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VIRUS TODAY: Lawmakers call for race data on vaccine access

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, people line up for the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site outside St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the Bronx borough of New York. Democratic lawmakers are urging federal health officials to address racial disparity in vaccine access nationwide, as data from some states show hard-hit nonwhite Americans who are eligible to receive it are not getting COVID-19 vaccinations in proportion to their share of the population. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Here’s what’s happening Thursday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY:

— Democratic lawmakers are urging federal health officials to address racial disparity in vaccine access nationwide in a letter sent to the acting Health and Human Services secretary, Norris Cochran IV. Data from some states has shown hard-hit nonwhite Americans who are eligible to get the vaccine are not receiving it in proportion to their share of the population. In the letter, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, all of Massachusetts, say the agency must work with states, municipalities and private labs to collect and publish demographic data about vaccine recipients. Without that information, policymakers and health workers cannot efficiently identify vaccine disparities in the hardest-hit communities, the lawmakers say.

— New York may have undercounted COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents by as much as 50%, the state’s attorney general said in a report. Attorney General Letitia James has been examining discrepancies for months between the number of deaths being reported by the state’s Department of Health, and the number of deaths reported by the homes themselves. Her investigators looked at a sample of 62 of the state’s roughly 600 nursing homes. They reported 1,914 deaths of residents from COVID-19, while the state Department of Health logged only 1,229 deaths at those same facilities If that same pattern exists statewide, James’ report said, it would mean the state is underreporting deaths by nearly 56%.

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— State lawmakers around the U.S. are moving to curb the authority of governors and top health officials to impose emergency restrictions such as mask rules and business shutdowns. Many legislators are resentful of the way governors have issued sweeping executive orders. They are pushing back in states such as Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Some governors say they need authority to act quickly and decisively against the fast-changing threat.

THE NUMBERS: According to data through Jan. 27 from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 244,872.7 on Jan. 13 to 162,067.1 on Jan. 27. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 3,356.9 on Jan. 13 to 3,287.3 on Jan. 27.

QUOTABLE: “We think, ‘Well, OK, it’s like men’s shirts, right? I’ll just have another place to make it.’ It’s just not that easy." Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a vaccine adviser to the U.S. government, on the slow and steady process of scaling up vaccine production.

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ICYMI: A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time. South Carolina officials say two such cases have been diagnosed in the state. Viruses mutate constantly, and many variants of the coronavirus are circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with three that appear to spread more easily. Other variants first reported in the United Kingdom and Brazil were already confirmed in the U.S. Researchers predicted it was only a matter of time before the variant identified in South Africa reached the United States as well.

ON THE HORIZON: In North Carolina’s largest city, Magena Morris, Tyler Bone and Nic White are on a mission to help homeless people, a population that has grown during the pandemic and economic downturn. Once a month, they bring racks loaded with clothes into Charlotte’s largest homeless encampment and invite residents to shop their free store. The idea behind the racks is to give residents of “tent city” the feeling of browsing a normal store and spare them having to dig through piles of secondhand apparel. Through donations collected in drop-boxes and online, they’re providing not just clothes but much-needed goods from batteries to books.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic