Texas ends masks mandate; Home stimulus; Alaska

The Texas governor will end his mask order Wednesday and “open Texas 100%,” a decision criticized by public health experts, government leaders and many companies.

“Texas is in a far better position now than when I last issued my executive order in October,” said Governor Greg Abbott when he announced the decision last week.

Some of the country’s largest retailers, including Kroger, Macy’s, Starbucks, and Target, aren’t resetting mask mandates. Neither is the city of Austin, which continues to require their businesses to require masks.

“I am grateful that the governor has reaffirmed the importance of masking and social distancing over the past few days,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, told Austin City Council members to the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network. “But my concern is what people will hear: ‘I don’t have to wear a mask and everything is 100% open.'”

Also on Wednesday, the House of Representatives will pass President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan with $ 1,400 checks, billions for vaccines and money to reopen schools.

Biden said Monday that he would sign the legislation “as soon as I get it”.

Also in the news:

►Maryland will ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses starting Friday, Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday, citing improving COVID-19 health data and increasing vaccinations.

►In Santa Clara County, California, County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith said late Monday that his county would not participate in a state vaccine delivery program from insurer Blue Shield as it would not improve speed or efficiency. Governor Gavin Newsom used the insurance company to create uniform rules via a central online portal and to increase the vaccination rate, especially in badly affected communities.

►With Alabama outperforming most of the nation on COVID-19 vaccinations, National Guard forces will begin their work later this month, dispensing doses in at least 24 rural counties, the state said Tuesday.

► Artifacts from the first known COVID-19 vaccination in the US have found their way to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC as part of the institution’s efforts to document the coronavirus pandemic.

►The White House said it increased the number of vaccine doses delivered to states and territories from 15.2 million last week to 15.8 million this week, and increased the allocation distributed under the federal pharmacy plan to 2, 7 million increased.

? Today’s numbers: In the United States, over 29 million coronavirus cases and more than 527,600 deaths have been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global total: more than 117.5 million cases and 2.6 million deaths. More than 123.23 million vaccine doses have been distributed and 93.6 million administered in the United States, according to the CDC.

? What we read: In just two months, the US could be swimming in the COVID-19 vaccine. That could bring its own problems. Read more here.

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

Los Angeles, other major counties to introduce looser COVID-19 rules

Three of California’s five largest counties could reopen as early as this weekend to restaurants, cinemas, and gyms with limited capacity, according to a new metric to allow more shots to be made available to the most vulnerable.

For Los Angeles County, this would be the first time Newsom implemented a color-coded system in August. The other counties that are likely to see further reopenings are Orange and San Bernardino, also in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest public school district in the United States, has also reached an agreement with teachers’ unions that will reopen in mid-April pending safety guarantees, the Los Angeles Times reported. The deal must be approved by the district school board and ratified by the union, the New York Times reported.

A new equity initiative Newsom announced last week will allow counties to step out of the most restrictive stalemate once 2 million shots are administered to people in zip codes that the state considers most vulnerable based on household income, access to health care and levels of education deems.

Once that threshold is reached, state officials will reassess and restrictions could be relaxed within two days, said Ali Bay, deputy communications director for the California Department of Health.

– Janie Har and Christopher Weber, Palm Springs Desert-Sun

All Alaskans over 16 eligible for a COVID vaccine, state officials say

Alaska Tuesday announced it was lifting all restrictions on who can get the COVID-19 vaccine in the state.

Officials said the state was extending eligibility for the vaccine to anyone aged 16 or older who lived or worked in the state. Just last week, they added people 55+, key workers, and people with pre-existing conditions to the list.

Alaska is the first state to remove regulatory requirements for the vaccine, Governor Mike Dunleavy said in a press release.

“A healthy community means a healthy economy. With vaccinations widely available and available to all Alaskans who live or work here, we will no doubt see our economy grow and our businesses thrive, ”said Dunleavy.

Study: Intellectual disabilities “the strongest independent risk factor” for COVID infection

People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to develop and die from COVID-19 and should therefore be prioritized for vaccination, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine’s digital publication Catalyst.

The report, based on a large national sample, names intellectual disability “the strongest independent risk factor” for getting the disease caused by the coronavirus and the second strongest for dying from it after age.

While underlying conditions like heart disease, obesity, and chronic kidney disease make people more susceptible to COVID-19, Down’s syndrome is the only intellectual disability listed on the CDC’s list of higher-risk conditions.

“Covid-19 had a devastating impact on people with intellectual disabilities,” the study said. “Patients with intellectual disabilities and their carers should be given priority for vaccination and health services.”

Contributor: The Associated Press

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