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January 26 coronavirus news

Variant first identified in UK now confirmed in 24 US states
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What you need to know

  • President Biden’s administration has promised to have enough coronavirus vaccine for the entire US population by the end of summer.
  • Moderna expects its vaccine will be protective against coronavirus variants, but will test boosters to improve immunity.
  • Everyday activities are more dangerous now that new variants are circulating, an emergency physician said.

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AstraZeneca CEO defends plans to supply vaccine to UK ahead of EU, amid frustration over delays

Director of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, visits the laboratory of the AstraZeneca factory on January 20.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot has defended the pharmaceutical giant’s decision to prioritize vaccine deliveries to the United Kingdom, after the European Union voiced growing frustration over delivery delays.

“The UK agreement was reached in June, three months before the European one. As you could imagine, the UK government said the supply coming out of the UK supply chain would go to the UK first,” Soriot told Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Tuesday.
“The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first,’ and this is fair enough. This vaccine was developed with the UK government, Oxford and with us as well,” he added. 

Earlier on Monday, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides expressed dissatisfaction on talks with AstraZeneca, saying that the drugmaker “intends to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced” due to production problems.  

Speaking to la Repubblica, Soriot conceded that the company had to reduce supply to the EU as a result of reduced yields early in the manufacturing process at one site in Europe.

“It’s complicated, especially in the early phase where you have to really kind of sort out all sorts of issues. We believe we’ve sorted out those issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be,” Soriot said. 

He added that they also faced “teething issues” with the UK supply chain – but they had a “head start” since they signed the contract earlier, and had more time to “fix all the glitches.”

European delays: So far, the EU has ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine – which could be approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as this week – with an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses. 

With production issues centered around AstraZeneca’s European plants, Soriot said the company could soon be able to begin using its UK site to help Europe once the UK has “reached a sufficient number of vaccinations.” 

“We’re moving very quickly, the supply in the UK is very rapid. The government is vaccinating 2.5 million people a week, about 500,000 a day, our vaccine supply is growing quickly,” he told the Italian newspaper. “As soon as we can, we’ll help the EU,” he added.

Wisconsin State Senate votes to end statewide mask mandate

The Wisconsin State Senate voted Tuesday to repeal Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, with a crucial vote scheduled in the State Assembly on Thursday morning, according to state legislature’s online records. 

The resolution, sponsored by 29 Republicans, aims to declare the public health emergency unlawful and terminate all actions included in the Democratic governor’s most recent executive order, the joint resolution states.

Evers’ most recent executive order, issued January 19, calls for face coverings to be worn by all people over age 5 when they are in indoor or enclosed public spaces with other people in the same room. 

The resolution passed the Senate 18-13 on Tuesday, with two Republican lawmakers opposing the measure, according to online records, and moves onto the Republican-majority Assembly Thursday.

WHO team in Wuhan to begin long-delayed coronavirus investigation after clearing quarantine

team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators is preparing to leave quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan and begin a long-awaited investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the 13-person international team will finish their two-week quarantine in the next 24 hours, stepping out into a city that was once the center of the global outbreak but is now, a year on, largely returned to normal. Scrutiny of the team’s work will be immense, as they navigate what is likely to be a political minefield in uncovering how the virus that brought much of the world to a halt first emerged.

“The eyes of the world are focused on this, the opinions of the world are focused on this,” Dutch virologist and team member Marion Koopmans told CNN Wednesday morning, as she prepared for a final round of meetings before leaving her quarantine hotel.
“We are aware of it, there is no way around that. That’s why we really try to keep focused, we are scientists, we are not politicians, we are trying to really look at this from the scientific perspective.”

Part of that involves abandoning all preconceived notions about how the virus evolved and spread, to look at what the evidence says, and go from there, Koopmans said. The team has spent the past two weeks in video calls with each other and Chinese scientists, “discussing what we know, what we don’t know.”

Demand for answers will be great, especially after the investigation itself was delayed several times, but Koopmans cautioned patience.

An earlier report by a WHO team in China, published in February 2020, found that “key knowledge gaps remain” about the virus, though it endorsed previous findings that the virus appeared to have originated in animals, with the likely first outbreak at a seafood market in Wuhan.

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WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 26:  A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she visits an exhibition on the city's fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan on January 26, 2021 in Wuhan, China. In order to curb the spread of the new crown pneumonia COVID-19 disease, the Chinese government closed the city of Wuhan for 76 days starting January 23, 2020.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

WHO team in Wuhan begin long-delayed coronavirus investigation after clearing quarantine

US consumers may be about to get the first standards for face masks

N95 masks are regulated for fit, filtration efficiency, flammability and other qualities.

A draft of the first national mask evaluation standard for consumer masks obtained by CNN shows proposed guidance would call for two tiers of certification.

  • A level one mask would require the product to filter 20% of particles – something that would make the mask easy to breathe through, but that would provide minimal protection.
  • A level two mask would require “high performance” filtration of at least 50% of particles, but would provide less breathability.

The standards are currently in development with ASTM International and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, which is an arm of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The current standards: Currently, only medical-grade masks and respirators must meet standards. These include N95 masks, which are regulated for fit, filtration efficiency, flammability and other qualities.

The new standards: The proposed standards will outline specific fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and coverings, according to a draft of the standards provided to CNN by ASTM International. 

The draft evaluates both single use and reusable masks, and outlines specific requirements. For instance, the standards would prohibit the use of vents, valves or any feature that allows air flow to bypass filtration – though there are exceptions to this that reflect current CDC guidance.

The review process is ongoing, and these guidelines are subject to further review and change. The drafted guidelines will be further reviewed next week.

International standards: The ASTM draft standard currently is far different from standards required for masks in several European countries. Germany, Austria and France are now requiring people wear masks with a minimum filtration efficacy of 80-90% while on public transport, shopping or in public areas. 

Pharmacist signs plea agreement after vaccines removed from cold storage, left to spoil

Pharmacist Steven Brandenburg appears in court on Wednesday, January 20.

A pharmacist in Wisconsin has signed a plea deal acknowledging he was guilty of trying to render hundreds of Covid-19 doses ineffective, according to the Department of Justice of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

Steven Brandenburg removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage on December 24 and 25, knowing that it would render them unusable, according to police statements. His actions destroyed all 57 vials; each vial contained 10 individual doses of the vaccine for a total of 570 doses.

“Brandenburg is charged by an Information with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. Brandenburg has agreed to plead guilty to the charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment,” read the news release from the Department of Justice.

United States Attorney Matthew D. Krueger said the charges show that the Justice Department will pursue anyone who tampers with the vaccine, and especially any medical professional. 

“Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

“The claims made in the Information are allegations that, if the case were to proceed to trial, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. The plea agreement expresses the defendant’s intention to plead guilty, but the defendant has not yet formally entered a plea in this matter,” read the release.

Business exec and his wife charged after flying to remote Canadian town to get Covid-19 vaccine, officials say

The former president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and his wife are facing charges – including failure to self-isolate – after allegedly chartering a plane to a small town in western Canada and posing as local workers to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been charged under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA), according to court documents.

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker said the couple showed up at a mobile clinic last Thursday in Beaver Creek, home to an indigenous community.

One of them presented a British Columbia health care card, the other had one from Ontario, Streicker said in a statement.

The Bakers weren’t charged for getting the vaccine. Rather, they were accused of not following quarantine requirements after arriving in the Canadian territory.

According to a charging document, the Bakers are from Vancouver, British Columbia, southeast of the Yukon territory.

“I am outraged by this selfish behaviour, and find it disturbing that people would choose to put fellow Canadians at risk in this manner,” Streicker said. “Reports allege these individuals were deceptive and violated emergency measures for their own advantage, which is completely unacceptable at any time, but especially during a public health crisis.”

CNN was unable Tuesday to reach the Bakers for comment.

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01 beaver creek yukon

Business exec and his wife charged after flying into remote Canadian town to get Covid-19 vaccine, officials say

Washington state governor says promise of more doses is critical to Covid-19 vaccination goal

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee confirmed Tuesday that states were told to expect an increase in Covid-19 vaccine doses starting next week.

“Having a 16% increase is really great news,” said Inslee. “It’s also great news that they’re giving us certainty of those deliveries, because our providers have been bedeviled with uncertainty and unpredictability of the delivery schedules.”

The state of Washington topped 500,000 total vaccine doses on Monday, and Inslee said they are on their way to meeting the larger goal of vaccinating an average of 45,000 people per day.

“These measures are working,” the governor said. “We certainly have a long way to go, but we have made very significant progress in the past week.”

Several hundred White House officials have been vaccinated

Several hundred White House employees have now been vaccinated, two administration officials tell CNN, with more expected in the coming weeks.

Most officials who have received vaccinations work for the Executive Office of the President, meaning they operate inside the White House complex, either in the West Wing or Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door. Dozens of staffers are still working remotely but the White House is prioritizing vaccinations for people who work on site and aims to eventually vaccinate all in-person staff, an official told CNN.

Even with the vaccinations, White House officials are still wearing masks when on the grounds and many are working from home or participating in virtual meetings from their offices. 

The staffers, including those who have been working remotely, came to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building today for their first vaccinations.

Pfizer says it's "laying the groundwork" for vaccine booster against variants

Pfizer said Tuesday it’s “laying the groundwork” to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants. 

“We should not be frightened, but I think we need to be prepared,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during the Bloomberg The Year Ahead event Tuesday. “Once we discover something that it is not as effective, we will very, very quickly produce a booster dose that will be a small variation to the current one.” 

Bourla said the company had discussed variants in the past and created a process to help it adapt quickly.

“We were working on a process that will allow us to do the development very fast,” Bourla said. “Now already we have started implementing this process.” 

In a statement to CNN on Tuesday, Pfizer emphasized that the process is to respond, “if a variant of SARS-CoV-2 shows evidence of escaping immunity by our vaccine.” 

“However, the studies needed to evaluate a vaccine that encodes an updated viral antigen have yet to be determined, in agreement with regulators. We will need to generate data that gives confidence that any updated vaccine is safe and effective. The updated vaccine to be administered as a booster would be subject to regulatory approval or authorization,” the statement said.

Last week, Ugur Sahin, who helped invent the BioNTech vaccine being made and distributed by Pfizer, tested his vaccine against the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK. The team found “no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity,” they reported in a pre-print report. But they said it would be “prudent” to start tweaking the vaccine, just in case.

Vaccine maker Moderna announced on Monday two doses of its vaccine are expected to be protective against emerging strains of coronavirus detected so far, but out of an abundance of caution, it planned to test booster shots.

New York governor blames Trump for vaccine shortage

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded with relief today to President Biden’s announcement that he would purchase 200 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines, welcoming a “competent” federal response.

“You have a competent, professional, federal government that tells the truth,” said the New York Democrat. “That’s the truth and that’s competence and that’s taking responsibility.”

Cuomo went on to argue that a number of missteps by the Trump administration had lead to confusion in the Empire State and the general mishandling of the federal response had cost lives. 

“By the federal guidelines 7 million people [in New York] are eligible for the vaccine, but I only get 250,000 dosages,” Cuomo told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “So they told 7 million New Yorkers, ‘you’re eligible, but it would take seven months for you to get the vaccine.’” 

“That’s just madness,” continued Cuomo. “…Look, incompetent government can kill people. This is not a joke. And more people died here than needed to.”

AstraZeneca will speak Wednesday at emergency meeting of CDC advisers 

 A staff member holds a dose of the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination clinic at the NHS Nightingale Hospital North East in Sunderland, England, on Tuesday, January 26.

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca has confirmed to CNN that a representative of the company will speak Wednesday at an emergency meeting of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN previously reported the upcoming meeting agenda lists an unspecified “COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturer” in attendance.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson did not share further details on what its representative plans to discuss.

The CDC advisory group — known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — will address a number of topics over the daylong meeting, including progress in administering vaccine doses, safety of the vaccines, testing of the vaccines in children and studies on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

ACIP members are not expected to vote during the meeting, said a CDC spokesperson previously.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States, but it has in other countries such as the UK and India. In September, its trial was put on pause in the US after a trial volunteer in the UK developed neurological symptoms. The trial resumed in the US about six weeks later, after a review by the US Food and Drug Administration concluded it was safe to do so.

Biden announces purchase of 200 million more doses of Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines

President Biden announced Tuesday that the US is buying 200 million more doses of coronavirus vaccines, and hopes to have them by summer as part of a package of measures aimed at speeding up and increasing vaccine supply for the US.

The US plans to buy 100 million more doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 100 million more from Moderna, he said.

That’s a 50% increase in the order for each vaccine, increasing the planned supply from 400 million to 600 million, Biden said.

Pfizer and Moderna are working to step up production.

Biden added the additional vaccine supply will be enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of the summer and beginning of the fall.

Biden administration announces increase in coronavirus vaccine supply to states

Aclinical pharmacist with Seattle Indian Health Board prepares to administer a shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday an increase in vaccine supply to states.

“First, after review of the current vaccine supply and manufacturing plants, I can announce that we will increase overall weekly vaccination distributions of states, tribes and territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses,” President Biden said in remarks Tuesday.

“Starting next week. That’s an increase of 1.4 million doses per week… You all know that vaccines were distributed to states based on population, based on population. The smaller the state, the less vaccine. The bigger the state, the more they get. And so this is going to allow millions of more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated. We’ve got a long way to go, though,” he added.

States have been saying they don’t have enough vaccine, and many have also said they have been getting confusing information about how much vaccine they are getting and when from the federal government.

The official said the government plans to try to fix this. “And to give state and local leaders the transparency of supply they’ve been asking for, HHS will provide allocation estimates three weeks in advance and the estimates will be updated on a running basis so every state has at least three weeks’ notice to help them plan for their vaccination distribution and administrations,” a senior administration official said.

This does not include any extra vaccines that might win emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has granted EUA to two vaccines – one made by Moderna and one by Pfizer with its partner BioNTech. Johnson & Johnson is working on a vaccine and expects to report its results from clinical trials within weeks.

“We are obviously hopeful that there will be an additional source of supply. If that is the case, you can be sure we will be taking advantage of that,” the official said.

Ohio governor wants every kid back in school by March 1

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants every kid to be back in school by March 1, he announced in a news conference today.

DeWine says his goal is to have anyone who works at a school receive their first dose of the vaccine in the month of February at the very least. School employees in Cincinnati will start receiving their vaccine next week.

Ohio is averaging 146,000 first doses of the vaccine being administered a week, DeWine added. Currently, people older than 75 and those with certain medical conditions are able to receive vaccines. On Feb. 1, those 70 and older and employees of K-12 schools will be eligible for the vaccine. Beginning Feb. 8, vaccines will be taken directly to affordable senior housing.

DeWine said the state will have an additional 77,000 doses to distribute over the next two weeks, because several nursing home residents and staff opted not to receive the vaccine. 

DeWine also said that in light of hospitalizations going down in the state, he is considering lessening the current curfew. If hospitalizations in Ohio stay below 3,500 for seven days straight, the curfew will move to 11p.m. – this could happen as early as this Thursday and will stay in place for at least two weeks. If hospitalizations go below 3,000 for seven days straight, the curfew will move to midnight for at least two weeks, and if hospitalizations go below 2,500 for 7 days straight, the curfew will be completely lifted.

Ohio is reporting 4,262 new cases of Covid-19, 88 deaths from Covid-19 and 295 additional hospitalization for a total of 2,964 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19.

Note: These numbers were released by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

California's regional stay-at-home order "lifted at the right time," says top health official

As some elected officials continue to question the timing of the state lifting its stay-at-home order, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a news conference Tuesday that he believes it was lifted “at the right time.” 

“This was not a regional stay-at-home order based on community transmission rates only, it was really focused on what we would see in the hospitals a few weeks out,” Ghaly explained.

The state lifted its regional stay-at-home order for all five regions on Monday as health officials now expect the intensive care unit bed capacity to meet the 15% threshold in four weeks.

Since health officials look at a four-week projection, Ghaly said that he has previously mentioned that the stay-at-home order can be lifted when hospitals still have a high census of coronavirus patients.

“We know today’s cases become hospital cases in about two weeks, ICU cases three to four weeks later, so we want to really determine what the impact is of our current case numbers, our current transmission rates, our current test positivity on where we’re going to be in the hospitals,” Ghaly said. “We have to look about four weeks out.”

What the numbers show: The state continues to see a downward trend in its cases, deaths, and hospitalizations.

California on Tuesday reported 17,028 new cases of the virus and 409 additional deaths, both numbers well below the 14-day average of 28,993 cases and 501 deaths.

The 14-day test positivity rate has also dropped to 9%, a 33% decrease since the state reported its highest percentage earlier this month, according to Ghaly.

In the past two weeks, hospitalizations have decreased over 20%.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of when the first two cases of the virus were reported to the California Department of Public Health, one case in Los Angeles County and another in Orange County. In one year, over 37,500 Californians have lost their lives to the virus, which Ghaly called an “immeasurable loss.”

To date, California has a total of 3,153,186 coronavirus cases and 37,527 deaths.

Note: These numbers were released by the California Department of Public Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 

Biden administration promises to have enough coronavirus vaccine for all Americans by the end of summer

The Biden administration promised on Tuesday to have enough coronavirus vaccine for the entire US population by the end of summer.

“Today, the President is announcing bold steps that will help meet the goal of administering 100 million shots in 100 days, and ramp up vaccine supply as fast as possible. As a result of these actions, the federal government will have enough vaccine supply for the entire US population by the end of the summer,” the administration said in a fact sheet. 

Among the promised actions: a 50% increase in purchased vaccines from makers Moderna and Pfizer, with 200 million extra doses to be delivered by the end of summer, plus an increase in deliveries to states now from 8.6 million doses a week to 10 million doses a week.

We wish we could say today that every American who wants a vaccine could get one. That’s clearly not the case,” a senior administration official told reporters.

“It’s not the level of supply we found when we arrived. It’s going to take a number of months before we can say to American it’s open season, as (Dr. Anthony) Fauci calls it. But with the announcement today, we’ve purchased enough today to vaccinate 300 million Americans.”

US working to get syringes for bonus coronavirus vaccine, official says

Federal officials are working to get more supplies of the special syringes needed to obtain extra doses out of vials of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Pfizer’s vaccine was originally shipped in five-dose vials, but with the right equipment, a sixth dose can be extracted from the vials. The company has now said it will count those bonus doses towards its obligation to the US. 

But not everyone has the right syringes to do it. A senior administration official told reporters the federal government has been in active talks about getting more. “This is a somewhat fragile supply chain,” the official said.

It is important, the official said, to not disrupt other health care supply needs. The administration will use the Defense Production Act as needed to get the supplies without disrupting other supply chains, the official said.

January becomes deadliest month from Covid-19 in the US

More people were reported to have died from Covid-19 during the month of January 2021 than any other month during the pandemic.

According to Johns Hopkins University, 77,698 people have died from Covid-19 so far this month, surpassing the December 2020 total of 77,486 deaths.

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of Covid-19 deaths in the US during the pandemic: 

  • February 2020: 1 death 
  • March 2020: 5,277 deaths
  • April 2020: 60,750 deaths
  • May 2020: 41,727 deaths
  • June 2020: 20,138 deaths
  • July 2020: 26,585 deaths
  • August 2020: 29,525 deaths
  • September 2020: 23,433 deaths 
  • October 2020: 23,995 deaths
  • November 2020: 37,038 deaths
  • December 2020: 77,486 deaths
  • January 2021: 77,698 deaths so far 

Remember: This month’s data is an ongoing tally and only includes Johns Hopkins University data up until this point. 

Biden's Covid-19 coordinator informs governors that vaccines will increase by around 16% starting next week