Nationwide, COVID-19 cases are declining. While federal officials are warning against getting complacent and lifting restrictions, Iowa is reopening and New York City moved up reopening indoor dining to this week so restaurants can take advantage of Valentine’s Day.
We’ll start with…
Good news: COVID-19 cases nationally drop below 100K for first time in 2021
The number of new daily coronavirus cases has dropped below 100,000 for the first time this year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Just under 87,000 cases were recorded in the U.S. on Feb. 7. The last time Johns Hopkins recorded fewer than 100,000 daily cases was on Nov. 2.
Deaths are also down, according to data kept by The New York Times. It recorded 1,301 deaths on Sunday, compared to 4,101 deaths on Jan. 27 and 4,406 on Jan. 12. The seven-day average still shows more than 3,000 people dying every day.
Both case numbers and total deaths across the country can vary based on different reporting methods by states and local communities.
Cases in the United States shot up in November and December as people moved indoors because of the colder weather, and as families and friends gathered for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The number of cases peaked in early January and have been dropping steadily ever since. But it is far above any level experts would consider a goal. It is still higher than the peak of cases over the summer, for example, which was around 75,000 cases per day.
Bad news: CDC warns states against lifting restrictions
Cities and states have been citing the declining cases, and the fact that the post-holiday surge appears to be over, as a reason to lift restrictions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would like you to know that it thinks this is a very bad idea.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday urged states against lifting coronavirus restrictions, citing the ongoing virus threat and more contagious variants on the rise despite lower case counts overall.
Walensky was asked at a White House press briefing about Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) ending the state’s mask mandate, as well as social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants, last week.
“I would discourage any such activity,” Walensky said. “We are still in the first 100 days where we want, certainly, everybody masked for the first 100 days.”
“We have yet to control this pandemic,” she added. “We still have this emerging threat of variants, and I would just simply discourage any of those activities. We really need to keep all of the mitigation measures at play here if we’re really going to get control of this pandemic.”
It isn’t just red states lifting restrictions: Cuomo moves up indoor dining ahead of Valentine’s Day
Indoor dining will resume in New York City on Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced, two days ahead of the original target date, which will allow eateries to benefit from the full Valentine’s Day weekend.
During a press briefing on Monday, Cuomo said the post-holiday surge of COVID-19 cases is over. The rolling average of cases and hospitalizations have declined over the past week, compared to the past four weeks.
“We respond to the data, we respond to the facts that we face today. The facts may change tomorrow and then we will change with the facts,” he said. “The enemy changes tactics, we adjust with the enemy. But the numbers are down now.”
Cuomo said restaurants asked to open “a couple of days earlier” so they can be ready for Valentine’s Day, traditionally one of the busiest days in the restaurant industry. Effective on Friday, he said indoor dining will be allowed at 25 percent capacity.
Gallery: The White House Just Reinstated This Major COVID Restriction (Best Life)
Indoor dining has been banned in New York City for much of the pandemic. Cuomo first shut it down in March, before reopening at limited capacity in September. It was banned again in December amid rising cases after Thanksgiving.
Big picture: Vaccines offer hope, but don’t expect COVID-19 to disappear
Health officials and experts are warning that wholly eradicating the virus is not likely an achievable goal.
Instead, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, are likely here to stay, a new and perpetual threat to human health that hums in the background of our everyday lives.
“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said in May, just months after the pandemic began. “I think it is important that we be realistic, and I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear.”
Even the vaccines, which have shown a tremendous degree of efficacy against the virus, are not likely to result in its erasure. The vaccines will save millions of lives as they become more widespread, but there will always be some people who either lack access to or refuse to accept shots.
What’s next: The likelihood that the virus will never truly go away is putting renewed focus on treatments for the disease, development of which has lagged behind the vaccines. Some experts said the annual development of an influenza vaccine – which scientists base on observations about which strain is likely to become dominant in a given year – represents a likely blueprint for the future of COVID-19.
Momnibus: Dems push a solution to Black maternal health inequities
A trio of Black lawmakers on Monday introduced an omnibus bill aimed at combating the significant health inequities that Black mothers face across the country.
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 follows a nearly identical legislative package that was introduced in the House in March right before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, though the new legislation includes three additional bills.
Why it matters: Black women are more than three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bill would seek to address social determinants of health that can lead to poor health outcomes including access to housing, healthy food and water, transportation, child care services and improving access to health care.
It’s back: House Democrats renew probe into Trump administration’s pandemic response
House Democrats are renewing an investigation into political interference in the nation’s pandemic response by the Trump administration, requesting documents they allege have long been blocked by the previous administration.
In letters to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and acting head of Health and Human Services (HHS) Norris Cochran sent Monday, Democrats on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said the panel is continuing “critical investigations in the 117th Congress in order to understand what went wrong over the last year and determine what corrective steps are necessary to control the virus and save American lives.”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the panel’s chairman, said the previous administration “failed to fully comply with two subpoenas and at least 20 document requests.”
Clyburn and committee Democrats requested documents and emails from dozens of former political officials as well as current career staffers who work on the pandemic response.
They requested documents submitted by March 1, covering the period from Jan. 1, 2020, to Jan. 20, 2021.
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What we’re reading
‘What other variants might be out there?’ An expert on viral evolution on what’s happening with coronavirus mutations (Stat News)
Why the U.S. is underestimating COVID-19 reinfection (Kaiser Health News)
Biden says it will be difficult to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity before summer’s end (CNBC)
Schools walk the tightrope between ideal safety and the reality of Covid (Kaiser Health News)
State by state
Gov. Reynolds did not consult state health department before lifting COVID restrictions, Iowa Democrats say (The Gazette)
Confusion and chaos: Inside the vaccine rollout in DC, Maryland and Virginia (The Washington Post)
Rep. Ron Wright dies after battle with COVID-19 (The Dallas Morning News)