Duke joins other colleges in requiring student vaccinations; Alabama, Utah lift mask mandates. Latest COVID-19 updates

First it was Rutgers and Cornell. Then Notre Dame. Now Duke.

The list of colleges and universities that will require COVID-19 vaccinations for new and returning students to attend in-person classes this fall grew again Friday, with the North Carolina school announcing a policy that will cover all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

“We know that widespread vaccination will be the only way to facilitate a return to normal and robust campus life,” Duke President Vincent Price said in a statement on the university’s website.

Brown in Rhode Island, Northeastern in Boston, Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Fort Lewis College in Colorado have also followed the precedent set by Rutgers in New Jersey and Cornell in New York.

“It doesn’t just make us safer. In the end, it makes our entire community safer,” Antonio Calcado, Rutgers’ chief operating officer, told USA TODAY this week. “That’s why we think requiring is the way to go versus encouraging.”

Colleges and universities have been especially hard-hit by coronavirus restrictions, losing students who say they’re tired of paying full-price tuition for virtual learning, and that generally means less money for universities that may already be struggling financially.

Also in the news:

►While Alabama’s statewide mask mandate ended Friday after nearly nine months, Birmingham, the largest city in the state, is keeping mask requirements in place “because the pandemic still exists and remains a threat,” Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said. Montgomery, the state’s second-largest city, will also continue to require face coverings.

►The latest forecast from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s coronavirus model projects nearly 620,000 U.S. deaths by Aug. 1. The forecast improves with 95% mask usage (604,413) and tops out at 697,573 deaths in a worst-case scenario in which fully-vaccinated people return to pre-pandemic levels of mobility.

►Connecticut plans to provide full summer access to its outdoor recreation areas including state parks, campgrounds, shoreline beaches, boat launches and inland swimming spots after providing partial access last summer at the height of the pandemic, state officials said Friday.

►Utah’s statewide mask mandate expires Saturday, though some businesses and government facilities will continue to require face coverings – including Salt Lake International Airport and the Utah Transit Authority.

►The CDC reported nearly 3,400 new variant cases late Thursday, bringing the U.S. total to 20,412, a number that’s nearly doubled since March 28.

? Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 31 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 560,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 134.3 million cases and more than 2.9 million deaths. More than 233.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 178.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC. 

? What we’re reading: COVID-19 toes, Moderna arm and an all-body rash are among the odd skin reactions to vaccines. But, don’t worry: A new study says none of the side effects are dangerous. Read the full story.

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.

Registered medical assistant Jennifer Roberts prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Friday at InterCare Community Health Network in Benton Harbor, Mich. (Photo: Don Campbell, The Herald-Palladium via AP)

Florida woman gets 29 days in jail for coughing on cancer patient

A Florida woman was sentenced to 29 days in jail for assault this week after she was captured on video coughing in the face of another woman, a cancer patient with a compromised immune system, last year at a Jacksonville-area mall.

Debra Jo Michele Hunter, of Fernandina Beach, also made an obscene gesture toward Heather Sprague, who was wearing a mask to further protect herself after recent brain tumor surgery, in a video that gained widespread attention.

Duval County Court Judge James Ruth heard testimony from Hunter’s husband, friends and family who said she has a “really huge heart” and was “broken-hearted” over the incident. Sprague, who told the judge she feared being attacked for wearing a mask, described Hunter’s actions as “rooted in privilege and entitlement.”

– Dan Scanlan, Florida Times-Union

Pfizer-BioNTech asks for FDA approval of its vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds

Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech on Friday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow their COVID-19 vaccine to be used on adolescents ages 12-15. Their vaccine is already authorized for those 16 and up.

The companies also plan to ask for similar authorization from regulatory agencies in other parts of the world. In trial results released recently, the companies showed that their vaccine prevented all COVID-19 symptomatic disease in trial participants ages 12-15, generated large numbers of protective antibodies in that age group, and did not pose any safety concerns.

The companies will follow all of the more than 2,200 trial participants for two years after their second dose to ensure safety and vaccine durability.

– Doyle Rice

COVID pandemic knocks 80% off Atlantic City casino profits in 2020

The coronavirus outbreak sent profits plunging at Atlantic City’s casinos by more than 80% last year, according to figures released Friday by New Jersey gambling regulators.

Still, seven of the nine casinos managed to eke out a profit, no matter how small, during what New Jersey Casino Control Commission chairman James Plousis called the “most challenging year in history” for the city and its casinos.

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement reported the nine casinos collectively posted $117.5 million in gross operating profits in 2020. That was down from nearly $594 million a year earlier, before the pandemic forced casinos to close for 3 1/2 months, and limited their operations even after reopening.

Contributing: Chris Quintana, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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