Facing blockade spillover, US urges Canada to resolve standoff with truckers: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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The Biden administration, mindful that it may soon face a similar problem, is urging the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use its federal powers to end the border blockade by truck drivers opposed to Canada’s vaccine mandate and coronavirus mitigation measures.

The White House said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg encouraged their Canadian counterparts to help resolve the standoff. 

Truckers calling themselves the Freedom Convoy are opposing a Canadian requirement that drivers entering the country be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face testing and possible quarantine.

The protest at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, which carries 25% of all trade between the U.S. and Canada, has already stopped or hampered work at auto plants in both countries.

The movement could spill over into the U.S. in a much larger and disruptive way, according to a Feb. 8 bulletin sent to state and local authorities by the Department of Homeland Security, which warned of “truck drivers planning to potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities” in a similar anti-mandate demonstration.

The report says a convoy of truckers may try to disrupt Sunday’s Super Bowl and President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, among other activities.

The blockade has raised concerns about its economic effects while adding pressure –and wait times – at another international bridge, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan, where traffic is backing up.

Both Detroit and Windsor have significant auto operations, and the standstill is a major issue for businesses that already have been suffering from global supply chain and local staffing issues. Ford said late Wednesday that parts shortages forced it to shut down its engine plant in Windsor and to run an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule. General Motors canceled two shifts at a Lansing factory and has been rerouting trucks to keep a Flint plant running.

Also in the news: 

►The U.S. has bought 600,000 treatment courses of a new monoclonal antibody drug that’s effective against the omicron variant, the Department of Health and Human Services announced. The medication, made by Eli Lilly, has yet to receive FDA authorization.

►A federal appeals court in New Orleans has declined, for now, to allow the Biden administration to require COVID-19 vaccinations for federal employees, maintaining a block on the mandate that a Texas-based federal judge had issued on Jan. 21.

Nevada joined the growing ranks of states discarding mask mandates at indoor public settings Thursday but will continue to require face coverings in airports, on airplanes and on public and school buses.

Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19 and is in self-isolation, a Twitter account for The Prince of Wales and Duchess Camilla said Thursday. Charles, who is next in line to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on the throne in the United Kingdom, previously contracted the virus in March 2020. 

In anticipation of a potential French protest inspired by the truckers in Canada, Paris police banned road blockades Thursday, putting in place extra measures to protect highways and detain violators.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 77.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 915,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 405.6 million cases and over 5.7 million deaths. More than 213 million Americans – 64.3% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we’re reading: Moms are at war over COVID. Who’s to blame?

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Delta variant infected twice as many per capita in rural areas, study says

Despite the wide expanses of rural America, the delta variant spread widely and quickly in those areas last summer. The reason? Low vaccination rates.

In fact, rural counties registered 2.4 more infections per 100,000 residents than urban areas from July 1 to Aug. 31 of last year, according to a new study by the University of Cincinnati and Augusta University that was published Thursday in JAMA Network Open.

The study cited CDC data indicating 82% of rural America had a vaccination rate below 30%, with 369 of 449 areas designated by the researchers under that threshold.

“Rural areas in the U.S. face many challenges in responding to the pandemic, including lower health care resources, compared with urban communities,” researchers wrote. “These areas have been characterized by vaccination hesitancy, limited vaccine availability and hospital staff shortages that can be associated with the successful distribution of vaccines and hence the vaccination campaign’s overall outcome.”

Mask mandates are lifting, but should you keep yours on? 

The string of states suddenly lifting mask mandates for indoor public places is at odds with the CDC’s recommendation that people in areas of high virus transmission — most of the country — keep face coverings on.

Amid these mixed signals, it’s understandable the public would be confused and uncertain about how to stay safe. Wear a mask or show your face to the world again? Experts say an individual’s willingness to accept risk, the specific setting and the rate of COVID-19 in the community should be key factors in making that call.

“People are going to have to make their own decision about what risk they’re personally willing to tolerate,” said Dr. Susan Kline, an epidemiologist and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota medical school. “Masks aren’t perfect, but they substantially lower your chance of getting COVID-19.”

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

Infected mothers risk stillborn deliveries, study finds 

Expectant mothers who contract the coronavirus are at risk of stillborn deliveries because COVID-19 can lead to placental failure, according to a new study that supports the CDC’s conclusion that the virus enhances the chances of adverse perinatal outcomes.

A 44-member international research team studied 64 stillbirth cases and four early neonatal deaths from 12 countries to determine how COVID-19 caused perinatal deaths. All the expectant mothers were unvaccinated.

The researchers concluded the COVID-19 infection destroyed the placenta, depriving the fetus of oxygen. According to their report, published Thursday in Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, the virus reaches the placenta and causes it to fail by passing through the mother’s bloodstream, a process known as viremia.

“We found that in all cases the placentas from infected mothers had a severe abnormality known as SARS-CoV-2 placentitis,” said Dr. David Schwartz, the pathologist who led the study. “Among the 68 cases, an average of 77% of the placenta had been destroyed and rendered useless for supporting critical fetal needs, resulting in stillbirth or early neonatal death.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY

Vaccine contender promises safety and effectiveness in teenagers

The Maryland biotech firm Novavax, which has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, said Thursday the vaccine is safe and effective for adolescents.

In a study of 2,200 adolescents ages 12-17, the company found its vaccine produced the same or better immune response as in adults. Six volunteers who received the active vaccine developed COVID-19, compared to 14 who received the placebo. All the infections, most of which were with the delta variant, were mild.

There were no major safety concerns raised by the study, with side effects like pain, tenderness, redness and swelling common, particularly after the second dose. Novavax previously studied its vaccine in nearly 30,000 adults in the U.S. and Mexico, half of whom received a placebo, and found over 90% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19.

The company, which says it can produce 2 billion doses of vaccine this year and has already been delivering shots in Indonesia and Australia, said it has presented the FDA with all the information it needs to consider emergency use authorization.

– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

US seeing fewer new virus cases but more than 100 deaths an hour

The U.S. is reporting fewer new coronavirus infections, but case counts remain high nearly everywhere, on par with some of the highest weeks of previous waves. The nation as a whole is experiencing about 4.6 times what the CDC says is a high level of community transmission.

American death counts from COVID-19 remain high at about 2,500 per day, or more than 100 every hour.

Worldwide, case counts have fallen by more than a quarter from their peak just a couple of weeks ago, with about 17.9 million new infections a week. The pace of global deaths continues to rise: About 76,400 deaths were reported in the week ending Wednesday – or about 450 every hour.

– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY

Kansas woman died of allergic reaction to COVID vaccine, autopsy shows

Jeanie Evans died of “anaphylaxis due to COVID-19 vaccination,” according to her autopsy report. The Effingham, Kansas, resident died March 24, 2021, a day after the Moderna vaccine was administered to her in Jefferson County.

The Topeka Capital-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, acquired the autopsy report Tuesday from the Shawnee County coroner’s office after submitting a Kansas Open Records Act request.

Evans, 68, had a medical history of hypertension, environmental allergies, allergic disorder and reactive airway disease – which wasn’t asthma – and had experienced previous anaphylactic reaction to the drug Albuterol, the autopsy report said.

It said Evans began to complain that her airway felt blocked about 15 to 20 minutes after she received her first COVID vaccination on March 23, 2021. Evans was taken by ground ambulance and died the next day.

– Tim Hrenchir, Topeka Capital-Journal

Contributing: Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press