The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 10:08 a.m. ET, January 9, 2021
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2:14 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

White House task force says there could be a fast-spreading "USA variant" of coronavirus

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A sign Provincetown, Massachusetts, informs people of a mandatory mask zone on July 10.
A sign Provincetown, Massachusetts, informs people of a mandatory mask zone on July 10. Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The US may have its own version of a more transmissible coronavirus that might be helping fuel the already aggressive spread of the virus, the White House coronavirus task force said in its latest report to states this week.

Reports sent by the task force to states dated Jan. 3 warned of the possibility of a “USA variant” of Covid-19.

“This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges. This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible,” reports obtained by CNN said.

The task force called for “aggressive mitigation… to match a much more aggressive virus.”

That mitigation should include the use of face masks, the task force said, and immediate vaccination of as many people as possible.

“Without uniform implementation of effective face masking (two or three ply and well-fitting) and strict social distancing, epidemics could quickly worsen as these variants spread and become predominant.”

The US has been tracking cases of a variant first identified in the UK that appears to be more easily transmitted.

The pandemic continues to rage as the nation has turned its attention to the insurrection at the US Capitol and the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, and the task force continued to warn states of “aggressive community spread” after the holiday season. 

“The United States remains at a high plateau of 140-150,000 confirmed and suspected COVID admissions per week and 120-125,000 total inpatients. Significant continued deterioration, from California across the Sunbelt and up into the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, despite low testing rates during the holidays, suggests aggressive community spread,” the task force reports said. 

The task force reports also called for the establishment of outpatient monoclonal antibody treatment infusion sites “immediately available to save lives.”

And as the nation struggles to rapidly immunize Americans, the reports said that vaccines must “be put in arms now.” 

“Do not delay the rapid immunization of those over 65 and vulnerable to severe disease; recommend creation of high throughput vaccination sites with use of EMT personnel to monitor for potential anaphylaxis and fully utilize nursing students. No vaccines should be in freezers but should instead be put in arms now; active and aggressive immunization in the face of this surge would save lives,” the reports said. 

This week, California is the state with the most new cases per 100,000 population, followed by Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Utah, Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia, and Massachusetts in the top 10. 

Test positivity, an indication of rising cases to come, is highest in Oklahoma, followed by Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. 

Arkansas has the most hospital admissions per 100 inpatient beds, followed by Arizona, Maryland, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, California, District of Columbia, South Carolina, and New Mexico.

And Kansas has the most new deaths per 100,000 population, followed by Wyoming, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona, Tennessee, and Rhode Island.

1:53 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Army and Air Force medical teams arrive to help with California Covid-19 surge

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

As Covid-19 patients continue to flood Southern California hospitals, a team of 20 medical providers from the US Army and Air Force have arrived to help stanch the surge in Riverside County.

“Riverside County hospitals have been stretched well-beyond their licensed capacities to treat a record numbers of patients,” said Bruce Barton, director of the County of Riverside Emergency Management Department. “These resources are critical to help our region treat more of our residents and get through this hospital surge.”

The military medical team, which consists of active duty physician assistants, nurses and respiratory care practitioners arrived Thursday to assist the Riverside University Health System (RUHS). The 439-bed hospital normally averages about 350 patients each day. An additional 121 beds have been added to accommodate the influx of patients, according to RUHS CEO Jennifer Cruikshank.

“These additional Department of Defense staffing resources come at a very important time and are breathing in a renewed energy and hope into our team that will help us continue to provide our expanded services and support the acute healthcare needs of more people in our region during this critical time,” said Cruikshank.

In addition to the military support, RUHS continues to seek additional help and is expecting additional traveler nurses to arrive soon.

1:53 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Yeast infection in hospitalized Covid-19 patients may be linked to PPE re-use, CDC study finds 

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

A worrying fungal infection seen among hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Florida may have been caused by the reuse of personal protective equipment, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said Friday.

They said four cases of Candida auris were probably spread because staff did not follow protocols for preventing spread of the highly infectious yeast. Hospital staff around the country have complained that PPE shortages have forced them to re-use equipment.

Candida auris is a multidrug-resistant yeast that has caused many worrying outbreaks in healthcare settings. It can infect people without causing symptoms and it also can persist on surfaces, so regular sanitation is important in keeping outbreaks at bay. 

It’s also important for staff treating patients with the infection to follow painstaking protocols.

“Investigators observed multiple opportunities for contamination of the base layer of gown and gloves during doffing and through direct contact with the patient care environment or potentially contaminated surfaces such as mobile computers,” the researchers wrote in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Mobile computers and medical equipment were not always disinfected between uses, medical supplies (e.g., oxygen tubing and gauze) were stored in open bins in hallways and accessed by HCP wearing the base PPE layer, and missed opportunities for performing hand hygiene were observed.”

Of the four patients infected with Candida auris, three had bloodstream infections and one had a urinary tract infection. In addition, 35 other Covid-19 patients tested positive for C. auris colonization, representing 52% of the Covid-19 patients at the time. 

Once the hospital improved cleaning practices, took equipment out of hallways, and stopped improper PPE practices, the hospital found no further transmission of Candida auris. 

1:46 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Peru detects first case of Covid-19 variant from the UK

From CNN's Florencia Trucco 

Health Minister Pilar Mazzatti at a press conference in October in Peru.
Health Minister Pilar Mazzatti at a press conference in October in Peru. Joel Alonzo/GEC/GDA via AP

Peru detected the first case of Covid-19 variant from the United Kingdom, the country’s Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti announced on Friday.

The case is a Peruvian woman who lives in Lima and met with family members "before Christmas," but it is unknown exactly how she got it, Mazzetti said.  

Currently the woman is fine and is under isolation and supervision at home, according to Mazzetti. Her family members are being tested. 

Mazzetti also announced on Friday that Peru is not considering going back to phase 1, but that since Jan. 4 all travelers arriving to Peru have to quarantine for 14 days. 

Some background: Coronavirus variants were found in South Africa and the UK, but it's not clear where they began. So far, it appears that both spread more quickly, but they are not more deadly. Vaccine makers and other scientists are studying whether the variants pose a challenge to the vaccines.

1:31 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Covid-19 cases in nursing homes reflect community spread, CDC study finds

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Outbreaks of Covid-19 cases in nursing homes reflect what’s going on in the community, and protecting frail residents means watching what’s going on outside, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday. 

“Increases in community rates might be associated with increases in nursing home COVID-19 incidence,” the CDC-led research team wrote in the CDC’s weekly MMWR report. “Nursing home mitigation strategies need to include a comprehensive plan to monitor local SARS-CoV-2 transmission and minimize high-risk exposures within facilities.”

The study is based on data about Covid-19 cases in nursing home residents and staff members in all 50 states, collected from May 2020 to November 2020.

Out of the total cases of Covid-19 in nursing homes reported, just more than half were in residents, while just less than half were in staff members. Cases in residents rose in June and July, then decreased in August and September. Through October and November Covid-19 rates rose again, reaching a peak in November at the close of the study. 

Trends in Covid-19 cases in residents and staff members were nearly identical. According to the research, these trends were again replicated in the communities surrounding the nursing homes. 

Community spread means that infection risk to nursing home staff members may be coming from inside and outside of the facilities. 

They recommended prioritizing nursing home residents and staff in vaccination phases, and further studying the connection between community spread and spread within nursing home facilities. 

1:31 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Georgia governor "not happy" with vaccination rate in the state 

From CNN’s Lindsey Benson and Devon M. Sayers

Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Georgia has administered 24.88% of the Covid-19 vaccine it has received from the federal government, but the state's governor said he feels that the data on vaccinations by providers is being under reported to the state. 

“At this time, we believe there is a significant under reporting based on the state immunization team's conversations with multiple providers. And we will continue our efforts to ensure the data is transparent, up to date and accurate as we always have,” Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference at the state Capitol. 

When pressed about the vaccination rate he admitted, “I am not happy where we are.”

The governor encouraged citizens to get vaccinated, calling the vaccine “safe.” Kemp said that he would get the vaccine when it was his turn.   

Kemp said the state will have major vaccination centers operating in the metro Atlanta area this weekend. The state will also expand those eligible to get the vaccine. 

"Beginning soon Georgians over 65 and those other priority populations can visit the Georgia Department of Public Health's website to find locations in your community where you can schedule an appointment for the vaccine,” Kemp said. 

“We are going to use every single resource that we have in the state to get this vaccine in people's arms,” he said, adding, “Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do.”  

1:22 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Pfizer vaccine doses can be spaced out up to 6 weeks apart, WHO advisers say

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

A nurse administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a patient in Haxby, England, on December 22.
A nurse administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a patient in Haxby, England, on December 22. Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

The second dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine can be delayed for as long as six weeks if need be, World Health Organization advisers said Friday.

The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), which advises WHO about vaccines, published interim guidance for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine under emergency use listing on Friday. 

“WHO’s recommendation at present is that the interval between doses may be extended up to 42 days (6 weeks), on the basis of currently available clinical trial data,” the guidance document reads.

Pfizer’s vaccine is supposed to be given as two doses 21 days apart. On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden’s team said his administration would release all doses of coronavirus vaccines right away, instead of holding back half to ensure second doses are given on time, as the Trump administration has been doing.

If more information becomes available on longer intervals it may be revised and countries should ensure that any adjustments don’t affect the likelihood of receiving the second dose of vaccine, SAGE said.

Some countries face “exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” the panel said.

1:05 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Denmark limits travel from all countries to curb spread of Covid-19

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen in Milan and Martin Goillandeau

Empty terminal 3 at Copenhagen Airport Kastrup is seen on March 24.
Empty terminal 3 at Copenhagen Airport Kastrup is seen on March 24. Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Denmark will introduce entry restrictions from the rest of the world, in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod said on Friday.

Danish authorities also advise against all travel abroad starting Saturday.

In addition to the recommendations to cancel all travel out of the country, the government will also tighten the restrictions on entry, making it possible only for people with a recognizable purpose and who can present a negative coronavirus test that is a maximum of 24-hours old to enter Denmark. A recognizable purpose may, for example, be having a job or family in Denmark. According to the new regulations, Danes who have been infected with coronavirus abroad will not be able to travel home by plane.

“The new restrictions run until 17 January and also mean that Danes living abroad are encouraged to stay where they are,” Kofod told reporters. “What we are doing now, we are doing so as not to stumble upon the finish line in the fight against the corona,” the minister added.

The move follows a decision this week to further tighten an already stringent economic and social lockdown.

According to the Danish government, a broad section of the population is expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by June. All Danes who accept the offer of the vaccine against coronavirus can be vaccinated with another vaccine no later than June 27, according to a calendar available on the Danish Health Authority's website.

The announcement comes on the day Denmark has secured 3.9 million doses of vaccine, after the European Union entered into a new agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech.

1:44 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Kentucky governor: Release all vaccine doses with "assurances the second dose will be there"

From CNN's Sheena Jones

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear agrees with the President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to release as many Covid-19 vaccine doses as possible, he told CNN on Friday.

This comes after Biden’s team said they will release as much of the vaccine as possible.

“We are ready to vaccinate a lot more people and this would help us, at the same time we have to ensure those second doses come,” Beshear said on CNN. 

Ultimately Beshear wants as many Covid-19 vaccine doses released with "assurances the second dose will be there."

He added the second doses need to come within the correct timeframe so the vaccine is still 95% effect.

“We got to vaccinate as many people as possible,” Beshear said adding, “the vaccine is the only way we can help people and beat this virus,” he said. 

The governor said if the state runs out of people in one group to vaccinate they will move to the next group and vaccinate as many people as possible. 

The next group of people consist of people over 70, bus drivers, and other essential workers, the governor said. 

Kentucky has vaccinated at least 50,000 people in the last three days, he said.