Coronavirus updates: Minnesota begins vaccine lottery; Alaska is best at getting vaccine in arms

Elinor Aspegren

John Bacon


COVID-19 has killed more than 420,000 Americans in 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.

Winning a new lottery in Minnesota could be a lifesaver.

State residents can start signing up today for a vaccine lottery after a first-come-first-served inoculation website crashed amid overwhelming demand. Less than 5% of the state’s population had received a shot as of Sunday.

Gov. Tim Walz has unveiled a series of changes to vaccine distribution efforts, including  a pop-up, mass vaccination event for teachers, school staff and child care workers at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starting Thursday and ending Monday. The state has reserved 15,000 doses for the event.

The push comes amid revelations that a highly contagious coronavirus variant initially discovered in Brazil has landed in the U.S. – in Minnesota. The state Department of Health said the resident had recently traveled to Brazil and became ill during the first week of January. 

Brazil’s variant seems to be able to evade natural antibodies developed from contracting COVID-19. Though that could mean potential weakening of the effectiveness of current vaccines, current vaccines will still offer some protection. This variation of the virus joins others in circulation in the U.S. – including ones first seen in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and most recently, California.

In the headlines:

►President Joe Biden has boosted his vaccinations goal for his first 100 days in office, suggesting the nation could soon be injecting 1.5 million shots on an average per day. Biden has drawn some criticism that his plan for 100 million shots in 100 days was insufficiently ambitious. The increased goal could result in about half the nation being vaccinated – or at least getting a first shot – by the end of April.

►As of last week, Alaska had administered more COVID-19 shots per capita than any state in the nation, according to CDC data, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Missouri ranked last of the 50 states.

►Biden reinstated travel restrictions, which were in place for most of 2020, for non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom and much of Europe. Then-President Donald Trump rescinded the restrictions days before the end of his term. Biden also added South Africa to the restricted list, effective Jan. 30. 

►Starting Tuesday, travelers flying into the U.S. from foreign countries will be required to present proof of a recent coronavirus test with a negative result.

►In California, the state with the most infections, health officials lifted regional stay-at-home orders on Monday, citing a decline in the numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit patients. 

►Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine protects against two variants of the coronavirus that have emerged from Britain and South Africa, though not as strongly against the latter, according to a company study.

►World Health Organization officials indicated Monday that they do not believe Olympic athletes should receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly if it means cutting ahead of the world’s health care workers and elderly population.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 25.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 420,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 99.7 million cases and 2.1 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: Your child might not return to a classroom this year. Are teachers unions to blame? Read more here.

Campus leaders had hoped the lessons from the fall would better position them for the spring semester. That was before a post-holiday winter surge pushed the number of COVID-19 deaths in America over 400,000. Before more contagious variants of the coronavirus emerged. Before the vaccine rollout proved slower than anticipated.

Now, returning student populations may be at even greater risk than they were in the fall – not to mention their surrounding communities, where research has suggested greater outbreaks in college towns.

Despite those concerns, colleges are pushing ahead. The stakes are high; enrollment plummeted at most colleges last semester, and the loss of income from in-person services like campus housing and dining could be devastating to schools that depend on that money. College towns would feel the economic pinch as well.

But when administrators talk about the need for reopening, they focus on what went well in the fall – and the advantages of the full university experience.

– Chris Quintana, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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