February 17 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung and Sarah Faidell, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021
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2:56 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

US reports 59,598 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday

From CNN's Joe Sutton

The United States reported 59,598 new coronavirus cases and 1,602 additional related deaths on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.    

That raises the national total to at least 27,753,824 cases and 487,927 deaths.

At least 71,657,975 vaccine doses have been distributed and 55,220,364 doses have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2:08 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Fauci says a Covid-19 vaccine could be needed annually

From CNN Health's Andrea Diaz

Medical worker Robert Gilbertson loads a syringe with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Los Angeles on February 16.
Medical worker Robert Gilbertson loads a syringe with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Los Angeles on February 16. Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it's "possible" that the Covid-19 vaccine could become a yearly vaccine, like the flu shot.

“We hope we can contain this particular outbreak and all of its ramifications throughout the world in a way that doesn't have the ... cycling of various versions of the virus so that you have to address it differently each year,” Fauci said in an interview with Spectrum News' Lisa McRee on Tuesday.

Fauci also said that it's “entirely conceivable” that scientists are already working on a universal coronavirus vaccine that would address all the variants. 

There are a number of new variants that have emerged recently. Here are the top four that are most worrying:

  • B.1.1.7 was first seen in the UK. It appears to be transmitted the same way -- but is more contagious and easily spread, experts say.
  • B.1.351 was first seen in South Africa and has since been reported in more than 30 other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
  • P.1 is suspected of fueling a resurgence of viral spread in Brazil. It has since been reported in the US and Japan, carried by travelers from Brazil.
  • L452R was seen in California as well as a dozen other states. Experts are still investigating the significance of this strain.

1:15 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

The US has reported nearly 1,300 infections from Covid-19 variants

A health care worker places a vial containing a Covid-19 test swab into a box at a testing site in San Francisco, California, on January 9.
A health care worker places a vial containing a Covid-19 test swab into a box at a testing site in San Francisco, California, on January 9. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

At least 1,299 cases of coronavirus variants that were first spotted in other countries have been reported in the United States, according to data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says this does not represent the total number of variant cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples.

UK variant: The vast majority of these cases are the B.1.1.7 variant first spotted in the UK, a more contagious strain. It has been found in 41 states and Washington, DC. 

South Africa variant: 19 cases of this strain, called B.1.351, were reported across nine states and Washington, DC.

Brazil variant: There have been three cases of the P.1 strain, first linked to Brazil -- two in Minnesota and one in Oklahoma.

12:08 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

United States could be back to normal by Christmas, Biden says

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Joe Biden said the United States might be in a "very different circumstance" by Christmas.

Speaking at CNN's town hall Tuesday night, Biden noted that with vaccinations, the ability to continue spreading coronavirus "is going to diminish considerably" due to herd immunity.

"So if that works that way, as my mother would say with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance God willing, than we are today," Biden said, cautioning that he did not want to "over-promise anything."

"A year from now, I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know," Biden said.

His vaccine plan: Biden promised that 600 million doses of vaccines would be available to the country by the end of July.

Not every vaccine will be administered by that time, Biden noted. “They’ll be available,” he said. “A lot will be being vaccinated in the meantime,” he said. “In other words, this is not all of a sudden 600 million doses are going to appear.”

12:00 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New Zealand to roll back social distancing restrictions

From journalist Sol Han in Seoul

New Zealand will lift social distancing restrictions across the country from Thursday, officials have announced.

Auckland will reduce restrictions to Level Two, its second-lowest level, while the rest of the country will be reduced to Level One. 

The Wednesday announcement comes as testing uncovered three new Covid-19 cases – including two locally transmitted infections, linked to a family cluster in Auckland.

A mother, father and daughter from the same household tested positive for the virus, authorities announced Sunday.

Restrictions were increased Sunday in a snap lockdown following the discovery of a cluster of cases of the UK variant.

New Zealand has recorded a total of 1,984 confirmed cases, 49 of which are still active.

12:00 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

El Salvador to start vaccinating citizens

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta

El Salvador will receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday, with vaccinations to start the same day, according to President Nayib Bukele.

“Tomorrow morning, an Iberia plane will bring the first batch of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines from India," Bukele tweeted Tuesday. "The vaccination begins tomorrow with our (medical) front-line personnel. This will take a few days, to vaccinate thousands of health workers daily."

Bukele did not specify how many doses are expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The vaccines are part of a government purchase from AstraZeneca, according to Bukele. The country approved the emergency use of the vaccine on December 30.

12:07 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New York attorney general sues Amazon over "deficient" Covid-19 response

From CNN's Brian Fung

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference on August 6, 2020, in New York City.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference on August 6, 2020, in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon on Tuesday, accusing the company of a “deficient” response to the pandemic in its workplace facilities. 

In a complaint filed in state court, James alleged Amazon violated labor law by failing to provide sufficient worker protections.

According to the lawsuit, the company failed to close its facilities for cleaning when it discovered worker infections; failed to notify workers who had been in contact with infected colleagues; and failed to give employees enough leeway on the job to conduct cleanings, practice social distancing and other preventive measures. 

 “Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus," the complaint said.
“Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health ... Amazon’s response to the pandemic continues to be deficient.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, the company filed a preemptive lawsuit in New York state asking a court to block James from filing a complaint under state law.

12:07 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Australian state of Victoria to end snap lockdown

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney

Cafes and retail shops are closed during lockdown in Melbourne, on February 16.
Cafes and retail shops are closed during lockdown in Melbourne, on February 16. Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

The Australian state of Victoria will end its five-day "circuit breaker" lockdown on Wednesday night after detecting no new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced.

A record 39,258 coronavirus tests were conducted in Victoria on Tuesday, Andrews said. All six cases of community transmission detected during the lockdown period were clustered together and identified as the UK variant of Covid-19.

"I am very, very pleased to be able to announce that this will be a five-day short sharp circuit breaker," Andrews said. "It’s exactly what we said we needed and exactly what we said would work."

Andrews said his government was continuing discussions over spectator limits at the Australian Open, which is underway in Melbourne, the state capital.

Starting 11:59 p.m. local time Wednesday:

  • Victoria residents can leave their homes for any reason.
  • A 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) limit on travel will be lifted.
  • Non-essential businesses and schools will reopen.
  • Masks will remain mandatory at all times when physical distance is not ensured.

11:43 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

South Africa receives first shipment of single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine

From CNN's Sharif Paget and Ingrid Formanek

South Africa has received its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the country's health minister announced Tuesday, putting it on target to become the first in the world to administer the shot. 

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Twitter that South Africa had secured a total 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with the first delivery containing 80,000 shots.

Vaccinations are due to begin this week, he added.

About the vaccine: Developed by Janssen, Johnson & Johnson's Belgium-based vaccine division, the single-dose vaccine has shown to be effective in preventing moderate and severe disease from South Africa's coronavirus variant.

The AstraZeneca vaccine: South Africa said it plans to share 1 million unwanted doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries in the African Union, after early data suggests it provided only “minimal protection” against mild and moderate infections from the South African variant.