U.S. lawmakers moved close to agreeing on a bipartisan compromise to provide a fresh $10 billion to combat COVID-19 on Thursday, a deal that could set up final congressional approval next week.
The effort, which would finance steps like vaccines, treatments and tests, comes as President Joe Biden has warned the government is running out of money to counter the pandemic, as the Associated Press reported. That’s after COVID funds were stripped from a recent spending bill over a disagreement on how they would be financed.
At the same time, the more transmissible omicron variant BA.2 has been spreading quickly in the U.S. and abroad.
The U.S. is averaging 27,846 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 8% from two weeks ago. But cases are rising in states in the Northeast and South as BA.2 spreads fast and experts are expecting a surge in cases given the current increase in cases in Europe, which tends to lead the U.S. numbers by a few weeks.
Cases are now climbing in 18 states and some at high levels. New York cases are up 57% from two weeks ago, for example, Massachusetts cases are up 51%, New Jersey cases are up 45% and Nebraska cases are up 59%.
The country is averaging 16,881 hospitalizations a day, down 31% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll has fallen below 700 to 698, a welcome decline but still an undesirably high number.
There was grim news in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that teenagers and adolescents have suffered a steep deterioration in mental health during the pandemic.
The study, based on a survey of 7,705 high-school students, found that more than one in three experienced poor mental health and nearly half felt sad or hopeless. Female students and those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, other or questioning community suffered more than others and exhibited suicide-related behaviors.
“For example, in 2021, 12% of female students, more than 25% of LGB students, and 17% of other or questioning students attempted suicide during the past year compared to 5% of their male peers and 5% of their heterosexual peers, respectively,” the study found.
Others experienced abuse at home during lockdowns, or suffered from hunger — nearly third of Black students surveyed said there was not enough food in their homes during the crisis.
The researchers found that more must be done to make schools a place where young people feel safe and connected to people who care.
In medical news, Merck
and privately held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said Friday they will present data showing that treatment with their COVID-19 antiviral ended infectious illness more rapidly than placebo in a late-stage trial.
Data on the treatment, called molnupiravir in the U.S., will be presented at the 2022 European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, the companies said in a joint statement.
The Food and Drug Administration granted authorization to molnupiravir in December along with an antiviral developed by Pfizer Inc.
although it said molnupiravir should only be used if there are no other treatment options available. That was after the Pfizer pill was found to cut the risk of severe disease by 88%, far more than the 30% shown by molnupiravir.
Merck and Ridgeback said the data are the final analyses evaluating outcomes throughout and following a five-day course as part of a Phase 3 trial called MOVe-OUT.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• About 16 million residents in Shanghai are being tested for the coronavirus during the second stage of the lockdown that shifted Friday to the western half of China’s biggest city and financial capital, the AP reported. Meanwhile, residents of Shanghai’s eastern districts who were supposed to be released from four days of isolation have been told their lockdowns could be extended if COVID-19 cases are found in their residential compounds. The lockdown in Shanghai, being done in two phases over eight days to enable testing of its entire population, has shaken global markets worried about the possible economic impact.
• COVID cases hit an all-time high in England in the latest week, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, that show that one in 13 people were infected. That comes to an estimated 4.1 million people, or 7.6% of the overall population, and is based on swabs from randomly selected households.
• South Korea has fully reopened its borders to vaccinated visitors, the Washington Post reported. International travelers must register their vaccination status but will no longer be required to quarantine. A negative PCR coronavirus test is still required for entry.
• The land border between Singapore and Malaysia was fully reopened on Friday to some fanfare, with locals celebrating with fireworks and cheering, according to local media reports. For the first time in about two years, people can travel freely between the two countries by private transport, without requiring testing or quarantine. Travelers must be fully vaccinated, however, and children aged 12 or younger who have not had their shots must be accompanied by a vaccinated adult.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 488.5 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.14 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 80.1 million cases and 980,627 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 217.6 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.6% of the population. But just 97.6 million are boosted, equal to 44.9% of the vaccinated population.