Your taxpayer dollars are at work today combating the pandemic.
The Biden administration is shipping 400 million N95 face masks out to pharmacies and other outlets for free distribution to the populace while also unveiling a website allowing every household to sign up for four free coronavirus tests.
The intensified effort to halt the most recent, omicron-fueled surge comes as hospitals struggle with spiking caseloads. And the seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 this week. That’s half the peak of a year ago – but if unchecked would push the U.S. death total to 900,000 just a month from now.
Those much-anticipated free coronavirus tests are now available on a new federal government website. COVIDTests.gov has an “Order free at-home tests” button that brings users to usps.com/covidtests to order four at-home free tests. The Postal Service will only send one set of four free at-home coronavirus tests to valid residential addresses, the site said.
Americans will be able to pick up their masks at one of “tens of thousands” of pharmacies, thousands of community centers and other locations across the country beginning next week, according to a White House official.
— Joey Garrison, Kelly Tyko and Maureen Groppe
Also in the news:
►A group of parents in the Chesapeake Public Schools district sued new Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, arguing that his executive order allowing parents to opt their kids out of any school’s mask mandate violates state law.
►More than 100 countries are on U.S. federal health officials’ list of destinations to avoid because of a high risk of COVID-19, including Australia, Israel, the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.
► Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday that they will kill about 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for the coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.
Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 67 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 854,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 333 million cases and over 5.5 million deaths. More than 209 million Americans – 63% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What we’re reading: The world’s 10 richest men doubled their wealth during the pandemic while 99% of incomes dropped, a new study says.
Nearly 500 inmates at a federal prison in Mississippi have tested positive for COVID-19, currently the highest number of inmate cases among federal prisons nationwide, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The medium-security prison, with a population of 1,425, is part of a federal complex that also includes low and maximum-security facilities. Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal said as far back as April 2020 that the Yazoo City site was a hot spot for coronavirus. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the fall of 2020 to learn more about the bureau’s response to COVID-19 in federal jails and prisons, eventually obtaining emails from Yazoo City and other federal prisons.
“My concerns have not been resolved. We are critically understaffed. We are breaking policy to complete our mission. A case could be made that we are violating the constitutional rights of our inmate population,” one Yazoo City federal prison employee wrote, according to the ACLU.
Outside their usual docket of blockbuster constitutional controversies, Supreme Court justices are divided over something else: face masks. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor has diabetes, which puts her at higher risk for a serious bout with COVID-19. In the fall, the Obama appointee was the only one of the nine justices to wear a mask in the courtroom where attendance is limited because of the coronavirus to the court, the attorneys and the Supreme Court press corps. As cases began to rise during the holiday season, Sotomayor said she did not feel safe near people who were unmasked.
Chief Justice John Roberts then asked everyone to wear masks in the courtroom, NPR reported. Everyone complied — except for Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Since Gorsuch, who sits next to Sotomayor on the bench, has refused to wear a mask, Sotomayor has been tuning into arguments remotely from her chambers at the Supreme Court building.
— Amy Nakamura, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press