February 23 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Eoin McSweeney and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0714 GMT (1514 HKT) February 24, 2021
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11:56 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

More variants discovered in UK and South Africa are now in New York

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

More variants first identified in the UK, and South Africa, have been discovered in New York State, according to the Governor’s office. 

New York has found 18 more cases of the variant first identified in the UK, bringing the total to 154 known cases. 

The state added that a second case of the variant first identified in South Africa was discovered in Nassau County, on Long island, the state said in a release. 

The state added 6,654 new cases, marking a 4.23% positivity, according to a release from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. 

The state adds the qualification that “data, including test results and hospital rates, reported early in the week are often not completely reflective of the current situation due to lower discharges and testing volume over the weekend.”

The 7-day average percent positivity is 3.46%.

Remember: These numbers were released by the state governors office and may not line up with Johns Hopkins University's tally.

1:06 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

6-year-old girl dies from Covid-19 hours after being diagnosed with a stomach bug

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Priscilla and David Morse thought their daughter had a stomach bug, or was perhaps experiencing health symptoms related to her special needs. Less than a day later, six-year-old Gigi died from Covid-19.

"I don't even know if I am coping with it yet. I wake up every day, and I just try to get through the day. Everything is just — I have to get through this day," Priscilla said.

The Morse family adopted Gigi from Ukraine when she was three, rescuing her from an orphanage where she was mistreated, at times being tied to a bed and force-fed food. But Gigi would flourish with her new family in Tennessee.

"It was kind of a soul connection kind of thing. She was a very sweet child, but she had a lot of behavioral stuff going on. So she was a little difficult sometimes," Priscilla explained, adding "but it never bothered me. I dug deep and found patience that I didn't even know existed, because that's what she needed. And we just connected."

In August Gigi developed a peculiar rash, and began vomiting. Now considered telltale signs of Covid-19 in children, at the time the symptoms didn't raise any flags.

"She was running around the doctor's office. She was drinking slushies. She had a normal temperature," her mom explained. "It was just one of those things that you would not associate that with Covid... at the time, we were told she's got a stomach bug. Take her home. Let her eat some popsicles, get some rest."

So the Morses did just that, putting Gigi down for a nap before quickly hustling out for refreshments in an effort to keep their daughter hydrated.

"We... went to the store to get popsicles and I came home to two ambulances, fire trucks, police cars in front of my house. And my daughter dead," Priscilla revealed. 

In July, both David and Priscilla contracted Covid-19, and the family – which also included an 18-year-old and 11-year-old – quarantined accordingly. It was Gigi's older siblings who found their sister, ultimately contacting 911 and starting CPR.

"They could not have been any more perfect in trying to help their sister. They're just amazing kids," said David.

Six months since Gigi's passing, her family now balances painful feelings of blame, guilt and loss.

"Every single person feels like, 'what could I have done differently?' And I don't know of anyone who could have done anything differently," Priscilla said.

"At least it happened in a family. She was honored when she passed. She has people who miss her ... Gigi, she just took to being in a family. She was everyone's favorite. She was the light of my life."

11:39 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

India begins shipping AstraZeneca vaccine doses across Africa

From CNN’s Mitchell McCluskey

Vials of AstraZeneca-Oxford's Covid-19 vaccine are pictured inside a lab where they are being manufactured at India's Serum Institute in Pune, India, on January 22.
Vials of AstraZeneca-Oxford's Covid-19 vaccine are pictured inside a lab where they are being manufactured at India's Serum Institute in Pune, India, on January 22. Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

India has begun to ship its AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to countries across Africa through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, Anurag Srivastava, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Tuesday.

The vaccine doses were processed at the Serum Institute of India.

“Fulfilling our commitment to help the world with COVID-19 vaccines, supplies of Made in India vaccine commence today for Africa under COVAX facility,” Srivastava said on Twitter.

COVAX is a program co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

Last month, India and the African Union announced plans for the Serum Institute to supply 400 million doses to Africa.

India had previously shipped one million doses of the vaccine to South Africa.

“The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines for COVAX rolled out from Serum Institute in Pune, on Tuesday morning,” WHO Southeast Asia said on Twitter.

11:29 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides "high levels" of protection from first dose, Public Health England says

From CNN's Tara John, Niamh Kennedy, Sarah Dean and Meera Senthilingam

A healthcare professional draws up a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center set up at Thornton Little Theatre in Thornton-Cleveleys, England, on January 29.
A healthcare professional draws up a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center set up at Thornton Little Theatre in Thornton-Cleveleys, England, on January 29. Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

New UK data shows that the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine “provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease,” Public Health England (PHE) said in a news release on Monday.

PHE’s Siren Study, which was carried out on health care workers under the age of 65, found that one dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks, while two vaccine doses reduced the risk of infection by 85%. 

This high level of protection extended to the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK in December.

Health workers were tested for Covid-19 infection every two weeks using PCR tests and twice a week with lateral flow tests, explained Dr. Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at PHE, meaning “there was a lot of asymptomatic testing,” she said.

“Overall, we are seeing a really strong effect to reducing any infection: asymptomatic and symptomatic,” Hopkins said during a news conference held by the UK’s Science Media Centre on Monday.

PHE also analyzed routine testing data based on symptomatic disease in over 12,000 people, which showed that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 57% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 four weeks after the first dose in those older than 80. This increased to 88% one week after the second dose.

Early data has also shown that vaccinated people who are subsequently infected are far less likely to die or be hospitalized with the virus. People over the age of 80 who were infected post vaccination were 41% less likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 57% less likely to die of it. 

PHE further predicted that protection against severe disease is likely to be over 75% in those who have received one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

“The good sign is overall we are beginning to see a decline in hospitalizations and deaths in those vaccinated age groups [and] at least some is attributable to the vaccination program,” Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at PHE, said during the press conference.

She said that while the UK’s current lockdown played a part in the decline in hospitalizations, she added that “the faster speed in decline can be attributed in some respects to the vaccination program.”

In the PHE release, Ramsay cautioned that despite the encouraging signs “we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 on to others,” adding that vaccinated people should continue to follow stay-at-home orders. 

The UK has placed its focus on vaccinating as many high-risk people as possible with the first dose.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “extremely encouraging” that data supported the UK government’s “decision to maximize the number of people vaccinated with a single dose.”

11:26 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

New York officials: 81 people need to be revaccinated because doses had temperature fluctuations

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

The COVID-19 vaccination site at Jones Beach State Park is pictured on January 14, in Wantagh, New York.
The COVID-19 vaccination site at Jones Beach State Park is pictured on January 14, in Wantagh, New York. Al Bello/Getty Images

According to New York state officials, 81 people who received vaccinations at the state-run vaccination site at Jones Beach will need to be revaccinated due to temperature fluctuations with the vaccine.

Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said less than a quarter of 1% of people vaccinated on that specific day were effected.

“This vaccine is very sensitive to temperature ranges – we knew exactly who it was, we contacted them, they will get revaccinated,” he said Monday.

Zucker said the ability to rectify the issue is a testament to the robust “checks and balances” system the state has.

Officials said nearly 1,400 people were vaccinated on the day the errant doses were administered.

1:30 p.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Stockholm urges residents not to travel and recommends masks on public transport

From CNN's Amy Cassidy and Henrik Pettersson

A sign with social distancing guidance is seen on a subway train in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 10.
A sign with social distancing guidance is seen on a subway train in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 10. Chine Nouvelle/SIPA/Shutterstock

Stockholm’s health authority recommended face coverings be worn on public transport at all times, as well as in some indoor public spaces where people are in close proximity for a long time, in an effort to reduce the rising spread of Covid-19 in the Swedish capital. 

The new recommendations will take effect immediately amid a 27% increase in Covid-19 cases in Stockholm in the last week and a 24% increase the week before, infection control doctor Maria Rotzén Östlund said at a news conference Tuesday.

Current compliance with wearing face coverings on public transport “is not high enough,” Östlund said, compelling her to change the recommendation to apply to all times of day – not just at rush hour, as the current guidance suggests.

She also urged residents not to travel unless necessary, ahead of the winter sports school break in Stockholm, which will begin next week.

“I want to encourage you who travel away on sports holiday to think carefully about the trip. Can we make it safe? If, for example, someone in the party falls ill during the journey, everyone must stay at home, no one is allowed to go out in ski lift queues or move among others," Östlund said. "Those who travel should also not meet other people outside their own household and shop everything at home to avoid shops at the destination.”
10:47 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

GOP senators offer proposal to raise minimum wager to $10 per hour, a sticking point in Covid relief package

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Mitt Romney appears before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, February 23.
Sen. Mitt Romney appears before the start of a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, February 23. Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Some GOP senators are staking out their positions on the minimum wage debate, with Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney proposing a $10 per hour federal minimum wage with mandatory requirements on businesses to ensure they're not hiring undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, who opposes the $15 minimum wage, told CNN last night that he would try to amend the Covid relief package to cap the wage hike to $11 per hour over two years.

Sen. Joe Manchin is pictured at Capitol Hill in Washington on February 13.
Sen. Joe Manchin is pictured at Capitol Hill in Washington on February 13. Alex Brandon/AP

The battle over raising the minimum wage, a longtime Democratic goal, was reignited last month when President Biden included it in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009.

However, the measure has already run into resistance on Capitol Hill, including from some Democrats like Manchin, who favor a smaller hike.

Democratic leaders are fast-tracking the passage of Biden's pandemic relief package through a legislative process known as reconciliation, which only requires a majority of votes. However, the party could not afford to lose the support of any member, assuming no Republican senators vote for it.

Read more about the Romney-Cotton proposal here.

10:32 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Italy extends its AstraZeneca vaccine age range guidance

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen

A Red Cross volunteer handles a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine hub in Rome's Fiumicino airport parking area on February 11.
A Red Cross volunteer handles a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine hub in Rome's Fiumicino airport parking area on February 11. Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Based on new evidence, Italy has extended the age range it recommends receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from people ages 18-55 to those ages 18-65, according to the country’s health ministry.

A statement from the health ministry said Italy’s Superior Health Council declared today that the vaccine can be given in the age group between 18 and 65 years, “with the exception of extremely vulnerable subjects.” 

“These indications, according to the permanent working group on SARS-CoV-2, are reinforced by new scientific evidence that reports vaccine efficacy estimates higher than those previously reported, and immunogenicity data in subjects over the age of 55, as well as new international recommendations including the opinion of the WHO SAGE Panel,” the statement said.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for all groups age 18 and above.

Italy’s decision follows early data on the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots in Scotland that said by the fourth week after the initial dose, the Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk of hospital admission from Covid-19 by up to 85%. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by up to 94%. The study is the first to look at the two vaccines’ effect on preventing severe illness resulting in hospitalization across an entire country, with previous efficacy results coming from clinical trials.

Earlier this month, Italy said it would administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 55 years old, starting with school teachers, army and police forces, prison staff and inmates.

9:43 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Democrats weighing series of options on minimum wage in Covid-19 relief bill

From CNN's Lauren Fox

People attend a rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage on February 16, in Orlando, Florida.
People attend a rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage on February 16, in Orlando, Florida. John Raoux/AP

As all eyes are on whether the Senate parliamentarian will allow an increase in the minimum wage in the Senate’s Covid-19 relief package, Democrats are having discussions about alternative paths they could take to salvage their increase in the minimum wage.

Democrats are facing two potential hurdles. First, it’s possible the Senate parliamentarian could rule as soon as tonight against allowing the $15 minimum wage to be in the Senate Democrats’ bill. If that happens, Democrats’ options would likely be to try and pass the legislation as a standalone in the future with a 60-vote threshold, something that Republicans wouldn’t support.

If the $15 minimum wage is allowed to stay in the bill, however, it opens up other potential challenges for the party. While progressives have fought for months to include the provision in the package, it could cost Democrats the votes they need to pass it with just 51 votes. Already two members — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin — have said they wouldn’t support that big of an increase in the minimum wage in the bill. Manchin, however, has expressed an openness to a smaller minimum wage. According to aides, Democrats are looking at whether it might be possible to lower the increase in the minimum wage to $11 or $12 an hour instead of $15. Another option being considered is to expand the phase in so that instead of getting to the $15 minimum wage in 5 years, nationally, it would take 10 years.

Again, the talks are just preliminary. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Budget Committee, is still committed to the full $15 amount.

The Senate Finance Committee is also eyeing a provision to give some of the smallest businesses tax credits to help curb the cost of the wage increase and incentivize businesses to increase their minimum wage, according to an aide familiar with the discussions.

Multiple aides warned that the discussions are still just ideas and all eyes are first on what the Senate’s parliamentarian would do. But, the minimum wage increase remains the key sticking point so Democrats are having some preliminary conversations about how the Covid-19 relief bill’s votes could be salvaged if necessary.