COVID-19 live updates: US daily cases drop from 807,000 to 134,000 in one month

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.8 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 930,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 64.5% 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 18, 12:48 pm
South Carolina to end public COVID testing options and daily data reporting

South Carolina health officials announced Friday that the state will start phasing out public COVID-19 testing options due to the increased availability of at-home tests.

Beginning March 1, publicly operated vendor testing sites will begin closing and publicly operated PCR sites will start shutting down in April.

"A prime driver of these changes is that with increased availability of rapid antigen testing, it is now the most effective testing tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help people make informed decisions about whether to isolate," officials from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a press release.

"DHEC will continue to follow the science and update our guidelines and response to COVID-19 as conditions change," the release said.

Additionally, the state will no longer report daily COVID-19 case counts because at-home test results are rarely reported to health officials.

Instead, case totals will be reported weekly, although data on hospitalizations and deaths will continue to be reported every day.

Feb 18, 12:03 pm
US surgeon general tests positive for COVID

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced Friday he has tested positive for COVID-19 after his young daughter first came down with the virus last week.

In a Twitter thread, Murthy revealed that his wife and 5-year-old son have also tested positive, but only have mild symptoms so far.

Murthy said he and his wife found it difficult to isolate from their 4-year-old daughter while she's been sick because they wanted to comfort her, but added he is relieved the rest of his family was vaccinated and boosted, which will reduce their risk of severe illness.

"When you’ve been as safe as you can, getting COVID-19 can be frustrating and disappointing. I’ve felt that. It can also be a source of shame. Many people assume you must have been careless to get sick. Our safety measures reduce risk but they can’t eliminate risk. Nothing can," Murthy tweeted.

He continued, "One major source of peace of mind for us: we and our son are vaxed/boosted. Vaccines are very effective at saving our lives and keeping us out of the hospital. As parents, I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know we’ll be able to care for our kids even if we get infected."

Feb 18, 11:05 am
US daily average COVID cases fall to lowest point in two months

The daily average of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest point in nearly two months.

Currently, the country is recording an average of 121,000 new infections every day, down sixfold since January.

Over the last seven days, the U.S. has reported 851,000 new COVID-19 cases compared to more than 5.5 million cases reported in one week during last month's peak.

Experts, however, warn Americans not to declare victory just yet; nearly 96% of U.S. counties are still reporting high transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, hospitalizations are also declining across the nation with just under 69,000 COVID patients receiving care in hospitals, down by nearly 57% from the 160,000 patients reported four weeks ago.

Feb 18, 10:10 am
WHO announces six African countries will receive COVID vaccine technology

The World Health Organization announced Friday that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will be the first six countries to receive COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology from a transfer hub.

The hub was established in 2021 to help low-and middle-income countries produce COVID vaccines vaccines for their citizens.

Recently, the hub’s research and development partner, South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, produced small batches of COVID mRNA vaccines from publicly available data from Moderna, despite little to no help from the company.

"No other event like the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting and dangerous," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the European Union - African Union summit. "In the mid- to long-term, the best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need, with equitable access as their primary endpoint.”

Feb 18, 8:40 am
Hawaii is only state without plans to lift mask mandates

Hawaii is the only U.S. state that has not announced intentions to end indoor mask mandates.

States across the country have moved to end masking requirements as cases of COVID-19 continue to drop.

Some governors have ended universal indoor and outdoor masking mandates, while others have lifted statewide face covering requirements for schools.

In a newsletter Wednesday, the Hawaii State Department of Education said there are no current plans to drop mask mandates in classrooms.

Three other states -- California, Maryland and New York -- as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have also not announced end dates for their indoor school face covering mandates.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Feb 17, 7:10 pm
New Mexico ends mask mandate

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday that the state's mask mandate for indoor areas is over, effective immediately.

Masks will still be required for some settings, "including hospitals, long-term care facilities and detention facilities." School districts were allowed to determine if their mandates for classrooms would remain in effect, according to the governor's office.

"Given the continued drop in hospitalizations and the lessening of the burden on our hospitals, it’s time to end the mask mandate. With vaccines, boosters and effective treatment options widely available, we have the tools we need to protect ourselves and keep our fellow New Mexicans safe," Grisham said in a statement.

As of Thursday, 73.5% of eligible New Mexico residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feb 17, 6:55 pm
North Carolina governor urges school districts to drop mask mandates

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged local officials and school districts to end their mask mandates next month.

Mask use indoors has not been universally required in North Carolina since last spring, when the Cooper ended statewide requirements. Each school district in the state has made their own masking requirements.

If COVID-19 trends continue to decline, the governor is encouraging all school districts to drop their mandates starting March 7.

"It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks," Cooper said at a news conference.

As of Thursday, 62.7% of eligible North Carolina residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos, Ben Stein and Leonardo Mayorga

Feb 17, 6:23 pm
Washington state to end mask mandate in March

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that based on the state's COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates, the mandate for masks in indoor settings would end March 21.

"We are approaching a place fairly shortly where we will not have to be wearing masks generally in these in these conditions," he said during a news conference. "And we think this is both good for our health and our education of our children and the total reopening of our economy."

Inslee added that businesses and schools would be allowed to issue their own mask mandate after March 21 if they choose to.

The governor also announced that the requirement for vaccine verification at large events will end on March 1.

ABC News' Zach Ferber and Matt Fuhrman

Feb 17, 5:48 pm
California outlines endemic plan

Gov. Gavin Newsom and California health officials have released a plan to deal with COVID-19 once it becomes an endemic.

The plan, dubbed "SMARTER," will focus on seven areas: shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education and medicine.

Officials said that clear "on and off ramps” for future restrictions, such as mask mandates, will be created specifically for variants.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said case rates could determine future restrictions if the state faces a more deadly variant in the future, while hospital capacity could be the primary indicator if California faces a less virulent variant similar to omicron.

The state will publish a one- to two-page summary of the state’s current recommendations on COVID-19 in the next couple of days, according to Ghaly.

ABC News' Matt Fuhrman

 

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