January 15 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:57 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021
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5:59 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

North Dakota governor says statewide mask mandate will be allowed to expire Monday

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017. Stephen Yang/Getty Images

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday announced the state health officer’s statewide mask mandate will be allowed to expire on Monday. 

Speaking during a news briefing, Burgum said that while officials are seeing lower Covid-19 numbers across the state, "we must remain vigilant." The governor encouraged the public to keep wearing masks "as part of the important work that we need to do to contain this virus and to maintain the strong position that we're in." 

The mask order initially took effect Nov. 14 and was extended from Dec. 14 until Jan. 18, when it will expire, according to a news release from the governor's office. "The extension to Jan. 18 allowed for a 14-day incubation period to pass after Christmas and New Year’s to ensure the state wouldn’t see a surge in cases," according to the release. 

Burgum also announced the executive order that limits capacities at bars, restaurants, and event venues will be modified from requirements to recommendations. This change will also take effect Monday.  

4:07 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden plans to ask Congress for 100,000 coronavirus jobs 

From CNN's Maggie Fox

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware. Matt Slocum/AP

President-elect Joe Biden promised to help vaccinate more Americans against coronavirus by approving a wider range of professionals who can administer vaccines. He also said he would ask Congress to hire 100,000 more public health professionals.

In a fact sheet released before Biden addressed the nation to lay out his coronavirus vaccination plans, the Biden transition team promised to “surge the public health workforce.”

“President-elect Biden has asked Congress to make an historic investment in expanding the public health workforce, funding 100,000 public health workers to nearly triple​ the country’s community health roles,” the fact sheet reads.

“These individuals will be​ hired to work in their local communities to perform vital tasks like vaccine outreach and contact tracing in the near term, and to transition into community health roles to build our long-term public health capacity ​that will help improve quality of care and reduce hospitalization for low-income and underserved communities.” 

State and local public health officials have said their services have lost many staff over the past 15 years and say they don’t have the personnel needed to effectively manage the pandemic. 

Biden also said he’d work to immediately expand those who are OK'd to give vaccines.

“President-elect Biden will address workforce needs by taking steps to allow additional qualified professionals to administer vaccines and strongly encourage states to use their flexibility fully to surge their workforce, including by expanding scope of practice laws and waiving licensing requirements as appropriate,” the statement reads.

“The federal government, in partnership with states, will provide appropriate training, including thorough use of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.”

The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a little-known branch of the US military that includes medical professionals. Many Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff are members of the Public Health Service corps.

“The president-elect will also act swiftly to amend the current COVID-19 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration to permit certain qualified professionals, including retired medical professionals, that are not licensed under state law to administer vaccines to be able to do so with appropriate training in order to expand the number of qualified professionals able to administer the vaccine,” the statement added.

4:16 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden on the state of the pandemic in the US: "We remain in a very dark winter"

President-elect Joe Biden discussed the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, saying the country remains in "a very dark winter."

"Truthfully, we remain in a very dark winter. Infection rates are up we're up to 3,000 to 4,000 deaths a day as we approach a grim milestone of 400,000 deaths in America. That's staggering, to state the obvious," Biden said this afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware, during a Covid-19 news conference. "[T]he vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far."

Some context: The official global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The tragic milestone came just over a year after the first Covid-19 death was reported in Wuhan, China.

The US has recorded by far the highest total death toll in the world, followed by Brazil, India and Mexico. But the pandemic has reached every corner of the globe, and only a few tiny, isolated nations have reported no deaths.


4:05 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Better communication with states about Covid-19 vaccine allocation is needed, Biden says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware. Matt Slocum/AP

President-elect Joe Biden pledged to better communicate with states about vaccine distribution, in the hopes of having a little less confusion about how many doses are coming and when.

In a fact sheet released as Biden relayed his vaccine plan Friday, the Biden transition team pledged to make sure as many doses of vaccine are made available as possible and as fast as possible. But clear communication is also needed.

It’s an especially important promise after states discovered Friday that the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed was not holding millions of vaccine doses in reserve, as had been widely assumed.

Governors, immunization managers and other officials expressed anger and dismay when they learned the Trump’s administration’s comments about holding back doses to ensure everyone who got a first dose would get a second one did not mean those second doses actually existed.

States were also confused about their initial allocations of vaccines in December.

“To effectively plan and scale distribution, states and localities rely on both advanced understanding of their allocations and timely delivery of their ordered doses,” the transition team said in the fact sheet. "Under President-elect Biden’s plan, the federal government will provide regular projections of the allocations states and localities will receive. The federal government will build on the operational plans in place to ensure the effective distribution, storage, and transit of vaccines to states, including support for maintaining or augmenting the vaccine-specific required cold chain." 

The Biden team did not abandon the idea of holding some doses back in reserve.

“President-elect Biden’s plan will release the ​vast majority​ of the vaccines when they are available, so ​more​ people can get vaccinated quickly​, while still retaining a ​small reserve​ for any ​unforeseen​ shortages or delays,” the fact sheet read.


4:10 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden plans to encourage vaccinating all Americans 65 and older to speed Covid-19 vaccination

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris listens as President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris listens as President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater on January 15 in Wilmington, Delaware. Matt Slocum/AP

President-elect Joe Biden plans to encourage states to vaccinate all Americans 65 and older in an effort to speed up the vaccination process. Biden is set to speak soon from Delaware on his plan to administer the vaccine.

“The process of establishing priority groups was driven by science, but the implementation has been too rigid and confusing. We now see doses of vaccines sitting in freezers unused while people who want the vaccine cannot get it,” the Biden transition team said in a fact sheet released Friday afternoon.

The current Operation Warp Speed team under President Trump has also encouraged states to broaden their vaccination guidelines beyond what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended. Only about 40% of doses of vaccine distributed have made it into people’s arms, according to the latest CDC data released Friday.

On Friday, the CDC reported 31 million doses of vaccine have been distributed and 12 million doses have been given to people.

Biden also said his administration would support the establishment of new, federally supported community vaccination centers across the country; pay states back for any use of the National Guard to roll out vaccines; set up mobile vaccination clinics; help make more vaccines available in pharmacies and work more closely with federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), which provide health care to 30 million people.

“Given the critical role that these providers play in their communities, Biden will launch a new program to ensure that FQHCs can directly access vaccine supply where needed,” the transition team said.

“At the same time, the Administration will encourage jurisdictions to engage and work closely with health centers in their community vaccination planning. And to ensure that health centers have the resources they need to successfully launch vaccination programs, President-elect Biden has called on Congress to provide additional funds to support community health centers, and HHS will launch a new program to provide guidance, technical assistance, and other resources to prepare and engage these providers nationwide," the statement continued.


3:11 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden Covid-19 adviser: "We want to open the floodgates on vaccination"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Rick Bright testifies on May 14, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Rick Bright testifies on May 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. Shawn Thew/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Rick Bright, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, said the administration plans to “push harder” on vaccinations as quickly as possible.

“We want to open the floodgates on vaccination and make sure everyone who wants to get vaccinated can do so as quickly as possible,” Bright told CNN’s Brianna Keilar. “It's going to take a lot of effort, a lot of hard work, and we're going to do as much as we can as fast as we can.”

Bright said the Biden administration plans to partner with states and strive for equity in vaccinations.

Bright was ousted from his role leading the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and filed an extensive whistleblower complaint alleging that his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored.

Operation Warp Speed under the Trump administration has “been very chaotic, very disruptive, and certainly not transparent and not in a coordinated fashion from the federal to state level,” Bright added. “President-elect Biden is going to improve those coordination[s], improve that communication so we can improve the efficiency by which we’re going to vaccinate Americans.”

2:15 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

US has administered more than 12 million doses to 10.6 million people, CDC says

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

People wait in line in a Disneyland parking lot to receive Covid-19 vaccines on January 13 in Anaheim, California.
People wait in line in a Disneyland parking lot to receive Covid-19 vaccines on January 13 in Anaheim, California. Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

The US has given more than 12 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 10.6 million people, according to data posted Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This breaks down to roughly 7 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 5 million from Moderna.

More than 1.6 million people have already received both doses of a vaccine, CDC said. The numbers indicate 900,000 more people have received a first dose of vaccine in the past day, and that just over 39% of vaccines distributed have gone into arms.

The data, which are current as of 6 a.m. Friday, shows 31,161,075 doses distributed, 12,279,180 doses administered; 10,595,866 people who have gotten at least one dose; and 1,610,524 people who have gotten both doses. The total doses administered comprise 7,153,268 from Pfizer/BioNTech, 5,122,662 doses from Moderna, and 3,250 that are not identified.

1:17 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

New, more contagious coronavirus variants mean US must double down on mitigation, vaccination, CDC says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

The threat of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus means the US must double down on efforts to protect people until a large number can be vaccinated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. 

A variant first identified in Britain known as B.1.1.7 is being found in the US as well, and modeling indicates it could worsen the already terrible spread of the virus across the country, the CDC researchers said.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report, the MMWR.

“Variant B.1.1.7 has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months.”

That means people need to do more to make sure everyone uses masks, tries harder to maintain social distancing and takes other measures known to reduce the risk of transmission. “Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public,” the researchers added. 

Plus, the CDC needs to do more to keep an eye out for new variants, and for the appearance of this one. 

“CDC has also contracted with several large commercial clinical laboratories to rapidly sequence tens of thousands of SARS-CoV-2– positive specimens each month and has funded seven academic institutions to conduct genomic surveillance in partnership with public health agencies, thereby adding substantially to the availability of timely genomic surveillance data from across the United States,” the team wrote.

“In addition to these national initiatives, many state and local public health agencies are sequencing SARS-CoV-2 to better understand local epidemiology and support public health response to the pandemic.” 

It's not clear just how much more contagious any of the new variants are, the CDC noted. One variant first identified in South Africa and another one found in Japan among travelers from Brazil have yet to show up in US surveillance, the team said.

B.1.1.7 has been found in at least 50 countries and in a dozen US states.


1:24 p.m. ET, January 15, 2021

UN secretary general calls on nations to share vaccines as world surpasses 2 million Covid-19 deaths

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Richard Roth

UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks in a video message on January 15.
UN Secretary General António Guterres speaks in a video message on January 15. United Nations

In wake of the Covid-19 pandemic claiming 2 million lives, the head of the United Nations has called for countries to "commit now" to share excess doses of vaccines.

"The world’s leading economies have a special responsibility. Yet today we are seeing a vaccine vacuum. Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all," UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a video message on Thursday. 

"Some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need. Governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, but 'vaccinationalism' is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery," Guterres said. "We need manufacturers to step up their commitment to work with the COVAX facility and countries around the world to ensure enough supply and fair distribution. We need countries to commit now to sharing excess doses of vaccines."

Guterres specifically referred to COVAX, a World Health Organization global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries. 

"Sadly, the deadly impact of the pandemic has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort. In the memory of those two million souls, the world must act with far greater solidarity," Guterres said in his video message. 

"Safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out — and the UN is supporting countries to mobilize the largest global immunization effort in history. We are committed to making sure that vaccines are seen as global public goods — people’s vaccines."