Delta, gamma variants and falling vaccination rates concern experts; NYC to move homeless people back to shelters: Live COVID-19 updates

The nation will have to remain vigilant against variants this summer and fall.

First, there is the alpha variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated made up 66% of U.S. cases in April. The variant, first documented in the UK, is considered more transmissible and perhaps deadlier than the original strain.

Then, there’s the delta variant, which tore through India last month and delayed the United Kingdom’s reopening plan. Now it accounts for about 6-10% of coronavirus infections in the U.S., according to the CDC.

But the variant that keeps Washington state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist “up at night?” 

The gamma variant, which now accounts for 16% of cases in the state and is the fastest-rising, according to the Seattle Times. 

“I’m very concerned about the role this one is going to take,” he said. 

The variant, first documented in Brazil and Japan, is associated with higher hospitalization, is more transmissible, and is less likely to respond to antibody treatments. It is also responsible for some increased breakthrough infections. A recent study found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines still neutralized the virus, but immunity declined.

Those who have both doses of the vaccine have better protections against these variants, however. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all have some immune response to the variants. 

But with falling vaccination rates, experts are concerned. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s ongoing vaccine monitor shows 20% of adults don’t intend to get the vaccine unless required, and 12% are on a wait-and-see mode. That’s nearly one-third of the country’s adults expressing reluctance.

“It’s a race between the vaccines going into people and the current or future variants,” said Kansas Health Secretary Dr. Lee Norman.

Also in the news:

►As part of the ongoing effort to get California residents vaccinated, Santa Clara County, the first county in the nation to institute a stay-at-home order, is collaborating with the SAP Center, the Golden State Warriors and the City of San Jose to raffle off more than 100 tickets to upcoming events to everyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks. 70% of eligible residents in the county have one dose. 

►Moderna announced that the federal government has purchased an additional 200 million doses of vaccine, primarily for vaccinating children or for use as a booster for people already vaccinated.

►A vaccine developed by German company CureVac is just 47% efficacious against COVID-19, according to clinical trial data released Wednesday. In a study of about 40,000 people in Latin America and Europe, there were 134 cases, according to the release. Of 124 cases sequenced, just one was attributable to the original COVID-19 strain, and more than half were caused by “variants of concern,” according to CureVac.

►Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to downgrade the state of emergency when it expires Sunday in Tokyo and other regions. The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 23.

►A swath of Missouri is seeing a big rise in cases and hospitalizations as tourists eager to get out after being cooped up for a year make their way to popular destinations like Branson and Lake of the Ozarks. Health officials said more than 200 people were hospitalized with the virus in southwestern Missouri, nearly double the number at the start of May. The number of patients in intensive care units in the region has tripled.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.49 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 600,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 176.9 million cases and more than 3.83 million deaths. More than 146.45 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 44.1% of the population, according to the CDC. 

📘What we’re reading: People hospitalized with COVID-19 now have one overwhelming thing in common — they’re not vaccinated.

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NYC to move homeless out of hotel rooms as social distancing measures lifted

New York City will move about 8,000 homeless people out of the hotel rooms granted to them at the start of the COVID pandemic to safeguard them against the coronavirus and back into shelters by the end of July so that the hotels can reopen, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

New York state surpassed the first-shot, 70% vaccination threshold for adults, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, a benchmark that will trigger a pullback on safety precautions such as those still in place for social distancing.

“I don’t want to go back — it’s like I’m going backward,” Andrew Ward, 39, who has been staying at the Williams Hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, after nearly two years at a men’s shelter, told the New York Times. “It’s not safe to go back there. You’ve got people bringing in knives.”

Prison early release programs in Virginia will end, as inmate population vaccinated against COVID

An inmate early release program aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus in Virginia prisons will end on July 1.

State prison officials have released more than 2,100 inmates early in the past year to reduce the prison population during the pandemic. The program was authorized under a budget amendment proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam and approved by state lawmakers in April 2020. The authorization expires on July 1.

Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke said about 70% of the inmate population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. There are no current cases among the population. A total of 56 inmates and five staff members who tested positive for the coronavirus have died during the pandemic.

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