• Covid cases in the US are rising again, reversing course after months of decline and threatening another setback in the return to normality, with the seven-day average of new cases jumping to 57,695 Wednesday - 9.5% above the prior week, marking the biggest increase since January 12, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and while that’s a fraction of the mid-January peak, the change in direction is worrisome as states fling open their economies, variant cases multiply and the country races to vaccinate as many people as possible to stave off another wave.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking a recent uptick in Covid-19 cases, with director Dr. Rochelle Walensky saying during a White House Covid-19 briefing today that "What concerns me is the footage of what's happening in spring breakers, in people who are not continuing to implement prevention strategies while we get fully scaled up."
  • President Biden’s first vaccine promise - 100 million shots in his first 100 days - was met 42 days early, and so on Thursday he doubled it, saying 200 million doses will have been administered under his presidency by April 30, with the nation already poised to meet the revised target, as the seven-day average of daily vaccinations surpasses 2.5 million and supply also expected to expand in April, prompting numerous states to throw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older.
  • People who are reluctant to get COVID-19 vaccines could end up prolonging the pandemic, U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said on Thursday, explaining that he is not worried about having enough vaccine supply but rather “with the hesitancy that is still there in a lot of groups” that will make it harder to reach immunity “because so many people will basically say, ‘No, not for me’.
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine could be ready for children ages 12 to 15 by the start of the upcoming school year, Dr. William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said Thursday, with the company saying it has evaluated its vaccine in 2,259 children between 12 and 15 years-old and plans to share safety and efficacy data soon.
  • The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines are effective in pregnant and lactating women, who can pass protective antibodies to newborns, according to research published Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, with antibody levels “strikingly higher” than those resulting from coronavirus infection during pregnancy.
  • Duke University researchers announced Thursday they have started testing Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for children under the age of 12, with at least two children already having received their shots and results expected by the end of 2021.
  • Nursing homes have to publicly disclose their vaccination rates for flu and pneumonia but there’s no similar mandate for COVID-19 shots, even though the steepest toll from the virus has been among residents of long-term care facilities, and now lawmakers of both parties are urging the Biden administration to require disclosure of vaccination rates for residents and staff, and to make it easy for family members, advocacy groups and researchers to access such potentially critical details.
  • A new poll from SurveyMonkey and Outbreaks Near Me released Thursday compares the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, sharing the latest data on vaccine hesitancy, focusing on different perceptions of the three different shots that are currently available in the US.  [See SPECIAL – US Vaccine Poll section following in Highlights for the findings]
  • Rutgers University said it will require students returning to campus this fall to prove they’ve been vaccinated, becoming one of the first institutions in the US to mandate the immunizations, with President Jonathan Holloway saying today that having students get the shots will allow the school to resume a wide range of activities and will allow for an “expedited return to pre-pandemic normal.”
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the support of Parliament for his plan to bring England slowly out of lockdown, even as some members of his own Conservative Party protested continued curbs to civil liberties and frustration at the ongoing damage to the economy.
  • More than half a billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide with an average of 12 million a day, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, less than four months into the rollout of the shots, and so far, the shots have been given in 140 countries around the world, with the vast majority having gone to developed nations that secured early doses by the hundreds of millions, and of the doses given so far, 39% of have been administered in the US and the EU.
  • The European Union will “step up and speed up” Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution in Europe “over the next few weeks,” President of the European Council Charles Michel said on Thursday, adding that "It's absolutely vital of course that we keep on working to improve vaccine production in Europe, and improve our ability to distribute those to member states.”
  • Europe’s medicines regulator announced it has asked a group that will include experts in hematology, cardiovascular medicine, infectious diseases, virology, neurology, immunology and epidemiology to provide their views on links to blood clots purportedly associated with some Covid-19 vaccines and meet with the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee on March 29 to “to gain a deeper understanding of the observed events and the potential risk.”
  • Weekly jobless claims came in considerably lower than expected as the US employment market shows signs of a stronger recovery, with first-time claims for state unemployment insurance totaling 684,000 for the week ended March 20, down from 781,000 the previous week and better than the 735,000 Dow Jones estimate - numbers that marked the first time claims were below 700,000 during the Covid-19 era and the first time the level was below the pre-pandemic high dating back to October 1982.
  • The government has sent a total of about 127 million $1,400 stimulus checks so far, for a total of about $325 billion, a new tally announced by the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and Bureau of Fiscal Service after the second batch of payments was completed that included about 37 million checks that totaled almost $83 billion.
  • The Senate on Thursday voted 92-7 to extend the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program – set to expire on March 31 - by two months to May 31 as well as allow the Program an addition 30 days from the May 31 deadline to process loans, with the bill now sent to President Joe Biden to sign into law.
  • New US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said Thursday that he’s inserting himself into the agency’s stalled rule-making to protect workers from Covid-19, a planned emergency regulation that would require businesses to take steps to safeguard their workers against virus spread, explaining “The priority of the Department of Labor, and the priority of the president, is making sure that the workers’ health and safety is a top priority.”
  • In addition to arm soreness and a little malaise, some people are reporting an unusual side effect following their Covid-19 vaccinations: an intense metallic taste that can last for days – and experience one person said is “like having nickels in your mouth,” and while rare, developing a metallic taste after a vaccination is not unheard of; in fact, it's a side effect that's been documented with other vaccines, antibiotics and pain medicines.

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Vaccine Rollout - US

  1. The Biden administration on Thursday announced new plans to allocate vaccines to dialysis centers nationwide., a new partnership with dialysis clinics that is an effort to vaccinate people receiving dialysis, as well as health care personnel in outpatient dialysis clinics.
  2. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said Thursday that vaccinations will now be open to anyone 16 years old and older in the state.
  3. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced today that all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine on April 15, as supply allows, and those aged 50 and older will be allowed to get a shot starting April 1.
  4. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said Thursday all residents 16 and over in the state can receive the vaccine starting April 1, with over 200,000 first-dose vaccinations next week, and so far, 80% of people 75 and over have been vaccinated.
  5. Connecticut has created a $58 million budget to increase outreach and access in communities with low vaccination rates, including Black and Latino communities, funding that will include methods of outreach such as door-to-door canvassing on vaccine awareness, the establishment of mobile clinics in communities, vaccination appointment settling and grants to local health departments and community organizations. 
  6. Florida will open up vaccination eligibility to all over people over the age of 18 starting on April 5, Governor Ron DeSantis announced Thursday, with the state phasing in lowering the age, with all people 40 and up being allowed to get vaccinated starting Monday, then expanded to all people over 18 the following week.
  7. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said today the state would open vaccinations to those 40 and older starting next Monday.
  8. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is expected to announce on Friday that all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for vaccinations starting March 30.
  9. North Carolina will be expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults starting April 7, Governor Roy Cooper announced Thursday, as the state's health secretary, Mandy Cohen, laid out details of the accelerated timeline, saying the state would be moving forward and opening vaccination eligibility to groups 4 and 5 with the rest of Group 4 being eligible to sign up to receive vaccines on March 31.
  10. North Carolina has administered 4.3 million vaccine doses and according to Governor Roy Cooper at least a third of the state’s adult population has received at least one shot.
  11. District of Columbia officials have struggled for months to narrow the gap in vaccination rates between the city’s most affluent neighborhoods and those hit hardest by the coronavirus - prioritizing certain Zip codes, launching clinics at churches and apartment complexes and reaching out door-to-door, but stark disparities remain, with about 12.2 percent of residents in Ward 3, which include some of the Whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to data the city released this week, but only 5.4 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively, in Wards 7 and 8, the poorest parts of the city and the areas that have some of the highest death rates from covid-19.
  12. Walgreens Boot Alliance is opening its first corporate vaccine clinics at several Amtrak offices in early April to vaccinate "large numbers" of the US passenger railroad's employees.
  13. Amazon is launching on-site vaccination clinics at warehouses across three states, the company announced Thursday, with the first clinic opening today in a warehouse in Missouri and more clinics will open at facilities in Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks, each which is expected to run for about five days and shots administered to employees by licensed health-care providers.
  14. The chief operating officer of a small Chicago hospital resigned on Wednesday after reports that he used vaccines meant for low-income residents to vaccinate employees at his luxury wristwatch dealer, his regular steakhouse and his condo building.

US Restrictions & Schools

  1. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey Thursday announced updates to the state’s Covid-19 measures, including lifting requirements on the state’s businesses and events, and according to the new executive order, events of more than 50 people will no longer need the approval of local governments, previous requirements for businesses will transition to recommendations, businesses will still be able to continue requiring masks and social distancing and bars are allowed to resume regular operations, but can require social distancing and masks if they want to.
  2. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced today the state mask mandate would stay in place for at least another 30 days.
  3. Maryland’s acting health secretary said today the state will wait until after Friday to evaluate the impact of recent reopening decisions that lifted capacity limits on most businesses statewide, saying he wanted a full two weeks of data since the March 12 opening.
  4. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said today the vision is to bring Broadway shows and the theatre back in September, but he added “that all depends on getting these pieces right.”
  5. The president of a major teacher's union, the American Federation of Teachers' Randi Weingarten, is raising concerns about recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that loosens social distancing requirements in classrooms, saying in a letter Tuesday to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona this week that "We are not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time."

Economy and Business

  1. The Social Security Administration has responded to a 24-hour deadline set by lawmakers that will help clear the way for about 30 million people to receive $1,400 stimulus checks, with the agency transferring the payment files to the IRS on Thursday morning, and prior to that the stimulus checks had been blocked because the IRS did not have the necessary information, according to a statement from Democratic leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee.
  2. United Airlines is making a bet on Midwest vacationers this summer, adding 26 new non-stop flights and resuming 20 other domestic routes for the summer season, a focus that shows the airline is continuing to think of ways to capitalize on vacation demand during the pandemic that goes beyond its traditional model of routing travelers through its big hubs.
  3. As home improvement’s busiest sales season begins, Lowe’s and Home Depot want to stretch their pandemic gains into the spring. Both retailers have extended their sales events and plan to cater to customers who are using their homes in different ways, with Lowe’s adding a wider variety of merchandise on its website, from tents and cocktail shakers to exercise bikes and also encouraging customers to tackle DIY projects or decorate rooms - or the backyard - for a “hometrip” as they put off travel plans.
  4. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises are going around the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cruise ban to countries that are more hospitable to cruising – and outside the agency’s jurisdiction, and instead of departing from the country and heading to the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Caribbean islands, ships are starting their trips in those destinations beginning in June and July and working with health authorities there.
  5. Travel expert and Harrell Associates founder Bob Harrell, who tracks airline-pricing trends, said "shockingly low" pandemic fares are rising again as "leisure travelers come out of their holes, get vaccines, and starting moving around and going on spring break."
  6. After the pandemic shut down its California theme parks for more than a year, Walt Disney Co. is now looking to shift into growth mode, with the company announcing plans Thursday to expand its properties in Anaheim, California, by adding attractions across the street from the existing parks, a multiyear project, which hasn’t been assigned a price tag or a target date, called DisneylandForward.
  7. The United Kingdom had its best two weeks for job advertisements since the start of the pandemic, according to REC, a group representing recruiters and employers, with some 146,000 new jobs posted last week and 179,000 the week before, the two highest readings since March 2020, findings that are a sign companies are beginning to prepare for lockdown rules loosening in the coming weeks.
  8. Japan’s government isn’t planning to resume its Go-To Travel tourism campaign until at least June and instead will offer travel vouchers that can be used locally from April 1, the Sankei newspaper reported late Thursday.
  9. Toyota and Renault will temporarily halt production in Brazil, aiming to reduce gatherings at the most critical moment of the nation’s outbreak.