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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11:12 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Pfizer says it has increased production to double coronavirus vaccine output

From CNN Health’s Nadia Kounang

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant on December 13, 2020 in Portage, Michigan.
Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant on December 13, 2020 in Portage, Michigan. Molly Gash/Pool/Getty Images

Efficiencies and upgrades in the production process have helped vaccine maker Pfizer double its output of coronavirus vaccine in the past month, a spokeswoman for the company told CNN Monday.

While the company did not give any production figures to support the estimate, spokeswoman Amy Rose said Pfizer expects production time to be cut nearly in half, from 110 days to an average of 60 days for one batch of Covid-19 vaccine.

One batch is equal to between 1 million to 3 million doses, Pfizer says.

Producing the genetic material that forms the basis of the vaccine initially took 16 days, but will soon take just nine to 10 days, Rose said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said last week the company expects to deliver 200 million doses of its vaccine to the United States by the end of May.

10:43 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Supreme Court again rules in favor of a church challenging California's Covid restrictions

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

The Supreme Court on Monday once again ruled in favor of a house of worship challenging California’s Covid-related restrictions.

The order marks the latest First Amendment challenge to come before the Court, pitting churches against state and local officials seeking to contain the ongoing pandemic. 

The move was widely anticipated. 

Last Friday, a bitterly divided court blocked California’s ban on indoor worship services in a case brought by South Bay United Pentecostal Church. It allowed other restrictions to stay in place. 

In the new order, the court wiped away a decision that went against parishioners of the Shield of Faith Family Churches in California, instructing the lower court to review the South Bay order. 

“In the nearly nine months since governors issued the first Covid-related State executive orders, California continues to impinge significantly on indoor religious gatherings -- prohibiting them entirely and unconditionally -- while allowing comparable secular activities, such as obtaining a haircut, shopping, getting a car repaired, attending a farmers’ market, or browsing the stacks at a local library,” lawyer for the parishioners Harmeet Dhillon had argued. 

California defended its restrictions, calling them “carefully structured” and a “proportionate response” to an unprecedented public health threat.

Read the full story:


10:06 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

CDC is "looking at all its options," Buttigieg says of mandatory Covid-19 tests for domestic flights

From CNN Health's Andrea Diaz

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Source: CNN via Cisco Webex

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "is looking at all its options" as it considers whether passengers should be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test before domestic flights, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday.

"What we know is that it's the appropriate measure for international travel, people traveling into the US given some of those considerations. You know, I'd say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep Americans safe," Buttigieg told CNN's Erin Burnett.

Buttigieg first mentioned the possible testing requirement for air travelers within the United States in an interview Sunday with "Axios on HBO."

When asked if he supports the idea of requiring proof of a Covid-19 vaccination before air travel, Buttigieg said that is up to the CDC. 

"So, that's not a step that has been taken, and again, CDC is really in the lead on deciding what the right measures will be ... this is part of why the President's American Rescue Plan is so urgent, because that is going to push the resources out to the states, out into our communities, to make sure that we really can accelerate that vaccination that we know is our best chance to beat this virus," Buttigieg said.

9:26 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Nearly 15,000 Covid-19 deaths recorded in New York congregate care facilities, data shows

From CNN’s Lauren del Valle

Two emergency medical staff of a private ambulance company sanitize a hospital gurney after they dropped off a patient at the Cobble Hill Health Center April 20, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Two emergency medical staff of a private ambulance company sanitize a hospital gurney after they dropped off a patient at the Cobble Hill Health Center April 20, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Nearly 15,000 confirmed and presumed Covid-19 fatalities have been recorded among residents of congregate care facilities in New York since March 1, 2020, data from the state's Health Department shows.   

Congregate care facilities include both nursing homes and adult care facilities. This data is being released by the New York State Department of Health after a state supreme court ruling ordered the department to fulfil a watchdog group's Freedom of Information request last week.  

The state health department defines adult care facilities as assisted living facilities and other congregate care settings that are not licensed to provide full medical services, according to the department's website.

Nursing homes are defined as “places to live where care is available for people of all ages who need 24-hour nursing care and supervision outside of a hospital,” in accordance with New York public health law. 

Adult care facilities: New data released Monday shows that there were 1,743 confirmed and presumed-positive Covid-19 deaths among residents of adult-care facilities since March 1. Of those deaths, 1,493 Covid-19 fatalities occurred after a resident was transported elsewhere from an adult care facility, according to data not previously shared with the public.  

The data showed 315 out of 544 registered adult care facilities in New York recorded Covid-19 fatalities. Only facilities that have reported Covid-19 fatalities are included among the data, according to the department.   

Nursing homes: Updated data posted on the department website Monday shows 13,235 confirmed and presumed-positive Covid-19 deaths of nursing home residents across the state since March 1 -- 4,091 of those occurring after a resident was transported out of a nursing home.  

Out of 613 registered nursing homes in New York, 556 have recorded Covid-19 fatalities, data shows. 

Additional data is expected to be released by Wednesday, per the court ruling deadline requiring department officials to fulfil the information request to the Empire Center watchdog.

8:49 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

US considers Covid-19 testing requirement for domestic air travel

From CNN's Marnie Hunter

The Biden administration is considering a rule that would require negative Covid-19 test results for domestic air travel, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg mentioned the possible testing requirement for air travelers within the United States in an interview Sunday with "Axios on HBO."

"There's an active conversation with the CDC right now," Buttigieg told Axios. "What I can tell you is, it's going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out."

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

"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 said during a White House briefing. "But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread."

Read the full story:

8:24 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

US flu rates are "remarkably low" this year, thanks to coronavirus precautions, Fauci says

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Cases of influenza in the United States have decreased dramatically this year, thanks to public health measures meant to protect against Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

“That is a very good testimony to the efficacy of wearing masks, avoiding congregate settings and keeping distance,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Fox News interview. 
“We did that during this late fall/early winter, and the level of influenza in the community is remarkably low regarding comparisons to other years,” he said.
6:40 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Facebook says it will try harder to fight coronavirus vaccine misinformation

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

Facebook said Monday it would work harder to fight coronavirus vaccine misinformation and disinformation on the social media site. 

“Today, we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic,” Facebook said in a statement. 

“Since December, we’ve removed false claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts. Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we are expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines,” it added.

The false claims include: coronavirus is laboratory made or manufactured, vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against, it’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine and vaccines are toxic, dangerous, or cause autism.

“We already prohibit these claims in ads. These new policies will help us continue to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines,” the company said.

“We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks. Groups, Pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether.”

6:25 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Covid-19 antigen tests still aren't counted among cases in some states, CNN analysis shows

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Deidre McPhillips and Virginia Langmaid

Rapid antigen test results still are not included in the total count of Covid-19 cases for some states — not even as probable cases, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Five states — California, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri and Nevada — publicly report only cases confirmed with PCR tests in their online tallies, according to a CNN analysis of health department dashboards across all 50 states. 

Some states only report polymerase chain reaction test results in their Covid-19 case numbers and exclude antigen test results since antigen tests are generally seen as less accurate. But as antigen testing ramps up in the United States, this exclusion could lead to potential miscounts.

In California, CNN was told that antigen Covid-19 test results are required to be reported to local health departments and to the California Department of Public Health. But publicly reported Covid-19 testing data only reflects results from diagnostic tests that detect the coronavirus' genetic material, such as PCR — polymerase chain reaction — tests.

CNN requested antigen testing data from the state's department of public health, but was told in an email that "antigen test results are not being publicly reported statewide at this time."

Across the four remaining states, the data they each shared with CNN represent about 10,000 positive Covid-19 antigen test results reported over just a small sampling of days in January.

If included in reported case counts, those positive antigen test results would increase Covid-19 cases reported by those states between 5% and 50% in that time, according to CNN's analysis.

Some experts worry that in the future, not publicly reporting “probable” cases, as CDC recommends, could paint a skewed portrait of the true spread of disease for residents in a state. 

"Antigen-based tests are not necessarily the majority of all the tests that are being performed everywhere and so it's unlikely that we're getting a dramatically wrong estimate, as of right now — also because most states are reporting them. But there is the risk going forward," Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN last week. 

"I think that more and more of these antigen based tests are being used," he said. "So there's certainly a risk going forward that if these are not reported consistently, that we're going to see an underestimate of the number of Covid cases in the country, and particularly in those states that are not reporting them."
5:21 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will quarantine after security agent tests positive

From CNN's Greg Wallace

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will quarantine for 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for Covid-19, Laura Schiller, chief of staff for the Department of Transportation, said in a statement.

The agent was in “close contact” with Buttigieg as recently as Monday morning, Schiller’s statement said.

Buttigieg tested negative Monday morning and has not shown any symptoms, the statement said.

Buttigieg received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and Schiller said he will receive the second dose when he completes the quarantine period.

An additional member of the security team will also quarantine due to close contacts with the agent.