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COVID-19: Supreme Court blocks worship restrictions

COVID-19: Supreme Court blocks worship restrictions
Patients arrive at Yankee Stadium which now serves as a COVID-19 mass vaccination site while snow falls in New York City on Monday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court has blocked restrictions on large gatherings, including religious services, in Santa Clara County, Calif., as the United States reported nearly 73,000 COVID-19 cases.

Although the restrictions were due to be lifted in a week, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that they violate the First Amendment.

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The court had already struck down California's indoor gathering restrictions, but the state still allowed counties to institute stricter rules.

Santa Clara County allows churches to meet at 20% capacity for any purpose except worship services -- and also allows other businesses, including grocery and retail stores, to operate at 20% capacity.

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A lower court had ruled that the regulations were neutral, but a group of churches in the county challenged that ruling, saying it discriminated against religious institutions.

As of Friday evening the United States reported 511,077 deaths due to the novel coronavirus and 28.5 million cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 72,996 new cases were reported Friday, with an average of 67,207 cases reported daily over the past week.

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The CDC also reported 2,115 deaths Friday, in line with this week's average of 2,113 deaths per day. The number of new cases is down from a mid-January peak when 315,179 cases were reported on a single day.

The number of reported deaths has fluctuated in recent weeks, with Feb. 12 -- when 5,498 new deaths were reported -- having the highest COVID-19 death count so far in 2021.

Also Friday, a panel of FDA advisors endorsed Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for a formal authorization, which is expected this weekend.

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If approved, it will be the third vaccine made available in the United States.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is also the first COVID-19 vaccine that can be fully administered in one shot instead of two.

It had a reported overall efficacy rate of 72% in the United States and 64% in South Africa, where a variant emerged in the fall that is believed to be more contagious than previous strains.

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It has 86% efficacy against severe forms of COVID-19 in the United States, and 82% against severe disease in South Africa.

In June, the FDA said any vaccine that proved to be more than 50% effective would win immediate approval -- a rate similar to the efficacy of the typical seasonal flu shot, which is usually between 40% and 60% effective depending on the year.

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The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines far exceeded that requirement, each reporting roughly 95% efficacy.

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According to the CDC, 72.8 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the United States, with 48.4 million people -- or 14.6% of the population -- having received one or more doses of the vaccine.

Nearly 24 million people -- or 7.1% of the population -- have been vaccinated fully.

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