At least 8 states lift mask mandates; teachers unions call for reopening all schools this fall: Live COVID-19 updates

At least eight states began to lift mask mandates following the CDC’s updated guidance that fully vaccinated Americans could discard masks outdoors and in some situations indoors.

The new guidelines announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represent a major step toward a return to normalcy for a nation battered and at times divided by a pandemic that has lasted more than a year.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Soon after, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington began to adjust their mask-wearing guidance. 

 “When you get vaccinated, the CDC says it is safe to take that mask off, so go on out, get that shot,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said. “Let’s defeat this pandemic once and for all.”

Walt Disney Co. officials spoke about looking at changes to mask requirements during the company’s quarterly earnings, and officials at Macy’s, Target, and the Gap said they were reviewing the new guidance. 

The White House and Congressional offices on Thursday lifted its mandate for staff and visitors to wear masks after updated CDC guidance. 

Also in the news:

►Many U.S. Latinos who remain unvaccinated want a shot but are concerned about losing work hours, having to pay for the vaccine or facing immigration issues, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. It also found that 47% of Hispanic adults have received at least one dose. That’s below 60% for white adults and 51% for Blacks.

►Washington is on track to fully reopen its economy by June 30, and a full reopening could happen even sooner if 70% or more of residents over age 16 have receive at least one dose of vaccine by then, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

►Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are at their lowest rate since September and deaths are at their lowest point since April 2020, averaging about 600 a day. But some experts still worry that the emergence of variants could disrupt that momentum and create another surge, especially as the virus continues to rage in other parts of the world.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 584.4 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 160.8 million cases and 3.34 million deaths. More than 339.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 266.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 118.9 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 35.8% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: CDC lifts indoor mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people. What does it actually mean?

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Johnson ‘anxious’ over rise of Indian virus variant in UK

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced anxiety Thursday about a rise in the U.K. of the coronavirus variant first identified in India, after a closely-monitored study of infections in England found it becoming more prevalent — just ahead of the next big easing of lockdown restrictions.

“It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”

Johnson’s comments have stoked speculation that the government will ramp up vaccinations alongside testing in areas that are seeing a rising incidence of the virus.

In the United States, the variant makes up 3% of cases but is gaining traction, according to data from the CDC. The variant has spread to 44 countries worldwide.

On Monday, the World Health Organization designated the new version of the virus a “variant of concern” as the variant ravages rural India. 

Teachers unions call for reopening all schools in the fall

The head of the nation’s second-largest teachers union Thursday called for fully reopening K-12 schools this fall, adding that efforts to convince some families to come back to class may require the zeal of a political campaign.

The announcement from Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, signals a shift after local unions in some communities put up fierce resistance to reopening while pushing for better safeguards for teachers. 

“Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open,” Weingarten said. “We’re all in.”

The National Education Association, the country’s largest national teachers union, issued a statement Thursday saying it supports school buildings being open to students for in-person instruction in the fall.

A minority of schools — about 12% — were operating remote-only instruction as of March, according to government data. But many families, particularly those of color, have continued with virtual learning even after schools have reopened for in-person learning. 

Among the majority of schools considered reopened, about 1 in 3 were allowing students to attend only a few days a week on a hybrid schedule, the data shows.

– Erin Richards and Alia Wong

Pandemic shook public confidence in health system

The U.S. public health system was thrust into the limelight by the coronavirus pandemic, and a survey published Thursday found many Americans aren’t happy with its performance. According to the survey, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in February and March, ratings of nation’s public health system declined from 43% in 2009 to 34% in 2021. Positive ratings for the CDC fell overall from 59% in 2009 to 54% in 2021. 

“How the public sees public health is incredibly important,” said Dr. Robert Blendon, co-director of the survey at Harvard. “When it comes to trust with health information, which is the heart of what public health is about, they’re much more likely to trust clinical physicians and nurses than public health institutions and agencies.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Contributing: Associated Press

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