Forty-nine states have announced plans to drop their indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations steadily decline across the country. The only holdout remains Hawaii.
The island state has taken strong precautions against the coronavirus from the beginning of the pandemic and is still requiring out-of-state American travelers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to avoid a mandatory quarantine.
Over 75% of Hawaii residents have received two doses of a COVID vaccine – 10% higher than the national rate – according to the Hawaii Department of Health, and coronavirus cases have dropped by a whopping 64% from Feb. 5 to Feb. 18.
Hawaii’s rapid drop in COVID cases mirrors nationwide statistics: Reported U.S. cases on Saturday barely exceeded 100,000, a sharp downturn from around 800,850 five weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Gov. David Ige told TV station ABC 4 on Thursday that he’s working with the state’s health department to “determine when the time is right” for Hawaii to lift its indoor mask mandate.
“Hawaii ranks second (to last) in the nation when it comes to COVID deaths, in part because of the indoor mask requirement and other measures that have proven successful in protecting our community from this potentially deadly virus,” Ige said in a statement to the news station. “We base our decisions on science, with the health and safety of our community as the top priority.”
Also in the news:
►Iran, where hard-liners have railed against American-made COVID vaccines even as daily deaths shattered records, has returned 820,000 doses donated by Poland because they were manufactured in the United States, state TV reported Monday.
►Singer Justin Bieber postponed his Sunday performance in Las Vegas and Tuesday’s show in the Phoenix area after testing positive for the coronavirus.
►International tourists and business travelers began arriving in Australia on Monday, bringing tearful family reunions after separations of two years or longer forced by some of the strictest pandemic measures in the world.
►Enforcement of New York’s COVID-19 booster shot mandate for medical workers, which was set to take effect Monday, will be delayed at least three months amid concerns it would trigger staffing shortages, state officials said.
►A group of American truck drivers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, named the People’s Convoy, has said it will begin a cross-country protest on Feb. 23 beginning in California and ending in Washington, D.C.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 935,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 425.6 million cases and over 5.8 million deaths. More than 214 million Americans – 64.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we’re reading: How bad is it to be in ICU with COVID-19? It’s far more miserable than people can imagine, experts tell USA TODAY. Read the full story.
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British PM Boris Johnson dumps all COVID-19 restrictions
At a time when many in the United Kingdom are worried after 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth contracted the coronavirus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is removing the last domestic COVID-19 restrictions, saying it’s time to switch to a different approach to the pandemic.
Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Monday that the country was “moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility” as part of a plan for treating COVID-19 like other transmissible illnesses such as the flu.
“We now have sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition from protecting people with government interventions to relying on vaccines and treatments as our first line of defense,” Johnson said.
There are several surprising aspects of the new approach: People who have COVID-19 will no longer have to self-isolate, and regular contact tracing will be stopped. Those who are sick will still be advised to stay home, but they won’t get the extra financial support introduced during the pandemic for people who miss work. And the government will no longer supply free rapid COVID tests.
The break with the previous strategy for confronting the pandemic comes a day after Buckingham Palace announced that the queen has tested positive for the virus and is experiencing mild cold-like symptoms.
The impact of a severe case of COVID goes beyond the afflicted person. The disease leaves a major imprint on the family, too.
Relatives of patients who were admitted to an intensive care unit with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) because of COVID were almost twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms 90 days after ICU discharge than family members of those who went into an ICU with ARDS caused by another illness, a new French study showed.
The research, published in JAMA Network, looked at 517 family members of ARDS patients in 23 ICUs in France during most of 2020 and found PTSD in 35% of those related to the people who had COVID, compared with 19% for any other causes of the respiratory problems.
“There are many potential explanations for these findings, including the need to comply with strict isolation measures to prevent viral transmission …,‘’ the researchers wrote.
Canada expected to maintain temporary emergency powers
The Canadian Parliament is expected to vote Monday night in favor of maintaining the emergency powers that allowed police to clear the blockades of truck drivers who were protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said keeping those temporary powers is necessary. “The situation is still fragile, the state of emergency is still there,” he said.
Though the remaining protesters who had laid siege to parts of Ottawa were removed over the weekend, Trudeau said some truckers just outside the capital city may be planning further blockades. Also, his public safety minister noted there was an effort to block a border crossing in British Columbia on the weekend.
Opposition New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh said his party will support retaining the emergency powers, which should give Trudeau enough votes.
Many parents of young children were disappointed when the Food and Drug Administration decided this month to postpone consideration of COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5. Experts say the decision was the right one. The FDA won’t have enough data until the spring to judge whether a vaccine is safe and effective for young children, a half-dozen public health, infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists told USA TODAY.
But parent activists say the move made them question the agency’s sincerity in providing shots for the youngest kids, wonder whether unreleased data was hiding anything and yearn even more for the day they can stop worrying about the health of their children and families.
“I think people are really forgetting the kids here,” said Fatima Khan, cofounder of Protect Their Future, an advocacy group promoting COVID-19 vaccination for children. “This is impacting our kids and how people can live their daily lives.”
– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press