VIRUS TODAY: Some states cautiously ease virus restrictions

Virus Outbreak US Surge

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

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— Several states are loosening their coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of improved infection and hospitalization numbers. Most are moving cautiously, in part because of the more contagious variant taking hold. While the easing could cause case rates to rise, health experts say it can work if done in a measured way and if the public remains vigilant by wearing masks and taking other precautions. The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. has climbed past 425,000, with the number of dead running at close to all-time highs at nearly 3,350 a day on average. But newly confirmed cases have dropped over the past two weeks.

— President Joe Biden is dispatching the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic, which has claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. Beginning Wednesday, the experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak and efforts to control it. Americans can expect a sharp contrast from the Trump administration’s briefings, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation. Wednesday’s briefing will feature the Biden administration’s coordinator for pandemic response, as well as government scientists and public health officials.

— Oklahoma is attempting to return $2 million worth of an anti-malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for the coronavirus. A spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter confirmed Wednesday that Hunter is attempting to negotiate the return of the drug. Oklahoma acquired 1.2 million pills in April from California-based FFF Enterprises. A company spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. The drug has since been shown to have little or no effect on severe cases of COVID-19. A former state health official chalked up Oklahoma’s purchase to “the fog of war.”

THE NUMBERS: According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. declined over the past two weeks, going from 248,202.3 on Jan. 12 to 166,384 on Tuesday. The seven-day rolling average for new daily deaths climbed slightly over the same period, going from 3,344.3 to 3,349.1.

QUOTABLE: “We’re bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way. Any questions you have, that’s how we’ll handle them because we’re letting science speak again,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday while announcing regular briefings on the pandemic.

ICYMI: Biden says the U.S. is ramping up vaccine deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall. Biden is calling the push a “wartime effort.” He said Tuesday that his administration is working to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. And he acknowledged that states in recent weeks have been left guessing how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next. He called that “unacceptable” and said “lives are at stake.”

ON THE HORIZON: You just can’t keep a good city down, especially when Mardi Gras is coming. All around New Orleans, thousands of houses are being decorated as floats because the coronavirus outbreak canceled the elaborate parades mobbed by crowds during the Carnival season and on Fat Tuesday. Some smaller groups announced no-parade plans before the city did. But the “house float” movement started almost as soon as a New Orleans spokesman announced in November that parades were off for the season. Megan Joy Boudreaux says it started as a joke on Twitter, but she began to like the idea and started a Facebook group called the Krewe of House Floats.

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