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Health Highlights: June 16, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

New York Lifts Pandemic Restrictions

New York state has reached a milestone of having at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in 70% of its residents and joined California in lifting many pandemic restrictions on Tuesday.

New York's COVID-19 positivity rate climbed as high as 48.2%, making it the highest in the world at one point. But the rate is now 0.4%, the lowest rate in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, CNN reported.

"This is a momentous day, and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "We can now return to life as we know it."

"We were alone, and it was frightening. It was like living through a science fiction movie ... people abandoned New York, but others stayed and others fought," Cuomo said. "Where are we today? We have the lowest positivity rate in the United States of America. ... We went literally from worst to first."

He announced an immediate end to all state-mandated restrictions in all commercial and social settings, CNN reported.

Mask requirements will remain in pre-K, on public transit and in health care settings, Cuomo said.

California and New York have the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the United States (more than 63,000 and 53,00 respectively), CNN reported.

On Tuesday, COVID-19 deaths in the United States surpassed 600,000.

EU to Lift Restrictions on U.S. Travelers

Restrictions on U.S. travelers to the European Union should be lifted, ambassadors in the 27-member bloc decided Wednesday.

European diplomats spoke about the decision on the condition of anonymity ahead of a planned formal announcement on Friday, the Washington Post reported.

The move would allow a return to near-normal travel between the United States and the EU for the first time since the start of COVID-19 pandemic.

Greece, Portugal, Spain and some other European nations are already accepting vaccinated U.S. travelers, the Post reported.

The United States has yet to say when it will reciprocally lift its ban on E.U. travelers, although that move is expected within weeks, the Post reported.

The resumption of travel will be a major boost to tourism-dependent economies across the continent.

European officials hope that the bloc will reach herd immunity by July. So far, around 45 percent of the nearly 450 million E.U. residents have gotten at least one shot, and around half of those have been fully vaccinated.

Coronavirus Delta Variant Classified 'Variant of Concern' by CDC

The highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus has been classified as a "variant of concern" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was identified in India in December and had been detected in 54 countries by June. It's now one of six variants of concern, The New York Times reported.

The rapid spread of the Delta variant in England has forced the government to postpone the scheduled lifting of all pandemic restrictions on June 21. Some measures will remain in place for four additional weeks.

Data from Britain suggest that the Delta variant is at least 50 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was first spotted in that country, the Times said.

While the Delta variant spreads rapidly and may partially evade some antibody treatments, the CDC stressed that authorized vaccines are highly effective against the variant and urged all people who have not yet been received a COVID-19 shot to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible, the Times reported.

Data from Britain suggests that single doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines are only 33% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant.

"Even though our case counts are declining and people are getting vaccinated, we still have roughly half our population that is unvaccinated," said Summer Galloway, a COVID-19 adviser to the CDC and executive secretary of the SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group, which assesses new variants for the U.S. government, the Times reported.

"We have circulation of a more transmissible variant that is definitely a concern, and our bottom line message here is we want to make sure people are taking this seriously and are getting vaccinated as soon as they're eligible and it's available to them," Galloway said.

The Delta variant "has rapidly become the dominant variant in England," accounting for more than 90 percent of new infections, scientists recently reported.

Monoclonal Antibody Reduces Death Risk in Vulnerable COVID-19 Patients

Regeneron's COVID antibody drug reduces the risk of death in hospitalized patients whose immune systems can't mount a natural response to the coronavirus, a new British study shows.

In this group of patients, those who received Regeneron's antibody drug in addition to standard care (the steroid dexamethasone or the antiviral drug remedesivir) had a 20% lower risk of death after 28 days than those who received standard care alone, The New York Times reported.

The drug provided no statistically significant benefit for COVID-19 patients who were able to mount their own immune response.

"If you already have antibodies, giving you more may not make much difference," trial co-leader Peter Horby, a University of Oxford researcher, said at a news conference, the Times reported.

The findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, are expected to be posted on a preprint server on Wednesday.

In the United States, the drug has emergency authorization for use in high-risk patients who are not yet sick enough to be hospitalized. Regeneron said it plans to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand the approval to allow the drug to be given to appropriate hospitalized patients, the Times reported.

Regeneron's drug is one of three such drugs authorized in the United States, but is the only one currently in use nationwide, the Times said.

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