February 24 coronavirus news

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

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) February 25, 2021
27 Posts
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12:43 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

NIH launches new initiative to study long-term effects of Covid-19

From CNN’s Jason Hoffman and Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hopes that therapeutic approaches to treating long Covid could come from medications already available, but the newly announced initiative to study on long Covid may provide answers.

The aim is to learn more about how the virus may lead to widespread and long-lasting symptoms and to develop ways to treat or prevent them. Initially, the initiative will look at areas including the spectrum of recovery across the population and what the underlying biological cause of prolonged symptoms. 

“It’s very difficult to treat something when you don’t know what the target of the treatment is. And that’s the reason why it’s extremely important to take a look at these individuals, not only the scope of this, and not only the, you know, depth and breadth of the symptoms, but also to try and have some correlate that actually is a path of physiological correlate,” Fauci said at a briefing from the White House Covid-19 response team on Wednesday. 

“Once we get that, an important part of this is, as I mentioned, would be to design therapeutic approaches, hopefully by medications that we already have, we just need to know how to use them," Fauci added.

Long Covid: A study published Friday found that 30% of people with Covid-19 continue to have symptoms up to nine months after initial infection. The most commons symptoms were fatigue and loss of taste or smell, although some reported cough, trouble breathing, muscle aches and brain fog.

Nearly a third reported worse quality of life compared to before getting sick, and some said they had trouble performing at least one usual activity, such as daily chores.

Dr. Fauci discusses 'long Covid': 

12:14 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

No ruling yet on minimum wage hike in Covid relief bill

From CNN's Manu Raju 

A temporary security fence surrounds the U.S. Capitol on February 17 in Washington, DC.
A temporary security fence surrounds the U.S. Capitol on February 17 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Multiple Senate sources familiar with the matter said arguments were made on both sides this morning on the $15 federal minimum wage hike – and whether it fits within the rules of budget reconciliation.

The Senate's parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has not yet ruled on the matter, and it's not clear yet when she will.

Democrats and the White House are attempting to push Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief package through the Senate by reconciliation, meaning the bill could pass with a simple majority of 51 votes and not require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Reconciliation, however, has a strict set of rules, and provisions have to undergo a review of whether it has an impact on the budget and not just an "incidental" one.

12:06 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Switzerland will begin phased lifting of coronavirus restrictions on March 1

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Swiss President Guy Parmelin, right, speaks next to Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset during a press conference on February 24 in Bern, Switzerland.
Swiss President Guy Parmelin, right, speaks next to Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset during a press conference on February 24 in Bern, Switzerland. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Switzerland will move forward with a phased reopening of its economy and society which will see some coronavirus restrictions lifted on March 1, the Swiss federal government announced during a news conference Wednesday.

All shops in Switzerland will reopen on March 1, with restrictions limiting the number of customers. Museums, libraries, zoological and botanical gardens, sports, and outdoor leisure facilities will also reopen. Most sporting and cultural activities for people under 20 will also resume.

People in Switzerland will also get the green-light to meet outdoors in groups of more than 15 people beginning March 1. Swiss President Guy Parmelin said outdoor dining could resume on March 22 rather than the previously planned date of April 1, if the situation permits. 

Restaurants in Switzerland have been closed since Dec. 22, with non-essential shops shuttered since Jan. 18. 

Parmelin said the gradual reopening will be "a source of dissatisfaction for some," adding that while the "impatience that some people have is understandable," the situation in Switzerland "remains very fragile due to new variants of the virus which continue to progress.

The Swiss government said it would reassess the situation on March 12. 

Alain Berset, a member of the Swiss Federal Council, tweeted Wednesday that the government has taken "a calculated risk: for society, for the economy and especially for young people, particularly touched by this crisis."

On Wednesday, at least 1,343 new coronavirus cases were recorded by the Federal Office for Public Health.

Switzerland has recorded at least 552,698 coronavirus cases and at least 9,256 deaths since the pandemic began.

11:45 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

Digital vaccine credentials “absolutely critical” to international travel, trade association says

From CNN’s Will Godley

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on governments around the world to start issuing digital vaccine credentials to support a successful restart of international travel once borders re-open.

“It’s absolutely critical that we start issuing digital vaccine credentials,” IATA’s Head of Airport Passenger & Security Products, Alan Murray Hayden, said on Wednesday.

“Many airports are really operating at capacity at the moment, even though they are only carrying 10% of the normal volumes of passengers. And that’s simply because of the amount of time it currently takes to check all the bits of paper that a passenger needs to have. It takes so much time that we simply won’t be able to reopen in a sustainable way,” he added.

IATA’s Travel Pass, an app developed by the International Air Transport Association directly connects passengers with their Covid-19 test results from the labs, is one option airlines are piloting to process Covid data digitally. 

IATA is scheduling to fully roll out its Travel Pass at the end of March, which is currently being trialed with 20 airlines around the world. 

“Governments have been introducing quarantines; however vaccine and testing is the way in which we’re going to exit from the requirements for people to quarantine and the IATA travel pass will enable people to do that,” Hayden said.

IATA warned that the industry is still suffering from the current restrictions still in place for international travelers predicting that airlines will burn through up to $95 billion during 2021.

11:38 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

White House is increasing Covid-19 vaccine supply to states and pharmacies this week

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A pharmacists prepares a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination at a CVS Pharmacy location in Eastchester, New York, on February 12.
A pharmacists prepares a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination at a CVS Pharmacy location in Eastchester, New York, on February 12. Gabriela Bhaskar/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses being allocated to states and retail pharmacies is increasing, Jeff Zients, White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Wednesday. 

"From 8.6 million doses when we took office to 14.5 million doses this week, that's an increase of vaccine allocations to states of nearly 70% during the Biden-Harris administration," Zients said during a White House news briefing.

"In this week, we will increase the allocation to pharmacies to 2.1 million doses," Zients said. "So, with 14.5 million doses allocated to states, tribes and territories, and 2.1 million through the federal retail pharmacy program, we've nearly doubled weekly supply of doses in just five weeks."


11:36 a.m. ET, February 24, 2021

White House says 3-4 million J&J doses will be released next week if EUA is granted

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Pending an emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden administration is preparing rollout plans for 3-4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine next week. 

“While we await the FDA decision, we want the American people to know that we’re doing the work so that if the EUA is issued, we will waste no time getting this lifesaving vaccine into the arms of Americans,” Zients said at Wednesday’s virtual Covid briefing. 

“If authorized, we are ready to roll out this vaccine without delay,” Zients said, noting that this vaccine’s distribution will mirror the current allocations process across jurisdictions, pharmacies, and community health centers. 

After initially telling the nation’s governors to expect 2 million doses next week, Zients said Wednesday that the administration anticipates allocating “3 to 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week.”

Johnson & Johnson has announced it aims to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, but, Zients said, “We’re working with the company to accelerate the pace and timeframe by which they deliver the full 100 million doses, which is required by contract by the end of June.” 

Some context: 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.

Data on the vaccine will be discussed in a meeting of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Friday. That committee will decide whether to recommend that the FDA issue an EUA for the vaccine.


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.