February 3 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton and Jo Shelley, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021
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1:18 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

11 known cases of UK variant in New Jersey, governor says

From CNN's Ganesh Setty

There are 11 known cases of the highly-contagious UK variant of the novel coronavirus in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. 

State health commissioner Judy Persichilli had announced the discovery of two cases on Jan. 22.

Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, New Jersey’s Covid-19 response medical advisor, defended the governor’s decision to ease indoor capacity restrictions, saying that such cases amount to only a “handful” both in the state and nationwide, that the pace of vaccinations will only continue to increase, and that the ease in restrictions is a “minor change…all things considered.”

The state department of health reported 2,021 new positive Covid-19 cases and 52 additional virus related deaths Wednesday, raising the statewide cumulative totals to 631,309 and 19,506, respectively, according to its Covid-19 dashboard. There are currently 2,986 New Jerseyans hospitalized, of whom 525 are in critical care.

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

12:52 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Pope Francis gets second dose of Covid-19 vaccine 

From CNN’s Hada Messia

Pope Francis received his second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine today, a source close to the Pope told CNN.

It comes 21 days after Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni announced on Jan. 14 that Francis and Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, had received a first dose of the vaccine.

1:24 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

South Carolina expands vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older

From CNN's Tina Burnside and Jennifer Hauser 

Vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are seen at an assisted living facility in Sumter, South Carolina, on January 26.
Vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are seen at an assisted living facility in Sumter, South Carolina, on January 26. Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images

South Carolina is expanding Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to individuals 65 and older regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, Gov. Henry McMaster and the state's Department of Health announced in a statement on Wednesday.

Senior vaccine seekers aged 65 and up can begin scheduling Covid-19 vaccine appointments on Feb. 8. 

“We have a moral and ethical duty to first vaccinate the South Carolinians who are at the highest risk of dying from the virus,” McMaster said.  

Officials says although state supply remains limited, the increased vaccine allocations from the federal government and a streamlined, statewide vaccination plan, has allowed for the expansion of the number of South Carolinians eligible to receive vaccine, according to the statement. 

Many across the state have been pushing for teachers to get the vaccine but the governor emphasized the priority, based on supply, is getting older citizens vaccinated first, the statement said.

“At this time, placing a younger person between a senior citizen and what could be their lifesaving shot would be unconscionable and irresponsible. Today’s action will save lives and allow our teachers to be vaccinated next," McMaster said. 

To date, South Carolina has received about 777,250 vaccines and has administered 439,888 shots.

12:44 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Biden administration has sent $1.7 billion to states and others to aid community vaccination efforts

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

As of Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $1.7 billion to 27 states, localities, tribes and territories to aid the vaccination effort, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said. FEMA has also assigned more than 600 staff to the effort with more than half of that staff deployed directly to the vaccination sites across the country. 

Zients said the US Department of Defense will dedicate substantial personnel and resources to help manage many of these new sites. 

The Biden administration also announced that the federal government will partner with the state of California to launch two new community vaccination centers in communities that have been hard hit by the pandemic. 

One of the centers will be in East Oakland and the second on the east side of Los Angeles. Both are predominantly Latino and Hispanic communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  

The center on the east side of Los Angeles will be on the campus of California State University. The other will be at Oakland Coliseum. The centers will be primarily staffed by the federal government, according to the 

“These sites in California are just the beginning,” Zients said. “We are working with, in partnership in states across the country to stand up new sites, and we'll have more to say on that in the coming weeks.”

The Biden administration has pledged to stand up 100 FEMA-supported community vaccination sites by the end of the month.

So far they have increased vaccine supply to states, tribes and territories by more than 20%, Zients said. There’s been over 1.3 million shots per day between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2. 

1:25 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

There isn't an official recommendation to double mask, but it may be "common sense," Fauci says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

from White House
from White House

While there is no official recommendation on double-masking, or layering two masks on top of each other, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, it may be the “common sense approach.”

“There’s no recommendation, however there are many people who take the common sense approach,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said during a White House news briefing. “If you're talking about a physical barrier, and as the CDC recommends you want at least two layers within the mask as a physical barrier, then you feel may be more of a physical barrier would be better is nothing wrong with people wearing two masks.”

Fauci said he often wears two masks. 

“Can we make a general recommendation that doesn't have scientific basis yet? No, but when the science comes along and tells us that it is better or not, then you will see a recommendation, being made by the CDC," he said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC is evaluating the science currently and is looking at its recommendations on double-masking based on the latest science.

The science so far: Studies have shown that a single-layer mask isn’t really effective in blocking the wearer from aerosols. Even two and three-ply fabric masks are only partially protective, somewhere in the 50% to 60% of effectiveness.

A 2020 study found surgical masks were about 50% effective at protecting the wearer and about 60% to 70% in protecting others. But if you put a surgical mask under the cloth mask, experts believe it’s more than 90% effective at removing particles. 

Dr. Fauci: We get asked this question all the time:

12:33 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

The number of Covid-19 infections in the UK is still alarmingly high, prime minister says

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Samantha Tapfumaneyi

Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The number of coronavirus infections in the UK is still “alarmingly high,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

He said there are “some signs of hope” with the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital starting to fall — but there are still more than 32,000 people in hospital.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, speaking alongside Johnson, added “there are still a very large number of people in hospital… it’s still a very major problem but one that is heading in the right way."

“The number of deaths in people who have Covid is beginning to come down but the numbers… are still extremely high,” he added. “The first affects we see of vaccination are likely to be on these death numbers,” Whitty said.

More than 10 million people in the UK have now received a first does of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the government’s dashboard. The UK recorded 19,202 new cases on Wednesday and 1,322 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, government data shows.

Despite the vaccinations, Johnson said at the moment the level of infection is too high to imagine the relaxation of current coronavirus restrictions. Whitty said “our really clear advice is please stick to the social distancing” regardless if you’ve been vaccinated with one or two doses.

Johnson also called on the nation to clap together on Wednesday for World War II veteran Capt. Tom Moore and the “spirit of optimism” he stood for. Moore, who raised millions for a British charity supporting the National Health Service by walking laps of his garden by his 100th birthday, died on Tuesday.

 

12:19 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

States begin to identify deaths believed to be linked to Covid-19 UK variant

From CNN’s Joe Sutton and Tina Burnside 

As states continue to report daily Covid-19 deaths, they are also beginning to identify deaths believed to be linked to the variant first identified in the UK, also known as the B.1.1.7 variant.

Health officials in three states – New Jersey, California, and Alabama – have identified deaths in people who had, or were believed to have had, the Covid-19 variant.  While the B.1.1.7 variant may be more transmissible, it is not known to be more deadly or cause more severe disease. 

The University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital told CNN on Wednesday that a male patient died on Feb. 2 from myocarditis and cardiogenic shock after he contracted the Covid-19 B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK.

In a news conference on Jan. 27, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said one person who had died had the coronavirus variant. The person, who was not identified, had underlying health conditions. 

“There has been one death of an individual with this variant; however, that individual did have significant underlying conditions,” Persichilli said.  

Health officials in San Diego County announced on Jan. 28 a “probable” variant case in a 71-year-old man who had died.

 “…this is a household contact of a confirmed case, who unfortunately, we didn’t have that sample available to prove that it was whole genome sequence B.1.1.7. But because there is an intimate member of the household who did have that variant, and that individual was pretty much exposed to that 71-year-old, we are confident in assigning that as a probable case,” Dr. Eric McDonald, San Diego County's medical director of epidemiology, said during a news conference.  

The latest numbers: The United States is averaging more than 140,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 reported deaths per day lately, but very few Covid-19 tests are sequenced to find out if the virus is a variant.

The limited amount of sequencing in the United States has found more than 500 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in 33 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

12:04 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

One million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to veterans, White House says

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said the Department of Veterans Affairs has delivered one million vaccine shots to veterans. 

“Notably, yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs delivered its one millionth shot, ensuring those who serve our country are among the first protected from this deadly virus,” Zients said at a White House Covid-19 briefing Wednesday. 

He said the administration was on track to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.  

“We are encouraged by this progress to increase supply, but we will continue to push for every opportunity to do more,” Zients said. 

12:02 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Teachers don’t have to be vaccinated for schools to safely reopen, CDC director says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

from White House
from White House

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said a growing number of studies show that students should be able to go back to school safely, even if all teachers have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen,” Walensky said during a White House news briefing on Wednesday. “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has put teachers in the 1b priority category for vaccination, along with other essential workers, but not all states are vaccinating this group. Walensky said it is important for states to make the decisions on which groups get vaccinated when, depending on supply and local circumstances. 

On Saturday, Walensky said on the "Today" show that in most states, if not all states, teachers should be eligible for vaccination now or in the near future.