‘Full blown’ pandemic could be ending soon, Fauci says; US daily infection totals falling sharply: COVID-19 Updates – USA TODAY

The U.S. has almost reached the end of the “full blown” pandemic and could reach immunity levels sufficient to limit the spread of the virus soon, Dr. Anthony Fauci says.

Local health agencies should feel comfortable ending mask mandates when that happens, the White House’s top public health adviser said. He said such restrictions could pass into history this year.

“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” Fauci told The Financial Times. “There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus.”

Some of that optimism has been fueled by the steady decline in daily U.S. infections. The U.S. is reporting fewer than 200,000 COVID-19 cases a day for the first time since Christmas, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Case counts are now less than a quarter of the peak of the current, omicron surge.

The U.S., however, remains on track to reach 1 million COVID deaths in April.

Also in the news:

►Zen Solutions of Arlington, Virginia,  has agreed to pay $31,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle allegations that it improperly secured multiple loans during the pandemic, prosecutors said. 

►Hundreds of people who were given COVID-19 vaccine shots at a New Haven, Connecticut, clinic will need another jab after health officials said vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were improperly refrigerated.

► Mobile, Alabama, the city that calls itself the “birthplace of Mardi Gras,” kicked off its first Mardi Gras celebration since Fat Tuesday 2020, nearly two years into the pandemic.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 77.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 919,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 410.8 million cases and over 5.8 million deaths. More than 213.7 million Americans – 64.4% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we’re reading: Mask on? Mask off? Here’s what experts are saying as multiple states lift mask mandates amid falling case counts and pandemic fatigue. 

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Subway ridership rebounding as New Yorkers emerge after omicron surge

New York subway ridership is starting to rebound after two years of sagging numbers amid the pandemic. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported subway ridership topped 3 million for three days in a row last week, a first since the omicron wave hit New York in mid-December. Weekday ridership regularly topped 5.5 million before COVID-19, but it cratered during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and fell as much as 95%.

Riders gradually returned during 2021 and ridership regularly surpassed 3 million beginning in late September, until omicron hit in December. The authority projects ridership will be up to 20% below pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2024.

Blockades on Canada-US border continue, protests swell

Police swept through the lingering protest of COVID-19 restrictions near the massive Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Canada on Sunday, arresting a few truckers and other protesters still attempting to block the nation’s largest border crossing. Police said the last vehicles were being towed away. It was not immediately clear when the bridge, shut down by protests for a week, would reopen. The bridge closure has severely hampered U.S.-Canada trade and prompted the auto industry to scale back production in both countries.

“Enforcement will continue in the demonstration area and there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity,” Windsor, Ontario, police tweeted Sunday. “The public should avoid the area.”

Vaccines for kids under 5 delayed

Pfizer and BioNTech pushed the pause button Friday on the process of authorizing its COVID-19 vaccine for the youngest children. The companies said in a release that they want to wait until data becomes available on a third vaccine dose, likely in early April. They had originally said such data would become available in late March or early April and they would ask for authorization then. But under pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, the companies submitted their data and requested authorization for the first two doses, saying they could add a third in the future.

Friday’s news seems to reverse that and return to their earlier position.

An FDA advisory committee was planned for Tuesday to consider the request but has been canceled. No new date has been set.

– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY 

Contributing: The Associated Press