While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for June 16

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Federal unemployment benefits ending. Since the American Rescue Plan passed in March, the federal government has authorized an extra $300 each week in unemployment money — on top of regular state unemployment benefits. The additional assistance is set to continue until Sept. 6, but states are able to opt out early.

With businesses across the country struggling to hire workers and lackluster job reports from the U.S. Labor Department, Republicans have been quick to point to the $300 bonus as the reason why people aren’t going back to work.

Indiana will end its participation in all federal pandemic unemployment programs effective June 19.

“There are help wanted signs posted all over Indiana, and while our economy took a hit last year, it is roaring like an Indy 500 race car engine now,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “I am hearing from multiple sector employers that they want and need to hire more Hoosiers to grow.”

The governor also recently reinstated work search requirements for those requesting unemployment benefits.

The unemployment rate in Indiana was 3.9% in April 2021, compared to a high of 16.9% in April 2020.

COVID in US as early as 2019? A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.

The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.

“The studies are pretty consistent,” said Natalie Thornburg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There was probably very rare and sporadic cases here earlier than we were aware of. But it was not widespread and didn’t become widespread until late February,” said Thornburg, principal investigator of the CDC’s respiratory virus immunology team.

Fireworks return to Disney. Disney announced on Tuesday fireworks spectaculars will return to Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort in July.

At Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, nightly fireworks performances at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT will resume on July 1.

At Disneyland in California, its nightly fireworks show will return on July 4.

The nightly show at Magic Kingdom in Florida, named “Happily Ever After,” will “transform Cinderella Castle with lights, projections, and pyrotechnics.” The nightly show at EPCOT, named “EPCOT Forever, features “a spectacle of fireworks, music and lighting effects over World Showcase Lagoon.”

At Disneyland, “Mickey’s Mix Magic” returns on July 4 and includes projections on Main Street U.S.A. and Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Taj Mahal reopens. India is reopening its famed marvel of love, the Taj Mahal, and several other monuments as the number of new coronavirus infections continues to decline.

District Magistrate Prabhu Narain Singh said 650 tourists with online bookings will be allowed a day to visit the white marble Taj Mahal from Wednesday. Temperatures will be checked at the gates, face masks must be worn and social distancing norms must be observed. The monument was closed in April amid a surge of new infections in India.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 62,224 new infections in the past 24 hours, which is down from a peak of more than 400,000 new infections a day in April. It also reported 2,542 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 379,573. Both figures are believed to be vast undercounts.

The city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, reported 10 new infections on Tuesday, down from a peak of 500 a day in April.

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