February 7 coronavirus news

By Adam Renton, Brad Lendon, Amy Woodyatt, Melissa Mahtani and Michael Hayes, CNN

Updated 0155 GMT (0955 HKT) February 8, 2021
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1:52 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

More contagious Covid-19 variant identified in UK is spreading rapidly throughout the US, study says

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

A new study finds that cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant are rapidly increasing in the United States, and significant community transmission may already be occurring. 

Although the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK is currently at a relatively low frequency in the United States, the paper says it’s doubling every week and a half, similar to what was observed in other countries. The report estimates this variant is 35% to 45% more transmissible than strains that appeared earlier in the United States.

Last month, CDC modeling predicted the B.1.1.7 variant could become the predominant strain in the United States by March. It estimates the virus is about 50% more transmissible.

“Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality,” researchers wrote in the preprint, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published. 

The new study, posted Sunday on the preprint server MedRxiv, is a collaboration of researchers from several institutions and the company Helix, which is one of several labs that shares information on variants with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to groups of cases in California, Florida and Georgia, many B.1.1.7 cases in the United States did not report recent international travel, the report said, suggesting “significant community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant is already ongoing across the U.S.”

US labs are still sequencing only a small subset of coronavirus samples, the papers said, so it’s not clear what variants are circulating in the United States. Without “decisive and immediate public health action,” new, more transmissible variants “will likely have devastating consequences to COVID-19 mortality and morbidity in the U.S. in a few months,” the researchers warn.

Some more context: More than 610 cases of this variant have been found in 33 states, according to the CDC. Most are in Florida and California. The first US case was announced Dec. 29, but the earliest known cases stretch back earlier. Analysis in the new study suggests the B.1.1.7 variant arrived in the United States as early as late November 2020.

The strain has also been found in at least 80 countries and territories around the globe, the World Health Organization said last week. 

1:49 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

Biden supports $15 minimum wage and efforts to keep it in Covid relief bill, senior adviser says

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on February 4.
President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on February 4. Evan Vucci/AP

Senior adviser to the President Cedric Richmond said the administration still supports $15 dollar minimum wage and that it backs Sen. Bernie Sanders efforts to keep that in the $1.9 trillion dollar Covid-19 relief plan Biden has proposed. 

Richmond's remarks come days after President Biden conceded that he does not believe he will be able to raise the minimum wage as a part of the American Rescue Plan due to the Senate's rules. 

Richmond said that statement from Biden “was merely his prediction of what he thought the Senate would do,” but said they still hope they can get the minimum wage increase into the relief package. 

“Senator Sanders has assembled a team to make a very compelling argument that it should stay in the bill under the Senate rules. All of that gets into the minutia of whether it impacts the budget or not. Senator Sanders and his lawyers articulate that it does and so I think you're going to see a fight in the Senate about whether the minimum wage stays in at $15 an hour in incremental progression up to that,” Richmond said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday. 

Richmond said Biden has been clear, as a candidate and as President, that he wants the minimum wage to be increased to $15 dollars an hour.

Richmond also defended the administration’s call for $1,400 dollar direct payments to Americans, as some Democrats are now saying the checks should be increased. Richmond said President Biden “will not leave the middle class behind in this pandemic.” There has been talk of making the stimulus checks more targeted to the Americans who need them most in order to increase Republican support of the package, however the administration has been sticking by the $1,400 number. 

Discussing GOP support of the administration’s relief plan, Richmond criticized the $600 billion dollar proposal from 10 GOP Senators as too small and lacking important funding for veterans and state and local governments.

“So the question becomes, you know, is it a good-faith bargaining position and we come with good faith saying we want to do a bipartisan process, but we cannot afford to do too little too late,” he said. “So we do want a bipartisan deal. But, again, we won't do too little too late and we won't leave the American people stranded without government helping.”

2:42 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

AstraZeneca vaccine offers “minimal protection” against mild infection of South Africa variant, study says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Early data suggest two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provide “minimal protection” against mild and moderate infection from the variant first identified in South Africa, the University of Oxford said Sunday. 

Viral neutralization against the B.1.351 variant was “substantially reduced” when compared to the earlier coronavirus strain, according to a news release Sunday from the University of Oxford. The study, which has not been released, included about 2,000 volunteers who were an average of 31 years old; about half received the vaccine and half received a placebo, which does nothing. The vaccine’s efficacy against severe Covid-19, hospitalization and death were not assessed.

Details of the study by researchers from South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand and others and the University of Oxford were shared in a press release. The results have been submitted for peer-review and a preprint will be released soon, Oxford said. 

After the study was reported Saturday by the Financial Times, AstraZeneca said in a statement it believes the vaccine could provide protection against severe disease, and said it has started to adapt the vaccine against the variant “so that it is ready for Autumn delivery should it be needed.”

“Efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster jabs, if it turns out that it is necessary to do so,” Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said in Sunday’s statement, noting that this issue faces all vaccine developers. “We are working with AstraZeneca to optimise the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary.”

In the Oxford statement, Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at University of Witwatersrand who led the study, noted recent data in South Africa from Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine arm, found some protection against moderate and severe Covid-19 disease with a similar vaccine. 

“These findings recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at risk individuals in population against severe disease,” Madhi said. 

12:43 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

San Francisco public schools and unions reach tentative agreement on school reopening, unions say

From CNN's Gisela Crespo

The unions representing workers at the San Francisco Unified School District announced they have reached a tentative agreement with the school district to reopen schools for in-person learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a news release Sunday, the unions said the tentative agreement "outlines the baseline health and safety standards and vaccine access to physically reopen public schools."

The agreement would allow teachers and workers to return to school in the red tier of California's reopening criteria if Covid-19 vaccines are made available, according to the release. Return to in-person instruction can happen without vaccine availability in the orange tier. 

The district would also provide personal protective equipment for students and staff, socially distanced classrooms and workspaces, and regular testing, among other safety protocols.

"This is a major step forward toward a goal that we share with so many parents: safe reopening of school buildings for students and staff," the unions say in the release.

San Francisco filed a lawsuit against its own school district Wednesday to get schools to physically open, CNN previously reported.

CNN has reached out to San Francisco Unified School District and the Mayor's Office for comment.

1:46 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

Major snowstorm forces Netherlands to close Covid-19 vaccination centers

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

People travel in the snow on February 7 in Dordrecht, Netherlands.
People travel in the snow on February 7 in Dordrecht, Netherlands. Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images

The Dutch regional health agencies (GGD) said they closed all Covid-19 test sites and vaccination locations on Sunday, after the country’s national meteorological institute (KNMI) declared a rare “Code Red” warning for the whole territory.

“If you have an appointment for a test or vaccination on Sunday, do not come to the location,” a statement from GGD read, adding that 20,000 people with a testing appointment and 20,000 others with a vaccination appointment would be informed by telephone about the situation.

Called “Storm Darcy” by Dutch media, the first major snowstorm to hit the country in 10 years has disrupted rail and road traffic, according to reports from the country’s Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management. National train operator NS said in a statement that no trains would run on Sunday due to “adverse weather conditions.”

12:40 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

Democrats will introduce $3,000 per child benefit Monday as part of stimulus package

From CNN's Daniella Diaz and Tami Luhby

Rep. Richard Neal speaks at a press conference in Washington, DC, on July 24, 2020.
Rep. Richard Neal speaks at a press conference in Washington, DC, on July 24, 2020. Michael Brochstein/Sipa

House Democratic leaders will unveil legislation Monday that would give families at least $3,000 per child, advancing a key provision in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Rep. Richard Neal is leading the crafting of the legislation for the stimulus package and will introduce the enhanced Child Tax Credit bill tomorrow, according to a House Ways and Means Committee spokesperson.

“The pandemic is driving families deeper and deeper into poverty, and it’s devastating. We are making the Child Tax Credit more generous, more accessible, and by paying it out monthly, this money is going to be the difference in a roof over someone’s head or food on their table," Neal said in a statement provided to CNN.

The 22-page legislation would provide $3,600 per child under the age of six and $3,000 per child age six through 17 for a single year. The size of the benefit would phase out for single Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year.

Families would also be able to receive the Child Tax Credit payments on a monthly basis.

If this particular legislation is passed by Congress, the payments would begin in July for one year.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Suzan DelBene and Ritchie Torres are also set to introduce standalone legislation on Monday, known as the American Family Act, that would continue the benefit permanently.

Rep. DeLauro, who has been working on expanding the child tax credit since 2003, said in a statement to CNN:

“We cannot stop here. We must use this moment to pass the American Family Act and permanently expand and improve the child tax credit. One year is not enough for the children and families battling not just the coronavirus, but poverty, too.”

The Washington Post was the first to report details of the legislation and the fact that it would be unveiled Monday.

12:28 p.m. ET, February 7, 2021

WHO Panel will meet Monday to discuss AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in London on January 7.
Vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in London on January 7. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The World Health Organization’s independent panel on vaccinations will meet on Monday to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and studies assessing how effective it is against the virus variant first identified in South Africa, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. 

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca told CNN on Saturday that a small trial found the company’s Covid-19 vaccine provides limited protection against mild disease in cases caused by the B.1.351 variant. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

When asked if she was concerned about AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the variant, Van Kerkhove told CBS’s Margaret Brennan that there were a number of studies underway to look at immune responses. 

There are “some preliminary studies suggesting reduced efficacy. But again, those studies aren’t fully published yet,” Van Kerkhove said.

“Our independent panel group on vaccinations is meeting tomorrow to specifically discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the results coming out of South Africa to determine what does this mean in terms of the vaccines going forward,” Van Kerkhove said. 

She added that it’s critical to have more than one safe and effective vaccine: “We cannot rely on only one product.”

11:44 a.m. ET, February 7, 2021

76 health care workers are going to the Super Bowl on the New England Patriots' plane

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

The Patriots posted this photo on Sunday morning of the 76 Super Bowl-bound vaccinated health care workers.
The Patriots posted this photo on Sunday morning of the 76 Super Bowl-bound vaccinated health care workers. From New England Patriots/Twitter

76 vaccinated health care workers from New England are traveling to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, on the Patriots team plane today.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft and New England Patriots Captain Matthew Slater participated in the sendoff Sunday morning.

"I'm thrilled to be back here today because today the Kraft family and the Patriots and the NFL are saying thank you to so many of our health care workers who have carried a tremendous burden of serving and taking care of and saving the lives of so many people during this pandemic," Baker said.

He continued: “And honestly when you think about some of those great Patriots slogans, “Do your job,” “no days off,” there's probably no group over the course of this pandemic who's demonstrated that more day after day after day than our health care workers, and I'm thrilled to be here today, to be able to say thank you to all of them for what they've done and who they've represented, and how they've represented the Commonwealth, here in Massachusetts and taken care of so many people who struggle with COVID and their families.”

11:09 a.m. ET, February 7, 2021

WHO official praises UK's approach of spacing out second vaccines doses 

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad

The British approach on having a bigger gap between the first and second Covid-19 vaccine dose has been “vindicated,” World Health Organization Special Envoy David Nabarro said on Sunday.

Speaking on Sky News, Nabarro said:

“I think the UK’s approach, so far at least, has been vindicated. And yes, I think this is a great lesson for the rest of the world. Thank you, thank you British scientists.” 

“Isn’t it wonderful that it has turned out that, as a result of the UK’s bravery, frankly, that this extended interval seems to be associated with even greater protection? That’s how we’re doing Covid at the moment, we’re all learning together, different countries approaching it in different ways,” he added.  

The UK currently prioritizes the first dose of a vaccine, with a second dose up to 12 weeks later, a bigger gap than originally planned. 

Nabarro explained that the WHO’s advice on intervals between vaccine doses has been “based on what the manufacturers did during the what we call Phase 3 trials of the vaccine. Then the WHO and its committees really has to work on the basis of what manufacturers told them.”

“That committee is meeting pretty often at the moment because there’s a lot of vaccines coming onstream, and the committee has to look at vaccines and it will indeed look again at the doses as a result of the British experience,” he added.

The WHO currently recommends second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines should be delivered up to 4 weeks after the first, and up to six weeks later in “exceptional circumstances.” It is currently in the process of evaluating the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.

However, speaking earlier on NBC's Meet the Press, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there may not be enough time to study the efficacy of receiving one vaccine dose and people should stick to the available data. 

Fauci said: “From a theoretical standpoint, it would be nice to know if you just get one dose, how long the durability lasts and what is the level of effect... But, what we have right now and what we must go with is the scientific data that we’ve accumulated and it’s really very solid.” 

The current data Fauci was referring to says people should get a booster dose 21 days after their first Pfizer shot and 28 days after the first Moderna shot.