February 17 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung and Sarah Faidell, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021
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10:08 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New York mayor calls vaccine supply shortage "outrageous"

From CNN's Rob Frehse

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio speaks to firefighters following the donation of meals on International Firefighters Day on May 4, 2020, in New York City. 
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio speaks to firefighters following the donation of meals on International Firefighters Day on May 4, 2020, in New York City.  Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the city's vaccine supply shortage “outrageous,” and he called upon pharmaceutical companies to "step up and give us the doses we need."

Two vaccination sites were expecting doses to arrive in the coming days, but shipments were delayed by winter storms. Both locations originally planned to open on Thursday, de Blasio said.

“I cannot be clearer: we have the infrastructure in place to deliver half a million doses per week,” de Blasio said. “All that’s missing is the supply to get it done. We need our the pharmaceutical companies to step-up and give us the doses we need to vaccinate the people of our city. There is not a moment to waste.”

10:09 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

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

From CNN's Betsy Kline and Kate Sullivan

White House officials stressed Wednesday that while they do not believe teachers need to be vaccinated to reopen schools, they think teachers should be prioritized for vaccinations like frontline workers.

"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," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said during a White House briefing.

The White House has continued to clarify its position on when and how schools should safely reopen, an issue that has become a national flashpoint since the coronavirus pandemic forced many classes online.

The comments from White House officials come after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both did not answer directly whether they believe teachers should be vaccinated before reopening schools when recently asked.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines released last week suggest it is not mandatory for teachers to be vaccinated to resume in-person learning, but they include a range of mitigation steps along with vaccinations like smaller class room sizes, sanitization and social distancing.

Read more:

10:11 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Covid-19 infections have fallen by two-thirds in England, study finds

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Meera Senthilingam in London

Patients wait after receiving their Covid-19 jabs at a vaccination centre at Salisbury Cathedral on February 11, in Salisbury, England.
Patients wait after receiving their Covid-19 jabs at a vaccination centre at Salisbury Cathedral on February 11, in Salisbury, England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Covid-19 infections in England have fallen by more than two-thirds in recent weeks, initial findings from a survey on community prevalence show. 

The interim findings from the ninth report of REACT-1, a study into Covid-19 infections in England, were released Thursday by Imperial College London.

More than 85,400 volunteers were tested with throat and nose swabs in England between February 4 and 13 to examine the levels of infection in the general population.

The findings show national prevalence fell by two thirds — from 1.57% to 0.51%, or 51 per 10,000 infected. This is a significant decline in infections compared to the last report from January 6 to 22. England entered its third national lockdown of the pandemic on January. 6.

“These encouraging results show that lockdown measures are effectively bringing infections down. It’s reassuring that the reduction in numbers of infections occurred in all ages and in most regions across the country,” Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said in a statement. 

The decline in prevalence was larger in some regions, in particular in London where it fell from 2.83% to 0.54% since the last report.

“In London, South East and West Midlands, prevalence fell by around 80%, although declines were smaller in the northern regions,” the Imperial report says.

Prevalence fell substantially across all age groups with highest prevalence among 18- to 24-year-olds at 0.89% and those between the ages of 5 and 12 at 0.86%, the report adds. The report concludes that although there is a " strong decline" in prevalence of coronavirus in England among the general population five to six weeks into lockdown, it still remains high — "at levels similar to those observed in late September 2020."

There are also still more people hospitalized with Covid-19 than at the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

The UK began its mass vaccination campaign in December, offering nearly all people over 70 a vaccine during January and February. It has now given more than 15 million people a first dose.

“The fall in prevalence was similar among those aged 65 years and over compared with other age groups, suggesting that if vaccines are effective at reducing transmission as well as disease, this effect is not yet a major driver of prevalence trends. Therefore, the observed falls described here are most likely due to reduced social interactions during lockdown,” the report reads.

“We do not yet know whether being vaccinated stops someone from passing the virus on to others,” England’s Department of Health added.

However, on Tuesday the UK Office for National Statistics reported almost 41% of over-80s in England tested positive for antibodies "most likely due to the high vaccination rate in this group.”

7:31 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Nevada governor allows high school basketball and football for first time since pandemic began

From CNN’s Andy Rose

High school basketball and football teams in Nevada are being given the green light to play for the first time since the pandemic began, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday.

“Full-contact sports regulated and governed by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) may resume practice and competitions if social distancing and all new requirements can be met,” the governor said.

Under Sisolak’s order, the NIAA must develop a Covid-19 plan that includes mandatory weekly testing for all coaches, staff and players. Non-institutional sports associations, like club leagues and park programs, are still prohibited from having full-contact sports, which also includes wrestling.

Sisolak also announced that school that have been open to students for at least 20 days can increase their capacity from 50% to 75% starting Thursday. School bus capacity is increasing to 66% to allow more children to attend in-person.

6:42 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Bars in New Orleans can open at 25% capacity starting Friday

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

People in costume walk past a shuttered bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, on Friday, February 12.
People in costume walk past a shuttered bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, on Friday, February 12. Gerald Herbert/AP

Bars and breweries in New Orleans, Louisiana, can open to 25% capacity starting on Friday, the city said in a news release.

They will be allowed to operate indoors at 25% capacity as long as the positivity rate in Orleans Parish remains below 5%. Bars can only be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., the release said. 

Since the city reentered a modified phase on Jan. 29, Covid-19 case counts, the positivity rate, and transmission rate have all decreased, allowing for further easing of some restrictions.


6:03 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

NBA sees an increase in players testing positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Jacob Lev 

An NBA logo is shown at the 5th Avenue NBA store on March 12, 2020 in New York City. 
An NBA logo is shown at the 5th Avenue NBA store on March 12, 2020 in New York City.  Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

A week after the league revealed just one player tested positive for Covid-19, the NBA announced on Wednesday that five new players have tested positive for the virus during the league's latest monitoring window. 

The league reports 454 players were tested since Feb. 10. 

After going over a week with no NBA games postponed due to Covid-19 protocols, the league has now postponed six games in the past few days. The San Antonio Spurs have had their next four games postponed due to positive tests within the team. The Charlotte Hornets, who played the Spurs Sunday, have had their next two games postponed. 

According to the NBA, 30 NBA games have been postponed this season as a result of the league's health and safety protocols. 

5:31 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Coronavirus may mutate faster in immunocompromised people, UK researchers say

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Researchers have observed the coronavirus mutates faster in immunocompromised people, which may provide a clue to how current virus variants emerged, Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, a group working on Covid-19 virus sequencing in the UK said Wednesday.

In an interview hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce Forum, Peacock explained that it's natural for viruses to mutate, and most mutations are insignificant. However, some mutations seen in variants first identified in the UK and South Africa, can make the virus more infectious.

Peacock said that over the course of the last year, the consortium has observed Covid-19 mutating about once every two weeks.

“What we've observed is that sometimes the virus will actually make a big leap in its evolution, particularly in people who've got a simmering infection, people who are immunocompromised that can't shake off their infection as well as other people,” she said. “And in that circumstance, we see the virus actually mutating at a faster rate.”

“We’ve reached a point where we've seen specific individuals in which the virus has actually adapted and changes quite significantly over the course of weeks or months in any single person,” she added. “It may be the origin of some of the variants that we're seeing now.”

She noted that more research is needed to fully understand how Covid-19 virus variants emerged.

5:08 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Lab studies suggest Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can protect against coronavirus variants

From CNN's Amanda Sealy and John Bonifield

A new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine can protect people against concerning new coronavirus variants, including one first seen in South Africa called B.1.351.

For the study, researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch genetically engineered versions of the virus to carry some of the mutations found in B.1.351. They tested them against blood samples taken from 15 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of a clinical trial. 

While the blood serum samples produced less neutralizing antibody activity, it was still enough to neutralize the virus, they wrote in a letter to the journal. This is in line with other studies. And it’s well within what is seen with other viruses, one of the researchers said. 

“Although we do not yet know exactly what level of neutralization is required for protection against COVID-19 disease or infection, our experience with other vaccines tells us that it is likely that the Pfizer vaccine offers relatively good protection against this new variant,” Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch and an author of the study, told CNN. 

“The reduction in the levels of neutralization against the South African variant of about 2/3 is fairly small compared to variations in neutralization levels generated by vaccines against other viruses that have even more variability in their protein sequences than SARS-CoV-2,” Weaver added. 

Pfizer said there is no evidence in real life that the variant escapes the protection offered by its vaccine. “Nevertheless, Pfizer and BioNTech are taking the necessary steps, making the right investments, and engaging in the appropriate conversations with regulators to be in a position to develop and seek authorization for an updated mRNA vaccine or booster once a strain that significantly reduces the protection from the vaccine is identified,” Pfizer said in a statement.

Separately, a team at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna published a letter in the same journal outlining findings from an experiment they reported last month. They also reported a reduction in the antibody response to viruses genetically engineered to look like the B.1.351 variant – but not enough of a reduction to make the vaccine fail.

“Despite this reduction, neutralizing titer levels with (the variant discovered in South Africa) remain above levels that are expected to be protective,” the company said in a statement.  

They found no reduction in efficacy against a variant first seen in Britain and known as B.1.1.7.


4:51 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Minnesota governor expects all schools to offer "some form" of in-person learning by March 8

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a news conference on Wednesday.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a news conference on Wednesday. Pool/WCCO

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he is hoping to get students back into classrooms "in a safe manner" by March 8.

“My goal is to try the best we can to get five days a week in all of our schools for all of our students in a safe manner by March 8,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We have made extraordinary progress against Covid-19, we are at case positivity rates that mirror last summer,” Walz said, adding that they aren’t out of the woods yet, “but our relentless progress with vaccines and Minnesotans’ vigilance has put us closer than ever to the end of this pandemic.”

Walz referred to the state’s updated Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-2021 school year, which provides new guidelines for all middle and high schools to come back to the classroom beginning Feb. 22 for hybrid or in-person learning. 

Starting next week, educators will have access to more than 18,000 vaccine doses at state vaccine sites and through other providers, an attempt at vaccinating all educators across Minnesota, he said. The governor added that nearly 25% of teachers and 40% of seniors have been vaccinated.

According to a statement released by the governor last week, 85% K-8 students are receiving some form of in-person learning, and 15% are in distance learning. Additionally, Minnesota began delivering Covid-19 testing supplies from state warehouses to each school district every two weeks at no cost to staff or schools, Walz said.

What the numbers show: In a Covid-19 update, the governor said the percentage of Covid-19 tests coming back positive is now below five percent—for the first time ever.

“Hospital bed usage is now back down to almost pre-Covid level,” Walz added.

On Wednesday, Minnesota reported 783 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state's total to 475,379. The state also reported 10 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to 6,390, according to Minnesota’s Department of Public Health.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s public health agency and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University, The Covid Tracking Project and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.