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Indiana coronavirus updates for Thursday, February 25, 2021

The latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, Feb. 25.

INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday's latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic, including the latest news on COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in Indiana. Registrations for the vaccine are now open for select groups through Indiana State Department of Health. This story will be updated over the course of the day with more news on the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Here's everything we know about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines

ISDH Update

The state is reporting 26 new deaths from COVID-19. That brings the death toll to 12,065 Hoosiers.

There were also 1,109 additional cases bringing the total confirmed cases to 659,127.

Mayor Hogsett, Dr. Caine providing Marion County update Thursday morning

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine are providing an update Thursday, Feb. 25 on the county's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hogsett said the following changes will go into effect Monday, March 1: 

  • Bar capacity will increase to 50 percent with bar seating as long as social distancing is followed (up from 25 percent).
  • Indoor restaurant capacity will increase to 75 percent with social distancing protocols in place (up from 50 percent).
  • The curfew for bars, restaurants and music venues will move to 2 a.m. (back from midnight).
  • Gym and music venue capacity will increase to 50 percent (up from 25 percent).

Hogsett and Caine have set a goal to vaccinate 80 percent of the population in Marion County.

The City of Indianapolis and Marion County Department of Public Health are hosting two webinars to kick off a community ambassador program: 

  • Wednesday, March 3 at 6 p.m. ET in English
  • Thursday, March 4 at 6 p.m. ET in Spanish

To become a community ambassador, go to indy.gov/covid.

Caine said Marion County's goal is to have no more than 35 cases in a day for a minimum period of 2 weeks to slow the spread.

In regards to schools, Caine said she hopes to make the decision by Friday, Feb. 26 on bringing back high school students back to full-time in-person learning.

Sickle cell patients now eligible for vaccine in Indiana

People 16 and older with sickle cell disease are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Indiana.

The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America has recommended that people with SCD get the COVID-19 vaccine because they are at high risk of getting very sick if they get COVID-19.

Patients eligible for the vaccine should contact their health care provider to get registered. The patient will then be contacted by the state about an appointment.

Patients with questions or who need help scheduling a vaccine appointment can call the Indiana Hemophilia and Thrombosis Center in Indianapolis at 317-871-0000.

US jobless claims fall to 730,000 but layoffs remain high

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week but remained high by historical standards.

Applications for benefits declined 111,000 from the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 730,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It is the lowest figure since late November. Still, before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

The latest figures come as the job market has made scant progress in the past three months. Hiring averaged just 29,000 a month from November through January. Though the unemployment rate was 6.3% in January, a broader measure that includes people who have given up on their job searches is closer to 10%.

All told, 19 million people were receiving unemployment aid as of Feb. 6, up from 18.3 million the previous week. About three-quarters of those recipients are receiving checks from federal benefit programs, including programs that provide jobless aid beyond the 26 weeks given by most states.

Northeast side Meijer holding COVID-19 vaccine clinic Thursday

Meijer is holding a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at one of its northeast side locations Thursday, Feb. 25. 

The clinic will take place at the 5550 N. Keystone Ave. store, near the Meridian-Kessler and Broad Ripple neighborhoods.

Meijer said this is not a walk-in event but noted there is some availability Thursday. Anyone 60 years old and over can register by texting COVID to 75049 or online at this link. Once registered, customers will be contacted directly with an appointment time once an appointment window is confirmed for them.

According to a press release, more than 1,000 people are expected to be vaccinated today at the Meijer on Keystone Avenue.

Pfizer exploring 3rd 'booster' dose of vaccine

Despite the 95 percent effectiveness at preventing coronavirus infection after two doses of its vaccine, Pfizer is now seeing what a third dose might do.

The company announced Thursday that a booster dose is being studied among people who received their first doses of the vaccine more than six months ago.

In an interview with NBC News, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said  that a third dose will hopefully boost the immune response even higher, offering better protection against variants.

"We believe that the third dose," Bourla said in an interview NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, "will raise the antibody response 10-to-20-fold."

The new study will monitor two age groups - those 18 to 55 and those 65 to 85. The participants come from the first group of people that received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in May.

RELATED: Pfizer studying effects of 3rd COVID-19 vaccine dose

Latest US, world numbers

There have been more than 28.33 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States as of 3:30 a.m. ET Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 505,000 deaths in the U.S. 

Worldwide, there have been more than 112.55 million confirmed cases with more than 2.49 million deaths and 63.51 million recoveries.

RELATED: See where confirmed Indiana coronavirus cases are with this interactive map

RELATED: VERIFY: Are Indiana’s new COVID-19 case numbers inflated with multiple positive tests for the same person?

The real number of people infected by the virus around the world is believed to be much higher — perhaps 10 times higher in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — given testing limitations and the many mild cases that have gone unreported or unrecognized.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness like pneumonia, or death.

Walmart hosting COVID-19 community vaccine event in Indianapolis

Walmart is working to get COVID-19 vaccine to locations that prioritize access for those deemed most vulnerable, as well as operational capabilities. The retailer will begin administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines with a clinic inside the Indianapolis Urban League at 777 Indiana Ave. 

The clinic will begin vaccinations on Thursday, Feb. 25 for anyone eligible under current Indiana guidelines. Those eligible include: health care workers, first responders and people 60 years and older.

Walmart factored in demographic information, local health needs, staffing and medically underserved data to identify initial locations where the company thinks it can make the greatest impact in increasing vaccine access.

Moderna has created COVID vaccine to battle South African variant

Moderna announced Wednesday it has brewed experimental doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that better match a mutated version of the virus and is ready for tests to tell how the update works.

Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants of the virus that are emerging in different parts of the world. But in case the vaccines eventually need to be updated, manufacturers are working on how to tweak their recipes.

The variant currently sparking the most concern is one that first emerged in South Africa. Moderna said it made doses of vaccine specifically targeted to that variant and shipped them to the National Institutes of Health for study.

U.S. regulators say a revamped vaccine wouldn’t need to be studied for months in thousands of people, but it would need testing in several hundred people to see if their immune systems react similarly to the updated shot as to the original.

Moderna said it also has begun testing whether simply giving a third dose of the original vaccine would offer an extra immune boost that could guard against variants, even if it’s not an exact match.

US has 'lowest flu season' on record during COVID pandemic

February is usually the peak of flu season, with doctors' offices and hospitals packed with suffering patients. But not this year. The flu has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades.

Experts say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — mask wearing, social distancing and virtual schooling — were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of the flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against the flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people traveling.

Another possible explanation: The coronavirus has essentially muscled aside the flu and other bugs that are more common in the fall and winter. Scientists don't fully understand the mechanism behind that, but it would be consistent with patterns seen when certain flu strains predominate over others, according to Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan.

Nationally, “this is the lowest flu season we’ve had on record,” according to a surveillance system that is about 25 years old, said Lynnette Brammer of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.