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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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.

 

4:31 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

School study highlights need to scale up coronavirus vaccination, CDC chief 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

A study published Monday that showed teachers and not students were the probable source of several school-related Covid-19 outbreaks demonstrates the need to scale up vaccination efforts, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

But Walensky did not say teachers need to go to the front of the line for vaccines. Instead, she said, schools need to work harder to make sure teachers, staff and students wear masks properly and maintain social distancing as possible. 

“The two main reasons for the spread of Covid-19 in these schools were inadequate physical distancing and mask adherence in the schools. Physical distancing of at least six feet was not possible because of the high number of students in class, as well as because of classroom layouts,” Walensky told a White House coronavirus briefing.

“The findings also highlight the importance of scaling up vaccination efforts across the country, including the continued need to prioritize teachers and other school staff for vaccination as part of the frontline essential workers, consistent with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,” she added.

There’s also need for better testing and contact tracing, she said.

“It's also worth noting that approximately 60% of close contacts of the cases agreed to be tested for Covid-19, and for those who were tested, testing took five to seven days – a delay that makes it incredibly difficult to rapidly contain spread. These findings highlight an additional key limitation strategy recommended in CDC’s school guidance – the need for diagnostic testing and rapid and efficient contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine in collaboration with the health department," she said. 

Lowering the spread of the virus in communities is the best way to keep it out of schools, Walensky added.

3:50 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

The pandemic is heading in the right direction but "there is still much work to do," CDC director says

From CNN's DJ Judd

from the White House
from the White House

At the beginning of today’s Covid-19 briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky touted encouraging numbers in declining new cases, deaths, and hospital admissions, but also offered a note of caution. 

“We continue to see trends head in the right direction, but cases, hospital admissions, and deaths remain at very high levels," Walensky said. 

New cases, according to Walensky, have declined steadily for five weeks, with the current seven-day average down 74% from its peak on January 11. Today’s seven-day average, Walensky said, is now at 66,000 cases per day and is comparable to last summer’s peak. 

As far as new hospital admissions go, today’s seven-day average of 6,500 marks a 60% decline from a peak on January 9 and is the lowest rate of new hospital admissions since last fall.

At 1,900 deaths per day, the seven-day average of deaths is down 39% from the prior seven-day average, making it the lowest that number has been since the beginning of December. 

Still, Walensky noted, "This seven-day average is counterbalanced by the stark reality that this week, we will surpass one half million Covid-19 deaths in the United States, a truly tragic reminder of the enormity of this pandemic, and the loss it has afflicted on our personal lives and our communities."

“While the pandemic is heading in the right direction there is still much work to do," she added.

3:49 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

White House adviser says all vaccine doses delayed by weather will be delivered by mid-week

From CNN's Jason Hoffman 

Senior adviser Andy Slavitt speaks during a White House briefing on January 27.
Senior adviser Andy Slavitt speaks during a White House briefing on January 27. White House via AP

Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House Covid-19 response team, said that all backlogged doses of coronavirus vaccines that were delayed due to winter weather last week will be delivered by mid-week.

Slavitt said once the weather began to improve, there was “an all-out, around-the-clock effort from our teams and partners” to get back on track with vaccine shipments.

“Thanks to that and many more, those efforts, today alone we plan to deliver seven million doses. This is a combination of catchup from last week's doses that were delayed from the weather and doses going out as a normal part of today's normal distribution,” Slavitt said during a Covid-19 response briefing on Monday. “We now anticipate that all backlog doses will be delivered by mid-week.”

However, Slavitt cautioned that getting the vaccines delivered is just the first step, and it will still take some time for vaccine distribution sites to catch up.

“We encourage vaccination sites to follow that same lead of those who are working extended hours to catch up on deliveries by scheduling more appointments to vaccinate the anxious public as quickly as possible,” Slavitt said.

He noted that Texas’ seven-day average of administered Covid-19 doses decreased by 31% in the past week due to winter weather impacts.

3:10 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

The US House Budget Committee voted to advance their Covid relief bill. Here's what comes next.

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Annie Grayer

The House Budget Committee voted 19 to 16 Monday to advance President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package. The committee will continue to hold votes on non-binding resolutions, but this is the official step triggering the legislation to go to the House floor for a vote later this week.

One Democrat, Lloyd Doggett, joined Republicans in voting against the relief package. CNN has reached out to Doggett’s office to learn more.

The package includes:

  • Direct aide to small businesses
  • $1,400 direct checks to Americans making less than $75,000 annually
  • An increase in the child tax credit
  • Direct funding to state and local governments
  • More money for vaccine distribution
  • Funding for schools both at the secondary and higher education level

The more than 590-page bill marks the first major piece of legislation to be advanced under the Biden administration and is the first opportunity for congressional Democrats to legislate with control of all three branches of government.

What comes next: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have a narrow margin to pass the bill later this week, unable to lose more than five votes. Buoying the bill’s chances is the fact many members on both the moderate and progressive side do not have an appetite to torpedo the Biden administration’s first major ask. 

The task in the Senate could be more difficult as two Democratic moderates – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – have made it clear they are not comfortable voting for a coronavirus relief bill that includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 over five years.

The provision, which was in the House bill, may not survive a budget process that requires every section of the bill to meet a strict set of rules. Lawmakers may learn as soon as Tuesday evening whether or not the provision is allowed under reconciliation, the process that allows Democrats to pass their bill with just 51 votes.

2:48 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Florida surpasses 30,000 resident deaths from Covid-19 since start of pandemic

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

Florida has reported more than 30,000 residents deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to state data.

The state has reported 1,872,923 cases and 30,065 deaths among residents since the start of the pandemic. An additional 530 non-residents have also died, state officials say.

Florida currently ranks fourth in the nation for cases and deaths behind California, New York and Texas, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

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.

2:30 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Chain drug stores urge White House to "more fully supply" Covid-19 vaccine to pharmacies

From CNN's John Bonifield

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores is urging the Biden administration to more fully supply pharmacies with Covid-19 vaccine, saying demand for vaccines is “stratospheric.”

In a letter sent to the White House and obtained by CNN, the association said only 1 million of 73 million total Covid-19 doses distributed throughout the nation to date were part of the soft launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program on Feb. 11.

The program was established as a collaboration between the federal government and 21 national pharmacy networks to increase access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The Biden administration recently announced doses allocated to the program would double.

"We truly appreciate this week's announcement that the allocation for this program will double to 2 million doses per week but with only 6,500 pharmacies included in this soft launch, the increase in vaccine doses per store per week still falls short of community demand," Steven Anderson, the association's president and CEO, wrote to Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for Covid response, and Jeff Zients, White House Covid response coordinator.

Anderson said public demand for Covid-19 vaccine appointments at pharmacies has been "stratospheric," with reports of some pharmacies receiving 1,000 attempts at online appointments for every one appointment made available by a dose of vaccine.

"Acknowledging existing supply limitations, we urge a re-balancing of vaccine allocation to mitigate the situation and allow this critical program to be more fully jumpstarted as anticipated in the National Strategy," Anderson wrote.

In the letter, the association said many people who are most vulnerable and at-risk to Covid-19 use pharmacies as a primary point to access healthcare. The association said many pharmacies stand ready to launch mobile Covid-19 vaccination clinics into communities of targeted populations.

"We ask the Administration to fully leverage this program because it is designed to maximize the vaccination capacity of the nation's extensive pharmacy network while holding pharmacies accountable through program performance metrics," Anderson told the White House officials in his letter.

The nation's Covid-19 vaccine supply is still limited. States have also been requesting more doses of vaccine.