February 24 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Rob Picheta, Melissa Mahtani and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) February 25, 2021
21 Posts
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11:32 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

White House to distribute 25+ million free masks across the country

White House Covid-19 Response CoordinatorJeff Zients said today during a Covid press briefing that the Biden administration will deliver more than 25 million masks across the country.

"The masks will be available at more than 1,300 community health centers and at 60,000 food pantries nationwide. Any American who needs a mask can walk into these health centers or food pantries and pick up high-quality, American-made masks."

Zients said the cloth masks will be available at no cost, will come in children's and adult sizes, and can be washed for reuse.

See the announcement:

11:22 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Covid-19 antibodies tied to decreased risk of coronavirus infection later, study says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

There’s new evidence that connects testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies from a prior infection with a significantly lower risk of becoming infected again in the future.  

A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Wednesday found that people who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies were at a decreased risk of coronavirus infection compared with those who tested negative for antibodies.  

"The results from the study are basically a 10-fold reduction, but I would have caveats around that. In other words, it could be an overestimate of the reduction, it could be an underestimate of the reduction," said Dr. Douglas Lowy, principal deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, who was an author of the study. 

"To me, the big message is – there’s a reduction," he said. "The main takeaway is that being antibody positive after natural infection is associated with partial protection against a new infection." 

The researchers – from the National Cancer Institute and the companies LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, Aetion Inc. and HealthVerity – examined data on more than 3.2 million people in the United States who had completed a Covid-19 antibody test last year between January and August. Among those tested, 11.6% tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies and 88.3% tested negative. 

In follow-up data, the researchers found that only 0.3% of those who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies ended up testing positive for coronavirus infection later, beyond 90 days. Whereas, 3% of those with negative Covid-19 antibody test results were later diagnosed with coronavirus infection during that same time period. 

Overall, the study is observational and it suggests there is an association between positive Covid-19 antibody test results and a lower risk of infection some 90 days later – but more research is needed to determine a causal relationship and for how long protection from antibodies may last. 

Lowy said that more research is also needed to determine the risk of reinfection from one of the emerging coronavirus variants. He also emphasized that people who have tested positive for antibodies should still get vaccinated against Covid-19. 

 

11:08 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Lack of mask use is key factor in Covid-19 outbreaks at fitness facilities, studies say

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Two studies published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked Covid-19 outbreaks over the summer in Chicago and Hawaii to exercise facilities. The reports suggest that mask use may be a key mitigation strategy in these settings.

In Chicago, 60% of people who attended in-person fitness classes between August 24 and September 1 tested positive for Covid-19. Another 7% of attendees reported symptoms consistent with the disease.

While some mitigation measures were in place at the facility – including required temperature checks and symptom screenings upon entry – removal of masks was permitted during exercise, according to the report by researchers from Chicago and the CDC.

In Hawaii, 21 cases were linked to a fitness instructor who tested positive for Covid-19 on July 1, said the report by researchers from Hawaii and the CDC. About two days before experiencing symptoms, the fitness instructor led a yoga class for 27 people while wearing a mask. There were no reported cases among these participants. A few hours before symptom onset, the same instructor led a stationary cycling class for 10 people, none of whom wore a mask. All participants later tested positive for Covid-19, including a second fitness instructor linked to additional cases.

According to the first report, “the increased respiratory exertion that occurs in the enclosed spaces of indoor exercise facilities facilitates transmission” of the virus. 

Even when spaced 6 feet apart, the CDC recommends the use of a mask to reduce transmission in fitness facilities. They also say that facilities should improve ventilation and encourage patrons and staff to follow proper quarantine and isolation protocol after potential exposure to Covid-19 or the onset of symptoms. 

11:42 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

J&J data hints that Covid-19 vaccine might prevent asymptomatic infections 

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine vials are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18 in Klerksdorp, South Africa.
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine vials are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital on February 18 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. Phil Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine might prevent Covid-19 infection without symptoms starting at about four weeks, according to the US Food and Drug Administration’s briefing document on the vaccine released Wednesday.

Earlier studies from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that most coronavirus cases are spread by people without symptoms. If a vaccine prevented asymptomatic infection, it might help reduce opportunities to transmit the disease – not just keep the vaccinated from getting sick.

The clinical trial looked for asymptomatic infections among the volunteers at several points after they had been vaccinated. The trial found that the vaccine had “modest” protection against asymptomatic infection from day one through day 29, but after that, it seemed to offer protection. 

When the volunteers were checked at 71 days after they had gotten the vaccine, it seemed about 74% effective against asymptomatic infections. 

The document says these findings should be “interpreted with caution” and additional research is needed, since the follow-up time is limited and the number of volunteers in this sample was comparatively small, so “definitive conclusions cannot be drawn at this time.”

12:25 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

New CDC forecast suggests daily Covid-19 death rate slowing in the coming weeks

From CNN’s Ben Tinker

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 526,000 to 548,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by March 20.

Notably, this forecast extends a week beyond the previous forecast, but the projected number of deaths has dropped. Normally, each new CDC forecast projects a greater number of total deaths over a longer period of time.

The previous ensemble forecast, published February 17, projected up to 559,000 coronavirus deaths by March 13. 

At least 502,698 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

CNN's John King reviews the latest US Covid-19 numbers: 

10:20 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

House GOP lawmakers rail on Covid relief bill in closed meeting

From CNN's Manu Raju

Another sign of stiff Republican opposition to Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan: at a closed-door meeting today, one House GOP member after another railed against the measure, according to Reps. Doug Lamborn and Tom Reed. No one spoke in favor of it.

Reed, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told me that he will vote against the plan. 

“There's so many issues with the bill that the popularity of it is gonna wear off,” Reed said.

Republican leaders see opposition to the bill as key to unifying their party after a divisive few months of intra-party squabbling. 

10:23 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine has "favorable safety profile," FDA says

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard

Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020.
Pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a clinical trial in Aurora, Colorado, on December 15, 2020. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson's single-shot coronavirus vaccine appears to be safe, according to a 62-page briefing document released by the US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

An analysis of safety data through January – which included more than 40,000 adults – "supported a favorable safety profile with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA," the FDA noted in the document.

The FDA advisory committee noted in the briefing document that the most common side effects associated with the vaccine were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue and muscle pain.

There appeared to be more incidents related to blood clotting and ringing in the ears among those who received the vaccine compared with those who didn't, but the FDA notes, "Data at this time are insufficient to determine a causal relationship between these events and the vaccine."

Overall, non-fatal serious adverse events were infrequent, according to the briefing document, and there were no reported cases of anaphylaxis following vaccination.

As of Feb. 5, there were seven Covid-19-related deaths in the placebo group and no Covid-19-related deaths in the vaccine group. Nineteen deaths total had been reported as of Jan. 22 – three among those who received the vaccine and 16 among those who received a placebo. Then from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5, according to the document, an additional six deaths occurred – two in the vaccine group and four in the placebo group. 

Data on the vaccine will be discussed in a meeting of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Friday. The committee will decide whether to recommend that the FDA issue an emergency use authorization, or EUA, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

9:56 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Combined flu and Covid-19 vaccine could be a possibility in the future, UK virologist says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

A combined flu and Covid-19 vaccination is a future possibility, a leading British virologist testified Wednesday. 

Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, told UK lawmakers: “[The] most likely scenario is that a combination vaccine would be given going forwards in the future, which would combine influenza, with an updated SARS-CoV-2."

“But that really is crystal ball gazing to an extent. I think the next year will really tell us much more about the epidemiology of how this new coronavirus [variant] will settle down, and how quickly it might mutate and necessitate vaccine updates, and how long the immunity for the current vaccines that we’re going to rollout to a large proportion of the UK population will last, and therefore how necessary it will be to give boosters.”

 

9:22 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Here's what has to happen before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Jen Christensen

This file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, on December 2, 2020.
This file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, on December 2, 2020. Johnson & Johnson via AP

Johnson & Johnson says that it has four million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine ready to ship "immediately" once it receives emergency use authorization, which could happen this week.

In an analysis just released, the US Food and Drug Administration said the company's single-dose vaccine has met the requirements for emergency use authorization.

However, despite the excitement and anticipation, there are still several steps Johnson & Johnson has to go through before the vaccine will be available.

Here's what happens next:

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meets on Friday to review data on the vaccine and decide whether to recommend it for emergency use authorization in adults 18 and older.

Once the vaccine is authorized, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, makes recommendations to the CDC on how the vaccine should be used, such as among what age groups and on what type of schedule. An emergency meeting of ACIP is scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 1.

Typically, the CDC director accepts the committee's recommendation. Shortly after that, the vaccine can be distributed, and can start going into arms.

What everyone wants to know is where the federal government will send those doses, and who they'll be steered toward.

"We're hoping that ACIP will provide some guidance on the most effective use of the J&J one dose vaccine," Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, wrote in an email to CNN on Tuesday.

"States are looking for guidance for use of the vaccine in populations which might really benefit from the one dose series complete, such as transient populations," Hannan said. "We aren't hearing much on this."

You can read more about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine here.