Olympics was 'one of the safest places on this planet': COVID updates – USA TODAY

The coronavirus infection rate at the Beijing Olympics was 0.01% in the four weeks since a restrictive, three-layer testing system was put in place, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Sunday.
More than 1.8 million tests were conducted since Jan. 23, and only 437 people tested positive, Bach said. Just 98 athletes and 87 team officials had confirmed positive tests at the Winter Games, which wrapped up Sunday. The other 252 confirmed positive were described as “stakeholders.”
“It has been one of the safest places on this planet, if not the safest,” Bach said.
The three-layer testing involved athletes taking pre-departure tests in their own country and again upon arrival in Beijing. All participants also were subject to daily PCR testing in the Olympic Villages and at the Olympic venues.
“The message to the world is that, if everybody is respecting the rules in solidarity, you can even have such a great event like the Olympic Games under the terms of a pandemic,” Bach said.
Also in the news: 
►The French Quarter Festival, regarded as the largest free festival and showcase of Louisiana music, food and culture, returns to New Orleans in April after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic.
►Britons with COVID-19 won’t be legally required to self-isolate starting this week as part of a government plan for “living with COVID” that includes dropping all restrictions.
►Highly vaccinated Israel said Sunday that it will allow tourists regardless of vaccination status to enter the country starting March 1, although all visitors will be required to take PCR coronavirus tests before their flights and upon landing.
►Organizers of Milwaukee’s Summerfest, marketed as the world’s largest music festival, say guests won’t need to wear masks, show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or show proof of vaccination. Summerfest will take place over three weekends (Thursday-Saturday) from noon to midnight, June 23-25, June 30-July 2 and July 7-9.
►Stringent anti-virus controls that ban public gatherings of more than two people in Hong Kong might be tightened further to stop a surge in infections, the territory’s top health official said Sunday. Fourteen deaths and more than 6,000 new cases were reported.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 935,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 424 million cases and over 5.8 million deaths. More than 214.7 million Americans – 64.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Hardly a week passes now without news of the continued decline in U.S. coronavirus infections, and the ensuing lifting of restrictions intended to curtail spread of COVID-19.
Confirmed cases are down nearly eightfold compared to the peak in mid-January, from 800,000 five weeks ago to a little over 100,000 on Saturday. Week over week, the decline through Feb. 16 was an encouraging 43%, according to CDC figures. And hospitalization numbers are just as impressive, diminishing from a daily average of 146,534 on Jan. 20 to 80,185 the week ending Feb. 13.
A major reason for the decrease, however, suggests the pandemic may not be behind us, only the wave created by the omicron variant.
“I think what’s influencing the decline, of course, is that omicron is starting to run out of people to infect,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and infectious disease chief at the University of Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Experts agree previous infection confers a degree of immunity, but not as lasting as the protection from vaccines and boosters.
In light of that, and considering 31% of eligible Americans are not fully vaccinated, medical professionals worry that so many jurisdictions – including large states like California and New York – are removing mitigation measures such as mask requirements.
“If I have a concern, it’s that taking off the interventions, the restrictions, may be happening with a bit more enthusiasm and speed than makes me comfortable,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine. “My own little adage is, better to wear the mask for a month too long than to take the mask off a month too soon and all of a sudden get another surge.”
Queen Elizabeth II is experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19, Buckingham Palace announced Sunday. The palace said Britain’s longest reigning monarch, 95, expects to continue light duties at Windsor Castle over the coming week. The queen is fully vaccinated, having received three shots of a coronavirus vaccine. Earlier this month, Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time. Four days later, Duchess Camilla tested positive. Both are fully vaccinated and had received a booster shot.
“(The queen) will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines,” the palace said in a statement.
Kim Hjelmgaard
Protesters who had brought chaos to the streets of the Canadian capital of Ottawa for the last three weeks were almost entirely gone Sunday, driven off by police in riot gear.
Almost 200 arrests later, the blaring truck horns had disappeared, and streets that had been blocked by parked vehicles and roving protesters were open for traffic. Police said they had towed away 57 vehicles and planned to keep them for seven days.
“Reminder that the Secured Area remains in effect,” Ottawa police tweeted Sunday. “We continue to maintain a police presence in and around the area the unlawful protest occupied. We are using fences to ensure the ground gained back is not lost.”
One protest that lingered near parliament drew a stern warning from police: “If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges.”
The protest began as a movement against COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers. But it grew to include other restrictions and even took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose popularity sank like a stone in recent polling.
Teamsters Canada, representing over 55,000 professional drivers, washed its hands of the protest two weeks ago.
“The so-called ‘freedom convoy’ and the despicable display of hate led by the political right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers,” wrote Teamsters Canada President François Laporte.
Pope Francis on Sunday hailed health care workers as heroes for their service, asking the public in St. Peter’s Square to join him in applause. Francis clapped his hands in what he said was a “great thank you” for health workers, including volunteers, who care for the sick. Italy was marking Sunday as a national day to pay tribute to health care workers. The Italian professional association of doctors and dentists counts 370 physicians who have died of COVID-19 in Italy alone.
President Joe Biden said in a letter to Congress that he would extend the national emergency declared in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic that is set to expire March 1. The national emergency, declared by former President Donald Trump, allows the federal government more freedom to spend money and take emergency response actions that would otherwise be restricted.
A Wisconsin child has died of the COVID-19-related Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, becoming the state’s first such fatality and only the 60th in the nation from the rare and poorly understood disease. The child, one of 183 to come down with the disease in Wisconsin, died sometime within the last month, said Tom Haupt, a respiratory disease epidemiologist for the state Department of Health Services. Nationwide there have been 6,851 cases of MIS-C, according to the most recent statistics from the CDC posted Jan. 31.
– Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
Contributing: The Associated Press


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