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Number of Americans fully vaccinated tops 100 million

DALLAS • Disneyland reopened on Friday and cruise lines welcomed the news that they could be sailing again in the U.S. by midsummer, as the number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached another milestone: 100 million.

Visitors cheered and screamed with delight as the Southern California theme park swung open its gates for the first time in 13 months in a powerful symbol of the U.S. rebound, even though the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth is allowing only in-state guests for now and operating at just 25% capacity.

The reopening and similar steps elsewhere around the country reflect increasing optimism as COVID-19 deaths tumble and the ranks of the vaccinated grow – a stark contrast to the worsening disaster in India and Brazil and the scant availability of vaccines in many poor parts of the world.

In fact, the U.S. said Friday it will restrict travel from India starting Tuesday, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

While the overall number of lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S. has eclipsed 575,000, deaths have plummeted to an average of about 670 per day from a peak of around 3,400 in mid-January.

Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 55% of adults have received at least one dose.

However, about 8% of those who have gotten one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have not returned for their second shot, officials said. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said it is important to complete the course to gain maximum protection against the coronavirus.

“Make sure you get that second dose,” he said at a White House briefing.

Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and a visiting professor of health policy at George Washington University, said fully vaccinating about 40% of American adults is a great achievement but not enough.

“The hardest part is ahead of us,” she said. “I’m very concerned that we are not going to come anywhere close to reaching herd immunity in 2021.”

Wen noted that Fauci has estimated 70% to 85% of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

The immunization drive has slowed in recent weeks, even as shots have been thrown open to all adults. Wen said better weather and falling case counts will make it harder to reach people who have not yet been vaccinated.

“Those people who are on the fence about getting a vaccine may have less reason to get one now because they don’t see coronavirus as an existential crisis anymore,” she said.

CDC officials also reported Friday that it was anxiety – not a problem with the shots – that caused fainting, dizziness and other reactions reported in 64 people at vaccine clinics in five states in early April. None got seriously ill.

Cruise lines, meanwhile, cheered the news that the CDC is committed to resuming sailing in the U.S. by midsummer and is adjusting some of the rules to speed the process.

Earlier this week, the CDC said in a letter to the industry that it will let ships cruise without going through practice trips first if 98% of the crew and 95% of the passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The voices of community leaders and the wider cruise community are being heard – and we are very grateful for that,” said Laziza Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association.

U.S. cruises have been shut down by the pandemic since March 2020.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he expects to see COVID-19 restrictions lifted and the city “fully reopen” by July 1. He cited rising vaccination rates and decreasing hospitalizations.

“We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength,” he said on MSNBC.

However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has maintained throughout the crisis that such decisions are his alone, and he said Thursday he would like to lift restrictions even sooner.

“I don’t want to wait that long. I think if we do what we have to do, we can be reopened earlier,” he said.

Cuomo said on Friday that New York City can increase indoor dining to 75% of capacity starting May 7.

In Michigan, which in recent weeks became the worst hot spot in the U.S., the numbers are finally showing improvement, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to tie the lifting of restrictions to the state’s vaccination rate.

After sad Mother's Day 2020, vaccines offer sweet reunions

NEW YORK • When Leland Stein heads to his 93-year-old mother's senior living facility for Mother's Day, he'll have flowers in hand, a bottle of bubbly and a year's worth of hugs.

"I miss Leland's visits very much," said Sondra Green, a retired Vassar College drama professor who counts Meryl Streep among her former students. "I'm just very grateful for his presence."

Many moms, grandmothers and their offspring around the U.S. will be equally thrilled. They were forced to hold off on the physical joys of Mother's Day last year amid pandemic fears and restrictions. This time around, vaccinations and abiding by post-shot waiting periods have brought more security and comfort to bring on the hugs and kisses for sweet in-person — and indoor — reunions.

Of course, not everyone will feel that joy. There are those mourning for mothers lost to COVID-19, and others who are refraining from socializing in person until they, too, can get vaccinated.

During the pandemic, the 64-year-old Stein and his elegant mom have met just once, about six months ago outside of her Brookdale Senior Living location in downtown Manhattan. He couldn't keep away, particularly since Green lost her husband just months before the pandemic took hold, but it was a long trip from his home in Arlington, Massachusetts, for a brief visit on the lawn.

Green's three other sons live in the West, too far to make a Mother's Day trip.

Stein, too, has been feeling the separation and the sting of isolation. At the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, the performance space he manages, the Regent Theatre in Arlington, was shut down as the world headed into emergency mode.

"It was Friday the 13th," he recalled. "We had a sold-out show at the theater and the rug was pulled out from under us. I had just lost a relationship, so I lost my relationship, my community, my family. That was a lot to deal with and I have to say, having my mom still around was very helpful. My mom was cool, calm and collected."

Raising four boys, Green joked, "you have to stay calm."

Heather Krug, 49, in Los Angeles hasn't seen her extrovert of a mother, Brenda Krug, in a year and a half. Brenda, too, lives in a senior living community, on the other side of the country in the Long Island hamlet of Woodbury, New York.

"She's been pretty much without family throughout this," said Krug, who has a sister in the Boston area. "I knew as soon as I was able to get the vaccine I would feel more comfortable about flying but also that I wouldn't be bringing COVID to her or anybody in her community. It's been pretty tough."

The two will mark Mother's Day and the 81-year-old Brenda's June birthday at the same time. And, bonus, Heather will meet Brenda's boyfriend for the first time after Heather's dad died a couple years ago.

"They met during COVID, which is a good thing because it's kept her spirits up. It's the first person she's dated since my father passed," Heather said. "I'm sure she has a list of things she needs me to do. One is get her on Zoom because that's been an issue, but she's handling everything much better than me."

Heather's sister managed a two-hour rendezvous with their mom over the summer for a restaurant meal outdoors, but she has also kept her distance to be safe. A high school friend of Heather's on Long Island assisted Brenda, who still works as an interior designer, when she came down with COVID-19 in the chaotic early days of the pandemic.

Brenda, who is also missing her recently departed dog, was excited for her up-close Mother's Day.

"I only saw my girls and grandchildren on FaceTime. It's not the same, you know," she said. "We're definitely a hugging kind of family."

Maricela Waugh, a 30-something relationship consultant in Los Angeles known professionally as Spicy Mari, has a huge Mother's Day surprise for her mom, Marta. Marta, who has been on the job in San Diego as an essential worker for FedEx throughout the pandemic, has wanted a grandchild for years.

She's about to get her wish. Waugh is pregnant.

"She's going to be flabbergasted," said Waugh, the oldest of three siblings and the first to be expanding her family.

"It's the ultimate gift," Waugh said. "We're extremely close. I tell my mother everything and it's been really hard because I don't really know what to do. I've been asking her a lot of hypothetical questions like, 'When did you start getting stretchmarks?'"

The two haven't seen each other since April last year, when they got together for a quick meal out.

"We've done a few FaceTimes and only from the chest up as this baby bump has grown. But she's been like, oh you must be gaining the quarantine 15," Waugh said.

One thing's for certain, she said: "I know she's going to cry. My mom is such a crier."

Mari, who has chosen not to get vaccinated during her pregnancy, plans a brunch outdoors at a Malibu restaurant with mom and other vaccinated loved ones to announce her son's upcoming arrival.

"I've missed everyone so I'm super excited to bring everyone together for Mother's Day," she said.

For months, the pandemic kept Janice Shear, 67, from her 41-year-old daughter, Meredith, who has Down syndrome and lives just 15 miles away in a group home run by the nonprofit AHRC Nassau in Rockville Centre, New York.

Meredith's 40th birthday party, with more than 100 guests, was canceled in March last year and the home barred visitors, while Janice's senior living community asked residents to isolate. Janice would make drive-by visits in the car and wave, rather than their usual twice-a-week visits and weekends home for Meredith pre-pandemic.

Last July, restrictions loosened slightly and they managed regular meetups. Now, both are vaccinated, along with other family members. They plan a Mother's Day barbecue at the nearby home of Meredith's sister and her family.

"Last year it was sad. Meredith was my first child. She made me a mother, and pulling up in my car and just seeing her on the front step and then driving away, it was hard," Janice said.

Mother's Day came early for Vanessa Gordon, a Sag Harbor, New York, mom of a 3-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

Gordon, 32, and her husband have been vaccinated, along with her 87-year-old grandmother and an aunt. She hadn't seen her grandmother in three years, so decided on a trip to The Villages, near Orlando, Florida, to combine her husband's birthday, Mother's Day and Easter on March 28. Gordon sees her mother regularly; she wasn't fully vaccinated and didn't make the trip.

The group dined out at a country club and caught up with some old friends, all of whom had been vaccinated. They visited Disney World, organized Easter baskets for the kids, baked a birthday cake and cooked meals together.

"I was thrilled," Gordon said. "It was wonderful. When you don't see somebody for such a long time, it's almost as if time never went by. That three years, in a way, disappeared."

Analysis: Mississippi legislators sidestep some division

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers grabbed national headlines this year by banning transgender athletes from competing on girls' or women's sports teams. They walked away from some other divisive issues during their three-month session.

Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune argued in favor of the transgender sports bill, and she stood behind Republican Gov. Tate Reeves as he signed it into law. Hill filed a separate bill that would have prohibited hormone treatments or surgery from being performed on transgender minors.

Senate Bill 2171, the "Transgender 21 Act," died because it was not brought up for votes in the Senate Public Health Committee and the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. Arkansas legislators passed a similar bill this year, pushing it into law over the veto of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hill also sponsored Senate Resolution 56, which died when it was not brought up for a vote in the Senate Rules Committee. It would have had the Mississippi Senate express disapproval of "critical race theory," which examines the ways racism affects culture, politics and law.

In September, then-President Donald Trump issued orders banning federal agencies and contractors from using critical race theory in training. Critics said the Republican was trying to portray white people as victims to curry favor with conservative voters. Democratic President Joe Biden repealed the ban soon after he took office in January.

Hill is a Trump supporter, and her resolution said "critical race theory and related ideologies propagate divisive and untrue concepts that teach one race or sex is inherently superior to another and that individuals of one race or sex should be deprived of basic rights simply because of their race or sex."

While Reeves never publicly took a stance on Hill's resolution, he said Thursday during a Fox News event with other Republican governors: "There is not systemic racism in America. We live in the greatest country in the history of mankind."

House Concurrent Resolution 62, was filed by Republican Reps. Chris Brown of Nettleton, Dan Eubanks of Walls and Dana Criswell of Olive Branch, was nearly identical to Hill's resolution. It died for lack of a vote in the House Rules Committee. Their resolution said: "we affirm our resolute opposition to the promotion of race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating and condemn the use of divisive concepts and theories that propagate such stereotyping and scapegoating."

Stereotyping and scapegoating based on race have been prevalent in Mississippi history. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, near the state Capitol, gives a thorough account of lynching and other terrorism inflicted on Black people.

One of the atrocities examined in the museum is the 1955 killing of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old from Chicago who spent that summer with relatives in the Mississippi Delta. Till was kidnapped and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman working in a store in the tiny community of Money. His mutilated body was later pulled from the Tallahatchie River, and his mother insisted on an open casket at his Chicago funeral so the world could see the torture inflicted on her son.

In his 2017 book "The Blood of Emmett Till," author Timothy B. Tyson quoted the white woman from the store, Carolyn Bryant Donham, as saying she wasn't truthful when she claimed Till grabbed her and made sexual advances.

During the legislative session this year, Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville filed House Resolution 1, which would have been an apology from the state of Mississippi for what happened to Till. The resolution died when it didn't come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee.

The resolution said that "in light of the recent confession by Carolyn Bryant that her story, which led to the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, was fabricated and nothing but falsehoods, the time has come for Mississippi to apologize for its part in creating a toxic environment ... that ultimately led to the murder of Emmett Till."