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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3:05 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Indiana expands Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to those 50 and older

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Indiana Governor’s Office
Indiana Governor’s Office

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday afternoon that Indiana is now expanding its eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccination to include those age 50 and older. This comes only one day after the state lowered eligibility to include those 55 and older. 

“With the new J&J approval, we’re obviously able to do more,” Holcomb said, referencing the newly approved Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. 

The governor said the state will continue to drop vaccine eligibility based on age, ultimately to age 40. 

Holcomb also announced that he would be receiving the vaccine on Friday, as he has now become eligible. He said he received a strong recommendation from Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box “to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”

2:38 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Biden criticizes Texas and Mississippi governors for lifting Covid-19 restrictions: "Neanderthal thinking"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

President Joe Biden sharply criticized states lifting Covid-19 restrictions against the pleas from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top public health officials, accusing those in power of “Neanderthal thinking.”

“I think it’s a big mistake. Look. I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms,” Biden said when asked about Gov. Greg Abbott and Gov. Tate Reeves’ decisions to relax restrictions in Texas and Mississippi.  

“The last thing – the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters," he added.

He referenced a card he keeps in his pocket with the daily death toll of the virus amid his administration’s push to get vaccines into arms. 

Biden, who is meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Oval Office on the subject of ending cancer, called on all Americans to continue to follow guidelines despite the mixed messaging from some state officials. 

“It’s critical – critical, critical, critical – that they follow the science: Wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently. Wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it,” he told reporters. 

2:00 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

India's Covaxin Covid-19 vaccine 81% effective against coronavirus

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma and Manveena Suri

A medic with COVID-19 vaccine during the Bharat Biotech's 'Covaxin' human trial after it was approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research, at Maharaja Agrasen Super Speciality Hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Friday, December 18.(
A medic with COVID-19 vaccine during the Bharat Biotech's 'Covaxin' human trial after it was approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research, at Maharaja Agrasen Super Speciality Hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Friday, December 18.( Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/Getty Images/FILE

India's Covaxin vaccine is 81% effective against coronavirus, according to early data released Wednesday by Bharat Biotech, the company that developed the drug jointly with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The vaccine's clinical trial involved 25,800 participants between 18 and 98 years old. The efficacy figure is based on an early analysis of 43 Covid-19 cases. Thirty-six cases occurred in participants who got a placebo, compared to seven participants who got the vaccine.

Data indicates the vaccine can also effectively combat the coronavirus variant first spotted in the UK, according to an analysis by the National Institute of Virology, Bharat said in a news release.

“Today is an important milestone in vaccine discovery, for science and our fight against coronavirus…Covaxin demonstrates high clinical efficacy trend against COVID-19 but also significant immunogenicity against the rapidly emerging variants,” said Dr. Krishna Ella, the company's chairman and managing director.

Covaxin is a two-dose vaccine. It is the first Covid-19 vaccine that has been developed in its entirety in India. In March 2020, following the successful isolation of the novel coronavirus virus, the ICMR established a public-private partnership with Bharat Biotech to develop the virus isolate into a vaccine candidate.

Over 40 countries have expressed their interest in Covaxin, including Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bahrain, Oman, Maldives and Mauritius.

1:33 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

More than 2,500 reported cases of concerning variants in the US, CDC says

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang

At least 2,581 cases of coronavirus variants first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the United States, according to data updated Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vast majority of these cases, 2,506, are the more contagious variant known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in the UK. This variant has been found in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. About a quarter of these were found were in Florida.

In addition, 65 cases have been reported of a variant initially seen in South Africa, called B.1.351, in 16 states and Washington, DC. 

Lastly, 10 cases of the P.1 variant first linked to Brazil have been discovered among five states. 

CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

1:03 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Austin city leaders slam Texas governor's decision to lift mask mandate

From CNN's Konstantin Toropin

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott makes an announcement in Lubbock, Texas, on March 2.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott makes an announcement in Lubbock, Texas, on March 2. Justin Rex/AP

The day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would be lifting the mask mandate and "opening Texas 100%," the leadership of Austin has strong words of opposition to the move.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said that the move is a breaking of a promise and an attempt to deflect from other issues the governor is facing.

"Governor Abbott said he'd be guided by the science and the data and yesterday he broke that promise," Adler said today at a news conference this morning. 

"There is no explanation for the governor's action other than trying to distract us and the media from the failure of the state to protect us from the power outage," Adler added.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown noted that "with just over 5% of our community vaccinated, this is no time to be lifting the mask ordinance."

Brown said that county and city leaders will "do everything possible to still require masks in any way possible under that order, and under the law."

Brown also noted that some businesses have told him that "they still want to be able to require people to wear masks — they want people to wear masks."

Abbott, however, suggested that business leaders were behind the move by releasing three statements of praise from state business associations in a news release this morning.

"The Governor is striking the right balance by removing the heavy hand of government and allowing businesses to operate as they see fit," Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, wrote in his statement.

"As other states in the country keep restrictions in place, Texas will spearhead the economic recovery," Invest Texas Council Chairman Ron Simmons said in the release. 

12:42 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Brazil’s largest state to enter most restrictive “red phase” as cases rise

From CNN’s Shasta Darlington and Marcia Reverdosa

Brazil’s largest state Sao Paulo will enter a two-week “red phase” in coronavirus restrictions starting at midnight Saturday, according to Sao Paulo’s governor.

That means all but essential businesses must close, including restaurants, bars, gyms and beauty salons as well as all but essential retail shops. Schools, however, will continue to provide a portion of their classes in-person.

This announcement comes during a particularly difficult week for the nation, as Tuesday marked the highest daily death toll in Brazil, with at least 1,641 people dying in a single day, according to the health ministry.

It also comes as public and private ICUS are near or at capacity across the country, with one-third at the edge of collapse at over 90% capacity, according to federal and state data.

“We are on the verge of a collapse in the health system in Sao Paulo,” Governor Joao Doria said during a press conference to announce the tightening of restrictions. “Urgent, collective measures are needed," he added.

12:48 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Harris shines a light on women-owned small business during pandemic

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on March 2.
Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on March 2. Evan Vucci/AP

Vice President Kamala Harris sought to highlight the plight of women in the workforce amid the pandemic with a visit to a local small yarn and fiber business, which she called the “fabric of the community.”

She pressed the need for Congress to pass the administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, which the Senate could take up as soon as today. 

The vice president heard from the store’s owner and a few members of the staff and another female business owner who handles public relations for the shop. They outlined some of the difficulties of running a small business as a woman during the pandemic, including childcare issues, health concerns, and closures. 

Told that a large portion of the shop’s business is now online, Harris said, “God bless the United States Postal Service, by the way,” calling them the “heroes of the moment.”

Harris touted Biden’s announcement that there will be “enough vaccines for everyone” by May, telling the group, “we’re going to get through this.”

Citing the relief package, she discussed the importance of supporting small businesses, citing statistics of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic.

She said Covid-19 has “highlighted the fissures and the failures of the system,” specifically referencing paid sick leave and paid family leave, as well as support for vaccinations and schools. 

“This is literally about relief for people who need it,” Harris said of the legislation, adding that it will be “interesting to see” how history views this time, but added that the heroes – including the workers at small businesses – will be remembered.

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

Teachers in West Virginia are now eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN’s Anna Sturla

A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Charleston, West Virginia, on February 13.
A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Charleston, West Virginia, on February 13. Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Teachers and West Virginians age 50 and older are now eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in the state, Gov. Jim Justice announced during a news conference Wednesday. The previous restriction was age 65.

Eligible categories now include:

  • Teachers and school service personnel age 40 and above
  • Residents with chronic health conditions who are 16 or older

"We got this thing on the run, and we’re gonna chase it until the ends of the earth, and get it gone," Justice said.

The state has seen sharp reductions in overall deaths and nursing home outbreaks in recent months, according to government officials during the news conference.

Justice reported 232 new cases of Covid-19 and eight deaths in the past 24 hours, with 197 hospitalized. West Virginia's daily percent positivity was 3.13%.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s health agency, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project. 


12:26 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Study identifies several coronavirus variants of concern in patients from Houston area

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang

In a new preprint study, researchers say they have identified the variants first identified in the UK, Brazil, South Africa and California in patients from the Houston metro area.

Researchers from Houston Methodist and elsewhere say it’s the “first city in the United States to have all variants documented by genome sequencing,” although sequencing is done for only a small number of coronavirus cases around the United States and does not capture the overall prevalence of the variants. 

The report, which was posted on Tuesday and has not been published or peer-reviewed, said the finding “is not unexpected but it is disquieting,” and called it a “testament to our aggressive sequencing of COVID-19 patient samples.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, the B.1.351 first identified in South Africa, and the P.1. first identified in Brazil as “variants of concern��� and track incidences of these variants. The variants may be more transmissible than others.

According to the CDC’s most recent update, as of March 2, there are at least 2,572 cases of coronavirus variants across the country. Florida and Maryland have also identified all three of the CDC’s “variants of concern."

The CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

The authors also note that the variants were found widely spread across the Houston area, “indicating successful patient-to-patient transmission.”

They added that none of the patients were from a common household or reported any recent international travel, “suggesting that every infection was independently acquired locally or during domestic travel.” 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he's lifting the mask mandate in Texas, even as health officials warn not to ease safety restrictions.