One out of three Americans fully vaccinated for COVID-19, CDC says

(Reuters) – The United States has fully vaccinated 110,874,920 people for COVID-19 as of Friday morning, accounting for 33.4% of the population, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

The country has administered 254,779,333 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and distributed 327,124,625 doses.

Those figures are up from the 251,973,752 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by May 6 out of 324,610,185 doses delivered.

The agency said 150,416,559 people had received at least one dose as of Friday.

The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Friday.

A total of 7,808,441 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

New U.S. COVID cases fall for third week, deaths lowest since July

(Reuters) – New cases of COVID-19 in the United States fell for a third week in a row, dropping 15% last week to 347,000, the lowest weekly total since October, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Nearly a third of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, and 44% has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan again led the states in new cases per capita, though new infections fell 26% last week compared with the previous seven days, the Reuters analysis showed. New cases also fell in Colorado and Minnesota, the states with the next highest rates of infection based on population.

Health officials have warned that more contagious variants of the coronavirus are still circulating, such as the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom and partly responsible for the surge in Michigan.

In Oregon, where the B.1.1.7 variant is now the dominant strain, the governor last week placed nearly half the state’s counties in the extreme risk category for COVID-19, banning indoor dining and restricting capacity at other businesses.

Oregon reported a 1.2% rise in new cases last week to about 5,600, double the weekly cases seen in early April.

Nationally, deaths from COVID-19 fell 3% to 4,819 in the week ended May 2, the fewest deaths in a week since July.

The average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell 8%, the first weekly decrease after rising or holding steady for four weeks.

Vaccinations fell for a second week in a row, dropping 12% after falling 14% in the previous week.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)

EU aims to open up to foreign tourists this summer amidst COVID-19

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union’s executive has recommended easing COVID-19 travel restrictions next month to let foreign travelers from more countries enter the bloc, hoping to boost the stricken tourism industry this summer.

Under current restrictions, people from only seven countries, including Australia and Singapore, can enter the EU on holiday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated but subject to tests or quarantine.

New proposals from the European Commission on Monday, but still requiring approval by the EU’s 27 member states, would allow in fully vaccinated foreign citizens and those from countries with a “good epidemiological situation”.

“Time to revive tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

People arriving from Britain, Russia and a number of other countries would meet the new criteria, according to data provided by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). U.S. citizens would not currently do so.

“We want to have this done before the mass summer travel starts,” an EU official said.

EU member states are due to start discussing the proposal on Tuesday and the official hoped it would be approved this month.

BIG LOSSES

Travel restrictions because of COVID-19 have inflicted heavy losses on the tourism industry in the EU, which at times has struggled to agree a common response to the pandemic.

If the new proposals are agreed, specific EU countries would be expected – but not legally obliged – to follow the new joint approach. Greece has already agreed to welcome vaccinated tourists from Israel.

Other measures to support tourism this summer include a central EU register allowing free travel for the bloc’s citizens holding a so-called “green certificate” proving they have been vaccinated, have had a negative COVID-19 test or have immunity after recovering.

“The green certificate, for the Luxembourg government is one of the elements that would allow us to get back to normality as fast as possible,” Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in separate comments on Monday.

The Commission recommended allowing people fully inoculated with EU-recognized vaccines to be able to enter from any country, and said other vaccines could be added if they are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The European Medicines Agency has authorized the use of shots by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca in the EU.

The WHO has also approved those vaccines for use and is expected to decide on the use of two Chinese vaccines this week. Both agencies are considering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

The Commission said reciprocity should be considered when deciding to allow leisure travel from third countries.

To limit the risk of importing new coronavirus variants, the Commission also proposed a new “emergency brake” that would allow the swift introduction of travel restrictions from countries where the health situation deteriorates sharply.

EU countries would review the situation every two weeks.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by John Chalmers, Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

Fully vaccinated people can unmask outdoors in some cases: U.S. CDC

(Reuters) – Fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without wearing masks but should continue to use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required, U.S. health regulators said on Tuesday.

The updated health advice comes as more than half of all adults in the United States have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The release of these new guidelines is a first step at helping fully vaccinated Americans resume activities they had stopped doing because of the pandemic, while being mindful of the potential risk of transmitting the virus to others,” the CDC said.

Wearing face masks has been considered by experts as one of the most effective ways of controlling virus transmission. With most COVID-19 transmission occurring indoors, and vaccinations on the rise, the use of masks outdoors has been under public debate for weeks in the United States as Americans look to enjoy the benefits of being fully vaccinated.

New COVID-19 cases have dropped 16% in the last week as the U.S. surpassed 140 million people having received at least one shot of authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.

This was the biggest percentage drop in weekly new cases since February, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

SMALL OUTDOOR GATHERINGS

The agency said fully-vaccinated Americans can safely dine outdoors with friends from multiple households at restaurants and attend small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

CDC continues to recommend masking for crowded outdoor events such as parades and sporting events and indoor visits to the hair salon, shopping malls, movie theaters and houses of worship.

The agency classified activities as “red,” “yellow” and “green” based on level of safety for unvaccinated people.

It said unvaccinated people can also walk and run unmasked with household members outdoors safely and attend small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends.

Data on whether vaccinated people can spread infection to those who did not receive their shots is limited and the CDC warned that people should evaluate risk to friends and family before going out without masks.

This is an update to the CDC’s guidance, which in March said people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can meet without masks indoors in small groups with others who also have been inoculated.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

CDC discourages Americans from travel despite ‘low risk’ to vaccinated people

By David Shepardson and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely travel at “low risk” but still discouraged Americans from doing so because of high coronavirus cases nationwide.

The CDC’s shift in guidance should be a shot in the arm for the travel industry, which is still struggling from the dip in passengers since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

But CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters that, despite the new guidance for vaccinated people, now was not a good time to take a trip.

“We know that right now we have a surging number of cases. I would advocate against general travel overall,” she said. “We are not recommending travel at this time, especially for unvaccinated individuals.”

The CDC had held off changing its travel guidance even as vaccinations increased, irking the travel industry.

Its new guidance on Friday seemed to be an attempt to thread a needle of acknowledging that vaccines made travel significantly safer while seeking to thwart a big increase until more people have had their shots.

The new guidance greenlights vaccinated grandparents getting on airplanes to see grandchildren, for example, and says COVID-19 testing and quarantining are not necessary before or after travel as long as take precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

A group representing major U.S. airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air lines, United Airlines Southwest Airlines and other trade groups had urged the CDC on March 22 to immediately update its guidance to say “vaccinated individuals can travel safely.” Air travel still remains down 43% from pre-COVID levels and business and international travel remain even harder hit.

Roger Dow, chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, said the “new travel guidance is a major step in the right direction that is supported by the science and will take the brakes off the industry that has been hardest hit by the fallout of COVID by far.”

The administration is not lifting restrictions that bar most-non U.S. citizens from the United States who have recently been in China, Brazil, South Africa and most of Europe. It is also keeping requirements that nearly all international U.S. air visitors getting a negative COVID-19 test before traveling to the United States.

A U.S. official briefed on the matter said the Biden administration is beginning to have conversations about how and when it might eventually lift those travel restrictions but no change is imminent. The United States also still maintains restrictions at the Canadian and Mexican borders that bar non-essential visitors.

The CDC’s new guidance says fully vaccinated people do not need COVID-19 tests before international travel unless it is required by the international destination and vaccinated people returning from foreign travel do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by state or local authorities.

The CDC had repeatedly declined in recent weeks to change the guidance and repeated it was still discouraging all non-essential travel because of a concern about new variants.

Many Americans have not been heeding the CDC’s advice.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.56 million people at U.S. airports on Thursday, just below Sunday’s 1.57 million, which was the highest daily total since March 2020. The last time the number of airport passengers screened was below 1 million was March 10.

The Biden administration has taken steps to reduce international travel and mandated masks in nearly all forms of public transit. The administration is not eliminating any mask rules.

The administration is sticking by its goal that all adults will be eligible for vaccines in the coming weeks. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that studies showed children would be able to be vaccinated, too.

“There are studies under way in children that go from six months to 11 years. And by the end of this year we should have enough information to be able to safely vaccinate children of virtually any age,” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

Fully vaccinated people can gather unmasked with others indoors: U.S. CDC says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Individuals fully inoculated against COVID-19 can meet in small groups with other vaccinated people without wearing masks, but should keep wearing them outside the home, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing that the agency’s new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals stipulated that they can also visit with unvaccinated, low-risk people from one other household without masks.

The CDC advised fully vaccinated people that they should continue with many precautions such as avoiding medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings, wearing masks when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households or wearing masks when with people who are at risk for severe COVID-19.

“It’s important to realize … that still over 90 percent of the population is not yet vaccinated, and that is our responsibility to make sure, in the context of 60,000 new cases a day, that we protect those who remain unvaccinated and vulnerable,” Walensky said.

The public health guidelines address how vaccinated people can safely resume some more normal activities and contacts with those outside their households while the coronavirus is still widely circulating.

The recommendations come as about 30 million people, or 9.2% of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc/ BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data.

Nearly 18% of the U.S. population, or 58.9 million adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from becoming ill but not necessarily from being infected. Data on whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus to unprotected people is sparse.

The CDC previously recommended that people should wear masks at all times when unable to remain at least six feet (1.83 m) apart from others, or at all times indoors other than in their own homes.

The CDC last month advised that individuals who had been vaccinated within three months could skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Some cities and states have begun lifting pandemic restrictions in recent weeks against the advice of public health experts, who say the measures should remain until many more people get vaccinated with case numbers still high and more contagious virus variants becoming prevalent in much of the country.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengalaru and Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert in Washington D.C.; writing by Caroline Humer; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Vaccinated people need not quarantine post COVID-19 exposure, CDC says

(Reuters) – People who have received the full course of COVID-19 vaccines can skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with the infection as long as they remain asymptomatic, U.S. public health officials advised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday the vaccines have been shown to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, thought to play a greater role in the transmission of the virus than asymptomatic disease.

“Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission (among vaccinated individuals),” the CDC said.

The agency has laid down strict criteria for people who would no longer have to quarantine after the vaccinations, including having received both doses of a two-dose vaccine.

People who choose not to quarantine should do so only if they received their last dose within three months, and should only avoid 14 days quarantine after their last shot, the time it takes to develop immunity, CDC said.

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure.

Two-dose vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. Johnson & Johnson applied for a U.S. authorization of its single-dose shot last week.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)