The U.S. recorded a full week with fewer than 70,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the first time since mid-October, though President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said the current daily caseload remains “very high.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there is “no way” he would resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, in a briefing in which he sought to highlight the state’s improving virus metrics. Restaurants outside of New York City will be allowed to open at 75% capacity starting on March 19, he said.
Houston’s top cop warned residents of the fourth-largest U.S. city to comply with businesses that insist on masks after Texas’s mandate is lifted this week. Florida’s spring break is attracting Covid-weary college students, raising fears of a new viral wave.
Box Office In Slump Even With NYC Theaters Open (4:46 p.m. NY)
New York City movie theaters finally reopened this weekend but it apparently wasn’t enough to give the U.S.’s box office a big boost.
Walt Disney Co.’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” brought in lower-than-expected box office sales of $8.6 million in North America during its opening weekend, failing to draw audiences back to theaters in large numbers instead of streaming at home.
In New York City, where movie theaters were allowed to reopen on Friday after a yearlong hiatus, 27 cinemas were open this weekend, representing 44% of the number of theaters in 2019, according to Comscore. About 45% of all North American theaters are now currently open, up from 42% last weekend.
Colorado Police Break Up Big Street Party (4 p.m. NY)
Colorado law enforcement criticized a huge street party in Boulder on Saturday night in which few people wore masks or socially distanced. Fireworks were set off and a car was overturned before the police broke up the party, apparently attended by many students from the University of Colorado Boulder.
“Their callous disregard for our community’s safety and well-being is shameful,” Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Sunday, according the Denver Post. “There is no excuse for this conduct, especially while the people of this community endure the pandemic.”
Arkansas Sees Gradual Mask Easing (3:39 p.m. NY)
Governor Asa Hutchinson said Sunday he would keep Arkansas’s mask mandate at least through the end of the month. He said wanted a more gradual “off ramp” to easing than states like Texas or Mississippi that abruptly ended their mandates last week.
But he told “Fox News Sunday” that easing, including ending mask mandates, was inevitable a year after the U.S. began imposing restrictions to impede the virus. He said the mask mandate would likely become recommended “guidance.”
“I think masks are going to be with us for some time,” the Republican governor said. “But at some point we have to rely upon common sense and good judgment versus mandates, and particularly when it comes to our businesses.”
California’s New Cases, Deaths Decline (2:38 p.m. NY)
California reported 3,816 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, below the 14-day average of 4,246, according to the health department’s website. Deaths rose by 258, down from the previous day’s 418 and fewer than the 359 average. The state’s 14-day positive test rate hovered at a record low 2.3% for a second day. California has administered more than 49.6 million tests in total.
Houston Police Warn on Mask Disputes (2:20 p.m. NY)
Houston’s top cop warned residents of the fourth-largest U.S. city to comply with businesses that insist on masks after Texas’s statewide mandate is lifted this week.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week announced that masking requirements and other anti-pandemic restrictions that have been in place since last summer will be lifted on March 10. It will be up to individual grocers, restaurateurs and other business owners as to whether they will still require masking up.
“Please be kind to one another and remember employees do not set policy,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a tweet on Sunday. “If you choose not to wear, your options are to leave and take your business elsewhere.”
Customers who make a fuss and refuse to comply with a business owners’ rule may face criminal trespass charges, Acevedo warned.
Guinea Receives First Sputnik V Vaccines (2:16 p.m. NY)
Guinea received a first batch of 20,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine on Sunday, Russian officials in the West African country said. More doses are expected soon, according to statement on the Russian embassy’s Facebook page.
Guinea became the first country in Africa to start inoculating on Dec. 31 when it began administering Sputnik V doses as part of a clinical trial.
Cuomo Says He Won’t Resign (1:38 p.m. NY)
Restaurants outside of New York City will be able to increase capacity to 75% from 50% starting March 19, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a briefing Sunday. But even as he outlined improving virus metrics, the briefing was overshadowed by allegations that he had sexually harassed several women.
“There is no way I resign,” the governor said, adding that Attorney General Letitia James would investigate the allegations. “I’m not going to resign because of allegations.”
Hospitalizations, the highest in the U.S., fell further to 4,789. New cases were 6,789, in line with recent daily increases and far lower than the surge over the holidays. Another 59 people died, the fewest since Dec. 5.
Austria Halts Some Astra Shots (1:45 p.m. NY)
Austria stopped shots from one batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine after two incidents involving women who received shots from that batch. One 49-year-old woman died from a severe coagulation dysfunction, and one 35 year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism but is now recovering.
The Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care said on its website that “there is no evidence of a causal relationship” with the vaccination, and that “thrombotic events in particular are not among the known or typical side effects of the vaccine in question.”
Gottlieb Says Guidelines Must Consider Public Aspirations (12:52 p.m. NY)
A year into the pandemic, new CDC guidelines expected soon on what people can do after they’re vaccinated need to be grounded in reality, said the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Public health guidance needs to take into consideration what people want to do. We can’t be so far behind the aspirations of the public that the guidance itself gets ignored,” Scott Gottlieb said on CBS.
“People are sensing that overall vulnerability is declining…So people are going to want to start to do things. They’re going to want to start to go out more. And we need to take that into consideration in terms of how we’re putting out guidance.”
Fauci Says U.S. Cases Still ‘Very High’ (11:40 a.m. NY)
U.S. cases remain “very high” and a rush to lift virus-related restrictions risks triggering another surge, Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“Plateauing at a level of 60,000-70,000 new cases per day is not an acceptable level,” Fauci said. “That is really very high.”
Fauci’s comments extend a series of warnings, including by Biden, that decisions by Texas and Mississippi to end mask mandates are premature, even as the pace of vaccination in the U.S. accelerates.
“We are going in the right direction. We just need to hang in there a bit longer,” Fauci said.
Meanwhile, Fauci said that new federal guidelines for how vaccinated people can interact with non-vaccinated folks would be coming out likely in the next couple of days.
Spring Break Draws Covid-Weary Crowds (11:38 a.m. NY)
Thousands of U.S. students tired of a year of Covid-19 restrictions have descended on Florida for spring break, despite travel warnings and fears of another viral wave.
“This spring break feels like a different order of chaos,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said, according to the Miami Herald. “It feels different. Part of it, clearly, is we’re the only place open.”
Local officials worry the break will become a super-spreader event, especially with the rise of more-transmissible variants. Florida is the U.S. state with the most cases of the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the U.K., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said it did not recommend traveling for spring break.
Though the state has no mask mandate, Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, requires masks when social distancing is not possible and in restaurants when not eating. Some local residents have posted on social media what they say are violations of rules for crowding in bars and restaurants.
GOP Reopenings Sharpen Political Divide (11:10 a.m. NY)
Decisions by two Republican governors to remove all coronavirus restrictions in their states have reignited the political debate on the pandemic response, elevating it as a campaign issue this year and in 2022.
Republicans Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi announced last week they’re eliminating state mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity, setting expectations for other GOP-led states to follow suit.
The moves drew dire warnings from Democrats and health officials that they risk igniting another spike in cases and deaths and stood in stark contrast to Joe Biden’s cautious approach.
Americans Wary of Easing Too Fast (10:05 a.m. NY)
President Joe Biden retains broad support for his coronavirus response, though the country appears to be wary of aggressively loosening restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll.
Russian Shot Could Be Made in Europe (10 a.m. NY)
Tens of millions of doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be produced a month in Europe, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund which backed its development, told Italian Rai3 television Sunday.
“There are many Italian regions which are enthusiastic about having Sputnik, they would also want to produce it,” said Dmitriev, who is in charge of Sputnik’s international roll-out. “We have a partnership in Germany, we’re talking to several French companies.” Production in Italy could start in June, he added.
U.S. Cases Fall to Almost 5-Month Low (8:10 a.m. NY)
The U.S. recorded a full week with fewer than 70,000 daily cases for the first time since mid-October. The nation added 62,103 cases on Saturday, capping a week with some 60,700 new infections a day, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.
Another 1,558 people died of causes related to Covid-19, bringing the total to more than 524,000, the most in the world. Saturday’s toll was lower than the week’s average of 1,760 deaths a day.