March 3 coronavirus news

By Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder, Hannah Strange and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 4, 2021
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11:56 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

CDC director says "now is not the time" for states to lift Covid-19 restrictions

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on March 3.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on March 3. White House

It’s premature for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to lift the state’s mask mandate and end restrictions on businesses, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. 

“I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

Abbott announced the end of the state’s pandemic restrictions on Monday.

Walensky said the next month or two will be pivotal for the country, and she hopes people will do whatever they can to decrease the amount of the virus spreading in the community – particularly as the country rolls out more vaccines to protect the public.

“I will also note that, you know, every individual has, is empowered to do the right thing here, regardless of what the states decide for personal health, for public health, for their health, and their loved ones and communities,” Walensky said. “I would still encourage individuals to wear masks to do the right thing to protect their health.”
11:55 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Polish health minister says he does not recommend China's Sinopharm vaccine at present

From CNNs Antonia Mortensen and Sharon Braithwaite

Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski attends a press briefing in Kraków, Poland, in September 2020.
Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski attends a press briefing in Kraków, Poland, in September 2020. Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski has said he does not recommend China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine at the moment, the Polish Press Agency (PAP) reported Wednesday, adding that the Polish government is yet to come to a decision on the possible purchase of vaccines developed by China. 

"I do not know of any research results that would allow the Chinese vaccine against coronavirus to be marketed, so at the moment I do not recommend using it,” Niedzielski said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

“No decision has been made regarding the possible purchase of Chinese vaccines by Poland,” he added, highlighting that, in the case of the Sinopharm vaccine, no cooperation procedure has been initiated yet.  

The health minister also emphasized that patient safety is of the highest value, noting that such safety would be "guaranteed by the European Assessment System, culminating in the activities of the European Medicines Agency (EMA)."

Niedzielski added that the Hungarian government, which has already imported doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, has not yet carried out "the certification process of the production process so that there is a guarantee of quality.” 

"We do not really have any specific information on this subject, so from this point of view, until such results are carried out, it seems that there is no possibility that Polish patients will be at any risk," Niedzielski said.

Hungary is the first EU country to have rolled out China's Sinopharm vaccine, which has not been approved by the EMA.

11:52 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Massachusetts teachers, school staff and childcare workers can receive the vaccine next week

From CNN’s LaCrisha McAllister 

About 400,000 teachers, childcare workers and school staff in Massachusetts will be eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments starting March 11, Gov. Charlie Baker announced at a news conference Wednesday. 

There will be specified days designated for them, according to the governor.

A celebratory “YES!” could be heard in response from Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, who was also at the news conference held at West Parish Elementary School. 

The state of Massachusetts has received 2 million vaccine doses and has administered 1.8 million so far, getting six doses out of a vile instead of five doses, Baker said.

Baker added that Tuesday was the first day in “I don’t know how long” that there has been zero new cases in long-term care facilities. 

12:54 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

CDC director urges people not to give in to pandemic "fatigue"

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on March 3.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on March 3. White House

The country is about to benefit from “historic scientific success” of rapid vaccine development, but people must not give in to pandemic “fatigue” – particularly with recent “troubling signs” of variants emerging, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday.

“We are just on the verge of capitalizing on the culmination of a historic scientific success, the ability to vaccinate the country in just a matter of three or four more months. How this plays out is up to us,” Walensky said.

“The next three months are pivotal,” she added. 

To protect the country’s health, people need to remain vigilant, and whether mandated or not, Walensky asked the public to wear a well-fitted mask, keep physical distance from others, avoid crowds, and practice good hand hygiene.

“So much can turn in the next few weeks,” Walensky emphasized. 

Watch:

11:33 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Johnson & Johnson says vaccines for children under 18 could be available by September

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

Johnson & Johnson is likely to have a Covid-19 vaccine available for children under the age of 18 by September, says CEO Alex Gorsky.

“I think it's likely to occur right in that timeline. The good news is, is that the FDA is already working with companies to establish the clear regulatory guidelines, so that the appropriate data can be collected,” Gorsky told David Ignatius during a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday

Gorksy said one benefit of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that this particular type of vaccine has been used in lower age groups before.

“The AdVac 26 was used extensively among broad age groups, young and old in Africa when we were developing this for other conditions such as Ebola and HIV. So it gives us reasons to be optimistic regarding the safety profile in that in that patient population, but we still have to do the clinical work," he said.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson first announced their plans to study the vaccine in adolescents. Gorsky says it will begin testing in people ages 12 to 18, and it will go down from there.

"We will conduct several immunogenicity and safety studies in children from 17 years of age down to neonates,” Dr. Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development & medical affairs with J&J’s vaccine arm Janssen, told a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee last week.

“We are also anticipating a study in pregnant women in the second and third trimesters toward the end of March, early April," Douoguih said. "We also plan to begin a study in immunocompromised individuals in the third quarter of this year."

Both Pfizer and Moderna are currently trialing their mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines in children. 

11:47 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

This US grocery chain will still require masks despite some states lifting mask mandates

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

A Kroger worker assists a customer at the checkout counter in Versailles, Kentucky, in November 2020.
A Kroger worker assists a customer at the checkout counter in Versailles, Kentucky, in November 2020. Scotty Perry/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The grocery chain Kroger announced it will still require customers to wear masks inside its stores across the country despite the reversal of mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi, a statement said today.

The company, which bills itself as "America's largest grocer" said that it will "continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the Covid-19 vaccine."

"We also continue to advocate to federal, state and local officials to prioritize frontline grocery workers for the vaccine rollout plan," the company added. 

Kroger offers a $100 one-time payment to employees who get fully vaccinated.

The company has recently also drawn controversy over its practice of closing stores in cities that mandated "hazard pay" for grocery employees working during the pandemic. Kroger announced closures of two stores in Seattle and two in Long Beach, California, after ordinances in both cities required grocery workers to be paid an extra $4 per hour.

10:51 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Johnson & Johnson aims to exceed current vaccine target with new Merck partnership

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

This December 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States.
This December 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States. Johnson & Johnson/AP

Johnson & Johnson’s goal is to exceed its target of 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of June now that it has a new partnership with Merck, says CEO Alex Gorsky. 

“We had previously announced 100 million by June, but in discussions with the government in trying to say, ‘Hey what else could we be doing? How else could we accelerate? Are there other ways that we could partner, even more broadly to not only reinforce that confidence, but to perhaps accelerate it even further?’ And that's when in conversations that we were able to sit down together and, and bring this partnership to fruition,” Gorsky told David Ignatius during a Washington Post Live event, on Wednesday.  

Gorksy said the two companies are working together “as we speak” and that he is confident about being able to accelerate.

“The early signs and the early data transfer and technology transfer has been encouraging. And we're committed to doing everything possible to make net acceleration possible," he said.

Yesterday, President Biden announced the partnership between the two pharmaceutical giants and declared there would be enough vaccine supply for all adult Americans by the end of May.

“We are pleased to collaborate with Merck as part of our global network to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine. Merck has a long history of vaccine expertise, and we expect this manufacturing arrangement will enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments,” said a statement from Johnson & Johnson. “Merck is the ninth manufacturer to join our global network and this significant collaboration will further enable us to deliver our COVID-19 vaccine worldwide.”

10:56 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Mississippi mayor calls governor's decision to lift mask mandate "reckless and premature"

From CNN's Tina Burnside 

The city of Greenville, Mississippi, will continue to enforce the citywide mask mandate after Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday that he was lifting the statewide mask mandate. 

"This unseen disease is still alive and well; and, there exist variants of Covid-19 in this country," Errick Simmons said in a news release Wednesday.  

Simmons called the decision to lift mask mandates "premature and reckless." 

"We cannot relax exercising good personal hygiene, social distancing, use of face masks and/or coverings, or let our guards down as we approach Spring Break, Easter, and other holidays," the mayor said. 

In a similar statement on Tuesday, the Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the mask mandate in the city of Jackson still stands.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down. Healthcare experts continue to advise that we are not yet at a place to remove masks. The continued evidence of Covid-19 variants supports this recommendation. The mask mandate in the City of Jackson and the Sixth Amended Stay Safe Jackson Executive Order remain in full force and effect,” Lumumba said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also repealed the mask mandate in his state on Tuesday.

10:47 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Netherlands looking into authorizing AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 65

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

A vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is pictured in Oss, Netherlands, on February 12.
A vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is pictured in Oss, Netherlands, on February 12. Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands government has asked the Health Council of the Netherlands for advice on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 to those over age 65.

That vaccine is currently only being used in the Netherlands for those aged 60 to 64, those with Down’s Syndrome, and the “morbidly obese.”

The government has asked the Health Council, an independent scientific advisory body, “to issue an opinion on use of AstraZeneca for those over 65 years old,” Tim Bennebroek, a spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Health, Wellness, and Sport told CNN on Wednesday.