January 4 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, January 5, 2021
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11:08 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

US considering cutting Moderna vaccine doses in half to speed up roll out

From CNN's Michael Nedelman and Dr. Sanjay Gupta

A nurse unpacks a box of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020.
A nurse unpacks a box of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration will meet this week to consider giving half-doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to people aged 18 to 55.

The move could make the vaccine available to twice as many people in this age group, according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the US government's vaccine program.

Slaoui told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that the decision to cut the current 100-microgram dose in half, with another half-dose 28 days later, ultimately rests in the hands of the FDA.

Earlier data showed that binding and neutralizing antibody responses were similar among participants under 55 who received either 100-microgram or 50-microgram doses, Slaoui said. While an FDA briefing document last month also references these “comparable” immune responses from Moderna’s phase 2 study, the full data have not yet been published.

Slaoui said he’s “not sure it holds for Pfizer,” whose dose contains 30 micrograms. But that’s a conversation that has yet to happen, he added.

CNN has reached out to Moderna and Pfizer for comment. The US government previously secured 200 million doses each of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines.

10:58 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

US CDC hopes to double the number of coronavirus samples checked for new mutations

From CNN Health’s Elizabeth Cohen

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hopes to more than double the number of coronavirus genomes sequenced to watch for new mutations in the US over the next two weeks, a top official said Sunday.

The United States is now sequencing about 3,000 samples a week and the CDC hopes to more than double that to about 6,500 per week, according to Dr. Gregory Armstrong, director of the Office of Advanced Molecular Detection at the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Scientists sequence the genome -- the entire genetic map of the virus -- to find mutations that could affect how the virus spreads.

British scientists found a new variant of the virus was spreading there and say the pattern of mutations makes it more easily transmitted, although it does not appear to cause more severe disease.

It's now been found in at least 37 countries, including in the US, where cases have been identified in California, Colorado and Florida.

"It's important that we monitor the virus and that we be able to pick up these trends that have implications for public health and clinical medicine," Armstrong told CNN.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly described who is sequencing 3,000 coronavirus samples a week. 

Read the full story:

8:09 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

Data on whether Covid-19 variant first seen in UK is resistant to vaccine expected this week

From CNN Health’s Elizabeth Cohen

Test results are expected this week from labs that are studying whether a variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain might pose a challenge to Covid-19 vaccines, according to a World Health Organization official.

Scientists in the UK and elsewhere have taken blood from people who have been vaccinated. They are testing those samples to see if the antibodies created by the vaccine protect against the new strain, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for coronavirus response.

They’re also taking blood from people who have been infected with the new variant to see how well the vaccine works against it, Van Kerkhove said.

Pfizer and Moderna, the makers of the two vaccines authorized in the US, are working to see if the vaccine is effective against different variants of the virus.

On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the immune response from the vaccines was “very likely” to protect against the new variant.

The UK variant has 17 mutations, an unusually high number.

Scientists are also doing tests to assess the vaccine’s efficacy against a variant found in South Africa that has 22 mutations, Van Kerkhove said.

10:48 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The United States reported 125,544 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 33rd consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations. 

The highest hospitalization numbers according to CTP data are: 

  1. Jan. 3: 125,544
  2. Dec. 31: 125,379
  3. Dec. 30: 125,218
  4. Jan. 1: 125,047
  5. Dec. 29: 124,693
7:56 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

US surgeon general and Fauci push back against Trump's Covid-19 death toll claim

From CNN's Devan Cole

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams on Sunday said he has "no reason to doubt" the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid-19 death toll, contradicting President Donald Trump's claim that the agency has "exaggerated" its numbers.

"From a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers," Adams told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" when asked about Trump's claim.

"And I think people need to be very aware that it's not just about the deaths, as we talked about earlier," he added. "It's about the hospitalizations, the capacity. These cases are having an impact in an array of ways and people need to understand there's a finish line in sight, but we've got to keep running toward it."

Earlier Sunday, Trump claimed on Twitter that the number of cases and deaths of the "China Virus is far exaggerated" because of the CDC's "ridiculous method of determination" compared to other countries, which "report, purposely, very inaccurately and low."

"'When in doubt, call it Covid,'" Trump wrote in a tweet.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, also pushed back against the President's claim on Sunday when asked about it, telling ABC News that "the deaths are real deaths."

"In many areas of the country, the hospital beds are stretched. People are running out of beds, running out of trained personnel who are exhausted right now," Fauci said. "That's real. that's not fake. That's real."

CNN reported In September that the CDC had to double down against rumors suggesting that coronavirus deaths have been greatly exaggerated, with the agency's top expert on mortality saying people are misinterpreting standard death certificate language.

7:52 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

California's hospitals are on the brink as cases continue to surge

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe and Eric Levenson

California reported Sunday that 45,352 people newly tested positive for Covid-19, continuing a surge that has pushed hospitals and their exhausted staff to the brink.

Around the United States, hospitals are racing to keep up with surges of Covid-19 patients at numbers they have not seen at any other time in the pandemic.

Overall, at least 125,000 people nationwide were in the hospital with coronavirus on Sunday, marking more than a month that the number of hospitalizations has exceeded 100,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Emergency room officials in California said hospitals are treating an unprecedented number of coronavirus patients, including some health care workers.

At Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, 44 employees in the emergency department tested positive for the virus between December 27 and January 1, according to Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager.

Chavez said in a separate statement that the medical center is investigating whether an inflatable, air-powered costume may have played a role in the spread.

"A staff member did appear briefly in the emergency department on Dec. 25th wearing an air-powered costume," Chavez said. "Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent, and quite accidental, as the individual had no Covid symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time."

Chavez said in the statement that air-powered costumes will no longer be allowed at the facility.

Military support: In Southern California, design and construction experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers have been deployed to the Los Angeles area to "evaluate and where necessary upgrade oxygen delivery systems" at about a half dozen hospitals.

One area hospital converted administrative offices and break rooms into treatment areas for their coronavirus patients, said Col. Julie Balten, commander of the Los Angeles District for the Corps of Engineers.