January 16 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Brett McKeehan and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT) January 18, 2021
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1:37 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

US states put smokers in line for Covid-19 vaccine, sparking frustration among those lower in priority

From CNN's Lauren del Valle

Covid-19 vaccine vials at Roseland Community Hospital on December 18, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois.
Covid-19 vaccine vials at Roseland Community Hospital on December 18, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

US federal guidelines recommend that smokers under the age of 65 -- considered high-risk for severe Covid-19 symptoms -- be eligible for the vaccine in early phases of distribution, frustrating essential workers lower in the priority line.

New Jersey and Mississippi are offering the vaccine to smokers under the age of 65. Several other states have included smokers among those next in line, but haven't opened the phase yet, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. 

The move to prioritize smokers over essential workers like teachers has received some criticism, though the phased rollout is in line with federal guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control that place smoking on a list of conditions "that cause increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes Covid-19."

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advises smokers to be vaccinated in Phase 1C, although states can ultimately use their discretion in how they open eligibility to constituents. 

Phase 1C includes people 65-74 years of age, people 16-64 years of age with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers. Phase 1A includes health care workers and long-term care facility residents, and Phase 1B includes people 75 or older and non-health care frontline/essential workers.

3:23 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

South Korea's social distancing rules to remain in place until the end of January

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

A woman wearing a face mask walks near a park, which is taped off to comply with social distancing measures in Seoul, South Korea on January 14.
A woman wearing a face mask walks near a park, which is taped off to comply with social distancing measures in Seoul, South Korea on January 14. Lee Jin-man/AP

South Korea is extending its social distancing rules by 2 weeks until January 31, the country's Health Ministry said in a news release Saturday. 

A ban on gatherings of five or more people will also remain in place until the end of January, the ministry added. 

Seoul Metropolitan Area has been under social distancing level 2.5, the second-highest level, since early December, while the rest of the country has been on level 2, the third-highest level.

Under existing rules, dining in at restaurants in Seoul and surrounding areas is banned after 9 p.m. Spectators are also banned at sporting events.

These social distancing measures were set to expire on Sunday. But while the number of new daily cases is decreasing, the Health Ministry said the danger of a resurgence remains.

Minister of Health Kwon Deok-cheol said the government will review social distancing levels once daily cases fall to 400.

South Korea's cases: The country reported 547 local and 33 imported infections on Friday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said in a news release Saturday. That takes South Korea's total reported caseload to 71,820.

Another 19 patients died, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,236.

The Health Ministry designated the first half of February as a special quarantine period in anticipation of increased traffic during the Lunar New Year festival next month.

Inter-city trains will only be allowed to fill 50% of seats, while visits to nursing facilities will be banned.

12:24 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

US HHS Secretary Azar doesn't mention nearly 400,000 pandemic deaths in his resignation letter

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference on January 12, in Washington, DC.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference on January 12, in Washington, DC. Patrick Semansky/AP

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar submitted his resignation letter earlier this week, as any Cabinet secretary in an outgoing administration should do.

And, as many do in a resignation letter, he outlined his accomplishments.

Azar mentions the coronavirus pandemic first and it was, by far, the biggest development of Donald Trump’s presidency. More than 390,000 Americans have died in the pandemic and more than 23 million have been diagnosed with the virus.

But in his letter, Azar doesn’t mention those numbers, the federal government’s failure to warn of a pandemic for weeks, or the delayed rollout of tests that public health experts say impacted the US response during crucial weeks that could have slowed the spread of Covid-19.

Azar does not mention disagreements over the danger of the virus -- Trump repeatedly claimed it would “disappear” -- and doesn’t mention arguments over mandating or even recommending the use of masks to slow the spread.

Instead, Azar characterizes his department’s actions as early and aggressive.

“While we mourn every lost life, our early, aggressive and comprehensive efforts saved hundreds of thousands or even millions of American lives,” Azar writes in the letter, dated January 12. 
“Operation Warp Speed achieved in nine months what many doubted would be possible in a year and a half or more.
“As of this date, we have two safe and effective vaccines being administered to millions of Americans, with more vaccines likely to be authorized shortly.”

Operation Warp Speed repeatedly promised 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December. As of Friday -- three days after Azar submitted the letter -- 10.6 million people had been vaccinated.

12:21 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

US Health and Human Services Secretary Azar complains of tarnished legacy in resignation letter

By CNN Health's Maggie Fox

President Donald Trump's "actions and rhetoric" have tarnished the administration's legacy, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a resignation letter submitted this week.

Azar submitted the standard resignation letter for a Cabinet secretary to offer an outgoing president, dated January 12 and obtained by CNN Friday.

In the letter, addressed to Trump, Azar laid out what he considered to be the best accomplishments of HHS over the past four years.

"Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during this past week, threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this Administration," Azar wrote in the letter, first reported by the New York Times.
"The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power that the United States of America first brought to the world," Azar added.
"I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021."

Azar said he plans to stay in his role until January 20, when President-elect Joe Biden's team takes over.

12:12 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

Brazil's Supreme Court orders federal government to take action on severe oxygen shortage in Manaus hospitals

From journalist Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo

Family members of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 line up with empty oxygen tanks in an attempt to refill them in Manaus, Brazil, on Friday, January 15.
Family members of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 line up with empty oxygen tanks in an attempt to refill them in Manaus, Brazil, on Friday, January 15. Edmar Barros/AP

Brazil's Supreme Court and a federal court in Amazonas have ordered the country's government to work to immediately resolve a severe oxygen shortage in the coronavirus-hit state. 

Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski ordered the federal government to take all actions within its power to alleviate the health crisis in Manaus, the Amazonas capital. 

Lewandowski instructed the government to draw up a "comprehensive and detailed" plan with strategies to deal with the deadly emergency within 24 hours. He also directed the government to immediately find oxygen and other necessary supplies for the Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Manaus. 

A federal court in Amazonas also intervened in the matter. A judge in Manaus ordered the federal government to immediately transfer all patients from the city’s public health system who may die due to lack of oxygen to places where they can get care. 

The order issued on Thursday said it was the federal government's responsibility to send patients to other states. 

12:12 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021

No plans to test most National Guard for Covid-19 before they deploy across Washington

From CNN's Keri Enriquez and Zachary Cohen

National Guard members unload supplies outside the US Capitol on January 14, in Washington, DC.
National Guard members unload supplies outside the US Capitol on January 14, in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The overwhelming majority of the more than 20,000 National Guard members expected in Washington, DC for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration will not be tested for coronavirus before they are deployed from states or upon their arrival in the nation's capital, a National Guard spokesperson told CNN. 

The Pentagon has authorized up to 25,000 National Guard members to help with inauguration security.

Testing for National Guard members sent to DC is "case dependent" but not widely required, the spokesperson said, noting there are some screening procedures -- such as temperature checks -- in place.

"Incoming Guard men and women are screened upon departure from their individual states and upon arrival to the DC Armory according to CDC guidelines. Temperature checks and screening questions are in place; masks and social distancing are required where the mission allows," the DC National Guard said in a statement to CNN Friday.

The National Guard encourages coronavirus testing to personnel who are symptomatic or exposed to the coronavirus.

But as CNN has consistently reported, coronavirus can be spread by people who have no symptoms and, without testing, it is impossible to know whether any of the thousands of Guard members are carrying the virus. And they are being deployed with little warning.

The troops are also arriving in large numbers with the US having had its deadliest 14 days in the pandemic. More than 3.2 million new coronavirus cases have been reported in the first two weeks of 2021, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Earlier this week, Ohio National Guard Maj. Gen. John Harris expressed his concern for deploying the National Guard in his state.

"I'll just remind you that these National Guard folks that we're bringing on duty were doing something else just a couple days ago and had no idea they'd be coming here," Harris said during a news conference. "Bringing these folks together collectively -- it is a real concern for us."