February 16 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Zamira Rahim, Mary Ilyushina and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 10:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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8:02 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

First case of South Africa Covid-19 variant identified in Massachusetts

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced today the state has confirmed its first case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa.  

The case is a Middlesex County woman in her 20s with no reported travel, according to the the public health department.

“The Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory is working in collaboration with many healthcare and academic partners to quickly identify variants of concern by sequencing a subset of positive samples,” the release said.

There are also currently 34 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, in Massachusetts, the public health department said.

7:42 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

UK will call for ceasefires across the globe to administer Covid-19 vaccines in conflict zones  

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London

Britain's Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab leaves the BBC Television Centre after appearing on The Andrew Marr Show at November 29, 2020 in London, England.
Britain's Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab leaves the BBC Television Centre after appearing on The Andrew Marr Show at November 29, 2020 in London, England. Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The United Kingdom on Wednesday will call for ceasefires across the globe in order for people living in conflict zones to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will make the request as he chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday. 

“Global vaccination coverage is essential to beating coronavirus. That is why the UK is calling for a vaccination ceasefire to allow Covid-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones and for a greater global team effort to deliver equitable access. We have a moral duty to act, and a strategic necessity to come together to defeat this virus,” Raab said in a statement. 

The foreign secretary will say allowing the virus to spread in areas without vaccination campaigns means a greater risk of new variants taking hold — risking further waves across the world, according to the statement. 

It states that “more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because of instability and conflict, including in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia."

Raab will also use the UK's presidency of the Security Council this month to push for more funding for the UN’s response to the pandemic, the World Health Organization and for the COVAX initiative to drive progress on global access to vaccines, the foreign office said. 

6:56 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

University of Virginia bans in-person events after rise in cases with Covid-19 variant

From CNN's Elizabeth Stuart

The University of Virginia is banning all in-person gatherings and events due to an increase in cases of the Covid-19 variant, according to a notice sent to the university community on Tuesday.

The notice says all in-person gatherings on or off campus are "prohibited and should be moved online" effective Tuesday at 7 p.m. until at least Feb. 26, at which point the university will consider lifting the ban.

"We have seen an additional – and unusually large – increase in positive cases, spread widely both on and off Grounds," a letter from UVA President Jim Ryan and other campus leaders said. "Our in-house analysis indicates that this spread is not directly related to variants but instead to transmission of the original strain of the virus, which can occur when individuals are not closely following health and safety protocols."

There were 117 new cases of Covid-19 reported yesterday, according to UVA's online dashboard. It's unclear how many of those cases were also linked to the variant.

Students will be allowed to leave their residence halls to "essential activities," including attending in-person class, picking up meals, going to and from a job and walking or running outdoors, according to the guidance issued.

University leadership says they are putting this ban in place now to prevent further spread of the virus.

"We do not take these actions lightly, but they are necessary at a time when the virus is more widespread, and it appears members of our community are not adhering to our health and safety protocols as consistently as they did last semester," the statement said.

The university plans to lift the ban if conditions improve, but the statement said if they don't, they will consider other restrictions for the rest of the semester including moving all undergraduate and graduate courses online.

6:11 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

US consumers now have the first national standards for face mask quality 

From CNN’s Keri Enriquez

A worker at a Honeywell International Inc. factory works on N95 masks May 5, in Phoenix.
A worker at a Honeywell International Inc. factory works on N95 masks May 5, in Phoenix. Brendand

The American Society for Testing and Material, an international technical standards organization, has published the first national standard for consumer masks.

The standards outline things like minimum fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and would require user instructions, package labeling and a permanent tag on the product. 

ASTM said it hopes it creates a baseline for quality and protection moving forward.

“This standard brings value by specifying minimum design, performance, and testing requirements and allowing comparison of products by end users where current guidelines have been limited,” the approved ASTM standard reads.  

To be certified as meeting the standards, manufacturers are required to test their facial coverings in accredited labs to certify performance, register their products and use the outlined labeling system to use the ASTM package labeling system.

How this impacts you: Consumers in stores would be able to evaluate the quality of masks on store shelves from the labeling on the packaging. If a mask has ASTM labeling, it could ensure the customer that product has met the testing and quality requirements outlined in “ASTM F3502."

The ASTM standard labeling requirements indicate results of two testing criteria: breathability and filtration efficiency. Typically, when a mask has a higher filtration, it results in more resistance and can make it harder to breathe.

According to the ASTM guidelines, a lower performance, level one designation would require the product to filter at least 20% of particles – something that would make the mask easy to breathe through, but that would provide less protection. A level two certification would designate high performance filtration of at least 50% of particles but would provide less breathability.

The standards strictly prohibit the use of vents, valves or any feature that allows people to blow out or breathe in unfiltered air.

5:44 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

WHO reports 16% decline in global coronavirus cases from last week

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Global coronavirus cases declined by 16% in the week leading up to Feb. 14, the World Health Organization reported in an update Tuesday.

WHO says 81,000 coronavirus deaths and 2.7 million new cases were reported last week – more than 500,000 fewer new cases compared to the previous week. 

New cases declined by double digit percentages in all regions except the Eastern Mediterranean region, and new deaths declined in all regions, WHO reported.

The US is currently reporting the highest number of new cases, by far, followed by Brazil, France, Russia, and the UK and Northern Ireland.

WHO noted that the coronavirus variant first identified in the UK has now been found in 94 countries, the variant first identified in South Africa has been found in 46 and the variant first identified in Brazil has been found in 21.

 

5:43 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

FEMA will have 6 vaccination sites staffed by military personnel running next week

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman

Drivers and passengers in vehicles arrive for their Covid-19 vaccinations administered by members of the National Guard on the opening day of a new mass Covid-19 vaccination site established between the federal government and the state on February 16, on the campus at California State University of Los Angeles.
Drivers and passengers in vehicles arrive for their Covid-19 vaccinations administered by members of the National Guard on the opening day of a new mass Covid-19 vaccination site established between the federal government and the state on February 16, on the campus at California State University of Los Angeles. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will have six vaccination sites staffed with military personnel running next week, including one site in Los Angeles that was launched Tuesday morning, acting administrator Bob Fenton said.

There is an additional FEMA site in Oakland staffed by civilian personnel.

The sites in Houston, Dallas and Arlington, Texas, as well as Queens and Brooklyn in New York, are scheduled to open next Wednesday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command, said speaking via teleconference.

The sites are a combination of 222-person "type 1" teams, capable of 6,000 vaccinations per day, and 139-person "type 2" teams, capable of 3,000 vaccinations per day.

In total, they will bring FEMA's total vaccinations to 30,000 vaccinations per day across the sites. The deployments will include approximately 1,000 troops from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin initially authorized the call up of 1,110 troops to assist in vaccination efforts, then added another 3,700 troops.

FEMA has its own supply of vaccine doses to administer and will not be using vaccines from the states' allocation, Fenton said. That supply stands at 11 million doses per week now, said Fenton, and it is expected to rise to 13.5 million doses next week.

"This is a dedicated supply above and beyond the state allocation, above and beyond what the pharmacies are receiving, and in a pilot phase right now," Fenton said.

As of now, there are no outstanding requests from states or territories for additional vaccination sites, Fenton added.

The Pentagon has also allocated smaller teams of 25 troops to help in New Jersey and the US Virgin Islands. This is separate from the troops used for vaccination sites.

Initial discussions with FEMA called for 100 teams capable of delivering a total of 450,000 vaccinations per day, far higher than what the planned sites will be able to deliver.

Fenton explained the request for so many teams was based on more vaccine being available in the near future.

"How much will we have to get to those 100 teams? It depends on how much the pharmacies can do, how much states and local governments can handle and what is the gap," Fenton said. "We want to make sure we have the capability to go up to almost 500,000 vaccines a day. That's what the 100 teams buys us. How much we'll use will depend on vaccine supply and the capability of state and local government, the pharmacies, and other avenues."

In the past three weeks, FEMA has also provided $3.2 billion to 40 states and territories to improve their capability and resources, Fenton said.

5:33 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout now expected to be slower due to miscommunication, official says

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Sara Murray and Naomi Thomas

Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Once it is authorized, the rollout of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be slower than federal health officials initially anticipated, CNN has learned. 

The administration is still expecting single digit millions of doses if the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. However — due to a miscommunication over the production timeline — government officials thought that number would ramp up to between 20 or 30 million doses by April. They are now expecting fewer than 20 million Johnson and Johnson doses in April, an administration official told CNN. 

This delays their expectations by about a month. Officials do still expect to get 100 million doses by the end of June to the beginning of July.

On a call with governors Tuesday, the administration said the initial flow of J&J vaccine would be in the low millions and then would ramp up substantially, according to a source familiar with the call.

Johnson and Johnson did not directly address the slower vaccine rollout, but said in a statement, “Johnson & Johnson intends to distribute vaccine to the U.S. government immediately following authorization, and expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. in the first half of 2021. The Company expects to have product available to ship immediately following authorization.” 

Some context: Earlier Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that it could be mid to late May or early June before vaccines are widely available to the general population after he offered an earlier timeline last week.

“I was hoping that that would be by the end of April,” Fauci said. “That was predicated on J&J, the Johnson product, having considerably more doses than now we know they’re going to have.”

“So, that timeline will probably be prolonged, maybe into mid to late May and early June, that’s fine,” Fauci said.

The FDA has scheduled its meeting of independent experts to evaluate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and make a recommendation on Feb. 26. It has not been authorized yet.

5:37 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your questions about rising hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic

Hate crime attacks against Asian Americans have increased during the pandemic.

More than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and the District of Columbia were reported between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020, with 7.3% of those incidents involving Asian Americans over the age of 60, according to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition documenting anti-Asian hate and discrimination amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

CNN's Kyung Lah answers your questions from Los Angeles.

Watch:

4:32 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Catch up: Here are the latest coronavirus headlines from the US

A man is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts on February 16.
A man is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts on February 16. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

As Congress works to pass another Covid-19 relief package, the Biden administration is ramping up distribution of the vaccines. Meanwhile, the US is seeing a downward trend in new infections, but officials warn the next spike could come from virus variants.

Here is what you need to know to get up to speed.

Covid relief package timeline:

  • This coming week, the House Budget Committee will assemble a final bill based off the measures approved by at least nine committees. The full House is expected to vote on the bill by the end of next week, followed by Senate action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the package to be on President Biden's desk by March 14.
  • The measure will be part of budget reconciliation legislation which means it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.

What's in Democrat's plan:

  • The Democrat's proposal is pretty close to what Biden outlined last month. It would include $1,400 direct stimulus payments, extend two key pandemic unemployment programs, money for state and local governments and nearly $130 billion for schools, among other things.

Vaccine distribution:

  • More than 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 72% of all the doses that have been distributed.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said he thinks the process of widespread vaccinations will likely start in the spring and large portions of the public will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Ramping up rollout:

  • The Biden administration is again increasing its weekly Covid-19 vaccine supply being sent to states, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Officials said the administration is “increasing the vaccine supply to 13.5 million doses per week to states," Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing, a 57% increase from inauguration levels.
  • About 2 million doses will be sent directly to pharmacies across the country this week, according to Psaki.
  • Moderna said it expects to deliver 100 million doses by the end of March, followed by an additional 100 million doses by the end of May and another 100 million doses by the end of July.

Kids and Covid-19:

  • More than 3.03 million children in the US have tested positive for Covid-19 as of Feb. 11, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last week alone, about 99,000 new child cases were identified through testing – that's an 8% increase in the last two weeks.

Variants:

  • Andy Slavitt, White House Covid-19 senior adviser, said that while it is nice to see case numbers drop, "it could be misleading," adding the next new wave will be with the variant first detected in the UK.
  • The Connecticut Department of Public Health has detected its first positive case of the variant first found in South Africa, it said in a statement.
  • Researchers said they have identified a batch of similar mutations in coronavirus samples circulating in the United States. They stress that the US needs to do more sequencing to identify these mutations faster.