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Coronavirus Notebook

Virus surges across US, led by California and Arizona

Deaths from the coronavirus are skyrocketing in the United States, reaching levels never before seen, largely fueled by relentless surges in California and Arizona.

As the national death toll nears 400,000, weekly deaths in Maricopa County, Ariz., and in Los Angeles and Fresno Counties in California have reached new highs, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

The virus has been raging for weeks in California — especially in Los Angeles County, where COVID-19 has claimed one life about every eight minutes — although state officials said on Wednesday that they were seeing some encouraging signs.

In Arizona over the past week, state officials have recorded the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita in the country.

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Nationwide, the numbers largely remained grim on Wednesday, though in the Northern Plains, cases this week were at about a quarter of their peak in mid-November, when the region was among the hardest hit in the country. There were at least 3,900 virus deaths in the United States on Wednesday, a day after the country hit a daily record of more than 4,400.

Earlier in the pandemic, cities bore the brunt of the virus. But now, although metropolitan areas are still suffering, rural communities are, too. Data compiled by the Times shows that deaths have spiked in less populous places, among them Butler County, Kan.; Sevier County, Tenn., and Etowah County, Ala.

New York Times

Event sites consider requiring proof of vaccine

Airlines, workplaces, and sports stadiums may soon require people to show their coronavirus vaccination status on their smartphones before they can enter.

A coalition of leading technology companies, health organizations, and nonprofits — including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Cerner, Epic Systems, and the Mayo Clinic — said on Thursday that they were developing technology standards to enable people to obtain and share their immunization records through health passport apps.

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“For some period of time, most all of us are going to have to demonstrate either negative COVID-19 testing or an up-to-date vaccination status to go about the normal routines of our lives,” said Dr. Brad Perkins, the chief medical officer at the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit in Geneva that is a member of the vaccine credential initiative.

That will happen, Perkins added, “whether it’s getting on an airplane and going to a different country, whether it’s going to work, to school, to the grocery store, to live concerts or sporting events.”

Vaccine passport apps could fill a significant need for airlines, employers, and other businesses. In the United States, the federal government has developed paper cards that remind people who receive coronavirus vaccinations of their vaccine manufacturer, batch number, and date of inoculation. But there is no federal system that people can use to get easy access to their immunization records online and establish their vaccination status for work or travel.

A few airlines, including United Airlines and JetBlue, are trying Common Pass, a health passport app from the Commons Project. The app enables passengers to retrieve their virus test results from their health providers and then gives them a confirmation code that allows them to board certain international flights. The vaccination credentialing system would work similarly.

The US vaccination program has been stymied by logistical hurdles as states scramble to set up new systems for booking appointments. Demand is high, but the rollout has been progressing far more slowly than hoped, marred by crashing servers, busy signals and confusion.

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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that about 10.3 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, far short of the goal federal officials set to give at least 20 million people their first shots before the end of 2020.

At least 541,000 people in the United States have been fully vaccinated as of Jan. 12, according to a New York Times survey of all 50 states.

New York Times

Mar-a-Lago club gets warning on mask use

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club’s failure to enforce Palm Beach County’s mask ordinance at its New Year’s Eve bash has resulted in a warning but no fine or other punishment.

The county sent a letter to the club’s manager, Bernd Lembcke, on Wednesday telling him that future violations of the county’s coronavirus ordinance could result in fines of up to $15,000 per violation. Video of the party shows that few of the 500 guests wore masks as they crowded the dance floor while rapper Vanilla Ice, Beach Boys cofounder Mike Love, and singer Taylor Dayne performed.

Todd Bonlarron, the county’s assistant administrator, said in the letter that while the club may have passed out masks to its guests, “there was a breakdown in enforcement of the mask orders that led to almost the entire room of guests being without masks.” He wrote that he is encouraged that Lembcke promised to enforce the ordinance going forward.

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Associated Press

Employers offer incentives for vaccination

Anxious about taking a new vaccine and scarred by a history of being mistreated, many front-line workers at hospitals and nursing homes are balking at being inoculated against the coronavirus.

But hospitals and nursing homes, worried about their patients’ health and scarred by many thousands of deaths in the past year, are desperate to have their employees vaccinated.

These opposing forces have led to unusual measures: In addition to educating workers about the benefits of the vaccines, employers are dangling incentives like cash, extra time off, and even Waffle House gift cards for those who get inoculated, while, in at least a few cases, threatening to fire those who refuse.

Officials at two large long-term care chains in the United States, Juniper Communities and Atria Senior Living, said they were requiring their workers, with limited exceptions, to be vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs.

“For us, this was not a tough decision,” said Lynne Katzmann, Juniper’s chief executive. “Our goal is to do everything possible to protect our residents and our team members and their families.”

Critics say it is unethical to strong-arm low-paid workers into being vaccinated.

“This is a population of people who have been historically ignored, abused, and mistreated,” said Dr. Mike Wasserman, a geriatrician and former president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine. “It is laziness on the part of anyone to force these folks to take a vaccine. I believe that we need to be putting all of our energy into respecting, honoring, and valuing the work they do and educating them on the benefits to them and the folks they take care of in getting vaccinated.”

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A survey of about 5,900 employees at Jackson Health System in Miami found that only half wanted to get a vaccine immediately, a hospital spokeswoman said. Others said they would consider it later.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said last month that roughly 60 percent of nursing home workers had declined vaccination. In New York City, at least 30 percent of health care workers said no to the shot in the first round, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.

New York Times