Experts are warning of a potential Covid-19 surge while several governors are loosening restrictions

President Joe Biden announced the US will have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for every US adult by the end of May, accelerating the timeline by two months.

Posted: Mar 3, 2021 2:11 PM
Updated: Mar 3, 2021 2:11 PM

As more US Covid-19 vaccine sites begin offering one-dose Johnson & Johnson shots Wednesday, more states are easing coronavirus restrictions despite health officials' warnings not to do just that.

Among the states making moves Tuesday were Texas and Mississippi, both of which are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity by now or within days.

Many public health leaders across the US have urged states to at least wait for far more inoculations and much lower cases levels before easing safety measures, pointing to an increasing spread of more-transmissible coronavirus variants that could spark another surge in cases.

"This is a gigantic mistake," Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, said Tuesday of the Texas and Mississippi announcements. "We've seen this movie, and it doesn't turn out well."

With less than 7% of residents in his state fully vaccinated, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order lifting a statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100% capacity, effective March 10.

The governor said county leaders may opt to use mitigation strategies if regional Covid-19 hospitalizations rise above 15% of bed capacity for seven days straight. But they cannot impose jail time for people who don't follow Covid-19 orders, nor can residents be penalized for not wearing masks, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the move "makes no sense," while Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was "dumbfounded" by the announcement and pleaded with residents to "act like we do have a mask mandate, for people to continue to wear it, for businesses to continue to require it."

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said starting Wednesday the state would lift its county mask mandates and allow businesses to operate at full capacity.

"Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time," he wrote on Twitter.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also announced revisions to public health orders Tuesday, including dropping a 300-person limit for events at banquet centers. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a series of eased restrictions taking effect Friday, including expanded capacity for restaurants, retail, gyms, stadiums and other facilities.

And in Louisiana, the majority of businesses -- including restaurants and salons -- will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity starting Wednesday, while religious services will no longer have capacity limits, the governor said.

Testing demand is dropping

Although Covid-19 case levels in the US are well below a January peak, health experts have given a few points of caution about the decline.

The US averaged more than 65,400 new cases a day over the last week, far below a peak average of more than 249,700 day reached on January 8. But the rate of decline has recently slowed -- the average was just above 70,000 a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

And the current case average is still high in context -- it's very close to the highest average of last summer, which was around 67,030 on July 20.

Also, fewer people appear to be getting tested, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the week that ended Monday, the US recorded an average of about 1.5 million Covid-19 tests daily, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

That's about 26% fewer than the average in mid-January, when the US saw a seven-day average of more than 2 million tests reported.

"Widespread testing must continue in order to defeat the pandemic," Dr. Greta Massetti, from the CDC, told CNN Tuesday. "It will take many months for all Americans to have the opportunity to receive one of the vaccines available."

"In the meantime, it's essential that people continue to take preventive measures."

Inoculations with Johnson & Johnson vaccine begin

More than 51.7 million people in the US have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. More than 26.1 million -- about 7.9% of the US population -- have received two doses.

On Wednesday, more US vaccine sites began offering the recently authorized one-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. Before this week, the only Covid-19 vaccines authorized in the US -- from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna -- have been two-dose products.

Among the locations offering the J&J vaccine Wednesday was a Federal Emergency Management Agency-run site at Miami Dade College.

At that site, people can arrive without registering beforehand and can choose -- as supplies allow, on a first-come, first-serve basis -- which company's vaccine to receive. The site intends to offer 500 J&J shots and 2,500 Pfizer shots per day.

On Tuesday, a vaccination site in Columbus, Ohio, became one of the first places to administer the J&J vaccine outside a clinical trial. The introduction of a third vaccine is expected to help boost the country's daily inoculation rate.

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the US will have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for every adult American by the end of May -- speeding up the timeline of the administration's previous goal by two months.

His remarks came as the President announced a partnership in which pharmaceutical company Merck will help Johnson & Johnson produce the latter's vaccine -- with an expectation that this will yield a faster overall production.

Governors across the country have said the introduction of the J&J vaccines to the US market will help ramp up vaccinations, and some have announced expanded eligibility guidelines as a result of the added supply.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced that starting Wednesday, all frontline essential workers in Group 3 are eligible to make vaccine appointments, noting that the state also plans to make residents with comorbidities in Group 4 eligible later this month.

North Carolina has created the groups to set vaccine priorities and is already vaccinating Groups 1 and 2, which include health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, and older adults.

"The third vaccine and improving vaccine supply will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly," the governor said. "But as we've said before, we still don't have enough vaccines. You may have to wait for an appointment even if today's action means you are eligible to get vaccinated."

For Americans who have already received a first dose, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine should not replace second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines except in "exceptional situations," the CDC warned.

"The Covid-19 vaccines are not interchangeable, and the safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series has not been evaluated," Dr. Sarah Mbaeyi, CDC medical officer, said Tuesday. "We don't want people to just start mixing and matching with whatever is easiest to get."

Vaccine guidance coming soon

For Americans who are already fully vaccinated, recommendations on what they safely can do are on the way. The CDC will release guidance for fully vaccinated people when it is finalized later this week, an agency official told CNN.

The guidance reportedly includes a recommendation that fully vaccinated people limit their social interactions to small home gatherings with other fully vaccinated people.

It reportedly also recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks in public and practice social distancing. That recommendation has also been made by other health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Additionally, the guidance will reportedly include scenarios for Americans to consider when making plans, including travel.

The broad themes of the expected guidance, first reported by Politico, were confirmed by the CDC official.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1097128

Reported Deaths: 17438
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1437882222
Lake712531225
Allen65537867
Hamilton50147482
St. Joseph48760639
Elkhart39461538
Vanderburgh34221495
Tippecanoe30237271
Johnson27179463
Hendricks25845379
Porter25014381
Madison20656444
Clark19898275
Vigo18764308
LaPorte16857260
Delaware16425291
Howard16408311
Monroe16379217
Kosciusko13936163
Hancock12841185
Bartholomew12686188
Warrick11995189
Wayne11879265
Floyd11869225
Grant11701235
Morgan10252188
Boone9675120
Noble9069121
Henry9002165
Marshall8907146
Dearborn881799
Dubois8710139
Shelby8054128
Cass8014127
Lawrence7922182
DeKalb7591106
Huntington7448108
Jackson743893
Gibson7002118
Montgomery6910123
Harrison685296
Knox6827113
Steuben654186
Miami6477107
Whitley642260
Putnam631982
Clinton618976
Wabash6060108
Jasper601791
Jefferson5689103
Ripley549192
Adams532381
Daviess5003116
Scott480378
Wells471799
White468767
Greene461799
Clay457462
Decatur4529109
Jennings439666
Fayette435694
LaGrange419290
Posey403244
Washington384154
Randolph3818107
Fountain368362
Spencer355846
Fulton355572
Starke348772
Owen346276
Sullivan344954
Orange324470
Jay318650
Rush298332
Carroll289438
Franklin286744
Perry283253
Vermillion280458
Tipton247365
Parke246330
Pike244144
Blackford218044
Pulaski205658
Newton179052
Brown171850
Crawford167929
Benton163217
Martin150819
Switzerland145112
Warren132216
Union117816
Ohio91413
Unassigned0585

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1683472

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1766331826
Cuyahoga1641462636
Hamilton1122641528
Montgomery794721387
Summit702171199
Lucas618431017
Butler55878803
Stark525841170
Lorain41058639
Warren35404412
Mahoning35095769
Lake31445493
Clermont30711362
Delaware26682182
Trumbull26664611
Licking26200335
Medina25291351
Fairfield24173287
Greene24051369
Clark21653387
Portage20709280
Richland20587336
Wood19626246
Allen18542320
Miami17031348
Columbiana16502331
Muskingum16416206
Wayne15432304
Tuscarawas14086357
Marion13054194
Erie12423198
Ashtabula12314225
Scioto12235182
Pickaway12070151
Ross11487223
Hancock11256173
Geauga10666174
Lawrence10504171
Belmont10259231
Huron9588155
Jefferson9462225
Union939175
Sandusky9068166
Seneca8692156
Knox8618169
Washington8613156
Athens827396
Darke8270179
Ashland7840147
Auglaize7741115
Shelby7337132
Defiance7210114
Crawford7082150
Brown7052115
Fulton7016111
Logan6857108
Mercer681697
Guernsey680283
Highland6615117
Madison641389
Clinton6388106
Williams628798
Preble6171139
Putnam6089120
Jackson572396
Champaign568286
Perry558879
Coshocton5552103
Ottawa553599
Morrow506464
Fayette483170
Hardin477899
Gallia462978
Pike459076
Van Wert454691
Adams4514109
Henry424976
Hocking401493
Holmes3939137
Wyandot367973
Carroll351578
Paulding319349
Meigs302457
Monroe231860
Noble216447
Morgan210138
Harrison205152
Vinton183937
Unassigned05
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The warming trend is expected to continue through Thursday before cooler air returns to the Midwest.
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