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Regeneron's COVID treatment cuts risk of death by 70%; AstraZeneca may have used outdated info in vaccine trial: Latest COVID-19 updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/23/2021 Elinor Aspegren, Adrianna Rodriguez and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
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A large new study found Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in high-risk patients, the pharmaceutical company announced in a statement Tuesday.

Researchers looked at more than 4,000 recently diagnosed patients and found the two-antibody combo drug, called REGEN-COV, cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 70%, and also reduced the median recovery time from 14 days to 10.

“This is a landmark moment in the fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Suraj Saggar, trial investigator and chief of infectious disease at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey. “With so many people will getting infected … these data underscore the need to rapidly adopt REGEN-COV as standard-of-care to offer high-risk patients their best chance to reduce serious consequences.”

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The results haven’t yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists. Previously, Eli Lilly announced that its two-antibody treatment also reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in similar patients.

Also in the news: 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday eased several restrictions that will soon allow businesses to open at greater capacity and more people to assemble indoors and outdoors. Starting Friday, bars and sports and entertainment venues can open at 50% capacity indoors or outdoors, and the 11 p.m. cutoff for on-site alcohol consumption will be fully lifted.

►Miami Beach plans to extend a state of emergency for the entertainment district to control spring break crowds. The extension, expected to be announced Tuesday, will authorize a curfew Thursday night through early Monday that could be extended every week through April 13, Melissa Berthier, spokesperson for the city of Miami Beach, told USA TODAY. Slightly more than half of those arrested at Miami Beach over a period including spring break live outside of Florida, city data shows.

►The Navajo Nation reported Monday zero new COVID-19 positive cases and no recent deaths for the first time in over six months. 

►Russian President Vladimir Putin will be getting his first vaccination against COVID-19 on Tuesday, but out of sight of the cameras, his spokesman said. Only 6.3 million people, or 4.3% of Russia's 146-million population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine. 

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has over 29.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 543,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 124 million cases and 2.72 million deaths. More than 156.7 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 126.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: More stimulus checks are on the way through direct deposit and the mail and additional payments are expected to be released on a weekly basis going forward. Your questions answered here.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

US adds nearly 3,000 new variant cases in last week, CDC data shows

In the last week alone, the United States has reported 2,926 new variant cases – more than the country reported in December, January and February combined, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Centers for Disease Control data shows.

Tuesday's report included another 1,143 new variant cases just since Sunday's report, bringing the country to 7,781 cases of coronavirus that can spread more easily, dodge treatments and immunities, or both.

Some of the biggest increases now are in Michigan's communities, rather than its prisons. The CDC reported another 371 variant cases for the state, though many of them appear to be delayed reporting from last week. The variant cases are surging in a state where the pace of new coronavirus cases has tripled in the last month, even as case counts in much of the country have declined.

Other states with high increases include New Jersey, where known variant cases more than doubled as 230 new cases were added to reach 393. New Jersey's coronavirus case counts on a per-person basis have been the highest in the nation, and have been climbing.

Massachusetts added 190 variant cases to reach 454. North Carolina more than doubled its case count after adding 101 cases to reach 186.

Nearly all of the new variant cases are of B.1.1.7, which was first found in the United Kingdom.

– Kristi Tanner and Mike Stucka

States move closer to vaccine-for-all, including Texas, Arizona and Georgia

Texas will open COVID-19 vaccinations to all adults beginning Monday, two weeks after expanding vaccine eligibility to those 50 and older. Under the expanded eligibility, Texans 16 and older can receive a vaccine.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that all state residents age 50 and above would be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday. 


Video: AstraZeneca Reports New Covid Vaccine is 70% Effective On Average (Veuer)

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Florida announced Monday it, too, will allow anybody age 50 and up to get the shot. It's a welcome sign in the state, which became the first state to have more than 1,000 known cases of coronavirus variants.

On Wednesday, Arizona will make vaccines available to anyone 16 and older at the sites it operates in Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties, the state health department and Gov. Doug Ducey announced.

And, on Thursday, Georgia will offer vaccinations to all adults, Gov. Brian Kemp announced.

Alaska and Mississippi have already opened vaccinations to all adults, and several other states have said they will do so in the coming weeks. They include Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, Connecticut, Iowa, Utah and Illinois.

White House: 27M vaccine doses to be shipped next week

The White House said 27 million doses of coronavirus vaccines will be distributed next week, more than three times the number when President Joe Biden took office just over two months ago.

Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients informed governors on their weekly conference call that 23 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna and about 4 million of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine will be shipped next week.

About 18 million of those shots will be given directly to states and jurisdictions to administer, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Most of the remainder will go to the federal retail pharmacy program, and a smaller share will go to federally qualified community health centers.

The administration expects supplies to continue to increase in the coming weeks, which comes as more states are relaxing eligibility criteria for shots. Biden is directing all adults be eligible for vaccines nationwide by May 1, and the U.S. remains on track to have enough supply to cover all adults by the end of May.

Damage from virus: Past-due utility bills overwhelm some households

Millions of U.S. households are facing heavy past-due utility bills, which have escalated in the year since the pandemic forced Americans hunkered down at home to consume more power.

And now, government moratoriums that for months had barred utilities from turning off the power of their delinquent customers are starting to expire in most states. As result, up to 37 million customers – which is nearly one-third of all households – will soon have to reckon with their overdue power bills at a time when many of them are struggling with lost jobs or income.

A study done by Arcadia, which runs a service that helps households lower utility bills, found that the average past-due amount by those in its network was roughly $850.

The crisis has emerged as one of the repercussions of the recession that was touched off by the viral pandemic.

AstraZeneca may have used outdated information in COVID vaccine trial

Hours after COVID-19 vaccine collaborators AstraZeneca and Oxford University released data on their large clinical trial, federal officials said that information may have been missing a month's worth of data.

The Data Safety Monitoring Board or DSMB "expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data."

Early Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of government agency that released the information, said on Good Morning America the company released data available only through Feb. 17, while presenting it as if it were current information.

"It really is unfortunate that this happened," said Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. "This is very likely a very good vaccine."

AstraZeneca said Monday that advanced trial data from a U.S. study on its vaccine shows it is 79% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective in stopping severe disease and hospitalization. The U.S. study comprised 30,000 volunteers, 20,000 of whom were given the vaccine while the rest got dummy shots. 

– Karen Weintraub

Air travel hits new pandemic record at 1.5M passengers

More than 1.5 million people streamed through U.S. airport security checkpoints on Sunday, the largest number since the pandemic tightened its grip on the United States more than a year ago.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1,543,115 travelers Sunday, its busiest day since March 13, 2020. The numbers are a stark contrast from the same date in 2020, when the agency screened only 548,132. 

It marked the 11th straight day that the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million people, likely from a combination of spring break travel and more people becoming vaccinated against COVID-19.

Airline executives say they have seen an increase in bookings during the last few weeks. However, passenger traffic remains far below 2019 levels.

Julia Thompson 

Almost one-quarter of Americans have received at least one dose

More than 3 million coronavirus vaccine doses were reported administered across the nation on back-to-back days for the first time as the pace of vaccinations continues to increase across the nation. Almost one-quarter of the entire U.S. population – and almost one-third of adults – has received at least one dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, warned that data on new cases and hospitalizations indicates numbers are again rising in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

"The apparent leveling off of cases and hospital admissions, after the consistent decline in early January through the end of February, I consider to be very concerning," she said.

A surge could be coming if Americans do not continue wearing masks, socially distancing and adhering to other restrictions, she said.

"Believe me, I get it, we all want to return to our everyday activities and spend time with our family, friends and loved ones," she said. "But we must find the fortitude to hang in there for just a little bit longer."

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Regeneron's COVID treatment cuts risk of death by 70%; AstraZeneca may have used outdated info in vaccine trial: Latest COVID-19 updates

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