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Children as young as 12 should get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, a CDC panel recommended.

USA TODAY

The United States has yielded to India a dark statistic of the global pandemic – India has recorded the highest single-day death toll.

While daily U.S. infections, hospitalizations and deaths slide, India’s Health Ministry reported 4,529 deaths Wednesday as the coronavirus spreads beyond cities into the vast countryside, where health systems are weaker. The number is considered an undercount by most health experts.

The U.S. held the previous record for daily deaths at 4,475 on Jan. 12, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But struggles with near-record infections and an increasing death count has India reeling. Hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed. Dozens of bodies are found floating daily in the Ganges River as it flows through poor, rural states.

In the Uttar Pradesh village of Gahmar alone, 15-year-old Raju Chaudhry, who works on the fishing boats, told the The Guardian he recently had seen “around 50 bodies a day washing up, over many days.”

Also in the news:

►The archbishop of Detroit says face masks are no longer mandatory inside Roman Catholic churches in southeastern Michigan for people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

►The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 444,000, a new pandemic low and a sign that the job market keeps strengthening as consumers spend freely again.

►A study of 280 nursing homes in 21 states across the U.S. provides real-world confirmation of the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness: About 1% of residents tested positive for the virus within two weeks of receiving their second dose, and only 0.3% did more than two weeks after being fully vaccinated, researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the cases did not produce any symptoms.

►The European Union on Wednesday announced plans to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, as well as people coming from a list of countries considered safe, with the United States expected to make the cut. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.26 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 587,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 164.6 million cases and 3.41 million deaths. More than 349.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 277.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC. Nearly 125.4 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 37.8% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: Japan continues to struggle with COVID-19 but is still scheduled to open its doors for the Summer Games. Why some are calling it a “ridiculous idea.”

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Onward: Tokyo Olympics remain a ‘go’ despite pandemic concerns

The Summer Olympics scheduled to open in Tokyo in two months is facing more obstacles than the 400-meter hurdlers.

The torch relay rolled through Hiroshima this week, minus the usual crowds due to coronavirus concerns. Some cities took the relay off public streets. Surveys indicate about 60% of Japanese people say the Olympics should be called off, and an online petition in favor of cancellation attracted 350,000 signatures in just nine days.

Still, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 are barreling toward the Opening Ceremony on July 23.

IOC Vice President John Coates promised science-based solutions to assuage pandemic concerns, promising to “draw upon the experience of hundreds of sports events that have taken place safely across the world over the past year, with minimal risk to participants and also, importantly, the local population.”

Almost 1M excess deaths in 29 wealthy countries linked to COVID-19

An estimated 979 000 “excess deaths” occurred in 2020 in 29 relatively wealthy countries as the pandemic swept around the globe, a new report in the British Medical Journal found.

The U.S. had the highest absolute number of deaths above what would have been expected – 458,000 – yet only reported about 340,000 coronavirus deaths. Italy, England, Spain and Poland were among countries with high numbers of excess deaths.

A few countries, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark among them, actually did have fewer deaths than would have been expected. Researchers said they don’t know why.

“Excess deaths substantially exceeded reported deaths from COVID-19 in many countries, indicating that determining the full impact of the pandemic on mortality requires assessment of excess deaths,” the study found.

EU signs deal for up to 1.8 billion Pfizer doses

The European Union’s executive arm has signed a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shots. That’s enough for about four doses for everyone in the 27-nation collective. 

The EU Commission says the deal includes 900 million doses of the current shots and of a serum adapted to the virus’ variants, with an option to purchase an extra 900 million shots. The deal with Pfizer-BioNTech stipulates production of doses must be based in the EU and essential components are sourced from the region.

The EU has struggled with supply issues and is behind the U.S. and the United Kingdom in vaccinations. EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen by the end of this week, 260 million doses of vaccine will have been delivered across Europe.

Pedestrian death rate see largest rise in 45 years

New data released Thursday by the Governors Highway Safety Association for 2020 shows the largest-ever annual increase in the pedestrian death rate since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established its Fatality Analysis Reporting System in 1975. 

The association cited 6,721 pedestrian deaths in 2020, a 4.8% increase over the previous year. But it also represents a “shocking and unprecedented” 21% increase in the pedestrian death rate per miles traveled – Americans drove fewer miles because of the pandemic and the restrictions and lockdowns that accompanied it.

“We cannot allow ourselves to become numb to these unacceptable numbers of pedestrian deaths,” said Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting, who conducted the data analysis.

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press

Iowa bans local mask mandates

Leaders of Iowa school districts cannot require students or staff to wear masks and Iowa cities and counties cannot impose mask mandates under a law Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Thursday.

Democrats denounced the measure, saying it could harm children and teachers, especially immunocompromised children, and overreaches into local government decisions.

Reynolds, a Republican, said the state wanted to put parents back in control of their children’s education and protect the rights of Iowans to make their own health care decisions. “I am proud to be a governor of a state that values personal responsibility and individual liberties,” she said. 

Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register

Pfizer vaccine can be stored longer at refrigerator temperatures, FDA says

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can now be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for up to a month, according to a Food and Drug Administration announcement Wednesday. This time period will make it easier to store and ship the vaccine — previous storage time was only five days. The change should make this vaccine more widely available to the American public by allowing vaccine providers to receive, store and administer the vaccine, the FDA said. 

“Making COVID-19 vaccines widely available is key to getting people vaccinated and bringing the pandemic to an end,” says Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics and Research.

Largest nurses’ union urges CDC to revert to old masking guidelines

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, condemned the CDC’s decision to lift masking recommendations for fully vaccinated people and urged the agency to bring them back. NNU leaders argued in a news conference Wednesday that the U.S. is still struggling with 35,000 new COVID-19 cases per day and the continued circulation of variants. They also said persisting unanswered questions about the vaccines — like how long protection lasts — highlights the need for masks.

The CDC’s new guidance could potentially harm those who have yet to be vaccinated, such as children under 12 years old and underserved communities, as well as immunocompromised people who don’t respond as robustly to the vaccines, said NNU president Jean Ross.

“As guardians of public health during the worst global pandemic of our lifetimes and as the essential care workers who have held this medical system together through this horrific past year and a half, it is our duty to speak up and advocate for what we know is in the best interest of people’s health,” she said. “The guidance the CDC issued on May 13 is disappointingly not in the best interest of public health.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Another potential complication: Deep blood clots in the arm

In the first reported case of its kind, a healthy 85-year-old man developed a rare recurrence of deep-vein blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis, in his upper arm as the result of coronavirus infection, according to a Rutgers researchers report. 

The unusual case highlights yet another way the virus that causes COVID-19 can affect people. Beyond the more common respiratory symptoms and loss of taste and smell, the virus can trigger coagulation disorders, especially clots.

“This is of concern since in 30% of these patients, the blood clot can travel to the lung and be possibly fatal,” said Dr. Payal Parikh, an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who led the study along with Martin Blaser, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine. “Other disabling complications include persistent swelling, pain, and arm fatigue.”  

Those who have had deep vein thrombosis previously or have a medical condition that predisposes them to clots may be more vulnerable. Read here. 

– Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com

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Contributing: The Associated Press.

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