweeted Friday. 

►Two Republican lawmakers in the Nevada statehouse were punished on Thursday for not complying with restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

►Pennsylvania marked a milestone on Thursday, with 50% of adults statewide now considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

►Actress Salma Hayek revealed to Variety that she battled a near-fatal case of COVID-19. “My doctor begged me to go to the hospital because it was so bad,” said Hayek, 54. “I said, ‘No, thank you. I’d rather die at home.’”

►There is no evidence to support that the COVID-19 vaccines cause temporary hearing loss, according to a study published Thursday. 

►The Department of Homeland Security says the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will remain restricted through at least June 21, with only trade and essential travel allowed until then. The restrictions had been set to expire Friday.

►For the first time since March 2020, San Francisco General Hospital has reported zero COVID-19 patients, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

►On Thursday, Ohio health officials said the vaccination rate among residents 16 and older has increased by more than 28% since May 13, when Gov. Mike DeWine introduced a plan to give away five $1 million prizes and five full college scholarships to vaccinated residents.

►An estimated 979,000 “excess deaths” occurred in 2020 in 29 relatively wealthy countries as the pandemic swept around the globe, a new report in the British Medical Journal found.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 588,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 165.2 million cases and 3.42 million deaths. Nearly 351.9 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 279.3 million have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 126.6 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 38.1% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: Moms who gave birth during the coronavirus pandemic debate when it’s safe to go outside and socialize. Experts and doctors offer varying advice.

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Roughly 60,000 vaccine doses spoiled since December in Texas

About 60% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that have spoiled since Texas’ vaccination program began in December were wasted in the past two weeks, according to an analysis of state data.

According to a Houston Chronicle analysis of the roughly 60,000 vaccine doses spoiled since December, about 36,000 were lost in the past two weeks, indicating plummeting demand for the vaccine in Texas.

The number of wasted doses through spoilage of the highly perishable vaccine was still a minute fraction of the state’s vaccine allotment. The state is currently administering an average of about 144,000 vaccinations daily. Even so, that was less than half of the 290,000-vaccination-a-day peak last month.

Just one in three Texans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, mostly with the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while 42% have received at least one dose.

More than 51,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Texas during the 15-month pandemic out of the more than 3.2 million positive test results reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Northeast leads in vaccination rates, South trails 

Five months into the U.S. vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, a clear geographic pattern has developed: the highest inoculation rates are in the Northeast and the lowest in the South.

Experts say the gap reflects several factors, including political leanings, religious beliefs, education, and income levels.

There are eight Northeastern states among the 10 in the nation with at least 54% of its population receiving one vaccine dose or more, leading with Vermont’s 64%. At the opposite end of the scale, eight Southern states are in the bottom 10, all under 40%, with Mississippi last in the country at 32%. The nationwide figure is 48.2%.

“Low vaccination rates will leave room for the virus to circulate, re-emerge and possibly form new variants,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “High vaccination rates are critical to keeping the disease under control, especially when we get back to the fall and winter.”

India tops US daily death mark as countries head in opposite directions

The United States has yielded to India a dark statistic of the global pandemic — the country with the highest single-day death toll.

While daily U.S. infections, hospitalizations, and deaths slide, India’s Health Ministry reported 4,529 deaths Wednesday as the coronavirus spreads beyond cities into the vast countryside, where health systems are weaker. The number is considered an undercount by most health experts.

The U.S. held the previous record for daily deaths at 4,475 on Jan. 12, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But struggles with near-record infections and an increasing death count have India reeling. Hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed. Dozens of bodies are found floating daily in the Ganges River as it flows through poor, rural states.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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