February 4 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jo Shelley, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, February 5, 2021
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2:24 p.m. ET, February 4, 2021

NBA will hold an All-Star Game in 2021, reversing original decision

From CNN's David Close

Reversing an earlier decision to not hold an All-Star game in 2021, the National Basketball Association will host the mid-season showcase in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 7, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA’s previously announced All-Star Game weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana, scheduled for Feb. 12 to 14, 2021, was postponed to 2024.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the time, "While we are disappointed that the NBA All-Star Game will not take place in Indianapolis in 2021, we are looking forward to the Pacers and the city hosting the game and surrounding events in 2024."

The schedule for this year's NBA 72-game season – 10 games fewer than usual – was released in two segments. Only the first segment, which is currently playing out through March 4, has been released. 

The NBA had originally slated March 5 to 10 as an All-Star break but without a game being played.  

2:07 p.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Covid-19 variants from South Africa and Brazil are hard to detect in the US, expert says

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman and Andrea Diaz

The United States has identified hundreds of cases of a more contagious strain first linked to the UK — but two others, linked to South Africa and Brazil, are much harder to find, according to Dr. James Lu, president of a company called Helix, whose Covid-19 tests have helped identify many of these cases.

It’s the latter two strains that may be more concerning when it comes to vaccine efficacy and reinfection, experts say.

Part of the reason why we’ve found so many cases of B.1.1.7 — the strain first detected in the UK — is because of a testing glitch that picks up one if its mutations. 

Not all samples with this glitch are the B.1.1.7 strain, since this mutation can exist on its own. And not all brands of PCR tests show this glitch, called S gene dropout. But it has been used to screen for potential cases of the variant, which must then be confirmed through genetic sequencing.

“S gene dropout gives us a really good way to enrich for the samples of B.1.1.7,” Lu told CNN. “That said, if you were just sampling randomly across the country, it's much harder to detect.”

The mutation that causes this glitch is not present in the strains first spotted in South Africa and Brazil. 

Beyond appearing more transmissible, these two strains also contain a different mutation that scientists worry could help the virus escape some of the antibody protection from vaccines or previous infection. Even so, experts say they expect vaccines will still work against the variants — especially when it comes to preventing severe disease and death. 

“They're not detectable with our level of sampling today,” Lu said of variants linked to South Africa and Brazil. “So, most of the time, if we're finding it, it’s serendipity right now. But that will change if they become more prevalent.”

Last week, the first US cases of the strain linked to South Africa were found in South Carolina. According to a state health official, these two cases were found during routine sequencing, but “the predominant strain that we are still seeing in our surveillance sequencing is the standard, or normal,” version of the virus. Maryland has also reported a handful of cases. 

At least two cases of the P.1 strain linked to Brazil have been found in the US, as well. Both cases live in the same household in Minnesota, and one had recently traveled to Brazil, according to the state’s health department.

In comparison, more than 540 cases of B.1.1.7 have been found in 33 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The US has been ramping up efforts to sequence at least 7,000 samples per week, according to the CDC. But experts have said we should be aiming much higher — somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 samples per week, given current case counts.

2:08 p.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Italy recommends AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55

From CNN’s Livia Borghese

A laboratory technician supervises capped vials during filling and packaging tests for the large-scale production and supply of the University of Oxfords COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, conducted on a high-performance aseptic vial filling line on September 11, 2020 at the Italian biologics manufacturing facility of multinational corporation Catalent in Anagni, southeast of Rome
A laboratory technician supervises capped vials during filling and packaging tests for the large-scale production and supply of the University of Oxfords COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, conducted on a high-performance aseptic vial filling line on September 11, 2020 at the Italian biologics manufacturing facility of multinational corporation Catalent in Anagni, southeast of Rome Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Italy will administer the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to people under 55 years old. They will start administering the vaccine to schoolteachers, army and police forces, prison staff and inmates.

The decision follows a Wednesday meeting between the government and regional governors to discuss the country’s vaccine campaign guidelines, the press office for the Ministry of Regional Affairs said Thursday.  

People over 55 years old, especially those over 80s and the most vulnerable, will receive shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the press office added.

Vaccines need to be approved by the Italian Medicines Agency before they can be distributed in Italy.

On Tuesday, the Italian Medicines Agency, Aifa, said they needed more data on the AstraZeneca vaccine. In a news release they said:

”Pending further studies, the indication concerning AstraZeneca vaccine remains preferentially for the population between 18 and 55 years and without serious illnesses.” Before recommending the vaccine for those over 55, the agency will wait for “further evidence on the benefit/risk ratio of the AstraZeneca vaccine” for that age group.

The news comes as Italy’s total Covid-19 death toll surpassed 90,000 on Thursday, according to official data.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the agency on Jan. 30th. 

12:47 p.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Cuba will implement a nightly curfew in Havana to combat Covid-19 spread

From CNN's Patrick Oppmann

A woman walks near a graffiti with the Cuban flag in Havana, on January 12, 2021.
A woman walks near a graffiti with the Cuban flag in Havana, on January 12, 2021. Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

Cuba's capital city Havana will implement a nightly curfew starting Friday, according to the island's state-run media. 

People will not be able to leave their homes after 9 p.m. local time without special permission, according to Luis Torres, the president of Havana's defense council, as reported by the government Radio Rebelde station.

Officials did not say how long the curfew would last. 

Cuba is experiencing its highest spike in Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with the largest concentration of cases being in Havana. The island has a total of 30,345 confirmed cases and 225 Covid-19 related deaths according to John Hopkins University.

10:55 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

CNN's Stephanie Elam will answer your questions about vaccines as California's rollout hits snags

California’s infection and hospitalization rates are falling, but the state’s vaccine rollout has hit snags. CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Los Angeles answering your questions on the pandemic. Leave your questions for her below.

10:41 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Pre-flight announcements are changing on many US airlines due to Covid-19

From CNN's Liz Stark and Pete Muntean

A United Airlines plane takes off at Los Angeles International Airport in California on October 1, 2020.
A United Airlines plane takes off at Los Angeles International Airport in California on October 1, 2020. Mario Tama/Getty Images

With a federal transportation mask mandate now in effect to protect against the coronavirus, airlines are adjusting their announcements to remind passengers of the new changes to federal law.

The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask order requires people to wear a mask while using any form of public transportation, including on board planes, trains, buses, boats, subways, taxis and ride-shares, as well as inside airports and other transportation hubs. The order went into effect Monday at 11:59 p.m ET.

Several airlines confirmed to CNN that they have changed their pre-boarding and pre-departure announcements to remind travelers that they are required to wear face masks.

Here's some of them:

  • American Airlines - An American Airlines spokesperson tells CNN that the carrier has changed preflight announcements that passengers hear at the gate and on-board flights to reflect the new federal rule. American also says passengers claiming a medical exemption must ask for airline approval and show proof of a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of their flight—a caveat laid out in a CDC order published last Friday. American is also updating its rules on bandanas and gaiters, now more restricted under the new federal rules.
  • Delta Airlines - A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines told CNN travelers were going to hear announcements about the mask requirement on board aircraft prior to departure starting Tuesday, and in other places in airports starting Wednesday. Spokesperson Morgan Durrant said in a statement that the announcements will be similar to this: “As a reminder, federal law requires each person to wear a mask at all times throughout the flight, including during boarding and deplaning. This is required even if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test. Refusing to wear a mask is a violation of federal law and may result in removal from the aircraft and/or penalties under federal law.”
  • Southwest Airlines - Southwest Airlines spokesperson Brian Parrish also confirmed the airline’s announcements have been updated to reflect the new mask order. “As part of the new federal mask mandate, public announcement verbiage delivered by Southwest’s Ground Operations Team prior to boarding, along with announcements delivered by Southwest Flight Attendants onboard the aircraft, have been updated to remind travelers that federal law now requires individuals to wear a mask over their nose and mouth at all times and that refusal to wear a mask is a violation and will result in denial of boarding and may result in removal from the aircraft and/or penalties under federal law,” Parrish said in a statement. 
  • United Airlines - A spokesperson for United Airlines confirmed to CNN that the airlines’ announcements have changed “slightly, to reflect that this is now a federal law, not just a United policy.” 

10:29 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Africa will receive nearly 90 million vaccines from COVAX by February

From CNN’s Lauren Kent and Arnaud Siad

A volunteer receives an injection at a hospital in Soweto, South Africa, on June 24, 2020, as part of Africa's first participation in a Covid-19 vaccine trial developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.
A volunteer receives an injection at a hospital in Soweto, South Africa, on June 24, 2020, as part of Africa's first participation in a Covid-19 vaccine trial developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool/AP

Africa is to receive nearly 90 million Covid-19 vaccines in February in what will be the continent’s “largest ever mass vaccination campaign,” the World Health Organization announced in a statement on Thursday.

In the statement, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long. This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines.”

“We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe,” he added.

Most vaccines will be from the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine and subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO. The WHO is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome of the review is expected soon.

The statement adds that around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — which has received WHO Emergency Use Listing — have been allocated to four African countries —  Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia, which are able to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The initial phase of 90 million doses will support countries to immunize 3% of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021, the statement adds.

The WHO says it aims to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021, according to the press release.

9:27 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

SNAP recipients say they need more benefits to put food on their tables as the pandemic rages on

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Veronica Bedico.
Veronica Bedico. CNN

During the pandemic, an increasing number of families are turning to government support and food banks to feed their families.  

“It was life or death. We were either going to starve or we were lucky enough to qualify for SNAP benefits,” Veronica Bedico, an unemployed mother of three, told CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is Bedico’s lifeline, she said. The number of Americans on food stamps, or SNAP, has grown by more than 20% during the pandemic, Yurkevich reported. 

“I would like for the administration to remember that we're real people. And that we're not, you know, welfare queens that are just taking advantage of the system. I am a real person who had a real job. And now I need help so that I can provide for my children during this hard time,” Bedico said. 

Stacy Dean, the deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the US Department of Agriculture, said that the government is reviewing the program due to increased demands. 

“It is supposed to be enough, but many experts and more fundamentally, the families who use it are worried that it just isn't enough. So we're actually taking a look at that now to see if adjustments are needed to make it so that families can afford a basic diet with our benefits,” Dean said. 

At the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, those on SNAP tell Yurkevich they need more food. 

“I get like 200 bucks, and you know, I can make it stretch, but … once it's gone, it's gone,” SNAP recipient Kenya Edwards said.

Watch more:

9:10 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Black Americans travel farther distances to get Covid-19 vaccinations, study finds

From CNN's Delano Massey

Black residents are significantly more likely than White residents to live more than a mile from the closest vaccination facility, according to an analysis measuring barriers to vaccine access.

The analysis released Thursday by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and West Health Policy Center is an update to the open-access VaxMap, which was created in December to measure vaccination facility density and driving distance of all residents to locations where Covid-19 vaccines will be administered.

Researchers analyzed 69 counties across the US. These counties are especially concentrated in Georgia, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas and Alabama. A third of them are in urban areas, including Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Detroit, New Orleans and New York City.

Coming off the heels of the CDC's report this week that only 5% of Covid-19 vaccine recipients in the first month of the rollout have been Black, the study's authors hope the findings "will equip the new administration and state and county governments with information about where greater support is needed." 

Nearly three-quarters of the counties with these racial disparities in vaccine access also have a high rate of new Covid-19 infections with a daily average of more than 50 new cases per 100,000 during November 2020 to January 2021, the analysis found.

Black people are less likely than White people to live near a pharmacy, clinic, hospital or health center that can administer Covid-19 vaccines, the researchers said.

"Pharmacies should be easy to access, but in some places there's low capacity or low density, and the flood gates are opening," said Lucas Berenbrok, Pharm.D., assistant professor at the Pitt School of Pharmacy and first author of the study. "When barriers are present, like driving times, there needs to be a plan to reach those people. We can't forget about them."