Plague lifts from seniors
President Joe Biden has celebrated the U.S. milestone of 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations in less than 100 days since he took office, but there are other vital coronavirus statistics that dramatically underscore the success of the program in saving lives.
COVID-19 hospitalizations among older Americans have plunged more than 70% since the start of the year, and deaths among them appear to have tumbled as well, The Associated Press reported.
The drop-off in severe cases among Americans 65 and older is especially encouraging because senior citizens have accounted for about 8 out of 10 deaths from the coronavirus since it arrived in the U.S., where the overall fatalities toll is around 570,000, the AP wrote. COVID-19 deaths among people of all ages in the U.S. have plummeted to about 700 per day on average, compared with a peak of over 3,400 in mid-January.
The challenge now is to get more of the nation’s younger people to get the shots, now available to anyone 16 or older. Two-thirds of American senior citizens are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, versus just one-third of all Americans 18 or older and about a quarter of the overall U.S. population — far below herd-immunity levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of vaccinations is slowing down. Last week, the U.S. was averaging about 3.35 million shots a day. Now the average is just over 3 million.
The one-shot Johnson & Johnson alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be back on the table again soon after a weeklong pause to review serious blood clots among a handful of J&J recipients, mostly women under 50. The Washington Post reported that federal health authorities are leaning toward recommending that use of the J&J vaccine resume, possibly as soon as this weekend, with a new warning about a rare complication but probably not call for age restrictions.
Frenemies of the Earth
Is it just an Earth Day moment of kumbaya or the start of something deeper? Or just posturing? On Thursday, the leaders of Russia and China put aside their raw-worded disputes with Biden long enough to pledge international cooperation on cutting climate-wrecking coal and petroleum emissions in a livestreamed summit showcasing America’s return to the fight against global warming, wrote The Associated Press.
Neither Vladimir Putin nor Xi Jinping immediately followed the U.S. and some of its allies, which made specific new pledges to reduce damaging fossil fuel pollution during the first day of the two-day U.S.-hosted summit. But climate advocates hoped the virtual gathering would kick-start new action by major polluters, paving the way for a November UN meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, critical to drastically slowing climate change over the coming decade.
The entire world faces "a moment of peril" but also "a moment of opportunity," Biden declared. "The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting."
As for Biden's pledge to slash U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases in at least half by 2030, it's a goal the White House insists the U.S. can meet even if Congress rejects Biden's calls for trillions of dollars in green infrastructure spending, Politico reported. There are skeptics.
But Ali Zaidi, the deputy White House national climate adviser, said at a separate event Wednesday that the plummeting costs of renewable energy have helped reduce emissions — even during the Donald Trump years — and that climate efforts by cities, states and major companies have shown steep reductions are possible.
Because of that uncertainty on whether Biden's goals are feasible, many countries attending the two-day summit are taking a wait-and-see approach before increasing their own pledges.
Poll: How easy to be green?
A CBS News poll finds 58% of Americans think people should try to do things to shape and act on the challenges posed by climate change, while just 42% think people should simply learn to adapt to what happens and make the best of it.
When it comes to what people are willing to do or give up, the numbers vary. Sixty-four percent of Americans say they would install solar panels in their homes, and 57% say they would drive less often. But only 42% would switch to public transit; 58% would not.
Other options draw stronger resistance: Only 37% would be willing to pay more for utilities, 35% are OK with higher taxes and 30% would stop eating meat.
Biden plan: Double capital-gains tax on rich
Biden is looking to almost double the capital-gains tax for people earning $1 million or more annually, from its current base of 20% to 39.6%, according to The New York Times and Bloomberg News. Coupled with an existing surtax on investment income, the rates for wealthy investors could be as high as 43.4%, Bloomberg said.
The proposed tax boost is intended to help pay for a raft of spending to address long-standing inequities, according to people familiar with the proposal. Stock indexes on Wall Street took a dip in response to the capital-gains news.
The plans are still being refined in advance of Biden's speech Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress. Asked about the capital-gains plan at a briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "We’re still finalizing what the pay-fors look like."
CNBC reported that investors' fears on the capital-gains tax increase could be overblown as Democrats hold only narrow majorities in both the Senate and House, which could make it hard to approve any aggressive proposal. Biden's numbers could instead be a starting point for negotiations.
Senate OKs bill on anti-Asian hate crime
The Senate on Thursday passed in a 94-1 vote an anti-hate crimes bill aimed at addressing a surge in attacks on Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Passing the bill sent a "solid message of solidarity that the Senate will not be a bystander as anti-Asian violence surges in our country," said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the measure's lead sponsor in the chamber.
The bill would create a Justice Department position focusing on the issue and beef up state and local hate-crime reporting. The legislation now goes to the House, where that chamber's version was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of Queens.
The lone "no" vote came from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. Five senators were absent. Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota were attending the Minneapolis funeral of Daunte Wright, a Black man shot dead on April 11 during a traffic stop. The three Republicans who missed the vote were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones and Vera Chinese. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Russia announced on Thursday it was ordering troops back to base from the area near its border with Ukraine, apparently calling an end to a buildup of tens of thousands of soldiers that had alarmed the West, including the United States. However, Russia was leaving armored vehicles used in recent exercises closer to the border.
- In a party-line vote, the Democratic-led House approved 216-208 a plan to make the nation's capital the 51st state, but the bill faces long odds in the Senate. It would need 60 votes to survive a filibuster, and support from even all 50 Democrats and Democratic-aligned independents isn't a sure thing.
- Republican leaders in Congress have chosen Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black GOP senator, to deliver their party's rebuttal to Biden's address on Capitol Hill next week.
- The Trump administration put up bureaucratic obstacles that stalled about $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico and then obstructed an investigation into the holdup, according to an inspector general's report obtained by The Washington Post. The Biden administration this week removed what it called "onerous restrictions unique to Puerto Rico that limited the island’s access" to disaster-recovery funds.
- Afghanistan’s military "will certainly collapse" without some continued American support once all U.S. troops are withdrawn under Biden's Sept. 11 pullout deadline, the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, told Congress on Thursday. McKenzie also said he was very concerned about the Afghan government’s ability to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
- Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has told party officials that she’s considered stepping down from her post to challenge Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022, Politico reported.
- Federal prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday that the Justice Department expects to charge at least 100 more people for taking part in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. More than 400 have been charged so far.