The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Ben Westcott, Brett McKeehan and Eoin McSweeney, CNN

Updated 8:17 p.m. ET, January 31, 2021
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1:08 p.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Maryland reports case of Covid-19 South African variant

From CNN’s Chuck Johnston

Maryland state health officials have confirmed a case of a more contagious coronavirus strain first identified in South Africa, according to a press release from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.

The announcement comes after South Carolina identified the first known case of the Covid-19 variant in the US earlier this week.

The Maryland case “involves an adult living in the Baltimore metro region," Hogan's office said.

"The individual has not traveled internationally, making community transmission likely. Comprehensive contact tracing efforts are underway to ensure that potential contacts are quickly identified, quarantined and tested,” Hogan’s office added in its statement.

1:04 p.m. ET, January 30, 2021

CDC says transportation operators must make best efforts to enforce mask mandate

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

People commute by train at a station in New York on December 10, 2020.
People commute by train at a station in New York on December 10, 2020. Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order Friday that will require people to wear a mask while using any form of public transportation in the US, beginning Monday at 11:59 p.m.

The CDC said that public transportation operators must use best efforts to enforce the mask mandate, including only boarding those wearing masks and disembarking any passengers who refuse to comply.

People can take their masks off briefly to eat, drink or take medication; verify their identity to law enforcement or transportation officials; communicate with hearing-impaired people; don an oxygen mask on an aircraft; or during a medical emergency, the CDC said on its website.

The agency advises people to wash or sanitize their hands after touching their mask.

The order applies to all travelers, including those who have had Covid-19 or the Covid-19 vaccine. Children under the age of 2, those who cannot safely wear a mask due to a disability, and some people who cannot safely perform their job while wearing a mask are exempt from the order.

The order applies to all US transportation hubs, except those operated by the Department of Defense.

3:11 p.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Government needs a "really centralized protocol" for schools to reopen, doctor says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

A new study of two independent US schools supports the argument that children don't spread coronavirus in school when proper precautions are taken.

Just 9% of students — out of 3,500 students studied — who brought new Covid-19 infections to school ended up infecting others, researchers found.

“And of those 9% that actually did transmit to someone else, we could almost invariably trace them back to a violation of the protocol. So the testing really enforced that when the protocols are followed, they work. When they're not followed is when you can have a breakdown,” Dr. Darria Long of the University of Tennessee Department of Emergency Medicine, who worked on the study, told CNN.

As President Biden has pledged to reopen most schools during his administration’s first 100 days, Long said the study can be used as a roadmap by larger schools.

“They need a really centralized protocol,” Long said. 

In addition, schools need to increase rapid testing, she added. 

“We have to make testing available and affordable,” Long said. "It's incumbent upon the government to help make that feasible for schools.”

Watch more:

12:40 p.m. ET, January 30, 2021

California surpasses 40,000 total coronavirus-related deaths

From CNN’s Jon Passantino

Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, and Noe Meza prepare to move the body of someone who died from Covid-19 to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9.
Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, and Noe Meza prepare to move the body of someone who died from Covid-19 to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9. Jae C. Hong/AP

California surpassed a grim milestone on Friday evening as over 40,000 coronavirus-related deaths have now been reported in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

California added 664 deaths on Friday, according to data from the university. The state has now reported a total of 40,238 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

The only other state with over 40,000 deaths is New York state. New York has reported 43,278 deaths, according to university data.

10:02 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Massachusetts congressman tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch speaks at a hearing in Washington, DC, on December 2, 2020.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch speaks at a hearing in Washington, DC, on December 2, 2020. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch is the latest House member to announce he's tested positive for Covid-19 after a staff member in his office was positive, according to a statement from his spokesperson.

His spokesperson said he received his second dose of the vaccine but didn't specify the date. He is also asymptomatic and plans to vote by proxy next week, according to his spokesperson.

To note: Covid-19 vaccines do not necessarily prevent infection – they prevent illness.

The vaccines prevent people from getting sick with Covid-19. They do not prevent Covid-19 infection. If someone tests positive and doesn’t get sick, the vaccine has worked as intended.

If someone tests positive within a few weeks of receiving the second dose, it may be because the vaccine hasn’t fully kicked in yet.

9:13 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

When Covid-19 vaccines are about to expire, health care workers scramble to ensure they are used

From CNN's Travis Caldwell

Health care workers distribute vaccines late into the night at a last-minute Covid-19 event at Seattle University.
Health care workers distribute vaccines late into the night at a last-minute Covid-19 event at Seattle University. David Ryder/Getty Images

Mechanical breakdowns. Bad weather. Expiration deadlines. The earliest phases of Covid-19 vaccine distribution in some instances have left doctors, nurses, and health officials scrambling to inoculate Americans.

In the worst cases, valuable doses have been wasted or thrown out. However, quick thinking by practitioners mixed with a bit of luck have found them administering vaccines in unique circumstances.

On Thursday night, after a freezer containing vaccine doses malfunctioned in Seattle, a nearby hospital had less than nine hours to administer more than 800 vaccinations before they spoiled. Vaccines from Pfizer-BioTech and Moderna require certain low temperatures for storage and have a limited shelf life when exposed to room temperature.

Swedish Health Services told CNN it quickly signed up eligible recipients on short notice via social media. Clinical and non-clinical hospital volunteers convened to run the site.

"No vaccine went to waste last night," spokesperson Tiffany Moss told CNN on Friday.

Swedish was not the only location to assist that night. An additional supply from the broken freezer made its way to the University of Washington, where staff and volunteers administered vaccines at two of its centers, according to CNN affiliate KOMO.

Clever solutions and fast action by health workers nationwide, when faced with the total loss of a vaccine supply, have benefited those in the right place at the right time.

Read the full story here

8:17 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Oxford professor disputes Macron comments on vaccine effectiveness in over-65s

From Schams Elwazer in London and Barbara Wojazer in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron waits at the Élysée Palace in Paris before a working lunch on January 27.
French President Emmanuel Macron waits at the Élysée Palace in Paris before a working lunch on January 27. Chesnot/Getty Images

An Oxford professor who was part of the team that developed the Covid-19 vaccine with AstraZeneca has disputed comments by French President Emmanuel Macron appearing to question the efficacy of the jab in over-65s.

Asked on BBC Radio about Macron’s comments that the vaccine is “quasi-ineffective” in people over 65, professor John Bell said Saturday, “I’m not sure where he got that from.”

Acknowledging that the number of elderly people participating in the original study was “small” at around 12%, Bell added that “in vaccinology the way you deal with that problem is you identify the level of immunity that a vaccine generates.”

“The elderly people responded just as well as people in other age groups and there’s really persuasive evidence that this is a protective vaccine in those populations,” Bell said.

On Friday, Macron told reporters, "what I can tell you officially is that the first results are not encouraging for those over 60-65 years old," adding that "very little information” is available on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I suspect this is a bit of demand management from Mr. Macron,” Bell said.

Pushed on the point by the host, Bell added that “if he didn’t have any vaccine, the best thing you could do is reduce demand.”

Macron’s comments have been widely criticized in the UK press as the bitter row between the EU, drugmakers and the UK over vaccine supply continues to dominate headlines.

The EU’s medicines regulator approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups on Friday. Earlier in the week, Germany’s vaccine commission said it would not recommend its use in the over-65s due to insufficient data on its effectiveness in that population.

 

8:01 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Health agencies announce first three cases of UK variant in Arizona

From CNN's Alta Spells

A patient is taken from an ambulance to the emergency room of a hospital in the Navajo Nation town of Tuba City in Arizona on May 24, 2020 
A patient is taken from an ambulance to the emergency room of a hospital in the Navajo Nation town of Tuba City in Arizona on May 24, 2020  AFP via Getty Images

Arizona joins the list of states reporting cases of the UK Covid-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7. 

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH), Pinal County Public Health Services District, and Arizona State University (ASU) announced the detection of the first three cases of the UK variant in the state in a press release Friday. 

The health agencies did not offer any additional information on the cases or patients involved in the release.

The UK variant was first identified in the fall of 2020 according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The variant appears to spread more easily and has been found in at least 70 countries, according to information from the World Health Organization. 

The CDC reports at least 434 cases of the UK variant in at least 30 US states, not including the state of Arizona, in data updated Friday on its website.

The new variant has wreaked havoc in the UK, fueling a surge in cases towards the end of 2020 despite a national lockdown being in place. Data showing an uptick in cases in younger people suggests this was largely because schools had stayed open, enabling the variant to spread rapidly.

The UK is a cautionary tale of what could happen elsewhere. American public health experts are warning about a possible new surge in Covid-19 cases caused by the strain first seen in southeast England. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the B.1.1.7 strain could become the predominant variant seen in the United States by March.

7:34 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

A fight between the EU and UK reveals the ugly truth about vaccine nationalism

Analysis by CNN's Angela Dewan

Visitors queue before receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at a closed down Debenhams department store, in Folkestone on Wednesday
Visitors queue before receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at a closed down Debenhams department store, in Folkestone on Wednesday Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ugly vaccine nationalism that the World Health Organization and other public health advocates feared is here. And it's beginning in Europe, the region that usually boasts the world's greatest levels of equality by many measures.

Between the United Kingdom and the European Union, solidarity has disappeared entirely and given way to an all-out battle over who is more entitled to tens of millions of doses produced by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. Meanwhile, many countries in the global south have yet to administer a single vaccine.

The spat revolves around the EU's deal with AstraZeneca, which recently informed the bloc it would not be able to supply the number of vaccines the EU had hoped for by the end of March. EU leaders are furious that the company appears to be fulfilling its deliveries for the UK market and not theirs.

And while the EU's complaints are largely directed at AstraZeneca, the dispute has triggered animosity on both sides of the Channel, the two sides having only just emerged from four years of bickering over the terms of their Brexit divorce.

On Friday, Brussels imposed controls on vaccine exports to keep track of how many doses were leaving the continent and where they were going, in what leaders called a transparency measure but what looks like a targeted export ban.

The EU also said Friday it would invoke a clause in the Brexit deal to impose controls on exports to Northern Ireland to ensure doses wouldn't funnel through the region into the rest of the UK. Hours later it then backed down from the threat after UK and Irish leaders sought urgent clarification from Brussels over the highly controversial move.

Read the full story here