U.S. CDC recommends vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in many cases

By David Shepardson and Julie Steenhuysen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus and especially the Delta variant are spreading rapidly, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended all students and teachers at kindergarten through 12th grade schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The CDC said children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies.

The changes mark a reversal of the CDC’s announcement in May that prompted millions of vaccinated Americans to shed their face coverings.

The United States leads the world in the daily average number of new infections, accounting for one in every nine cases reported worldwide each day. The seven-day average for new cases has been rising sharply and stands at 57,126, still about a quarter of the pandemic peak.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of Delta and protect others,” the agency said.

The CDC said that 63% of U.S. counties had high transmission rates that warranted mask wearing. The Delta variant is highly transmissible.

In May, the agency advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said would allow life to begin to return to normal.

Dr. David Doudy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the CDC guidance was motivated by a change in infection patterns. “We’re seeing this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.

‘A NECESSARY PRECAUTION’

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the new CDC mask guidance in a statement, saying it was needed “to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission.”

She called it “a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID vaccine and more Americans over 12 get vaccinated.”

The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them. At least eight states bar schools from requiring masks.

Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a medical epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health, said resistance was likely among some people. “I think we will get blowback because I think people might view it as backtracking,” he said.

On Monday, the Biden administration confirmed it will not lift any existing international travel restrictions, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the expectation that they will continue to rise in the weeks ahead.

Masks became a political issue in the United States under former President Donald Trump, who resisted mandating face coverings. President Joe Biden has embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs days after taking office.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

Canada to ease border measures, welcome vaccinated U.S. tourists next month

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada will start allowing fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into the country on Aug. 9 for non-essential travel as the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic fades, Ottawa said on Monday.

Businesses on both sides of the border, particularly the travel and airline industries, are demanding an end to restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States which were first imposed in March 2020.

Fully-vaccinated visitors from countries other than the United States will be permitted to enter beginning on Sept. 7. The relaxation depends on Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remaining favorable, the government said in a statement.

“Thanks to the hard work of Canadians, rising vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases, the government … is able to move forward with adjusted border measures,” it said.

People eligible to enter Canada must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand. From Aug. 9, Ottawa is also lifting the requirement that all travelers arriving by air must spend three nights in a hotel.

The government repeated that Canadians should avoid non-essential travel abroad.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve SchererEditing by Paul Simao)

Canada to ease border restrictions in steps, scrap hotel quarantine

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is poised to outline a process to ease border restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and to get rid of its hotel quarantine for returning air travelers as soon as July, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Canada’s air and land borders have allowed for only essential travel since March of last year, and Canadians coming home are currently required to quarantine for 14 days. If they fly home, they also must quarantine in a designated hotel until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.

Fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents coming home will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days, nor endure a hotel quarantine, once 75% of the eligible population has received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 20% has had a second dose, said the source who asked not to be identified.

However, even fully vaccinated travelers will be required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantine until they receive a negative result, the source said.

There will be as many as seven steps before borders are completely opened when 75% of the population is fully vaccinated, the source said. It is still unclear when the rules might change for foreign travelers as there were few details on subsequent steps.

Canadian businesses, and especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying furiously for the government to relax restrictions as more and more people are vaccinated. Some 63% of eligible Canadians have received a first shot, while 8.5% have got a second one.

Canada will have enough vaccines to reach that 75%/20% vaccination threshold by June 21, said Trevor Tombe, an economic professor at the University of Calgary who tracks scheduled deliveries of vaccines.

However, the supply will then need to be distributed and administered, and two weeks should pass to allow immunity from the first shots to take effect, so Canada could reach that goal in mid-July, Tombe said.

News of the plan to ease restrictions was first reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s Katie Simpson on Twitter, who said the announcement would be made later on Wednesday. French-language public broadcaster Radio-Canada had earlier reported the hotel quarantine would be scrapped.

Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety, which is in charge of border security, did not immediately respond for comment.

(Reporting by Steve SchererEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. CDC eases travel recommendations on 110 countries, territories including Japan

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased travel recommendations for more than 110 countries and territories, including Japan just ahead of the Olympics.

The CDC’s new ratings were first reported by Reuters and posted on a CDC website on Monday, include 61 nations that were lowered from its highest “Level 4” rating that discouraged all travel to recommending travel for fully vaccinated individuals, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

Another 50 countries and territories have been lowered to “Level 2” or “Level 1,” a CDC spokeswoman said. Countries ranked lowest for COVID-19 risks now include Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Iceland, Belize and Albania.

Among those now listed at “Level 3,” are France, Ecuador, Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Honduras, Hungary, and Italy.

A U.S. State Department official said it was in the process of revising its travel advisory to reflect the CDC changes.

As of early Tuesday, the State Department had lowered its ratings on more than 90 countries and territories, including for Japan.

On May 24, the State Department had urged against travel to Japan, citing a new wave of coronavirus cases before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23.

The State Department warning raised concerns and prompted the White House to reaffirm its support for Tokyo’s plan to hold the Games this summer and for U.S. athletes competing there despite a new wave of infections and low vaccination rate in the host country.

Foreign spectators have been banned, and organizers are expected to make a decision late this month on domestic spectators.

The CDC said the change comes after it revised its criteria for travel health notices. The CDC said it has also revised its rating for the United States to “Level 3” from “Level 4.”

The agency said the new criteria for a Level 4 “avoid all travel” recommendation has changed from 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000.

The agency added that many countries have lower ratings “because of the criteria changes or because their outbreaks are better controlled.” The CDC said it expects more countries to get lower, more favorable travel ratings.

Other countries being lowered to “Level 3” include Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Panama, Poland, Denmark and Malaysia.

Many of the countries that now have lower ratings remain on the U.S. government’s list of countries subject to severe travel restrictions – and most have been subject to the restrictions since early 2020.

The United States bars nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have within the previous 14 days been to China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, South Africa, Brazil, Iran and the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls.

Asked why the United States is maintaining the warnings even though some countries now have low infection rates subject to the restrictions, while others with high rates are exempt, CDC Director Rochelle Wallensky said on Tuesday the issue is subject to “an interagency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that.”

The United States also has been in discussions with Canada and Mexico – both of which had recommendations eased on Tuesday – on how to eventually lift or revise restrictions at U.S. land borders that bar non-essential travel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. job growth improves; desperate employers raise wages to attract workers

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employers increased hiring in May and raised wages as they competed for workers, with millions of unemployed Americans still at home because of childcare issues, generous unemployment checks and lingering fears over COVID-19.

Though the pickup in job growth shown in the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday missed economists’ forecasts, it offered some assurance that the recovery from the pandemic recession remained on track.

Growth is being supported by vaccinations against COVID-19, massive fiscal stimulus and the Federal Reserve’s ultra-easy monetary policy stance. April’s nonfarm payrolls count, which delivered about a quarter of the new jobs economists had forecast, caused handwringing among some analysts and investors that growth was stagnating at a time when inflation was rising.

“There are still a lot of people unemployed, but there does not seem to be a lot of eagerness to work,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial in New York. “There would have been many more hires if employers could find more people.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 559,000 jobs last month. Data for April was revised higher to show payrolls rising by 278,000 jobs instead of 266,000 as previously reported.

That left employment about 7.6 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 650,000 jobs created in May. About 9.3 million people were classified as officially unemployed last month. There are a record 8.1 million unfilled jobs.

At least half of the American population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That has allowed authorities across the country to lift virus-related restrictions on businesses, which nearly paralyzed the economy early in the pandemic. But the reopening of the economy is straining the supply chain.

Millions of workers, mostly women, remain at home as most school districts have not moved to full-time in-person learning. Despite vaccines being widely accessible, some segments of the population are reluctant to get inoculated, which labor market experts say is discouraging some people from returning to work.

Government-funded benefits, including a $300 weekly unemployment subsidy, are also constraining hiring. Republican governors in 25 states are terminating this benefit and other unemployment programs funded by the federal government starting next Saturday.

These states account for more than 40% of the workforce. The expanded benefits end in early September across the country. That, together with more people vaccinated and schools fully reopening in the fall, is expected to ease the worker crunch.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the argument that enhanced benefits were discouraging job seeking was not supported by what workers were telling him.

“Working people across America are eager to work,” said Walsh in a statement. “But workers also told me about the challenges they and their families face, finding affordable childcare, caring for elderly parents and grandparents”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

WILLING WORKERS IN SHORT SUPPLY

Average hourly earnings rose a solid 0.5% after shooting up 0.7% in April. That raised the year-on-year increase in wages to 2.0% from 0.4% in April. Wages in the leisure and hospitality sector jumped 1.3%, the third straight month of gains above 1%.

Postings on Poachedjobs.com, a national job board for the restaurant/hospitality industry, are showing restaurants offering as much as $30-$35 per hour for lead line cooks.

Sustained wage growth could strengthen the argument among some economists that higher inflation could last longer rather than being transitory as currently envisioned by Fed Chair Jerome Powell. A measure of underlying inflation tracked by the Fed for its 2% target accelerated 3.1% on a year-on-year basis in April, the largest increase since July 1992.

Still, most economists do not expect the U.S. central bank to start withdrawing its massive economic support anytime soon.

“The data will likely reinforce the view of most Fed officials that progress has not been ‘substantial’ enough for them to start signaling tapering,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. macro strategist at TD Securities in New York.

The average workweek held steady at 34.9 hours. That together with strong wage gains lifted an income proxy 0.9%, matching April’s gain. This bodes well for consumer spending, which could also get a powerful tailwind from the more than $2.3 trillion in excess savings amassed during the pandemic.

Economists are sticking to their forecasts for double-digit growth this quarter.

Last month’s increase in hiring was led by the leisure and hospitality industry, which added 292,000 jobs, with restaurants and bars accounting for 186,000 of those positions. Local government education employment rose by 53,000 jobs as the resumption of in-person learning and other school-related activities in some parts of the country continued.

Manufacturing payrolls increased by 23,000 jobs. But construction employment decreased by 20,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. The drop was in part due to more jobs created and 53,000 people dropping out of the labor force. The jobless rate has been understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this problem, the unemployment rate would have been 6.1%.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, fell to 61.6% from 61.7% in April.

“It appears like employers may need to offer up more incentives to entice workers to fill the record number of job openings that are out there,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. health agency eases masking guidance for summer camps where all are vaccinated

By David Shepardson and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The top U.S. health agency on Friday relaxed guidance for mask-wearing at summer camps, saying that camps do not need to require children to wear masks or physically distance if all participants have been fully vaccinated.

The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention settles a question that has been top of mind for the parents of tens of millions of children who attend camp each summer in the United States.

“We think the possibility of having a camp setting where everyone is fully vaccinated will be a reality by mid- to late-summer,” said Commander Erin Sauber-Schatz, a team lead at the CDC, in an interview with Reuters.

The CDC also updated guidance for unvaccinated camp attendees on wearing masks outdoors. Camps should no longer require masking outdoors in most circumstances for vaccinated or unvaccinated children, according to the new guidance.

The CDC previously required camp programs to mandate use of masks and physical distancing even for fully vaccinated teachers, staff and children. The agency has been under sharp criticism recently for being overly cautious in its masking guidelines.

The CDC still recommends that summer camps where everyone is not fully vaccinated require masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. It also recommends that they employ other standard COVID-19 prevention strategies, including physical distancing, testing, and limiting attendees contact to a fixed cohort of other campers.

The more stringent recommendations apply to all summer camps that host children under 12 years old. U.S. regulators have not yet authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for that younger age group.

The CDC does not offer specific guidance for how camps should determine which attendees are fully vaccinated, Sauber-Schatz said. The agency expects that camps will work with state and local public health officials to develop those procedures, she added.

Sauber-Schatz said breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated camp participants are highly unlikely.

“Based on the evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine, we are very comfortable with the recommendations we have made,” she said.

The agency’s latest guideline revision comes after the recent authorization and rollout of Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccine for 12-15 year old’s.

The vaccine was authorized for the younger age group earlier in May and the country has since vaccinated nearly 59% of Americans over the age of 12, according to latest data from the CDC.

Earlier this month, it said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places but stuck to more conservative guidelines for schools as children below 12 will not get their shots yet.

The agency previously recommended all children and staff should wear makers at all times except when eating, drinking or swimming.

Speaking on the CDC’s annual budget before a House subcommittee, Director Rochelle Walensky said changing guidance quickly as more information becomes available has been a challenge.

“This is complex. And as we change things, things that we knew a year ago are different now because we have much more information and they continue to evolve,” she said.

She added that it is better for children to be outside than inside. “My own kids were home from camp last summer, and I want camps to be open this summer.”

(Reporting by David Shepherdson in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; additional reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Alistair Bell)

India ‘on war footing’ as coronavirus infections pass 24 million

By Tanvi Mehta and Shilpa Jamkhandikar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of COVID-19 through India’s vast countryside on Friday, as 4,000 people died from the virus for the third straight day and total infections crossed 24 million.

India is in the grip of the highly transmissible B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus, first detected there and now appearing across the globe. Modi said his government was “on a war footing” to try to contain it.

“The outbreak is reaching rural areas with great speed,” he said, addressing farmers in a virtual conference. “I want to once again warn all … those who live in villages about corona.”

Although about two-thirds of Indians live in rural towns and villages where healthcare facilities are limited, it was the first time Modi has specifically referred to the virus’s spread through the countryside since a second wave erupted in February.

“All departments of the government, all resources, our armed forces, our scientists, everyone is working day and night to counter COVID, together,” he said.

Eid festivities celebrated by India’s around 200 million Muslims to mark the end of Ramadan were generally subdued on Friday. Most states have imposed full or partial lockdowns and many mosques were either shut or following social distancing measures during prayers.

“The good thing is that everyone is following and celebrating Eid inside their homes,” Maulana Khalid Rashid, a cleric in the city of Lucknow, told ANI news agency, a partner of Reuters.

Television has broadcast images of families weeping over the dead in rural hospitals or camping in wards to tend the sick, while bodies have washed up in the Ganges as crematoriums are overwhelmed and wood for funeral pyres is in short supply.

Medical journal The Lancet said restrictions on movement along with international support measures were urgently needed to stem “an unprecedented public health crisis”.

Modi has been under pressure to impose a national lockdown, though on Thursday the president of the Public Health Foundation of India questioned whether that would be effective in India.

“We recognize … the anxieties that are displayed by international observers… but you can’t wrap all of India into one blanket,” K. Srinath Reddy told a panel discussion.

Health ministry data recorded 4,000 deaths and 343,144 new infections over the last 24 hours, below last week’s peak of 414,188. Total infections since the pandemic struck India more than a year ago crossed 24 million, with 262,317 dead. Experts say the true figures are much higher, with a lack of access to tests and treatment meaning many cases go uncounted.

Modi has faced criticism over his leadership during the pandemic, having allowed a huge Hindu gathering to take place in northern India in February and addressed political rallies in April, blamed for spreading the virus to rural areas.

FAST-SPREADING VARIANT

The fast-spreading variant first found in India has caused alarm around the globe. It has led to big outbreaks in neighboring states such as Nepal, and has also been detected far afield in Britain, the Americas and elsewhere in Asia.

Yamini Mishra, Asia-Pacific director of rights group Amnesty International, said the virus was “spreading and transcending borders at a frightening speed” and would hit the region’s most marginalized populations hardest.

The catastrophe unfolding in India and Nepal should also be a warning to other countries the region “to invest heavily in surge capacity for an emergency response,” she said.

Modi allowed all Indian adults to request vaccines from May 1. But while India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, the huge demand has left it low on stocks and vaccinations have slowed down.

As of Friday, it had fully vaccinated just over 39.4 million people, or around 2.9% of the population. The government has promised to accelerate the vaccine program dramatically in coming months.

More than 2 billion doses of vaccine are likely to be available between August and December, government adviser V.K. Paul told reporters. Those would include 750 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is made by Serum Institute of India, as well as 550 million of Covaxin, developed by domestic producer Bharat Biotech.

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd said a first batch of Sputnik V vaccine imported from Russia received regulatory clearance on Thursday and the first dose was administered on Friday as part of a pilot.

(Additional reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra and Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and John Stonestreet; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)

Fully vaccinated people can shed masks in most places and travel -U.S. CDC

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, updated guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.

The CDC also said fully vaccinated people will not need to physically distance in most places. The agency also hopes the guidance will prod more Americans to get vaccinated.

President Joe Biden emerged at the White House for remarks without a mask. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” he said.

“If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile,” he said, flashing a brief smile himself.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance just two weeks after its most recent update, was based on a sharp reduction in cases, expansion of vaccines to younger people and vaccine efficacy against coronavirus variants.

“We followed the science here,” Walensky said adding, “a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week.”

Biden earlier shed his mask during a meeting with lawmakers, Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito told reporters. “We heard all about it. The president took his off too,” she said.

Some journalists at the White House also shed their masks.

The CDC had faced criticism, even from public health officials, that it has been too cautious in its guidance. Critics have said people need to see more benefit of getting vaccinated in terms of returning to normal activities.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen additional data to show these vaccines work in the real world, they stand up to the variants, and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus,” the agency said in a news release.

It added, “We needed to take the time to review the full body of evidence to get this right, and that’s how we came to this decision.”

‘NEED A REWARD’

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he supports the new guidance that many had been calling for.

“People in state health departments and infectious disease doctors have been saying this for some time because they’re so impressed with the effectiveness of the vaccine, and also, they have the feeling that people who are vaccinated need a reward,” he said.

Republican Senator Susan Collins had been critical of the CDC’s delay in revising the guidance.

“Today’s announcement on masks, while overdue, is certainly a step in the right direction,” she said in a statement. “If people find they cannot do anything differently after a vaccine, they will not see the benefit in getting vaccinated.”

The revised guidance is a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, but the agency still recommends vaccinated people wear masks on planes and trains, and at airports, transit hubs, mass transit and in places like hospitals and doctor’s offices.

The U.S. government last month extended mask requirements across transportation networks through Sept. 13. Walensky said the CDC plans to soon issued updated guidance for transit.

The new guidance says vaccinated Americans can resume all travel, do not need to quarantine after international trips and do not need to be tested for COVID-19 if exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic.

However, Americans still face some international travel restrictions, including non-essential trips to Canada.

Masks became a political issues in the United States with then-President Donald Trump resisting mandating masks while President Joe Biden embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs. Some U.S. states issued aggressive mask mandates while others declined or dropped them months ago.

The CDC said fully vaccinated people should still wear masks where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, and abide by such rules and regulations, including from local businesses and workplace guidance.

In late April, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without wearing masks, but recommended continuing to use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required.

Walensky said on Thursday immune-compromised individuals should consult doctors before shedding masks and emphasized people who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear them. She added vaccinated people who have COVID-19 symptoms should put masks back on.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

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)