UK variant found in Hawaii; Iowa governor lifting mask requirements. Latest COVID-19 updates.

Jordan Culver


Officials in Hawaii urged the public to avoid Super Bowl parties and announced a more transmissible COVID-19 variant was found in Oahu.

Hawaii’s Department of Health announced an Oahu resident with no history of travel contracted the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom. A close contact also tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are not helpless against this variant,” said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. “We can fight it by doing these simple, everyday things. We are not helpless against this highly transmissible variant.”

He added, “Please limit your Super Bowl viewing parties to household members.”

Later this month in California, more than 1,000 active duty troops will begin supporting vaccination sites around the United States, White House senior COVID-19 advisor Andy Slavitt announced Friday. He said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin OK’ed the move and troops’ mission in California would being within 10 days.

Also Friday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines Friday to approve a key procedural step paving the way for the House to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to pass the chamber as early as the end of the month.

COVID-19 has killed more than 456,000 Americans, 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.

In the headlines:

►A lack of data is further masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, only 16 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.

►While the U.S. economy is far from healed from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many permanently laid-off workers are finding new jobs and often for more pay and at higher levels than their previous positions, according to a recent survey by Skynova.

►The FDA’s advisory committee will meet Feb. 26 to discuss Johnson & Johnson’s application for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, the agency announced Thursday.

►The White House is studying a proposal to send masks to all Americans, a notion the Trump administration considered but discarded. “There are a range of options on the table to help protect more Americans from the coronavirus and encourage people to mask up,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, adding that no decision has been made on the idea.

► A British teen who slipped into coma before COVID-19 became a pandemic is now showing signs of improvement, regaining consciousness in a world much different from the one he knew.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 26.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 459,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 105 million cases and 2.2 million deaths. More than 58.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 36.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: One mask provides good protection against spreading the coronavirus, but two masks could offer more. Read the full story. 

Coronavirus cases drop at US homes for elderly and infirm

Coronavirus cases have dropped at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities over the past few weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention, among other reasons.

More than 153,000 residents of the country’s nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, accounting for 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Many of the roughly 2 million people who live at such facilities remain cut off from loved ones because of the risk of infection. The virus still kills thousands of them weekly.

The overall trend for long-term care residents is improving, though, with fewer new cases recorded and fewer facilities reporting outbreaks. Coupled with better figures for the country overall, it’s cause for optimism even if it’s too early to declare victory.

Iowa governor lifting mask requirements effective Sunday

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will lift the state’s limited mask requirement on Sunday, along with the social distance and other limitations she had in place for businesses and social gatherings.

Her latest coronavirus emergency proclamation, issued Friday afternoon and effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday, instead “strongly encourages Iowans, businesses and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health,” Reynolds’ spokesperson Pat Garrett said.  

Since mid-November, Reynolds, a Republican, has required Iowans two years of age and older to wear masks if they were in indoor areas and spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of a person not in their households. The rule carried several exceptions. Her previous proclamation also required social distancing between groups at bars, restaurants, casinos, fitness centers and other establishments, as well as at social gatherings and sporting events. 

Mask violations on planes, trains, buses could result in fines up to $1,500

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Friday that it will recommend fines ranging from $250 to $1,500 for people who do not abide by the new transportation mask order issued by President Joe Biden on his second day in office.

The agency said it could also “seek a sanction amount that falls outside these ranges,” in the announcement and noted the higher fines would apply to repeat offenders.  

Biden’s order requires people to wear masks in airports, bus and train terminals and on trains, planes, buses and public transportation. 

TSA has been charged with implementing Biden’s executive order and subsequent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask-wearing rules that took effect Feb. 1 and built on the order.

Although the TSA is most commonly associated with airport checkpoints, fines will apply to offenders across those various transportation types. TSA said on Twitter the agency has “provided transportation system operators specific guidance on how to report violations so that TSA may issue penalties to those who refuse to wear a face mask.”

– Julia Thompson 

FDA will draft guidance to work with vaccine, drug and testing companies on COVID-19 variants

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced late Thursday that it is developing guidance to help vaccine, drug and testing manufacturers adapt to the growing threat of COVID-19 variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 618 cases of the coronavirus variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa across 33 states.

Existing vaccines, treatments and tests still work well, emphasized the FDA’s acting commissioner Janet Woodcock. But now is the time to get ready for a future when they may not.

“We must prepare for all eventualities,” she said in a call with reporters.

– Karen Weintraub

Contributing: Ryan Miller and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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