February 22 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Eoin McSweeney and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0645 GMT (1445 HKT) February 23, 2021
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6:28 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

White House pays tribute to 500,000 dead from Covid-19 with moment of silence

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

President Biden marked half a million Covid-19 deaths with a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.

"Amazing Grace" played as the President and first lady stood with Vice President Kamala Harris and the second gentleman.

Before the ceremony, Biden talked about the human impact of the virus and tried to offer hope about what is to come.

"Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone. 500,071 dead. That's more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam war combined," he said.

6:39 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

"They're people we knew": Biden urges Americans to remember the human impact of Covid-19

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

President Biden urged the country to think about the people behind the statistic of more than 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, calling it a "truly grim, heartbreaking milestone" before a candle lighting ceremony at the White House on Monday.

"There's nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in America, immigrated to America, but just like that so many of them took their final breath alone in America," Biden said an hour after the death toll passed half a million.

"As we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived. They're people we knew," he said.

Biden said he keeps a card showing the number of Americans who have been infected or died from the virus in his pocket every day.

"Read the obituaries and remembrances. The son who called his mom every night. The father's daughter who lit up his world. The best friend who's always there... The nurse who made her patients want to live," he said.

Watch here:

6:05 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Biden will mark half a million Covid-19 deaths with a candle lighting ceremony

From CNN's Arlette Saenz 

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

President Biden will hold a candle lighting ceremony at the White House to mark the US passing the grim milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths on Monday.

The President is delivering remarks first. The ceremony will follow.

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also be there.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it is an opportunity for the President to use his “own voice and platform to take a moment to remember the people whose lives have been lost, the families who are still suffering.” 

One day before taking office, Biden, Harris and their spouses held a somber ceremony on the National Mall to commemorate the 400,000 lives lost to Covid-19.

“To heal we must remember,” Biden said at the time.

5:39 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Just 18% of counties have coronavirus levels consistent with full in-person school, CDC director says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Source: The White House

Only 18% of US counties have coronavirus spread that is at the low to moderate level needed for safest return to in-person school, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

The CDC has recommended that schools in so-called red zones with high levels of virus transmission only reopen for in-person classes if they can maintain all five recommended mitigation measures – universal use of masks, social distancing, handwashing, enhanced disinfection and ventilation, and contact tracing.

“Now, approximately 18% of counties have Covid-19 levels at the low or moderate levels that’s consistent with full in-person learning for all K-12 schools in CDC’s guidance, and 22% are at the substantial level, consistent with hybrid learning or reduced in person attendance for all K to 12 schools,” Walensky told a White House coronavirus briefing.

“For the 60% of counties that remain in the red zone, the counties with high transmission, we encourage at least the K-5 students to return to school in hybrid or reduced in-person attendance, and for middle and high schools virtually only unless they can strictly implement mitigation measures than halve these cases,” she added.

“Schools that are already open should continue to provide in-person instruction, as long as cases are low, and they strictly use mitigation measures to keep them low.”

 

5:05 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Pfizer says it's "laying the groundwork" for vaccine booster against variants

From CNN's John Bonifield

In response to emerging coronavirus variants, Pfizer is initiating a study to investigate the effectiveness of a third-dose of its Covid-19 vaccine, the company said Monday.

"We have seen no real-world evidence to date that suggest a significant reduction in protection provided by our current vaccine. However, we are preparing to respond quickly and initiating a study to investigate the effectiveness of a third-dose booster of our current vaccine in trial participants who have already received 2 doses," John Young, the company's chief business officer, said in written testimony ahead of a House subcommittee hearing.

Young said Pfizer is also "discussing clinical study designs" with the US Food and Drug Administration to "investigate the safety and immunogenicity of an updated vaccine" that involves a change to its vaccine to target an emerging variant.

On Tuesday, Young and executives from four other Covid-19 vaccine makers are scheduled to testify at a House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.

5:04 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Pelosi orders flags at Capitol to be flown at half-staff in honor of Covid-19 victims 

From CNN's Ryan Nobles 

Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks at a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol on February 18, in Washington.
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks at a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol on February 18, in Washington. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ordered flags at the US Capitol, "be flown at half-staff due to the passing of 500,000 Americans from COVID-19," according to a statement from her spokesperson Drew Hammill. 

This comes as more than 64 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky touted encouraging numbers in declining new cases, deaths, and hospital admissions, but also offered a note of caution, saying there is still work that needs to be done.

5:04 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

US surpasses 500,000 Covid-19 deaths

From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Virginia Langmaid

At least a half a million people have died from Covid-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

There have been at least 500,071 total deaths and 28,174,133 total Covid-19 cases in the US, Johns Hopkins data shows.

With over 500,000 deaths from Covid-19, that means about one in every 660 people in the US has died from the virus.

Johns Hopkins recorded the first death from Covid-19 on Feb. 29, 2020 in Washington state. Later in the spring, two earlier deaths in California were posthumously confirmed to be from Covid-19.

Four other countries in the world have reported over 100,000 total Covid-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins: 

  • Brazil has more than 200,000 total deaths.
  • Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom have over 100,000 total deaths.
4:41 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

McConnell makes case for bipartisan Covid relief as US approaches nearly 500,000 virus deaths

From CNN's Ali Main 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell returns to the chamber as the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday, February 13.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell returns to the chamber as the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday, February 13. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged on Monday that the country is at a "crossroads" with the US prepared to pass the threshold of 500,000 deaths from Covid-19, while there are also promising vaccine developments and a decline in deaths per day. 

He said the US economy is now "chomping at the bit to rebuild the prosperity we lost last year," and credited the bipartisan Covid relief legislation passed last year in Congress for getting the country to this pivotal moment, while slamming the relief package the Democrats are preparing to pass through without Republican support as not meeting the needs of the moment.

"Now, the policies that Washington puts forward will help determine what kind of year 2021 will be for American families. So, are we destined to spend a second year in a national defensive crouch?," McConnell asked, adding later, "Or are we going to plant a flag and say this is the year that America comes roaring back? Are we going to make this the year we reclaim our lives and retake our country, in a way that is safe, smart, but determined?" 

The Kentucky Republican said "the partisan legislation Democrats are preparing to ram through looks like something you'd pass to blunt another year of shutdown," accusing Democrats of being "stuck back in April 2020" with their approach.

McConnell criticized Democrats for going "heavy on non-Covid related liberal wish list items" in their relief bill, but "light on practical solution to get kids back in school, workers safely back on the job, and help the American people reclaim their lives."

He went on to say if the Biden administration was interested in practical solutions, "they'd find the same kind of bipartisan support that every historic Covid-19 package has received so far."

4:36 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

72% of children live in a Covid red zone under CDC school guidance, CNN analysis shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Nearly 53 million children – about 72% of the US population under the age of 18 — live in a county considered a red zone with high levels of Covid-19 transmission under school reopening guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a CNN analysis of federal data. 

As case rates continue to drop around the country, fewer counties are considered red zones. Last week, more than 65.3 million children lived in red zones, marking a 29% improvement week-over-week.

Red — or “high transmission” — communities are defined by the CDC as counties where there were at least 100 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people or a test positivity rate of at least 10% during the past seven days.

If schools in “high transmission” communities cannot “strictly implement” five key mitigation strategies identified by the CDC, the agency recommends virtual learning for middle and high schools and hybrid learning or reduced attendance for elementary schools to maximize physical distancing.

Nearly 4 million children in the US live in a county considered “low” or “moderate transmission,” where the CDC recommends K-12 schools open for full in-person instruction, significantly more than a week ago. Among those counties are Honolulu, Portland’s Multnomah County and Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish.  

On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that about 60% of schools are in a red zone, which tracks with CNN’s analysis. However, federal records show that dozens of counties in Texas that were red zones last week reported no new Covid-19 cases over the past seven days.

The CNN analysis used the latest federal data on new case rates and test positivity rates, published Sunday by the US Department of Health and Human Services, to determine each county's risk threshold according to CDC guidelines. Population data is from the US Census Bureau's five-Year American Community Survey 2019 estimates.