February 17 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung and Sarah Faidell, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021
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3:50 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

More than 56 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the US, according to CDC data

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Dr. Galen Harnden administers a Covid-19 vaccine to Edith Arangoitia in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on Tuesday.
Dr. Galen Harnden administers a Covid-19 vaccine to Edith Arangoitia in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on Tuesday. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

More than 56 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 56,281,827 total doses have been administered — about 72% of the 72,423,125 doses distributed.

That’s more than 1 million more administered doses reported since Tuesday, for a seven-day average of about 1.6 million doses per day.

More than 40 million people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 15 million people have been fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

3:27 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Kroger Health announces new online Covid-19 vaccine scheduling tool

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess and Jessica Jordan

Today, Kroger Health announced its new Covid-19 vaccine scheduling tool to book vaccine appointments online, according to a release from Kroger. 

The company says their new tool can manage more than 250,000 appointment requests on a daily basis and will reflect the amount of vaccine doses confirmed within Kroger’s system. Importantly, customers will be able to book both their first and second dose appointments at the same time. for both their first and second dose at the same time. 

The website will also let customers check their vaccine eligibility, the release said.  

As of Feb. 16, Kroger Health has administered more than 380,000 Covid-19 vaccines in 25 states, the release said. Currently, Kroger Health is receiving and administering vaccines at 1,300 of its 2,200 pharmacies. 

“As more vaccines become available nationwide, our pharmacies and clinics will be ready and able to administer thousands of doses to our communities every day,” the President of Kroger Health, Colleen Lindholz, said. “Our new online scheduling tool and improved call center experience will allow us to easily scale to meet demand once more vaccine doses are available to Kroger Health.”
2:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House says Biden included minimum wage increase in relief bill because he "feels it's important"

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily news briefing on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily news briefing on Wednesday. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden included a minimum wage increase in the Covid-19 relief bill "because he feels it's important, it's a priority," but wouldn't say if the administration thinks it will survive Senate rules.

“We’re in the middle of the legislative process for the American Rescue Plan, and we fully recognize, as does the President, having served in the Senate for 36 years that his bill, that he proposed, that included a $15 minimum wage increase, included many other key components may not look exactly the same on the other end when it comes out of the sausage making machine, but he put it in there, a raise of the minimum wage, because he feels it's important," she said.

Some more context: Earlier this month, Biden conceded that he does not believe he will be able to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour through his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal due to the Senate's rules. "I put it in, but I don't think it's going to survive," Biden told "CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell" in excerpts of an interview that aired before the Super Bowl. 

Asked if she was optimistic about the minimum wage raise surviving Senate rules, Psaki told reporters Wednesday, “We'll see. It's up to members of Congress to determine what the final package looks like, it's a priority to the President,” adding Biden “supports a gradual increase, that it wouldn't be an immediate and as does Sen. Sanders and as do many advocates for increasing the minimum wage.”

1:05 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New York state to open up four additional mass vaccination sites, governor says

From CNN's Brian Vitagliano

Registered nurse Rita Alba taps the air out of a syringe before vaccinating a patient at a pop-up site in New York on January 31.
Registered nurse Rita Alba taps the air out of a syringe before vaccinating a patient at a pop-up site in New York on January 31. Mary Altaffer/AP

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced four new mass vaccination sites in the state to increase the supply of doses in “socially vulnerable communities.”

The sites in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Yonkers will be in partnership with the federal government with the goal of vaccinating 1,000 New Yorkers a day. The sites will come online March 3, according to the governor. 

Cuomo said the state has developed 91 pop-up vaccination sites to help with what he called “vaccine hesitancy” in the Black community.

Forty-three thousand first doses have been administered to date at those sites, with 13 more pop-up vaccinations sites coming online this week.

New York state has administered 3.3 million total doses, 2.2 first doses and 1 million second doses, according to Cuomo.

He said 73% of current nursing home residents and 49% of nursing home staff have been vaccinated. The state has concluded vaccinations to all nursing home residents and nursing home staff who have agreed to take the vaccine.

“They have all been offered first and second doses and the only people left in that category are residents or staff that refused,” Cuomo said. 

There will be vaccines available for all residents and staff who may change their mind later, including any new residents or staff entering long-term care facilities, Cuomo said.

12:44 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

CDC's ensemble forecast now projects up to 559,000 US Covid-19 deaths by March 13

From CNN's Ben Tinker

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 530,000 to 559,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by March 13. 

Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble��forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future. The previous ensemble forecast, published Feb. 10, projected up to 540,000 coronavirus deaths by March 6. 

At least 488,352 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

12:37 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House says teacher vaccinations are "not a requirement to reopen"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Jeff Zients, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, conducts a virtual press briefing on Wednesday.
Jeff Zients, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, conducts a virtual press briefing on Wednesday. White House

The White House has gotten back in step with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after some confusion regarding vaccinating teachers, saying Wednesday that it is not mandatory though teachers should be prioritized like frontline workers. 

“Teachers should be vaccinated… like other frontline workers,” White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zients said at Wednesday’s virtual Covid press briefing, but added. “But the President, vice president agree with the CDC guidelines that it's not a requirement to reopen.”  

President Biden said Tuesday in a CNN town hall that he wanted teachers to be vaccinated, comments Vice President Kamala Harris echoed when pressed repeatedly on the matter Wednesday during an interview with NBC News. 

The CDC’s guidelines released last week suggest it is not mandatory for teachers to be vaccinated in order to return to in-person learning, a key priority for the Biden administration in its first 100 days. But the decision is ultimately up to the states.

Right now, 28 states plus the District of Columbia are currently allowing some or all of their teachers and school staff to receive Covid-19 vaccines. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that getting every teacher vaccinated before schools can open “really is rather impractical to make that a sine qua non of opening the schools,” using to the Latin phrase for an “essential condition,” though he added, “We feel strongly that we should try as best as we possibly can to vaccinate teachers and they should be as a high priority within the area of essential personnel.”

“Even though we don't feel that every teacher needs to be vaccinated before you can open a school, that doesn't take away from the fact that we strongly support the vaccination of teachers," he continued.

Fauci suggested that the data of Covid cases in school settings, largely, are “reflective of what is going on in the community,” rather than super-spreading events within schools. 

12:10 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

National Guard members have helped administer more than 1.2 million vaccinations

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

A National Guardsman prepares to vaccinate a man in Boston on Tuesday.
A National Guardsman prepares to vaccinate a man in Boston on Tuesday. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The National Guard has administered over 1.2 million vaccinations to civilians in their support of distribution efforts across the country, Major General Steven Nordhaus, Director of Operations of the National Guard Bureau, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. 

Right now, Army and Air National Guard members are “administering on average over 72,000 vaccines a day to local citizens,” Nordhaus said. 

The National Guard has more than 350 civilian vaccination sites “across 42 states and territories,” while there are National Guard members helping vaccination efforts in 33 states and territories, Nordhaus said.

“We currently have over 28,400 soldiers and airmen dedicated to Covid-19 operations across all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia performing a wide range of missions,” Nordhaus said.

11:53 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

White House outlines "bridge" funding to increase Covid-19 testing

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid-19 response team testing coordinator Carole Johnson announced new steps from the Biden administration to increase testing efforts and capacity across the country, focused on testing for schools and underserved communities, testing supplies, and genomic sequencing as a “bridge” before Congress is able to pass a stimulus package. 

“We need to test broadly and rapidly to turn the tide of this pandemic. But we still don’t have enough testing and we don’t have enough testing in all the places it needs to be. Today, we’re taking a critical step along that path,” she said at Wednesday’s virtual Covid briefing. 

She outlined a new $1.6 billion federal investment in three key areas: 

  • $650 million in funding for testing for schools and underserved populations: She said this will “serve only as a pilot” until Congress can pass a relief package. It will create regional coordinating centers that will partner with labs to support schools and underserved committees, including homeless shelters and other places that “don’t have the resources or the bandwidth to build partnerships with academic or commercial testing labs.” 
  • $815 million for domestic manufacturing of testing supplies: This money will address what Johnson described as a “shortage of critical supplies and raw materials,” including pipette tips, the specialized paper used in the antigen test, and the specialized molded plastics needed to house testing reagents. 
  • Nearly $200 million toward genome sequencing: The funding will “result in a three-fold increase to the CDC’s genomic sequencing capacity,” bringing the US to 25,000 samples per week, which, she said, will help to quickly identify variants sooner and “better target our efforts to stop the spread.”

Johnson said that these steps are “a significant help in the short term” but are still “far from what’s necessary to meet the needs of testing in communities across the country,” describing the funding as a “bridge until Congress passes the American Rescue Plan.” 

“We need to build the capacity to produce these materials, or we'll continue to face shortages that will sidetrack our work in expanding access to testing,” she added.

11:34 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Biden administration announces more federal funding to expand Covid-19 testing, including at schools

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The Biden administration is announcing more federal funding to expand Covid-19 testing in different sectors and "better prepare for the threat of variants."

President Biden said his administration will invest:

  • $650 million in federal funding for Covid-19 testing for schools and underserved populations
  • $815 million for domestic manufacturing of testing supplies
  • Nearly $200 million toward genome sequencing. 

Health and Human Services will establish "regional coordinating centers" to organize the distribution of testing supplies and "partner with laboratories across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies," according to a White House statement on the funding.

The statement noted that often testing can "be hard to implement in non-medical settings or it can be hard for schools or other congregate settings to find the right partner to make testing work."