January 21 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Sharon Braithwaite, Eliza Mackintosh, Ed Upright, Zamira Rahim and Caitlin Hu, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 22, 2021
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8:19 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Improve vaccine distribution, expand testing and reopen schools: Biden issues pandemic plan

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Tucson, Arizona, on January 15.
A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Tucson, Arizona, on January 15. Cheney Orr/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s first full day in office Thursday will focus on Covid-19, rolling out his national strategy for the pandemic amid the Trump administration response he inherited, with record high cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

There is a lot of work to do, officials said, and it’s actually “so much worse” than they thought. 

“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to Covid. And we've seen the tragic costs of that failure. As President Biden steps into office today that, that'll change tomorrow,” White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday. 

The Biden strategy, he said, will be “a fundamentally different approach from the Trump administration,” and will be “driven by science, data, and public health,” not politics. 

Here’s a preview of the actions we can expect:

  • Executive order on supplies for vaccination, testing, and PPE
  • Presidential memorandum directing FEMA to increase federal reimbursement from 75% to 100%
  • Executive order to establish Covid-19 Pandemic Testing Board to expand testing supply and increase access
  • Executive order to establish development of therapeutics
  • Executive order to enhance US collection, production, sharing and analysis of data
  • Executive order to direct Department of Education and HHS to provide guidance for safely reopening and operating of schools, child care providers, and institutions of higher education 
  • Presidential memorandum directing FEMA to offer reimbursement for eligible emergency supplies such as PPE for schools
  • Executive order calling on OSHA to release clear guidance on Covid-19, decide whether to establish emergency temporary standards, and directs OSHA to enforce worker health and safety requirements
  • Executive order to require mask wearing in airports and on certain modes of transportation, including many trains, planes, maritime vessels, and intercity buses. This order also requires international travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to coming to the US
  • Executive order to ensure equitable pandemic response and recovery, including the creation of the Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force
  • Presidential directive to restore America’s leadership, support the international pandemic response effort, promote resilience for future threats, and advance global health security and the Global Health Security Agenda
7:28 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

There’s enough vaccine for 100 million doses pledge, says White House coronavirus coordinator

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Jeff Zients attends a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.
Jeff Zients attends a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said he thinks the vaccine supply will be adequate to meet the Biden administration's goal of 100 million shots delivered in 100 days.

“In terms of specific projections from the manufacturers, you know, we know that there is sufficient supply to do the 100 million shots in the 100 days,” Zients told reporters in a briefing ahead of the release of the new “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.”

Zients also pledged to clear up confusion about how many vaccines each state will get and when.

You know, in terms of allocations, our system will have equity as the cornerstone of how we do allocation,” Zients said.

“We will work to provide projections on supply. We hear over and over from governors and local leaders that they just don't know what supply is coming and can't plan. We will absolutely across the next few days to get our arms around what's going on, make sure that we are communicating with states and localities, so they can prepare, effectively,” Zients added.

“We clearly need strong coordination to ensure supply availability and information sharing, and that's what we will do,” he said.

Some background:

US President Joe Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in his first 100 days of office. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s newly-installed chief medical adviser, said on Friday that Biden's goal is quite feasible.

"You still optimistic that we can get 100 million doses in 100 days?" NBC's Craig Melvin asked Fauci during an interview on the Today Show. "I really do think so," Fauci responded.

6:53 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Covid-19 cases in England may no longer be falling despite third lockdown, study shows

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Cases of Covid-19 in England may no longer be falling, and could even have risen at the start of the country’s third national lockdown, a long-running study by Imperial College London found.

Researchers analysed swab tests from 142,000 volunteers from January 6-15 and found that infections were up by 50% compared to early December, with 1 in 63 people in the country infected.

Some 1.58% of people tested positive for the virus during the early January round of the study, the highest prevalence recorded since May. That is more than a 50% increase from the previous round in early December 2020.

“The prevalence is very, very high compared to our last survey where we saw that uptick in December when that new variant came in,” Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial College London told BBC’s Today Programme on Thursday.

“But we’ve found that it’s levelled off, the R value [or how many other people each person with coronavirus will infect] is around 1, so we’re at a position where the levels are high and are not falling now within the period of this current lockdown,” Elliott said.

The study warned that “until prevalence in the community is reduced substantially, health services will remain under extreme pressure and the cumulative number of lives lost during this pandemic will continue to increase rapidly.”

The findings are at odds with the latest figures from the UK government which had been showing a decline in new daily reported cases at the beginning of the week.

Elliott said on Thursday that he believes this discrepancy may be a result of the REACT study testing people randomly, rather than those showing symptoms, and of government data not yet reflecting an increase in population mobility after Christmas.

Speaking on Sky News on Thursday, UK Minister for Education Gavin Williamson said that “the evidence that we’ve been seeing is that [the lockdown] has been having an impact in terms of relieving some of that pressure on the NHS so the NHS is able to cope but of course government always looks all the evidence that is available.”

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted Thursday that, "these findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come. Infections across England are at very high levels & it is paramount that everyone plays their part to bring them down."

The UK recorded 38,905 new coronavirus cases and a 1,820 further coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, marking the highest daily increase in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Public Health England.

8:08 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

The capital of China's Hebei province is conducting its third citywide virus test program this month

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site in the Qiaoxi District of Shijiazhuang, China, on January 20.
A medical worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site in the Qiaoxi District of Shijiazhuang, China, on January 20. Mu Yu/Xinhua/Getty Images

The Chinese city of Shijiazhuang -- the scene of the country’s largest Covid-19 outbreak in months -- is conducting its third citywide testing program in January, provincial officials said at a news conference this week.

Shijiazhuang is the capital of Hebei province and has around 11 million residents.

The tests started Wednesday and the program is expected to last three days. 

Chinese Center for Disease Control officials said in multiple press conferences in the past two days that the growth of the epidemic in Hebei province had been significantly contained and credited “the strict preventative and control measures taken earlier.”

8:07 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

"There is nothing for us to rework": Biden is inheriting a nonexistent vaccine plan from Trump administration, sources say

From CNN's MJ Lee

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office after his inauguration on January 20.
President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office after his inauguration on January 20. Tom Brenner/Reuters

Newly sworn in President Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN, posing a significant challenge for the new White House.

The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus.

But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration's Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.

There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said.

Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."

CNN has previously reported that the Biden team's most urgent concerns on Covid-19 include potential vaccine supply problems, coordination between federal and local governments, as well as funding, staffing and other resource needs for local governments. That is in addition to the emerging Covid variants, which the new White House -- in consultation with scientists and experts -- is watching warily.

Biden has made clear that slowing down the spread of Covid-19 and getting 100 million vaccine shots into Americans' arms in his first 100 days in office are of utmost priority.

Read the full story:

5:55 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

How being creative in the kitchen can help cope with loss of smell, a common Covid symptom

From CNN's Terry Ward

Turmeric chunks as a pasta topping may seem like a bad idea, but they showed Sarah Yeats, 31, an emergency nurse from Florida, that she was beginning to regain her sense of taste after contracting the coronavirus in August.

Anosmia -- a condition known as "smell blindness," or loss of smell -- is a common symptom of Covid-19 (and other viruses), and can severely impact people's ability to taste, since the senses are intertwined.

Yeats, along with her husband Alex who also caught the virus, had been coaxing any sensation they could muster from foods by dousing chicken in lemon juice, throwing fistfuls of fresh herbs at soups and salads, and getting daring with food textures.

The day Sarah noticed she no longer found turmeric lumps acceptable on pasta, she said, was when she realized her sense of taste might be rebounding.

While most people regain their sense of smell or taste within days to weeks, emergency physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said, "there are still many who have not regained their sense of smell after months."

Creativity in the kitchen is how some people recovering from the virus are battling anosmia, and a way to remember how their favourite food used to taste and how flowers used to smell.

Londoner Kaya Cheshire has amped up the use of herbs and spices in her cooking since losing her sense of smell from a mild case of Covid-19.

At her doctor's suggestion, Cheshire recently began "scent training," using things like rose, lemons, cloves, garlic, eucalyptus and menthols that have a really strong smell to retrain her brain.

Read more here:

4:01 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

CDC forecasts up to 100,000 more Covid-19 deaths in next few weeks, but new director offers a glimmer of hope

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

The United States could face as many as 100,000 more Covid-19 deaths in less than a month, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the CDC's new leader offered a glimmer of hope, saying that "healthier days lie ahead."

The nation reported more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths Wednesday, only the third day ever to cross that threshold, bringing the death toll to at least 406,001 people, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking data.

And by February 13, that number could reach 508,000, according to an ensemble forecast published by the CDC. The last forecast, on January 13, projected up to 477,000 deaths by February 6.

Meantime, vaccines have begun to be distributed, but there remain significant challenges with the supply across the country, according to state officials.

Hopeful outlook: New CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday described the toll of the pandemic as "truly heartbreaking" but that "healthier days lie ahead" -- although that getting there would require a rapid acceleration of testing, surveillance and vaccination.

She said the agency will be conducting a review of all of its guidance regarding the pandemic, so "people can make decisions and take action based upon the best available evidence."

Read the full story:

3:24 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

CDC to extend pandemic eviction moratorium until March 31

From CNN's Dave Alsup

Members of the Housing Justice League participate in a rally in Atlanta, Georgia on January 13, urging the CDC to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to the pandemic.
Members of the Housing Justice League participate in a rally in Atlanta, Georgia on January 13, urging the CDC to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to the pandemic. Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will extend an order preventing the eviction of some people from their homes until March 31, the agency’s new director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said Wednesday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to our nation's health. It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities,” Walensky said in a statement.
“Despite extensive mitigation efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in America at a concerning pace. We must act to get cases down and keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings — like shelters — where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold.”

The incoming Biden administration had highlighted the eviction moratorium as one of its key targets on day one. It was set to expire at the end of the month.

What impact will it have? “This means that a landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue an eviction or a possessory action cannot evict for nonpayment of rent any covered person from any residential property in any US state or U.S. territory where the Order applies,” the CDC says on its website.

The order only covers limited numbers of people.

Tenants and other residents must show they have exhausted best efforts to get government help to pay rent; earn $99,000 a year or less; and cannot make payment because of a loss of income or extraordinary medical costs. To qualify, the tenant also must be trying to pay at least something and must swear they will be made homeless by eviction, or forced to move to congregate living settings.

2:25 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Group of Peruvian medics on hunger strike amid growing second wave of Covid-19 cases 

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias

A group of Peruvian medics went on hunger strike Tuesday demanding more investment in the health sector and rejecting the country’s handling of the pandemic amid rising cases of Covid-19, according to a statement from Peru’s Social Security National Medical Union (SINAMMSOP) published Wednesday.

About a dozen medics from the national social security union have been protesting outside Peru’s Ministry of Labor, where the group began the hunger strike on Tuesday.

Fiorella Molinelli, the president of Peru’s Health Social Security, has not commented on SINAMMSOP’s demands as of Thursday. She is currently leading government efforts to adapt temporary health and isolation Covid-19 centers to combat the spread of the virus.

The hunger strike comes in addition to numerous protests in different parts of the country since last week, where medics and other health workers are demanding more medical equipment, adjusted salaries and an “increase in the budget for the health sector,” according to the Peruvian Medical Federation.

"Our ICUs are collapsing and we are not receiving any response and we are seeing the indifference of a government that assigns us the budget. We urgently need to acquire this equipment to prevent more Peruvians from dying. The Peruvian state has a constitutional obligation to guarantee the accessibility of health services and right now they are denying access to hospitals because we no longer have the capacity to provide patients with what they need so much," Peruvian nurse Ketty Solier told Reuters Tuesday.

Second wave: Peru is now facing a second wave of Covid-19 cases, according to the country’s Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti.

“We are starting on a second wave (of Covid-19 cases). This wave is rising. I can tell you that we’ve made some calculations and we are more or less right were we were in mid-April, and the figures keep ascending,” Mazzetti said during an interview with local media Monday.

Peru has reported at least 1,073,214 Covid-19 cases, including 39,044 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.