Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states — a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.
New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections, or nearly 197,500 new cases, in the latest available seven-day period, according to state health agency data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Total U.S. infections during the same week numbered more than 452,000.
The heavy concentration of new cases in states that account for 22% of the U.S. population has prompted some experts and elected officials to call for President Joe Biden’s administration to ship additional vaccine doses to those places. So far, the White House has shown no signs of shifting from its policy of dividing vaccine doses among states based on population.
Sending extra doses to places where infection numbers are climbing makes sense, said Dr. Elvin H. Geng, a professor in infectious diseases at Washington University. But it’s also complicated. States that are more successfully controlling the virus might see less vaccine as a result.
“You wouldn’t want to make those folks wait because they were doing better,” Geng said. “On the other hand, it only makes sense to send vaccines to where the cases are rising.”
The spike in cases has been especially pronounced in Michigan, where the seven-day average of daily new infections reached 6,719 cases Sunday — more than double what it was two weeks earlier. Only New York reported higher case numbers. And California and Texas, which have vastly larger populations than Michigan, are reporting less than half its number of daily infections.
Though Michigan has seen the highest rate of new infections in the past two weeks, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she does not plan to tighten restrictions. She has blamed the virus surge on pandemic fatigue, which has people moving about more, as well as more contagious variants.
“Taking steps back wasn’t going to fix the issue,” Whitmer said as she got her first vaccine Tuesday at Ford Field in Detroit, home of the NFL’s Lions. “What we have to do is really put our foot down on the pedal on vaccines” and urge people to wear masks, keep their social distance and wash their hands.
Whitmer got the shot the day after Michigan expanded eligibility to everyone 16 and older. She asked the White House last week during a conference call with governors whether it has considered sending extra vaccine to states battling virus surges. She was told all options were on the table.
In New York City, vaccination appointments are still challenging to get. Mayor Bill de Blasio has publicly harangued the federal government about the need for a bigger vaccine allotment almost daily, a refrain he repeated when speaking to reporters Tuesday.
“We still need supply, supply, supply,” de Blasio said, before adding, “But things are really getting better.”
On the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not called publicly for an increase in New York’s vaccine allotment, even as cases ticked up in recent weeks and the number of hospitalized people hit a plateau.
In New Jersey, where the seven-day rolling average of daily new infections has risen over the past two weeks, from 4,050 daily cases to 4,250, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said he is constantly talking to the White House about demand for the coronavirus vaccine, though he stopped short of saying he was lobbying for more vaccines because of the state’s high infection rate.
Vaccine shipments to New Jersey were up 12% in the last week, Murphy said Monday, though he questioned whether that’s enough.
“We constantly look at, OK, we know we’re going up, but are we going up at the rate we should be, particularly given the amount of cases we have?” Murphy said.
New virus variants are clearly one of the drivers in the increase, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California at San Francisco. Failure to suppress the rise in cases will lead to more people getting sick and dying, she said, and drive increases in other parts of the country.
“More vaccine needs to be where the virus is,” Bibbins-Domingo said, adding that people should get over the “scarcity mindset” that has them thinking surging vaccine into one place will hurt people elsewhere.
In Florida, relaxed safeguards during a busy spring break season likely helped spread virus variants, said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi. The state’s seven-day average of daily new infections has exceeded 5,400, an increase of 20% in the past two weeks.
While many new infections appear to be among younger people, Salemi said he’s worried about Florida’s seniors. About 78% of residents age 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, but roughly 1 million more still have not gotten any shots.
“We seemingly have the supply,” Salemi said. “Are these people not planning to get vaccinated?”
Talk of sending extra shots to some states comes at a time when the number of daily infections in the U.S. has fallen dramatically compared to a January spike following the holiday season. However, the seven-day average of daily infections been rising slowly since mid-March.
The five states seeing the most infections stand out. As of Tuesday, 31 U.S. states were reporting seven-day averages of fewer than 1,000 new daily cases.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said Tuesday more than 28 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered to states this week. That allocation will bring the U.S. total to more than 90 million doses distributed in the past three weeks.
The news came as Biden announced more than 150 million coronavirus shots have been administered since he took office, and that all adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine by April 19.
About 40% of U.S. adults have now received at least one COVID-19 shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 23% of American adults have been fully vaccinated — including more than half of Americans 65 and older.
Geng said the nation should take a step back and go slow. Even just a few more weeks of Americans sticking with social distancing and other precautions could make a huge difference.
“The take-home message here is, let’s not jump the gun,” Geng said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We all see it there. And we will get there. Slow and steady.”
Planning continues for Adams County’s new justice center, and the individuals involved are pleased with the progress.
Members of the Adams County Board of Commissioners voted 6-0 at their meeting Tuesday to appoint participants to the committee that will review proposals for construction management at-risk contracts for the justice center, which will be constructed at U.S. Highway 281 and M Street on the south edge of Hastings.
Adams County voters approved during the November 2020 general election a bond not to exceed $38 million for the justice center that will include a 168-bed jail.
Board members approved during their previous meeting the use of a construction management at-risk contract and authorized the formation of a selection committee to help in the awarding of that contract at the last meeting.
The resolution approved Tuesday appoints specific individuals to that selection committee.
“There are criteria for people to be put on that committee, which is why we have the persons that we do as part of this resolution,” County Attorney Donna Fegler-Daiss said.
Those committee members include County Board members Lee Hogan and Dale Curtis; Fegler-Daiss; Sheriff John Rust, Jail Administrator Jeremiah Harmon, Public Defender Shon Lieske; former County Board member Scott Thomsen; and Lyle Fleharty, who chaired the citizen planning committee.
County Board members also unanimously approved on Tuesday adopting policies for the construction management at-risk contract. By statute, the county has to adopt policies for entering into and selecting that contract.
“From this we are able to go forward with the RFP, the advertisement for the request for proposals and all of that,” Fegler-Daiss said. “We needed to do this.”
Curtis said Curt Field with Omaha architecture firm Prochaska and Associates — which has been working on the project with Adams County — wrote in an email that Prochaska is nearing completion on the justice center schematic.
“There’s a few things on the justice side of it that need to be finished up yet,” Curtis said.
He said everyone involved in the project is working well together.
“I’m just amazed at, between the jail side and the justice side, how well everyone has worked together and been reasonable in wanting to move forward, or getting excited about moving forward,” he said.
Fegler-Daiss said everyone wants to do the project correctly.
“It’s a lot of money to be spending, and we certainly want, when we move in, to know that it’s going to work fluently and efficiently for everyone, but I think everyone’s also aware that from a monetary standpoint it is a lot of money and we don’t have just an open checkbook to put all of our wishes and dreams,” she said. “I think everyone is trying to do this on a conservative level, but still do what we need to do to make it work.”
Adams County is scheduled to receive the first $9 million of the justice center bond money on April 15. Board members unanimously approved on Tuesday allowing for a temporary transfer of funds for payment of Prochaska claims until that bond money is received.
Board members are scheduled during their next meeting to set up a new fund for the justice center bond monies.
As economic development officials in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas explore the feasibility of a possible initiative to promote “heritage tourism” across a 49-county area, some residents of the affected area are wary of what the project might do to personal freedoms.
According to a recent article posted to the Red Cloud Tourism & Commerce website, www.visitredcloud.com, a volunteer board currently is seeking nonprofit status for an entity known as the Kansas Nebraska Heritage Area Partnership.
The nonprofit entity would raise money for a feasibility study concerning the possible creation of a Kansas Nebraska National Heritage Area covering a defined expanse of mostly agricultural land dotted mainly by farmsteads and small towns — an expanse to include the entirety of Tribland.
The affected area includes the southern three tiers of counties in Nebraska, from Red Willow and Frontier counties on the west to Gage County on the east; and the northern three tiers of counties in Kansas, from Decatur and Sheridan counties on the west to Marshall and Pottawatomie counties on the east.
The feasibility study, which would include public meetings, would gauge support for designation of a Kansas Nebraska NHA. After reaching a favorable conclusion, leaders from the two states could seek support from their respective members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and try to get such an area designated by act of Congress.
The federal National Heritage Area program is administered by the National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior, and may bring certain kinds of financial assistance from the federal government for projects and programs in a designated NHA.
According to the Red Cloud article, the NHA program “amounts to a coordinated effort between organizations in south central Nebraska and north central Kansas to market the region and celebrate its heritage tourism assets” — an effort that, if successful, would draw more visitors to the region and cause more tourism dollars to circulate through the area economy.
Again according to the Red Cloud article, NHA designation doesn’t affect anyone’s private property rights “in any way, shape or form without the consent of the owner.”
The NHA program was established in 1984 under the administration of President Ronald Reagan. In the intervening years, Congress has established a total of 55 NHAs across the United States — including six in 2019 that were signed into law by former President Donald Trump.
One of the existing NHAs covers 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri and focuses on the history of the “border war” in that area in the mid-19th century.
The Red Cloud article states that President Joe Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order calling for a “30x30” initiative to protect 30% of the United States’ land area and 30% of its ocean area by 2030 has nothing to do with NHAs.
Still, some Nebraska and Kansas residents are concerned about how the establishment of an NHA could affect their ability to use their private property as they see fit. They are characterizing the possible action as a “land grab.”
Norman Kincaide, a member of the Southeast Colorado Private Property Rights Council, will be in the area over the next eight days to give community talks about how his group fought off a proposal for establishment of a Canyons & Plains NHA in the area where he lives.
Meetings in Tribland are planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Red Cloud Community Center in Red Cloud and 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Stastny Community Center in Hebron. Those meetings are open to the public.
Other meetings are April 9 in Hill City, Kansas; April 10 at the Midtown Ramada Inn in Grand Island as part of the daylong Eagle Forum (registration fee required); April 11 in Lincoln County, Kansas; April 12 in Abilene, Kansas; April 13 in Clay Center, Kansas; April 14 in WaKeeney, Kansas; and April 15 in Norton, Kansas.
FREDERICK, Md. — A Navy medic shot and wounded two U.S. sailors at a military facility Tuesday, then fled to a nearby Army base where security forces shot and killed him, police and Navy officials said.
Authorities said they had yet to determine what drove 38-year-old Fantahun Girma Woldesenbet to open fire at the facility, located in an office park in Frederick, Maryland.
“We’re still trying to sort through stacks of paper ... to figure out exactly what the motive would be,” said Frederick Police Lt. Andrew Alcorn.
Woldesenbet shot the sailors with a rifle inside the facility at the Riverside Tech Park on Tuesday morning, causing people inside to flee, said Frederick Police Chief Jason Lando.
Woldesenbet, a Navy medic assigned to Fort Detrick but who lived in town, then drove to the base, where gate guards who had been given advance notice told him to pull over for a search, said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley. But Woldesenbet immediately sped off, making it about a half-mile into the installation before he was stopped at a parking lot by the base’s police force. When he pulled out a weapon, the police shot and killed him, Talley said.
The two sailors, who Talley said were assigned to Fort Detrick, were airlifted to a hospital. Police said one victim is in critical but stable condition, and the other is in serious condition but expected to be released Wednesday.
Talley said investigators will determine as much as they can, including why the suspect went back to the base.
“(I) don’t know his mental status at the time, and we’re certainly going to find all that out,” he said.
The brigadier general said the facility where the shooting took place was not under his command. He declined to identify the facility more specifically or describe the work that was done there.
Fort Detrick is home to the military’s flagship biological defense laboratory and several federal civilian biodefense labs. About 10,000 military personnel and civilians work on the base, which encompasses about 1,300 acres in the city of Frederick.
The base is a huge economic driver in the region, drawing scientists, military personnel and their families. Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor noted that various defense contractors are located near Fort Detrick and that it wouldn’t be unusual for a member of the military to be off base and working with a private firm that does business with the U.S. government.
“When these incidents happen in other places, you’re always grateful that it’s not your community,” O’Connor added. “But you always know, perhaps in the back of your mind, that that’s just luck — that there isn’t any reason why it couldn’t happen here. And today it did.”
By early afternoon, the Nallin Farm gate at Fort Detrick through which the shooter entered remained closed and two officers were standing by.
Police cordoned off Woldesenbet’s garden-style apartment building in Frederick City, a few miles from the site of the shooting.
A neighbor, Ava Target, said she knew Woldesenbet only by sight, and that he lived on the top floor of the apartment complex with a wife and two kids. She wasn’t aware of any problems.
Another neighbor, Rachel Tucker, said she saw police escort Woldesenbet’s wife and two young children from the apartment early Tuesday afternoon.
She said she believed the family had lived in the apartment for about a year and she never noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Frederick police Lt. Andrew Alcorn said the crime scene unit had recovered multiple items from Woldesenbet’s apartment, but he declined to categorize them.
He said Woldesenbet’s wife had been at the apartment earlier Tuesday and that police brought her in for questioning.
Mark Nelson, a firefighter who lives in a row of townhomes across the street from the base, said he heard the base blast warning sirens Tuesday morning.
“I heard, I don’t know what they call it, but they were like air raid sirens, and I knew something was going on,” Nelson said.
Lando called the shootings “very tragic.”
“It’s happening too frequently,” he said. “Every time we turn on the TV we’re seeing something like this happening. And now it’s happening in our backyards.”