February 8 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Kara Fox and Christopher Johnson, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021
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1:02 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Indoor dining in New York City to open Friday at 25% capacity, governor says

From CNN's Brian Vitagliano

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said indoor dining in New York City can reopen at 25% capacity beginning this Friday, two days ahead of the scheduled reopening on Valentine's Day.

The statewide positivity rate is 4.2% with 8,448 new cases and 114 deaths, Cuomo announced at a news conference Monday.

Cuomo congratulated New Yorkers for doing their part to bring the numbers down, “the post-holiday surge is over,” he said.

Long Island continues to have the greatest hospitalization and positivity rate, according to the governor.

In New York City, the Bronx continues to have the highest numbers and getting higher with a positivity rate of 7.3%, he said.

On vaccines, Cuomo said “we are about 90% of all doses allocated used in arms and it is only Monday.”

He added that New York has 5,000 distribution centers ready for additional vaccine supply, “we have more distribution than we have product on the shelves.”

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. 

12:44 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

South Africa Covid-19 variant does not appear to be more transmissible, British health expert says

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy

British analysis does not suggest that the South African coronavirus variant is more transmissible than other variants, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said Monday.

Van-Tam’s analysis was based on “early data on modelling” the variant, he said. 

He contrasted the South Africa variant with what he referred to as the Kent variant – referred to internationally as the UK variant – which he said does have a transmissibility advantage. 

12:34 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Tampa mayor "proud" of compliance at Super Bowl celebrations amid fears of a superspreader event

From CNN's Tina Burnside 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans celebrate the Super Bowl victory outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on February 7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans celebrate the Super Bowl victory outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on February 7. Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said overall she is "very proud" of the level of compliance she has seen from people celebrating following Sunday night's Super Bowl victory. 

During a news conference Monday morning, Castor said the majority of the tens of thousands of people who were out celebrating the Tampa Buccaneers win over the Kansas City Chiefs did it responsibly.

She says there were "very few incidents" of people violating the mask mandate. 

When asked about the Super Bowl celebrations outside the stadium being a super spreader event after video of gatherings showing large crowds of unmasked revelers surfaced, Castor said the majority of people she saw were wearing mask. She also said that it is up to people to exercise personal responsibility and keep wearing masks even during the upcoming celebrations expected. 

Castor says the city will definitely celebrate the Buccaneers momentous victory and are planning to do so in a safe manner. 

The mayor says they hope to have more definitive information on what those celebrations will look like finalized by Wednesday. 

12:28 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

White House expects markups to Covid-19 bill to "track closely" with what Biden proposed

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

White House press secretary Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the White House is expecting the markups by House committees to President Biden’s Covid-19 relief package to “track closely with what the President has proposed,” but also expects there to be “adjustments to strengthen the bill and tweaks.” 

“Our expectation is this week's House markups will track closely with what the President has proposed, but there will, of course, be adjustments to strengthen the bill and tweaks as a result of the legislative process, which he's quite familiar with having served there 36 years, which is how the process supposed to work,” Psaki said during a White House briefing. 

Psaki said: “We're encouraged that both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer are in full agreement about the need to move swiftly on the President's proposal, and the committee markups we'll see throughout the week are evidence of congress acting on that expeditiously.”

Some more context: House committees are aiming to finalize their legislative text and mark up their sections of the coronavirus relief bill by the end of the week, as the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump gets underway on Tuesday. The goal is for all the committees to pass their portions out of committees and send it to the Budget Committee by Feb. 16, where the larger bill can be packaged together, passed out of Budget and put on the floor the following week.

12:17 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Testing travelers for Covid-19 would be "another mitigation measure," CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nick Neville

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that screening US travelers for Covid-19 could be helpful — but she did not expand upon whether there are plans to test domestic travelers.

"The more screening that we're doing in places where people are gathering, I think the more asymptomatic disease we will be detecting -- and certainly there is a lot of, there is more gathering that happens in airports," Walensky said during a White House briefing.

"To the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, first and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel," Walensky added. "But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread.

Some more context: In an interview on “Axios on HBO” on Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said “there’s an active conversation with the CDC right now” about requiring a negative Covid-19 test for passengers on domestic flights.

On Monday, White House officials continued to urge the public not to travel at this time.

"Now is not the time to be traveling if at all possible," Andy Slavitt, the senior Biden White House adviser for Covid-19 Response, said during the briefing.

3:14 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Much more coronavirus genome sequencing is needed to track variants, CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Nick Neville

from The White House
from The White House

The US has ramped up its genome sequencing efforts to hunt for coronavirus variants, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Monday, but even more sequencing is needed. 

"Over the last three weeks or so we've increased our sequencing about tenfold," Walensky said during a White House briefing on Monday.  

"So as we look more, we certainly anticipate we might find more," Walensky said, adding that the CDC is collaborating with state labs, commercial labs and academic labs to make sure sampling from every state is included in the agency's sequencing efforts. 

Scientists search for coronavirus mutations by taking samples of the virus from patients' nasal swabs and analyzing their genetic sequences. Mutations are changes in the genetic code of a virus that naturally occur over time when an animal or person is infected — and such mutations can lead to the emergence of new variants.

"We anticipate that we're probably going to be sequencing up to three to four more than we are already sequencing," Walensky said. "I think once we have more sequencing that's happening, we'll have a better idea as to how many variants there are and what proportion are out there."

Walensky said during the briefing that she was "reluctant" to provide an estimate of how many coronavirus variant cases there could be based on the current data.

12:17 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Two New York Democrats announce fund to reimburse families for Covid-19 funerals

From CNN's Annie Grayer

AFP and Getty Images
AFP and Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teamed up in New York on Monday to introduce $2 billion in special Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to aid families who have not been able to afford proper funerals for their loved ones when they passed away as the result of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Each family can get reimbursed up to $7,000 for funeral expenses with $260 million of those funds being directly allocated to New Yorkers. These funds are retroactive and can apply to anyone who has lost a loved as the result of the pandemic from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020.

While this first set of funding is retroactive, both Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez are fighting to make these funds continue until the pandemic is over in the next set of funding to come from FEMA.

“Many of these families because of Covid don't have money for a proper funeral and a proper burial. And that is just awful and inhumane” Schumer said when describing why the funding is necessary.  

Ocasio-Cortez made the issue personal by saying, “I lost my dad when I was about 18 years old. And the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family along with many other families in a similar position for years.” 

Later, asked if these funds would apply to undocumented families, Ocasio-Cortez said yes and explained why those communities should not be afraid to apply for these funds.

“I think it's completely understandable why they're that fear there especially over the last four years of targeting of our immigrant families. But I think right now our families, especially under a Biden administration, a Democratic senate and a Democratic house that is prioritizing immigrant rights, including those who are undocumented, to not have fear, and to not allow that fear to further marginalize our community,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Schumer said Ocasio-Cortez brought this issue to his attention last April. These disaster relief funds are similar to the program FEMA created for families after Hurricane Sandy. 

The news conference took place in Queens, New York, an area hit especially hard by the pandemic, underscoring how communities of color, working class families and immigrant communities have been disproportionally affected.

11:29 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

GOP congressman dies following Covid-19 diagnosis

From CNN's Clare Foran, Manu Raju, and Kristin Wilson

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican from Texas, has died, his congressional office announced in a statement Monday, saying that he had been admitted to the hospital after contracting Covid-19.

“Congressman Ron Wright passed away peacefully at the age of 67 on Feb. 7, 2021. His wife Susan was by his side and he is now in the presence of their Lord and Savior,” the statement read. “For the previous two weeks, Ron and Susan had been admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas after contracting COVID-19.”

His congressional office announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19 on Jan. 21 with the congressman saying at the time in a statement, “I am experiencing minor symptoms, but overall, I feel okay and will continue working for the people of the 6th District from home this week.”

The statement on Monday noted that Wright has also battled cancer.

“Over the past few years, Congressman Wright had kept a rigorous work schedule on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and at home in Texas’ Congressional District 6 while being treated for cancer,” it said.

11:24 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

New York City mayor says he'd like to get high schoolers back to in-person learning this school year

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would like to get high school’s back to inside classrooms sometime during this current school year. 

“We’re certainly going to look at high schools next,” he said, but it’s a more complex situation and there will be “more work needed.”

For middle schools — which will return to in-person learning later this month — “we had the pieces we needed, we had the testing capacity built out, we had the ability to build out the situation room,” he said. 

Both de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stressed the effects of isolation that students, and teachers are feeling. 

Carranza said “the perverse nature of the isolation that the mayor spoke of for students, it's real. And it's really having an impact on students.”

Families and educators have expressed to him that students “are suffering,” and the “deep-seated desire” of officials to undo the harmful affects of isolation. 

“So at every conceivable opportunity when we can do this safely, and we can…we’re going to do it,” Carranza said.  

De Blasio reaffirmed the schools are “amongst the safest places in all of New York City” because of the city’s “gold standard” of health and safety measures.

He was responding to a question about how to ensure the safety of educators who are going back to classrooms before being fully vaccinated with two doses. 

New York City Schools Chancellor said air purifiers have been added in every middle school and the schools continue to work closely with the Department of Health's Test and Trace Corps.