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More states are easing Covid-19 restrictions, even as health experts sound warnings

Several states on Tuesday announced they are loosening restrictions put in place to stop the spread of...

Posted: Mar 2, 2021 9:29 AM
Updated: Mar 3, 2021 3:00 AM

Several states on Tuesday announced they are loosening restrictions put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19, even as health experts warn against doing just that.

Texas and Mississippi, for example, are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity.

It's too soon, health experts say. After the number of new cases declined from unprecedented highs recently, the downturn appears to have stagnated at a high level -- seven-day average case levels are as high as they were last summer. And more transmissible variants are spreading.

'This is not a time to relax restrictions -- especially the governors who are all high-fiving themselves saying we're out of this. We're not,' said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital.

The country is at risk of losing 'the hard-earned ground we have gained' in the battle against Covid-19 as highly contagious variants take advantage of Americans getting lax with safety measures, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19,' Walensky said Monday. 'Please stay strong in your conviction.'

'If we were to hang on a few weeks, at least, or maybe more than that, we'd learn a lot more, we'd figure out what this variant is actually doing,' Hotez told CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday.

'And we'd have a higher percentage of the US population vaccinated. And then we could revisit it, but not now,' Hotez said of states reopening.

President Joe Biden said there will be enough vaccine for every adult American by the end of May, speeding up by months that expected timeline.

But, the President warned: 'It's not over yet. Stay vigilant.'

Highly transmissible variants that threaten to create another surge in the US include the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first identified in the UK. The CDC warns it could become the predominant variant in the US this month.

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who was a member of the Biden Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board, is another who warned against opening up too early.

'We should not ease up, allow indoor dining, big groups ... getting rid of mask mandates. We have to hold on for another two or three months in this condition,' Emanuel told CNN. 'We're still having, on average, 2,000 (Covid-19) deaths a day. We cannot become inured to that.'

If Americans relax too early, Covid-19 numbers are 'going to reverse and go up,' he added.

Other states loosening restrictions

In Louisiana, most businesses and restaurants will be allowed to increase capacity to 75% and there will be no restrictions on religious services as of Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

In Michigan, restaurants can open at 50% capacity, up from 25%, on March 5, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said many businesses can increase capacity to 60% -- including barbershops and hair salons, bars and restaurants, bowling alleys, fitness centers, movie theaters and government offices.

Pennsylvania state officials announced they had revised maximum-occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor events and eliminated out-of-state travel restrictions. And in Chicago, officials said they will allow restaurants to operate indoors at the lesser of 50% capacity or 50 people, raising the previous limit of 40%.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said these moves are coming at the wrong time.

'We've got states easing restrictions -- which they should not be doing at this moment -- and we've got the variants that are circulating that are a lot more infectious. Put all that together, and (I) can't help but worry about where we're going to be for the next couple of months,' Jha said Tuesday.

'We're not in great shape' with case numbers similar to last summer

The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy recently warned the proportion of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant was rapidly increasing in parts of the US and a 'major peak in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the near future remains a strong possibility.'

Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined over many weeks, though some numbers have recently wobbled, and experts say they are still high contextually:

-- Cases: The US has averaged about 67,760 new cases a day over the last week -- far below the nation's pandemic peak average of more than 249,700 daily on January 8, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The rate of decline recently slowed -- the average was just above 70,000 a week ago, and it even rose a bit before falling again late last week. Some of that may be attributable to stalled case reporting by some states hit by severe winter storms last month.

But the current seven-day average still is above the average seen last summer: around 67,030 on July 20.

'So we're not in great shape,' and if highly contagious variants take hold from this level, 'I think we can absolutely see a huge spike that will really lead to a lot more suffering,' Jha said.

-- Hospitalizations: More than 46,700 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Monday -- the lowest number since October 29, according to the COVID Tracking Project

-- Deaths: The country has averaged 2,046 Covid-19 deaths a day across the last week -- a number that has hovered above and below 2,000 for the past couple of weeks. The country is nearly seven weeks removed from its peak daily average of 3,354, according to Johns Hopkins data.

A third vaccine now being administered in the US

Barbara Schmalenberger, 86, on Tuesday was the first to receive Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine -- after it was authorized days earlier -- at the Schottenstein Center, in Columbus, Ohio, an arena where mass vaccines are taking place.

Johnson & Johnson's is the third vaccine authorized for use in the United States, and almost 4 million doses will be available in the first shipments, with a goal to ship 20 million doses by the end of the month, the White House has said.

Other states are expecting to receive their first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

Biden on Tuesday announced that Merck & Co. will partner with Johnson & Johnson to help manufacture its vaccine, which allowed for the earlier May goal of having enough vaccines for all adults in the United States.

Before now, the only Covid-19 vaccines authorized in the US -- from Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna -- have been two-dose products.

Three Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination sites in Texas are expected to receive about 24,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday, according to Lara Anton, press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

More than 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses are expected to be available to the state for next week's allocation, Anton said.

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he expects the first delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

'It certainly will be the best option for our transient populations,' he said of the one-dose vaccine. 'For example, our homeless population, which is very difficult to get back for their second shot.'

Track US Covid-19 vaccinations here

In Colorado, health officials said they expect to receive more than 45,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Friday.

The authorization of the vaccine will 'make it easier for the state to reach its vaccination goals as more people become eligible in the weeks to come,' said Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will receive more than 96,000 doses of the vaccine this week, boosting the state's total number of doses expected this week to more than 448,000.

Because of the additional doses, DeWine said the state will be expanding its vaccine eligibility to Phase 1C on March 4: people who are living with Type 1 diabetes, are pregnant, are bone marrow transplant recipients or living with ALS, as well as people working in childcare services, funeral services and law enforcement and corrections officers.

The state will also start its Phase 2 on the same day, lowering age eligibility to people 60 or older.

Across the US, more than 51.7 million people have so far received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. More than 26.1 million have received both doses.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
Out of AL00
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Tupelo
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Columbus
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Oxford
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Starkville
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Little bits and pieces of low pressure move back into our area over the next several days. This will bring back into our weather forecast some more chances for some isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms.
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