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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7:55 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Smell and taste may not return for up to 5 months after Covid-19 infection, study suggests

From CNN’s Christopher Rios

People’s sense of smell and taste may not return for up to five months after Covid-19 infection, Canadian researchers reported Monday.

A team at the University of Quebec surveyed 813 health care workers who tested positive for Covid-19. They ranked their sense of smell and taste on scale from 0 to 10 and some were asked to perform an at-home test to further evaluate these senses.

During initial infection, more than 70% of those taking part in the survey reported losing their sense of smell and 65% reporting losing their sense of taste, the researchers said in preliminary results released by the American Academy of Neurology.

Five months later, when they used an at-home test, 17% of people said they still had loss of smell and 9% of people had persistent loss of taste, the researchers said.

“Our results show that an impaired sense of smell and taste may persist in a number of people with Covid-19,” Dr. Johannes Frasnelli of the University of Quebec, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

“This emphasizes the importance of following up with people who have been infected, and need further research to discover the extent of neurological problems associated with Covid-19.”

The findings of the study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting to be held from April 17 to 22.

7:27 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Key Democratic lawmaker says he will try to amend Covid-19 relief bill with $11 minimum wage hike

From CNN's Manu Raju with Hazel Mang

Sen. Joe Manchin departs on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Joe Manchin departs on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic swing vote, told CNN that he would try to amend the Covid-19 relief package with a federal minimum wage hike of $11 an hour, a move he argues will allow the party to get behind a compromise on one of the thorniest issues in the debate.

Manchin said that he would make that move if the Senate parliamentarian finds the wage hike within the rules of the budget process that Democrats are employing to advance the Covid relief package without Republican support. He would need 51 votes to succeed.

"I would amend it to $11," he said. "$11 basically works for Americans and, we can do $11 in two years and be in a better position than they're going to be with $15 in five years."

Some context: 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.

After that, the bill will got the Senate.

There, two Democratic moderates – 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.

6:47 p.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Biden calls on Americans to resist callousness in the face of a staggering death toll

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden warned Americans this evening not to allow Covid-19's staggering death toll to lead to numbness, callousness or apathy.

"We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," said Biden, speaking from the White House as the US passed half a million Covid-19 deaths. "We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news."

Biden said Americans now owe it to the dead to continue the fight against the virus and beat it. 

"We must do so to honor the dead, but equally important care for the living, those who are left behind, the loved ones left behind, he said. 

Biden then drew on his own life marked by the sudden deaths of two of his children and his first wife, saying he knew what it was like to suffer loss.

"I know all too well, I know what it's like to not be there when it happens," he said. "And I know what it's like when you are there, holding their hands, the look in their eye when they slip away, that black hole in your chest, you feel like you're being sucked into it."

Watch here:

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.