Curbs Ease Across U.S.; NYC Movie Theaters Reopen: Virus Update

Theaters in New York City, the nation’s second-largest movie market, reopened after a yearlong hiatus. The city’s mayor said he will have an announcement next week on high schools, whose students are still in remote learning. Oregon ordered a full return to classrooms. Theme parks and stadiums in California can begin reopening as soon as April 1. Maine and Arizona will ease virus restrictions.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made a surprise announcement reflecting his doubts about Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine — and then reversed himself after getting a call from the White House concerned he was off-message.

AstraZeneca Plc. has begun stockpiling its vaccine for use in the U.S., providing a potential supply boost that could speed up President Joe Biden’s inoculation timetable.

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California Theme Parks, Stadiums to Reopen (5:34 p.m. NY)

California officials said theme parks and stadiums can reopen as soon as April 1 provided they meet local requirements and take precautions against the coronavirus.

Ballparks and venues for live outdoor performances can reopen on that date, but will have to limit crowds to 100 — and keep concessions closed — if the caseloads in their counties keep them in the strictest, purple tier, state officials said Friday. That will expand to 20% when cases fall further.

Theme parks can resume operations when their counties hit the red tier, the second-strictest level. They’ll have to observe a 15% capacity limit.

Astra Stockpiles U.S. Vaccine (5:23 p.m. NY)

AstraZeneca Plc. has begun stockpiling its vaccine for use in the U.S., providing a potential supply boost that could speed up President Joe Biden’s inoculation timetable, should the company win regulatory authorization.

A company executive said this week it has begun production and expects to have 30 million doses ready for U.S. distribution, once it’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. AstraZeneca hasn’t yet applied to the FDA and hasn’t said when it will, but the U.K.-based company expects to produce 15 to 25 million doses per month for the U.S. after that.

NYC Movie Theaters Reopen (5:11 p.m. NY)

The struggling U.S. box office is expected to rebound this weekend, when theaters in New York City, the second-largest U.S. movie market, reopen after a yearlong hiatus.

Walt Disney Co.’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an animated film about a young warrior girl, is expected to take the No. 1 spot, generating about $12 million in ticket sales, according to an estimate from Boxoffice Pro. “Tom & Jerry,” from AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros., is expected to come in second, with about $7.4 million. It could be the most popular moviegoing weekend since the Covid-19 pandemic took root in the U.S. a year ago.

FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Test (4:52 p.m. NY)

The U.S.’s first over-the-counter molecular Covid-19 test was given emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday for at-home use.

Unlike the smattering of antigen tests that have been authorized by the FDA for home use, the Cue Health test detects the virus’s genetic material, similar to a gold-standard PCR assay. It uses a lower nasal swab and delivers results in about 20 minutes by mobile device.

The test, which in a study identified 96% of positive samples from people with symptoms and 100% of positive samples from those without symptoms, was cleared for use for people two years of age and older, with or without symptoms.

Detroit Mayor Walks Back J&J Snub (4:39 p.m. NY)

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made a surprise announcement reflecting his doubts about Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine — and then reversed himself after getting a call from the White House concerned he was off-message.

Despite revising his statement on the J&J shot, Duggan may have set up Detroit for trouble later this year by telling the city’s residents that the J&J single shots aren’t as effective as the double-dose versions from Pfizer and Moderna. Detroit is almost 80% African American, and across the country, surveys show that Black people have been less likely than other racial groups to get the vaccine.

Oregon Orders Return to Classrooms (3:42 p.m. NY)

Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order for Oregon’s primary school students to return to in-person classes by March 29 and grades 6-12 by April 19. “The time has come for our students to return to the learning environment we know serves them best: in-person instruction,” she wrote in a letter to the state’s top health and education officials Friday.

Schools were closed in March 2020, though more than 160,000 students have returned classrooms since December. She said that exceptions would be limited, for example, to students whose health might be compromised or if local virus levels are high.

N.J. Missed Chances to Slow Spread (2:27 p.m. NY)

Governor Phil Murphy missed early opportunities to restrain the spread of Covid-19 in New Jersey nursing and veterans homes, Stephen Smith, a physician with a practice in East Orange, said in a hearing organized by state senators and Assembly members.

On March 27, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report warning of “very rapid spread, despite early adoption of infection prevention and control measures” in such residences. Less than a week later, the Murphy administration — following a move by New York Governor Mario Cuomo — ordered long-term care homes to start accepting infectious residents.

Arizona Scraps Limits on Businesses (2:12 p.m. NY)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded Friday coronavirus-related occupancy limits for restaurants, gyms and other businesses, citing declining cases and increasing vaccine distribution. Other virus mitigation requirements at those businesses, such as mask usage and physical distancing, remain in place.

Ducey’s executive order also allows spring training and major league sports to operate in Arizona if they submit a plan on mitigation measures for approval by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Ducey, a Republican, called the changes a “measured approach.”

“With the vaccine rollout advancing rapidly, we continue to have hope for the future,” Ducey said in a statement.

Bill to Strip Cuomo’s Virus Powers (2:02 p.m. NY)

New York lawmakers on Friday took the first step toward repealing pandemic-era emergency powers afforded to scandal-plagued Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Senate passed a bill 43-20 to revoke temporary powers given to Cuomo in March that allowed him to supersede the legislature, as well as local laws, to issue hundreds of sweeping emergency directives on everything from closing businesses and schools to mandating the use of masks. The Assembly is expected to pass a similar bill today, sending the legislation to the governor, who is expected to sign the measure after saying he helped negotiate it.

The rebuke from lawmakers, where Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers, follows public outcry over sexual-harassment claims by three women against Cuomo and allegations that his administration deliberately covered up nursing-home deaths in the state.

Belgium Starts Easing Outdoor Curbs (1:41 p.m. NY)

Belgium’s federal government and regions agreed to ease the limit of outdoor gatherings to 10 people from the current four starting next week, while extending an outright ban on leisure travel abroad until April 18.

Bars and restaurants, closed since mid-October, would be able to reopen May 1, when the country of 11.6 million plans to have completed vaccinations of the elderly and vulnerable.

“The only real exit plan is a vaccination plan,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

Maine Relaxes Rules (1:38 p.m. NY)

Governor Janet Mills loosened Maine’s virus restrictions Friday in anticipation of the summer tourist season. Visitors from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island will be added to the list of states exempt from testing and quarantine rules, as will people who have either had Covid-19 or are vaccinated.

The changes also allow greater numbers to gather both indoors and outdoors. Mask wearing and social distancing will be maintained.

“This plan will protect the health of Maine people and visitors alike and support Maine’s economy during our critical tourism season,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

WHO to Release Full China Report (12:45 p.m. NY)

The World Health Organization will release their summary and full report into the origins of the virus at the same time around March 14-15, WHO official Peter Ben Embarek said in a briefing. He said it makes sense to issue them at the same time as they follow each other.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies program, addressed a media report that an interim report had been scrapped. “There was never a plan to release an interim report,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the WHO team probing the origins of Covid-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its trip to China as tensions grow with the Biden administration over the level of Chinese cooperation with investigators.

NYC Aims to Open High Schools (12:24 p.m. NY)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he will have an announcement next week on high schools, the last tranche of the public education system whose students are still in remote learning a year after the pandemic shut down in-person learning.

“I want literally every kid to be able to come back to every school,” de Blasio said Friday on his weekly radio show with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

New York City is planning for a full September return to school, de Blasio said. Parents who are not comfortable sending their kids back will still be given the option of continuing online-only, though the mayor hopes that isn’t the case. “I do not foresee blended being a part of the equation anymore,” de Blasio said. “We will be fully open in September.”

Italy Passes 3 Million Cases (11:43 a.m. NY)

Italy’s total cases reached 3 million Friday, with daily infections reaching a 3-month high of 24,036. Daily fatalities remained below 300, far from the peak of almost 1,000 last year.

There were more than 1,000 new intensive care patients in the past five days, taking the total to 2,525 and putting some hospitals under pressure, especially in Bologna in central Italy. The country is approaching the alarm threshold of 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, said the head of Italy’s public health institute Silvio Brusaferro.

U.S. Warming to Vaccines: Survey (11:27 a.m. NY)

Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. is ebbing, including among Black Americans, while partisan differences in people’s intention to get vaccinated is widening, according to Pew Research.

While 39% said in November they probably or definitely wouldn’t get a shot, that number declined to 30% in a Feb. 16-21 poll published Friday. Among U.S. adults, 69% are receptive to a vaccine, including 19% who have already gotten at least one dose. That compares with 60% in November, when no vaccine was authorized yet in the U.S.

About three-quarters agree that widespread vaccination would help the economy, though Republicans are less prone to that view than Democrats. Black adults are almost twice as likely than Whites to view the disease as a major threat to their personal health. The share of Black adults saying they plan to get vaccinated or already have rose to 61% from 42% in November.

Canada Approves J&J Vaccine (9:25 a.m. NY)

Canada’s public health agency licensed Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, making it the fourth shot authorized in a country struggling to keep up with its Group of Seven peers on inoculations.

The approval, first reported by Canadian Broadcasting Corp., will be announced at a briefing by health officials in Ottawa Friday morning, according to a government official speaking on condition they not be named. Canada has an agreement to purchase 38 million shots from the New Jersey-based company.

Germany Vaccines Show Success (7:22 a.m. NY)

Even as Germany’s sluggish Covid-19 vaccine campaign has left politicians arguing about who’s to blame, the first signs of success are starting to emerge.

With priority given to seniors and nursing-home residents, the infection rate in people over the age of 80 has plummeted by about 80% since the start of the vaccine campaign in late December. Including younger seniors who haven’t been called up yet for a shot, the infection rate in people over the age of 65 has dropped by 64%.

Australia Protests Blocked Shots (5:36 p.m. HK)

Australia asked the European Union to review a decision by Italy to block a shipment of AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus vaccine to the country and broached the topic in a previously planned call with the EU’s top trade official on Friday.

Italy informed the European Commission that it would withhold the vaccine shipment, using a new rule that obliges member states to inform the EU executive of its decisions to stop vaccine exports outside of the bloc. The commission didn’t oppose Italy’s decision, an EU official said. The company declined to comment.

A French minister backed Italy’s decision and said other EU states could take similar measures.

Curbs Ease Across U.S.; NYC Movie Theaters Reopen: Virus Update

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