February 9 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Christopher Johnson and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 6:29 a.m. ET, February 10, 2021
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3:07 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

California sees lowest daily case increase in nearly three months

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg


California reported another 8,251 new Covid-19 cases Tuesday, the lowest daily number since mid-November, according to state health data.

Plummeting cases have led to a 33% drop in hospitalizations and 26% fewer ICU admissions over just the past two weeks.

“Deaths continue to be devastating,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, as the state reported an additional 327 fatalities resulting from the coronavirus. The rolling average number of deaths remains just below 500 per day.

Newsom was in Santa Clara for the opening of the state’s largest mass vaccination center at Levi’s Stadium, which will be set to administer 15,000 vaccines each day.

“The goal is pretty straightforward. The goal is to design a system that has only one limitation and that’s supply,” said Newsom, explaining that scarcity of Covid-19 vaccines remains prevalent. California expects to receive slightly more than a million doses for each of the next three weeks. 

Safely returning to in-person learning before the end of the school remains a top priority for Newsom, and one that he asserts is attainable. Until the availability of vaccine increases, Newsom suggests people “do the math and be honest” about the likelihood of specific groups like teachers all being inoculated.

“It’s very unlikely that we'll be able to accomplish that because of the scarcity of the vaccine without taking away from vast majority of others including seniors and the most medically vulnerable, and that’s the unfortunate position we’re all in,” Newsom said.

California’s legislature continues to consider Newsom’s $6.6 billion proposal to reopen schools, an effort that would provide a statewide standard including testing, personal protective equipment, ventilation, and mental health support in addition to the academic needs of students.

An announcement on those guidelines is expected soon, along with an outline for school sports to resume.

2:20 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Canada eases some COVID-19 restrictions but further locks down its international borders

From CNN’s Paula Newton in Ottawa

Canada is further restricting non-essential travel in and out of the country, even as it gradually eases Covid-19 restrictions. 

After weeks of lockdowns and containment measures, Canada is having some success in controlling the second wave of the virus but its borders will remain essentially closed for some time government officials say. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting next week, anyone arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative test within 72 hours of attempting to enter Canada.  

Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and essential travelers are currently allowed into Canada, although there have been some exceptions on compassionate grounds. Beginning next week, non-essential travelers that cross into Canada at a land border without a negative test could be fined thousands of dollars.  

“You can’t prevent someone who’s standing at a land border crossing from entering Canada because technically they’re already on Canadian soil when they’re speaking to that customs officer," Trudeau during a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday. 

"That’s why what we can do is in cases of no test to show apply a stiff penalty, a fine and demand and ensure a rapid and complete follow up to make sure that they are getting tested, that they are being properly quarantined, that they are not putting at risk the safety of other Canadians by returning home without a clear, negative test."

In January Canada began requiring all air passengers to show a negative PCR-based Covid-19 test before boarding a Canada-bound flight. 

Canadian public health officials say while new daily cases of Covid-19 continue to fall and hospitalizations are down about 15% in the last week, new variants and a slow vaccine rollout could mean that a resurgence of the virus is still possible. 

“I think we’re all worried about the arrival of new variants and the impact that could have on even as we are working hard to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible. There are real questions about what the impacts these variants will have both on spread of Covid-19 and on the impact of the vaccines,” explained Trudeau adding that’s why Canada is adding further restricting travel.

Canada has detected only a few hundred cases of new variants but public health officials say already there is evidence of community spread in at least three provinces.

1:52 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Hungary to become first EU country to roll out Russia's Sputnik vaccine this week

Hungary will this week begin inoculating people with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, among others, becoming the first European Union country to do so, officials there said Tuesday.   

“We will be inoculating using four vaccines beginning this week; vaccination using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine is beginning in Budapest,” Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said at an online press conference. 

Müller told reporters that 560 general practitioners in Budapest are being asked to select five people each from their respective practices, who will then receive the Sputnik V vaccine at the designated vaccination points. Some 2,800 doses of the vaccine are currently available, and only to those without chronic illness. 

Hungary does “not have huge amounts of this vaccine available,” Müller said. 

According to a statement from the Hungarian News Agency (MTI), 85,410 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Hungary on Tuesday. A further shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected on Thursday, and 21,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine will also be arriving on Thursday. 

Doctors will receive a list of registered people who are eligible to be vaccinated, and vaccination of the oldest patients will be organised at GP’s clinics. 

A total of 291,396 people have been vaccinated in Hungary to date, and 110,395 have also received their second shot. 

In reply to a question, Müller said the British variant of the virus has so far been detected in 24 samples, but that the Brazilian and South African mutations have not yet been discovered in Hungary. 

1:19 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Federal judge issues a permanent injunction on Covid-19 capacity limits for houses of worship in New York

From CNN's Lauren del Valle

A federal judge in Brooklyn issued a permanent injunction on capacity restrictions in houses of worship across the state of New York, in an order published on Tuesday. 

Eastern District of New York Judge Kiyo Matsumoto granted a permanent injunction against part of an executive order issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, which limits gatherings in houses of worship to 25% capacity or a maximum of 10 people in "red zone" clusters, and to 33% capacity with a maximum of 25 people in the city's "orange zones."

In October, the Orthodox Jewish organization Agudath Israel filed a lawsuit against Governor Cuomo, arguing that capacity restrictions on houses of worship in red and orange zones violate the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.  

The judge denied the group's request for a temporary restraining order against the Covid-19 restrictions. Agudath Israel then pursued an appeal.

In December, a federal appeals court blocked Cuomo's restrictions on religious gatherings, saying the restrictions "are not narrowly tailored to stem the spread of Covid-19." That decision came after the US Supreme Court ruled in November that Jewish and Catholic houses of worship faced "far more restrictive" Covid-19 regulations than businesses. The appeals court ruling addressed per person limits on houses of worship, saying the state must justify imposing 10- or 25-person limits on houses of worship but not on certain secular businesses.

As a result, the federal court in this case eventually granted a preliminary injunction in January on the 10- and 25-person occupancy limits, according to Tuesday's order.  

Counsel for Governor Cuomo agreed to an injunction against the enforcement of the percent-based capacity limits for houses of worship in the zones. 

Cuomo's administration has renewed the executive order five times since October -- without modifying the restrictions on houses of worship. While it remains effective through February 26, the governor's counsel said on Monday that the governor plans to amend the order to remove houses of worship by the end of the month and had asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction -- rather than a permanent one -- over concerns for future litigation from "aggressive" plaintiff counsel.

Now the governor’s counsel and Agudath Israel have until March 1 to inform the federal court whether the case can be closed, court records show.

12:48 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

New York City will start vaccinating residents with underlying conditions next week

From CNN’s Jennifer Henderson

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in New York, on February 5.
A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in New York, on February 5. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images

New York City residents with underlying conditions will be able to get vaccinated beginning Monday 15 February, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner of New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said during a press conference Tuesday. 

Residents will need to provide medical documentation of their underlying condition, a note from their physician or an attestation designating that the person has underlying health conditions that make them eligible.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced during the press conference that New York City now has administered 1,032,158 vaccinations.

The city is also reporting 251 patients admitted to the hospital with suspected Covid-19, with a confirmed positivity rate of 72.31% and a hospitalization rate of 5.18 per 100,000 people, de Blasio said.

There are 3,587 new cases of Covid-19 on a seven-day average and the citywide positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average is 8.09%, he added. 

11:58 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

It may take years to figure out how Covid-19 emerged, WHO doctor in Wuhan says

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Dr. Peter Daszak, a zoologist who is part of the World Health Organization's (WHO) international team in Wuhan, China, has told CNN that scientists will eventually "get a really clear picture" of how Covid-19 originated, but it may take weeks, months or even a "couple of years."  

Daszak told CNN's Becky Anderson on Tuesday there is no evidence there were earlier Covid-19 clusters in other parts of China before early December, and that it is possible the virus may have even been brought by a person from another country. 

A "patient zero" still hasn't been identified and may never be, as many of the cases are asymptomatic, he said.  

When asked to comment on the possible conflict of interest while working with Chinese medical teams and researchers, he said: "Some people want to believe that [that there is conflict of interest]" but "we did not see any evidence of malpractice or significant safety issues."

Daszak said the international team, which consisted of about 17 WHO scientists and 20 Chinese scientists, visited "many labs" and asked "really tough questions" to their directors and individual scientists, and the data and transcripts of the interviews will be published in an upcoming WHO report. He also praised "remarkable openness from China."

11:51 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Americans’ perceived risk from the pandemic is lower than any time since October, poll finds 

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

People gather in downtown Tampa, Florida, on January 30.
People gather in downtown Tampa, Florida, on January 30. Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Americans’ perception of the risk posed by the coronavirus is the lowest it has been in months, a new poll finds.

An Axios-Ipsos poll published Tuesday said 66% reported they thought the risk of returning to pre-Covid life was a moderate or a large, the lowest figure since October. 

The groups least likely to see Covid-19 as a risk are people ages 18 to 29 (58%) and Republicans (49%). Meanwhile, 76% of those who have been vaccinated still see coronavirus as a high risk.

The poll was conducted February 5 to 8 and based on a nationally representative sample of 1,030 people age 18 and older.

The poll also suggests Americans are unsure about what types of activities are safe; the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safest to gather virtually or only with people you live with. In the poll, 28% of respondents say they are already attending gatherings with family or friends, 22% say they will wait for their circle to be vaccinated, 24% reported they will wait for officials to say it’s safe and 24% said they don’t know. 

Only 10% of Democrats and 15% of people over 65 are already going to in-person gatherings, compared with 42% of Republicans, the poll found. People over 65 and those with a college education were more likely to wait for the vaccine -- 29% and 34%, respectively. 

The figures come at a time where there is less trust in the media and sources of information about the pandemic. Trust in cable news has dropped since April, from 50% to 38%. Online news is trusted by 36% of respondents and network news by 47%, the poll found. 

The poll said 68% of Americans trust the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide accurate Covid-19 information, but by only 51% of Republicans. 53% of Americans continue to trust what President Joe Biden says on the issue.

11:37 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Why bad news for AstraZeneca's vaccine is a roadblock on the way out of the pandemic

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

Karwai Tang/Getty Images
Karwai Tang/Getty Images

It's the news the many feared: early data shows the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may provide only "minimal protection" against mild to moderate illness caused by the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.

A study released on Sunday from a South African university suggested that two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provided "substantially reduced" protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 disease from the new virus variant first identified there, known as B.1.351.

South Africa said that it is pausing its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, following the release of the study.

But this doesn't mean governments should throw out their AstraZeneca stockpiles. Experts say it's possible -- and very likely -- that the shot is still effective in preventing severe disease and death.

The news could, however, be a major roadblock on the world's way out of the pandemic, which can't 'end' until the virus stops circulating widely.

That's because the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to transport and store than some of the other vaccines approved for use to date and as such, was going to play a key part in combating the pandemic in low and middle-income countries. If the vaccine isn't effective enough against the new variant, it could deepen the already huge vaccination gap between the world's richest and poorest countries. 

Less effective vaccines could force countries where the new variants become dominant to shift their vaccination strategy. Instead of trying to achieve herd immunity, the focus might be on preventing as many deaths as possible even while the virus continues to circulate. 

And while the data from South Africa is no doubt a setback to vaccination campaigns, scientists are already working on updates to the existing vaccines to make them more effective against new variants. 

On Saturday, AstraZeneca said that it is working with Oxford University to adapt the vaccine against the B.1.351 variant and that it would advance it through clinical development to make it "ready for autumn delivery should it be needed."

Last month, Pfizer said it was "laying the groundwork" to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants.

 "We see this all the time with the influenza vaccine," Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester said. Flu vaccines are adapted each year to target the virus strains that are circulating the most. Sometimes, the vaccine picked doesn't match the strain that becomes prevalent.
"Mismatched vaccine seasons do allow more influenza infections, morbidity and mortality -- but to some extent, this is inevitable as the virus will always be mutating first -- then we will have to adjust our vaccines to match the new virus," Tang added.

The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday the flu blueprint might work for the coronavirus in the future. 

 "The jab is updated each year according to the mutations and variations that have happened and been spotted in the preceding few months, and that is manufactured over the summer, and then delivered into the arms of those who are most vulnerable to flu in the autumn," he said. 

When it comes to Covid-19, he explained that we need to be thinking about how to protect people in a similar way.

The good news is that developing a vaccine that would work against the new variants doesn't mean starting from scratch, so updates could become available soon. 

Read more:

9:53 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

US considers mobile vaccination centers to tackle "undersupply" of shots, White House adviser says

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Getting Covid-19 vaccination appointments has been a challenge for many Americans because "we're in a situation of undersupply" of vaccine, according to Andy Slavitt, the senior Biden White House adviser for Covid Response.

"We're in a situation, and we will be for a little while, of undersupply," Slavitt told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered on Monday.

"At one point we thought that there was a lot of manufacturing that had gone on over the last year and that would be the case. It wasn't -- and I think our job is to level with folks," he said.

"But the good news is we are increasing production every week," Slavitt added. "We've increased production that we've delivered to states by over 20%. We're opening 100 community vaccination centers, including two that are open already."

Slavitt said supply has been increasing in recent weeks, but added: "These are all small steps. None of them are silver bullets. I don't think this is going to be the administration that's going to overpromise or promise silver bullets, but these are all small gains."

And he added that in their effort get more people vaccinated against Covid-19, the Biden administration is considering mobile vaccination centers that can travel within a community. "They can go to workplaces, they can go to churches, they can go to communities," Slavitt said.

Elsewhere, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson told CNN the CDC will host a Covid-19 vaccination forum with national, state and local health practitioners on the safest and most effective ways to vaccinate Americans.

The event is scheduled for February 22-24 and will be led by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, along with officials from the White House COVID-19 Response Team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The initiative was first reported by NBC News.