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Johnson & Johnson vaccine expected to be authorized within days; US to open more mass vaccination sites. Latest COVID-19 updates

The U.S. is expected to authorize a third COVID-19 vaccine as soon as Saturday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted unanimously Friday to recommend authorizing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate for use in adults, paving the way for an expected authorization.

President Joe Biden called the single-dose shot a “third, safe, effective vaccine” in an address Friday. But as the U.S. continues to ramp up vaccinations, Biden urged Americans not to let their guards down and to continue practicing mitigation measures.

“It’s not the time to relax,” Biden said. He added: “And for God’s sake, wear your mask.”

Also in the news:

►The federal government has agreed to buy a 100,000 doses of a COVID-19 treatment by Eli Lilly, the company announced Friday. The drug, bamlanivimab, is a monoclonal antibody, meaning it mimics one of the natural antibodies the immune system uses to fight off the virus. The FDA authorized the drug late last year.

►The federal government has supported 441 community vaccination centers in the U.S., including 171 that have been staffed with federal personnel, said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response. Two new federal vaccinations sites were also announced Friday, in Chicago and Greensboro, North Carolina.

►A Senate official ruled Thursday that a $15 federal minimum wage provision cannot be added into the COVID-19 relief package. Senate Democrats are using reconciliation to approve the bill, bypassing filibuster rules that require 60 votes, but reconciliation also triggers rules that require provisions of the bill be tied directly to the budget.

►The Ivory Coast has become the second country in the world to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX initiative. The first shipment was sent to Ghana on Wednesday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 510,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 113.3 million cases and 2.5 million deaths. More than 94.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 70.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: They met on Bumble. She claims he abused her and killed her dogs. Now she’s speaking out to help other domestic violence survivors who feel isolated amid COVID-19.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Allegations of vaccine waste, theft investigated in Tennessee

More investigative findings from the state of Tennessee revealed Friday that COVID-19 vaccine might have been stolen in Shelby County, children are believed to have been inappropriately vaccinated and more doses of COVID-19 were wasted than was previously thought. 

The state learned of the child vaccinations and the alleged theft weeks after the incidents occurred, State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said in a wide-ranging press conference Friday afternoon in which she detailed to reporters numerous instances of poor vaccine management and called the Shelby County Health Department a “low-accountability organization.”

Piercey also described Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and county health officials as slow to report the problems to authorities and lacking candor in conversations with state officials. 

The revelations were the latest in a string of vaccine management issues in Shelby County which have been made public this past week.

– Corinne S. Kennedy and Samuel Hardiman, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Cases in nursing homes drop 89%

New federal data offers a glimmer of hope in what has been the darkest and deadliest corner of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at America’s nursing homes have dropped significantly since December as millions of vaccine doses have been shot into the arms of residents and staff.

The weekly rate of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes plummeted 89% from early December through the second week of February. By comparison, the nationwide case rate dropped 58% and remains higher than figures reported before late October.

The dramatic drop in cases at nursing homes, where nearly 130,000 residents and staff have died since the virus emerged in the U.S., raises optimism for brighter days ahead at nursing homes and in communities overall as more Americans get vaccinated, experts say.

– Ken Alltucker and Jayme Fraser

CDC director warns about ‘concerning’ case increase

After a several week decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned Friday about a “concerning” uptick in cases over the most recent days.

The most recent seven day average of daily new cases was over 66,000 and higher than the average on Wednesday, Walensky said citing CDC data.

The peak in early January was the highest seen in the pandemic, and though current averages are lower, they’re still high, Walensky said. “Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” she said, pointing to the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.

“We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants in the most recent data,” she added.

– Ryan Miller

NYC schools chancellor, who lost 11 family members to COVID-19, resigns

Richard Carranza, New York City’s Schools chancellor, said Friday he was stepping down from his role, citing the need for time to grieve his 11 family members and close friends who died from COVID-19.

“I feel that I can take that time now because of the place that we are in and the work that we have done together,” he said.

The city’s schools have largely been heralded for its reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carranza said the system reopened safely for children of essential workers, distributed over half a million electronic devices for remote learning, and delivered 80 millions meals to its students.

“We have stabilized the system in a way no one thought possible,” he added. “The light, my fellow New Yorkers, is truly at the end of the tunnel.”

Carranza will be succeeded by Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Ross Porter, who will become the first Black woman to lead the nation’s largest school district.

– Ryan Miller

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