COVID-19 live updates: New Orleans requiring vaccination for schoolchildren

(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 894,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 63.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 03, 9:46 am
Medicare to start paying for at-home COVID-19 tests

Medicare will cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 testing kits starting this spring, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday.

It will be the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries. The new initiative will enable payment from Medicare directly to participating pharmacies and retailers to allow beneficiaries to pick up the at-home testing kits for free, according to CMS, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that administers the Medicare health insurance program and works in partnership with state governments to administer the Medicaid assistance program.

CMS said it “anticipates that this option will be available to people with Medicare in the early spring.”

Last month, the U.S. government began requiring health insurers to pay for at-home COVID-19 tests. But that directive did not initially extend to Medicare, which provides health insurance coverage for Americans ages 65 and up, as well as some younger individuals with disabilities.

Feb 02, 4:49 pm
White House prepping to send out COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5

Vaccines will be made available to the 18 million kids between the ages of 6 months and 5 years “in short order” if they’re authorized and recommended by FDA and CDC later this month, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said at Wednesday’s White House briefing.

“We’ve already secured ample doses and the necessary needles and supplies specially made for kids in this age group. Following FDA authorization, we would immediately begin packing and shipping doses to states and health care providers,” Zients said. “And in short order following CDC recommendations, parents will be able to get their kids under 5 vaccinated.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said parents should feel confident that the FDA would only approve the vaccine if it was effective and safe.

“We are anticipating that we will get a good efficacy signal for the use of vaccines in children under 5 years old,” he said, adding, “But let’s wait for the FDA determination and, ultimately, the CDC recommendation.”

Pfizer and BioNTech on Tuesday asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5. Pfizer and BioNTech said they’ve submitted data for two doses but expect the vaccine to be a three-dose series, and that the data for the third dose will be provided in the coming months.

The FDA’s advisory committee will meet on Feb. 15 to review the Pfizer vaccine for use in children under the age of 5. The advisory committee is an independent group whose vote is nonbinding, but the FDA takes it into consideration when making a final decision.

The vaccine would then need to be authorized by the FDA. The CDC advisory committee would then need to meet for recommendations, and it would also need to be approved by CDC director Rochelle Walensky.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Feb 02, 4:05 pm
More than 100,000 Americans have died from COVID since Thanksgiving

Since Thanksgiving, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S., according to federal data.

The U.S. is reporting an average of nearly 2,300 new COVID-19-related deaths each day, the federal data show.

However, the nation’s death toll remains significantly lower than last winter when the U.S. peaked at about 3,400 deaths per day.

About 126,000 Americans with COVID-19 are currently in hospitals — down from 160,000 patients at the nation’s peak 13 days ago.

But 14 states are struggling with ICU capacities of 15% or less: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 02, 3:10 pm
US Army will ‘immediately’ discharge unvaccinated soldiers

The U.S. Army “will immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service who refuse to be vaccinated,” the Army announced in a press release.

“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said. “Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”

The Army was the last of the military services to say it would remove service members who didn’t comply with the Secretary of Defense’s mandatory vaccination order. In the fall, the Army issued temporary guidance that soldiers who didn’t get vaccinated would be “flagged” so they would lose a command, not be promoted or would only remain until their contracts expired.

Under the earlier flagging policy, six commanders were removed from command, and 3,073 soldiers received reprimands. Wednesday’s announcement begins the discharge process for those 3,073 soldiers.

According to Army statistics, 96% of the Army’s approximately 475,000 soldiers are fully vaccinated, and 97% have received at least one dose.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez

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