US variant cases surpass 2,500, up from 546 a month ago; CDC reports distribution of 100M vaccine doses. Latest COVID-19 updates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that the country has more than 2,500 cases of coronavirus variants that can spread more easily and dodge some treatments and immunities.

More than 100 new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom were reported just since Sunday, bringing the nation’s total to 2,506. Illinois reported 27 new cases to reach 69; Maryland reported 21 more to reach 89; and Georgia reported 18 more to reach 137.

South Carolina reported a significant increase in its tally of the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa, reporting another nine cases to reach 30. Georgia reported its first case, while Maryland and Virginia also reported one new case each. The country now has 65 known cases.

The United States has 11 known cases of the P.1 variant first seen in Brazil. 

The country now has 2,581 known variant cases, up from 546 cases a month earlier.

Florida, with about 1 of every 15 Americans, has about 1 in 4 cases of the country’s B.1.1.7 cases and half of of the country’s P.1 cases. Michigan now ranks No. 2 for variant cases, though most are tied to a prison outbreak.

– Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►The federal government has crossed the 100 million mark vaccine doses distributed,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

►The variant of coronavirus first identified in Brazil has emerged in Oregon, the first known case on the West Coast, medical authorities said Tuesday. There have been 10 other cases of the P.1 variant reported in the United States, with five in Florida, two in Minnesota and one each in Oklahoma, Alaska and Maryland, the CDC says.

►A new report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center identified more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health care workers and facilities last year. Researchers found that about 400 of those attacks were related to COVID-19.

? Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 516,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 114.72 million cases and 2.54 million deaths. More than 102.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 78.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

What we’re reading: The nation’s vaccine appointment system is broken in many places, leading to a race to find appointments that often works best for the lucky, the internet-savvy or the mobile. To help bridge the gap between the elderly and others without the means to connect online, strangers are stepping in. Read the full story.

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.

Pharmacy technician Hollie Maloney loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday at a mass vaccination site inside the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP)

Joe Biden’s $1.9T stimulus package could come before Senate this week

The Senate could debate President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package as soon as Wednesday, and Democrats are hoping for a Senate vote Friday. That would allow the House a few days to approve any changes ahead of Biden’s signature later in the month.

The Biden administration likely will need all 50 Democratic senators to pass the legislation. Some moderate Democrats led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin want to lower the threshold for the $1,400 checks, calling for helping “the people that need help the most.”

The measure would also provide hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. Child care, tax breaks for families with children and assistance for states to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents also would get funding.

Texas, Mississippi governors defy health officials, end mask mandates

Defying warnings from federal health officials about the need to stay vigilant against the coronavirus, the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi said Tuesday they’re lifting COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’s moving to “open Texas 100%” and will issue a new executive order to take effect March 10 rescinding most of his earlier orders, including restrictions on business occupancy and the July 2 statewide mask order. 

“Texas is in a far better position now than when I issued my last executive order back in October,” Abbott said, referring to his order allowing bars to reopen under certain conditions. Cases spiked after he eased business restrictions in the fall.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Tuesday that, starting the next day, all county mask mandates would be lifted and businesses allowed to operate at full capacity.

“Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!” Reeves said.

COVID-19 can affect immune system in complex ways, research shows

In some COVID-19 patients, scientists say unprepared immune cells appear to be responding to the coronavirus with a devastating release of chemicals, inflicting damage that may endure long after the threat has been eliminated.

“If you have a brand-new virus and the virus is winning, the immune system may go into an ‘all hands on deck’ response,” said Dr. Nina Luning Prak, co-author of a January study on COVID-19 and the immune system. “Things that are normally kept in close check are relaxed. The body may say, ‘Who cares. Give me all you’ve got.’”

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

– Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News

Contributing: The Associated Press

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