Coronavirus updates: 2 in 5 Americans live where hospitals are at capacity; COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against variants

Elinor Aspegren


COVID-19 has killed nearly 420,000 Americans in less than a year, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

The world is likely to reach 100 million COVID-19 infections this week. 

In the U.S., approximately 17% of people have been infected with the coronavirus, a model by researchers at the University of Washington estimates. Current data suggests that at least 7% of Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, but the model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation assumes that testing isn’t detecting all of the cases present in the population.

The model also estimates that the U.S. will report another 168,000 COVID-19 deaths before May, bringing the total to 569,000. In that period, at least 40 states will have high or extreme stress on hospital beds, and 46 will have high or extreme stress on ICU capacity, according to the model.

Taking public health precautions can help lower those devastating projections. If nearly everyone wears a face mask between now and May, 22,000 fewer people will die from COVID-19, according to the model.

In the headlines:

► Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday that he’s tested positive for the coronavirus, but that the symptoms are mild.

► President Joe Biden plans to ban most non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa and reinstate restrictions for Brazil, the U.K., Ireland and 26 countries in Europe from the U.S., a White House source confirmed to USA TODAY on Sunday.

► Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month. 

► Coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease emerging in South Africa, Brazil and other areas of the world, Britain’s health minister warned Sunday.

► The CDC updated its guidance on vaccinations to say the second dose of a two-shot vaccine can be administered up to 6 weeks after the first.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 25.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 419,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 99.1 million cases and 2.1 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: President Joe Biden is seeking to reset the nation’s inconsistent coronavirus testing efforts with a $50 billion plan and more federal oversight. Read more here.

2 in 5 Americans live where COVID-19 strains hospital ICUs

Straining to handle record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of the nation’s intensive care units are running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates. Many of the facilities are clustered in the South and West.

An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15% of beds still available.

Intensive care units are the final defense for the sickest of the sick, patients who are nearly suffocating or facing organ failure. Nurses who work in the most stressed ICUs, changing IV bags and monitoring patients on breathing machines, are exhausted.

British health minister: Vaccines may be less effective on variants

Coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease emerging in South Africa, Brazil and other areas of the world, Britain’s health minister warned Sunday. Matt Hancock also told Sky News the current rules are helping “bring cases down” but that the country is a “long, long, long way from them being low enough” to end lockdowns.

“We’ve got to have a precautionary principle that says let’s not bring these new variants back to the U.K.,” Hancock said. He said the government is conducting a vaccine trial on the South African variant to study its response to the inoculation, and that he’s concerned about new variants developing elsewhere.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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