February 19 coronavirus news

By Sarah Faidell, Brad Lendon, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0649 GMT (1449 HKT) February 23, 2021
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5:52 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Pfizer expands Covid-19 vaccine production capabilities

From CNN's Nadia Kounang

Vaccine maker Pfizer is adding a facility in Kansas to its Covid-19 fill-finish vaccine production process and expanding its vaccine production capabilities at locations in Michigan and Connecticut, the company's CEO, Albert Bourla, said during a news conference Friday.

“As part of this expansion, we are adding a new formulation suite here in Kalamazoo…lipid production capabilities in both Kalamazoo and at our site in Groton Connecticut, and fill-finish lines at our site in McPherson, Kansas," Bourla said.

The news conference was held jointly with President Biden after he had toured the Kalamazoo site.

Bourla added the company is also increasing the supply of raw materials from existing suppliers and bringing on new suppliers.

He added that improvements have allowed the company to increase production. 

“We have improved our processes to double the batch size and increase yield, and we have deployed more efficient lab test methods to reduce release times,” Bourla said.

Bourla said that these improvements have allowed the company to reduce their timelines ”from approximately 110 days from start to vial ready” and are now closer to “an average of 60 days, which is an almost 50% improvement.”

Over the next few weeks, Bourla expects to increase the number of doses produced for the US, “from an average of 5 million doses per week, which is the average until now, to more than double of that number, starting from the next couple of weeks."

CNN previously reported at the beginning of February that upgrades to Pfizer’s production process helped the vaccine maker double its output of coronavirus vaccine in the last month. At the time, Pfizer spokesperson Amy Rose told CNN that Pfizer expected production time to be cut nearly in half, from 110 days to an average of 60 days for one batch of Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer said one batch is equal to between 1 to 3 million doses.

5:47 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

"Shame on us if we don't develop the universal coronavirus vaccine," says Fauci

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center

Because coronaviruses like Covid-19 have pandemic potential, the world needs a universal coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

“I believe that we have the capability scientifically to develop what we call the universal coronavirus vaccine,” Fauci said in an interview hosted by Georgetown University. “In other words, one that really covers at least all of the SARS-CoV-2 mutations, but also the entire spectrum of the family of coronaviruses.”

A relative of the virus causing Covid-19, called SARS, broke out in 2003-2004, killing close to 800 people before it was stopped. A related virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS also occasionally kills people, and several other coronaviruses cause common cold symptoms.

“Fifteen to 30% of all the common colds that you and I experience every winter, repetitively, are coronaviruses – usually four of them,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained.

Fauci said it’s likely that these coronaviruses hit human civilization as a big pandemic hundreds of years ago, eventually becoming the common cold viruses we are familiar with today.

“We got hit with three in 18 years that have been either pandemic or pandemic potential, so shame on us if we don't develop the universal coronavirus vaccine,” Fauci said.
5:46 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Irish authorities report 3 cases of Brazilian Covid-19 variant

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

Irish health authorities have reported three cases of the Covid-19 variant first identified in Brazil, the Irish National Public Health Emergency Team said in a statement on Friday.

“All of the cases identified are directly associated with recent travel from Brazil,” the statement read. “All cases are being followed up by public health teams and enhanced public health measures have been put in place, in line with guidance.”

“Detection of this variant in Ireland does not change the fact that our best defence against all forms of COVID-19 is to stick with the public health measures that have proved to be effective in reducing incidence of disease in our communities,” the Irish deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Ronan Glynn, said in the statement. “We must continue to wash our hands well and often, wear a mask, cough and sneeze into our elbows, keep two metres social distance from others and avoid crowds, and always remember that it is imperative to phone your GP at the very first sign of COVID-19 symptoms.”
5:44 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Bill Gates calls for investments to respond to Covid-19 and prevent future pandemics

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called for investments in pandemic response and preparedness Friday.

“It is a tragedy that the modest steps that would have been required to contain this epidemic weren't taken in advance,” Gates said at the Munich Security Conference. “Given the trillions of dollars of damage and the other deficits that are tough to measure, we should make the investment, the small number of billions that we need to ensure ourselves that this never happens again.”

He added that the investments would allow experts to work towards ambitious goals, like creating universal coronavirus and flu vaccines, drugs that block virus transmission and diagnostics that could cover 20% of the population per week at a low cost.

“We can create mRNA vaccine factories that have a lot of capacity globally, and those factories can be used for standard vaccines when there's not a pandemic,” Gates said.

“If we have a team of 3,000 global experts, they can be working on things like measles and malaria, and then move over to work on a pandemic,” he added.

He also called for cooperative action to help shrink the disparities in Covid-19 vaccine access between rich and less wealthy nations.

“As the rich countries get on high levels of vaccination, their factories can contribute,” Gates said. “If we do this well, we'll have about a six to eight-month delta of the vaccination levels of the rich to the developing countries – still longer than we'd like.”

“The good news is, is that a single miraculous tool, the vaccine – once we make billions of them for the entire world – will largely end this crisis,” he added.
5:43 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Canada's Trudeau warns of a dangerous third wave as the country copes with a vaccine "drought"

From CNN’s Paula Newton

CTV Network
CTV Network

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians that public health measures, including restrictions on indoor social gatherings, would have to continue for weeks to comes as new Covid-19 variants, and a slow vaccine rollout, risk causing a dangerous third wave of the virus. 

“We have to keep taking strong public health measures,” said Trudeau during a news conference Friday adding, "otherwise we could see a third wave that is even worse than the second or the first, and I know that’s not the news you want to hear.”

Canadian public health officials released alarming new modeling Friday indicating that even current public health measures will not be enough to contain a third wave if fueled by faster spreading variants of Covid-19. 

"We need to make sure that, even as provinces look at loosening up certain restrictions, that other restrictions are kept in, and there is an ability to…respond quickly when variants appear,” said Trudeau. 

The new modeling underscores the fact that "variants of concern" have now been detected in all provinces and continue to spread. Based on the projections released by public health officials, current public health measures would not be enough to contain the spread of the virus by spring if the new, more contagious variants take hold. 

“A resurgence is very likely if people let go of the public health measures right now. What you want to do is to keep avoiding this yo-yoing effect of up and down. You need to avoid complete lockdowns and curfews and all those things by trying to maintain a strong level of public health measures,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer at a modeling presentation Friday. 

The province of Ontario announced Friday that the city of Toronto and one of its neighboring regions will remain in a lockdown, with a stay-at-home order, until at least March 8 as the threat of new variants spreading continues to concern health officials. 

Canada remains quite vulnerable to a third wave as new Covid-19 variants continue to spread and the vaccine rollout remains painfully slow right across the country.

“We need more vaccines, more vaccines will solve massive issues,” said Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier at a news conference in Toronto Friday. 

Like other provinces and territories throughout Canada, Ontario has managed to vaccinate the vast majority of residents and staff in long-term care homes. Those residents continue to represent those most vulnerable to Covid-19 in Canada. 

But there has been no significant vaccine rollout in other vulnerable groups, except indigenous communities. The commander leading the vaccine rollout in Ontario characterized the situation as a "vaccine drought." 

“We have not wasted our time while we’ve been in that drought, with a minimal amount of vaccines to use, what we have been doing in preparing for the day when more arrive,” retired Gen. Rick Hillier said at a news conference in Toronto Friday. 

Hillier said his vaccine task force would now prioritize "patient-facing" health care workers, among other at-risk groups and said he expected the scarcity of vaccine doses to improve over the next few weeks. 

4:41 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Biden explains why he can't say when every American who wants a vaccine will get one

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Brendan Smialowsk/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowsk/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden sought to explain Friday why he can't be more specific on when every American who wants a vaccine can get one, or when the country will be able to return to normal.

He said issues like weather, mutating strains and manufacturing delays could all cause unforeseen problems in inoculating the American public.

"I believe we're on the road, I promise you. I know we'll run into bumps. It's not going to be easy here to the end, but we're going to beat this. We're going to beat this," he said while visiting a Pfizer vaccine-manufacturing facility in Michigan.

He said he wanted to be "straight" with the public on his expectations for the virus instead of offering unknowable timelines.

"I'll always be straight with you. I said in my inaugural I'll give it to you straight from the shoulder, as Roosevelt said, because the American people can take the truth. They can handle anything. I can't give you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we're doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later," he said.

Later, he repeated his previously-stated goal of normalcy by Christmas. But noted, that even that was not a firm commitment.

"I believe we'll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year and God willing this Christmas will be different than last, but I can't make that commitment to you," he said. "There are other strains of the virus. We don't know what could happen in terms of production rates, things can change, but we're doing everything the science has indicated we should do, and people are stepping up to get everything done that has to be done."

Watch:

4:23 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

Wales extends Covid-19 lockdown for further three weeks

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford speaks during a coronavirus press conference at the Welsh Government Building in Cathays Park on February 19, in Cardiff, Wales.
First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford speaks during a coronavirus press conference at the Welsh Government Building in Cathays Park on February 19, in Cardiff, Wales. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Wales will extend its coronavirus lockdown by a further three weeks, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced on Friday. The country has been under lockdown restrictions since the end of December.

“The overarching stay at home measures will need to stay in place for another three weeks,” Drakeford said.

He did announce some “very modest changes” to ease some of the country’s strictest regulations.

Under the new guidance that starts Saturday, four people from a maximum of two households will be able to meet outdoors for exercise, but “this does not mean that it is permissible to drive somewhere to exercise, and it does mean exercising, not socialising,” Drakeford emphasized.

From next week, licensed wedding venues such as visitor attractions and hotels, can reopen but only for the purpose of performing weddings and civil partnerships.

"As more people are living and working in care homes with the vaccine having been delivered, we will look again at the most difficult and challenging issue – how to allow more visits in care homes to take place, provided it can be done safely,” Drakeford continued.

He said that returning children to the classroom was the Welsh government’s “top priority,” with children age three to seven returning to face-to-face learning from Monday. Drakeford expressed hopes that all primary school children in Wales can return to face-to-face learning starting March 15, if the coronavirus situation in the country continues to improve.

As of Friday, almost 840,000 people in Wales have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, equivalent to a third of the adult population of Wales, Drakeford said.

The next review of restrictions will be during the week of March 8.

3:27 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

California will set aside 10% of Covid-19 vaccine doses for teachers

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

California will set aside 10% of Covid-19 vaccine doses to be used for teachers and child care workers in an effort to resume in-person education, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in a news conference Friday.

The focused allocations will begin with a baseline of 75,000 doses and that number will be maintained as a minimum number to be set aside for educators each week.

Newsom credits the visibility of a three-week supply expectation set by the government for giving the state the confidence to zero in on a specific subset of those eligible. Over the next two weeks, the state expects to receive nearly three million vaccine doses, which will be administered at 1,100 sites throughout California’s 58 counties.

As for vaccines expected this week, some 702,000 doses were delayed by extreme weather elsewhere in the country. “A lot were going to arrive today didn't,” Newsom said. Most of those doses were from Moderna, but some Pfizer doses have also been delayed.

“It's not unique by any stretch my gosh, quite the contrary to California, some ways will fare probably a little better than many other parts of the country but 702,000 doses have been impacted,” Newsom added.

In response to the governor’s proposal for resuming in-person learning, California legislators released their own version of a plan to get kids back into classrooms, which includes reaching a case rate of just seven cases per 100,000 residents, a threshold Newsom thinks is too low.

His proposal suggests a return to school buildings once the case rate is below 25 cases per 100,000 residents. Both proposals include more than $6 billion in funding and plan to provide personal protective equipment and intend to get the youngest students in grades K through second grade back to class first, followed by those in third through sixth grades.

“We can do this, we can keep people safe,” Newsom said. “We can protect our students.”

In the meantime, California released new guidelines that allow for kids to resume outdoor competitive sports, including contact sports, like football, rugby, and water polo.

Testing will be required for those engaging in contact sports and will be limited to children ages 13 and older and living in counties with a case rate lower than 14 per 100,000. They can resume next Friday, Feb. 26, Newsom said.

3:27 p.m. ET, February 19, 2021

House Democrats just released the text of their Covid-19 stimulus bill. Here are key things to know.

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz

House Democrats took another step Friday in their effort to advance a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, releasing the full bill text.

As expected, the bill includes:

  • An increase in the federal minimum wage
  • $1,400 direct checks for Americans making $75,000 or less a year
  • An extension of $400 federal unemployment benefits
  • More money for small businesses struggling amid the pandemic

The House’s bill also closely resembles President Biden’s rescue plan and includes more money for schools, vaccine distribution and funding for state and local governments

“The quicker we act the more lives can be saved and the faster our economy will recover. Multiple variant strains of the novel coronavirus are now infecting Americans across the United States, and our vaccine rollout and efforts to contain the virus are in desperate need of resources. We are in a race against time, and aggressive, bold action is needed before our communities are permanently scarred by the human and economic costs of inaction,” House Democrats wrote in their summary of their bill.

What comes next: The legislation, which had already been passed in pieces out of individual committees, was packaged together by the House Budget Committee. The Committee will hold a mark-up on the legislation on Monday, it is then expected to go to the House floor for a vote later next week. 

House Democrats have a narrow margin to pass the bill, and House Republican leaders have already begun whipping their members against the bill arguing it spends too much money.

Read more about the House Democrats' bill here.