Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:
THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY
— The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed coronavirus infections. Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The figures underscore that the job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic.
— Thousands of U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right message that will persuade troops to get the shot. Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, were choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.
— A rush of people seeking online vaccination appointments in Massachusetts crashed the system on Thursday morning. More than one million additional state residents had become eligible for a shot. Several who went to vaxfinder.mass.gov received the message “This application crashed” with a drawing of an octopus, and were urged to try again later. The site appeared to be working again by about 10 a.m. Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that more than 70,000 appointments would be made available at 8 a.m. Thursday, including for those age 65 and older, for people with two or more certain medical conditions, and for residents and staff of low income and affordable senior housing. But people were warned that it could take up to a month to book an appointment.
THE NUMBERS: According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there were 70,188 new COVID-19 cases and 2,366 deaths in the United States on Wednesday. The record high for new cases was 300,282 on Jan. 2 and the record high for deaths was 5,443 on Feb. 12.
DEATH TOLL: The total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. reached 490,718.
QUOTABLE: “Unfortunately, we have a slight setback in vaccination progress this week,” said Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department in Hastings, Nebraska. “Vaccine shipments are being delayed across the country due to the weather and we have lost hope that we will receive our allotment in time for some ‘first dose’ clinics this week. We will be rescheduling appointments to next week.”
ICYMI: Maine’s annual celebration of clams has been canceled for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers spoke with local officials and decided the only smart thing was to call off the Yarmouth Clam Festival, which dates to the 1960s and is a beloved tradition in southern Maine. It typically includes races, rides, music and a shucking contest. Organizers in a Facebook post that they were concerned about the “ability to facilitate an event within unknown state regulations.” They also said “that with the love and support of our many fans we will return bigger and better when the time is right.” The most recent Yarmouth Clam Festival took place in July 2019.
ON THE HORIZON: For a second straight year, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the daily routines of the tradition-bound Virginia General Assembly. Lawmakers have been working under extraordinary circumstances, legislating to a substantial degree by video conference. It’s a setup that has led to technical difficulties, an uncharacteristically profane hot mic situation and more serious complaints from lawmakers and advocates alike. They say legislating by Zoom has limited transparency, stifled public participation and diluted the democratic process. Legislative leaders say the adjustments are necessary for public health in a pandemic.
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