The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT) March 5, 2021
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5:58 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

California governor calls on residents to wear two masks after Texas drops mandate

From CNN’s Jessica Myers

While Texas and other states have recently dropped mask mandates, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Californians on Thursday to wear two masks to reduce spread of coronavirus, saying residents should “consider using an additional mask and double masking” while in public. 

“We are encouraging people, basically to double down on mask wearing particularly in light of all of what I would argue is bad information coming from at least four states in this country," Newsom said at a news conference.

The California Department of Public Health published new masking guidelines Thursday, stating that good, effective masks have both a solid fit and filtration, and double masking can help with both. A cloth mask can be worn on top of a disposable mask, but health officials said it is not recommended to wear two medical masks.

The governor has openly criticized states like Texas and Mississippi that recently lifted mask mandates as “reckless,” insisting California will continue to “use data science, evidence, facts, not ideology” to drive decision-making.

“We will not be walking down their path,” Newsom said. “We’re mindful of your health and our future.”

California’s 14-day Covid-19 positivity rate fell Thursday to 2.5%, tying with an all-time-low rate last October. “This is not the time to spike the ball,” Newsom said as highly-contagious variants threaten a resurgence in new cases.

5:34 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

US shouldn't pull back from Covid restrictions until daily new infections fall below 10,000, Fauci says

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during an interview on March 4.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during an interview on March 4. CNN via Webex Cisco

The US will be able to pull back on coronavirus restrictions – but not until the number of daily new infections falls far below the current number, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

Fauci said the US should pull back gradually, after a substantial portion of the population gets vaccinated and the number of new infections has fallen well below the current 60,000 to 70,000 new cases per day.

“I would say less than 10,000 and maybe even considerably less than that,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“We will be pulling back,” Fauci said. “We're now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day. That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected.”

Some states, including Texas and Mississippi, moved to drop mask and social distancing mandates this week.

“There are so many reasons why you don't want to pull back just now,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

One of those reasons is the emergence of virus variants, some of which are more contagious and can reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

There will be a time to relax restrictions, “but not at a time when we have circulating variants and when you have what looks like a plateauing of the decline in the cases on a daily basis,” Fauci said.

Watch more:

5:31 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Fauci to skeptical Republicans: Follow Trump's lead, get vaccinated

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Republicans who are skeptical of Covid-19 vaccines should follow the lead of former President Donald Trump – who quietly got vaccinated back in January. 

“I hope that Republicans will notice that the former President of the United States did get vaccinated which means he believes in vaccination," Fauci said on CNN Thursday. 

Trump is a "very popular person among tens of millions of people, so even though he hasn't come out publicly to endorse in a proactive way... what he's done by his own example was to endorse vaccination," the nation's top infectious disease expert continued. 

"So for the very strong followers of former President Trump, I would say 'look at what the person who you seem to be following in other areas, he got vaccinated,'" Fauci concluded.

The Biden administration is currently working on an ad campaign billed as an “unprecedented public campaign that builds trust around vaccination” to help reduce vaccine hesitancy among some groups of Americans.

The administration says it is committed to supporting the Ad Council's $52 million, "It's up to you," campaign to help "ensure that Americans have accurate and timely information to answer their questions and concerns about vaccine side effects, efficacy, and clinical trials."

Watch:

5:06 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Massachusetts governor says people over 65 will be vaccine eligible next week

From CNN’s Alec Snyder

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press briefing in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on March 4.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a press briefing in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on March 4. Pool/WHDH

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state anticipates administering 250,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine next week, which would be consistent with the current week’s projections.

He said 300,000 to 400,000 new state residents will be eligible for vaccinations next week: those over 65 — down from the age 75 restriction in Massachusetts — and those with two or more high-risk medical conditions.

However, Baker said 150,000 of its available doses next week are first doses, meaning a large swath of those eligible will not immediately receive a vaccine.

Baker also said the state is not expecting a change for the remainder of March to its rate of roughly 150,000 first doses available per week.

Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, will also transition away from its status as a mass vaccination site due to the forthcoming Major League Baseball season, Baker said. The last day Fenway Park will accept appointments is March 27, and first doses received at Fenway before its closure will be accepted at the Hynes Convention Center, where the Fenway operations will relocate. Hynes’ own vaccinations will accept appointments beginning March 18, Baker said.

Massachusetts’ Covid-19 case and vaccination data Thursday showed 1,553 new cases of the virus identified and 755 people currently hospitalized for the virus, Baker said. The state has administered 1.8 million vaccines, 1.2 million of which are first doses. Of those vaccinated, 70% of recipients are age 75 and over, and Baker said Massachusetts is second in the nation in its percentage of Black residents receiving at least one dose.

Note: These numbers were released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.

3:05 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

About 82.6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

Nurse Liliana Ocampo prepares to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on March 3 in Los Angeles at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center.
Nurse Liliana Ocampo prepares to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on March 3 in Los Angeles at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

About 82.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 82,572,848 total doses have been administered, about 75% of the 109,905,530 doses delivered.  

That’s about 2 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of more than 2 million doses per day.  

More than 54 million people have now received at least one dose of vaccine and about vaccine and more than 8% of the population — about 27.8 million people — have been fully vaccinated with both shots, CDC data shows. 

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported. 

12:27 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Austria and Denmark announce plans for vaccine co-operation with Israel

From CNN's Andrew Carey

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, give a joint press conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 4.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, give a joint press conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 4. Olivier Fitoussi/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders of Israel, Austria and Denmark have announced plans to launch a joint research and development fund towards the possible future production of coronavirus vaccines. The move by the two European countries to partner with Israel follows dissatisfaction at the pace of vaccine distribution in the European Union.

At a joint news conference in Jerusalem, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she was inspired by Israel’s ability to rollout Covid-19 vaccines. She added that along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, she “shared the same vision of timely access to vaccines,” adding, “we cannot allow [ourselves] to be caught off-guard once again.”

Kurz also expressed his desire to make public health policy with a reach beyond the European Union. “We need to co-operate [on vaccines] within the European Union … but we also need to co-operate worldwide,” he said.

Details of the Research and Development fund were still being worked out, Netanyahu said, adding that it was necessary in order to protect people from a future resurgence of the virus or the emergence of further variants.

12:20 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Sweden moves towards eliminating upper age limit on AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine 

From CNN’s James Frater and Henrik Pettersson 

Syringes are loaded with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden, on February 17.
Syringes are loaded with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden, on February 17. Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

The Swedish Health Authority, Folkhälsomyndigheten, recommended eliminating the upper age limit for use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. This would allow it to be used on people over age 65.

“New data from the UK confirms that AstraZeneca's vaccine has a good protective effect even for people over 65 years of age,” the Health Authority said in a statement Thursday.

The decision follows reversals made by Belgium and Germany, who have also changed their advice on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine in the elderly. 

Many European countries have set an upper limit on the age of recipients of the vaccine, citing a lack of clinical study information about its effects on older people.

In February the Swedish Health Authority approved the vaccine only for use in people under age 65, saying at the time of authorization there was “too little data on the vaccine's protective effect for people over 65 years of age.

“Waiting for more data was considered necessary, as the need for protection of the elderly is particularly high due to their increased risk of serious illness and death by Covid-19,” the statement said.

Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that “all vaccines offered are very effective and according to the studies have a good protective effect for anyone over 18 years.”

Three vaccines are approved for use in Sweden: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

According to the latest data from the Swedish Health Authority, 568,031 people have received at least one vaccine dose (6.9% of the adult population) and 285,178 (3.5%) have been given both doses. 

11:31 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Italy blocks export of Covid-19 vaccine doses, using EU powers for the first time

From CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo and James Frater

Doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the vaccination unit of the Italian Defense, on February 23 in Rome, Italy.
Doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the vaccination unit of the Italian Defense, on February 23 in Rome, Italy. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Italy has blocked the export of Covid-19 vaccine doses, in the first case of European Union powers being used in a long-simmering dispute between the European Union and vaccine makers.

Italy invoked EU powers to prevent AstraZeneca from exporting 250,000 doses to Australia, a spokesperson for Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told CNN Thursday.

The spokesperson said Italy and the European Commission had agreed on the action.

The move was first reported by the Financial Times. CNN is seeking comment from AstraZeneca.

11:27 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Ivermectin drug is not effective at treating mild Covid-19, study finds

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A health worker shows a bottle of Ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020.
A health worker shows a bottle of Ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020. Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Ivermectin, a drug normally used to treat parasites including lice and rabies, did not seem to have a significant impact and improve the symptoms of patients with Covid-19, according to new research published Thursday, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In January, the National Institutes of Health’s Treatment Guidelines Panel said that there is not enough data to recommend for or against the drug to treat Covid-19 patients. 

Even without studies to demonstrate that it works, a few doctors have heavily promoted the drug. It’s a cheap medication with anti-inflammatory properties and it seemed to stop the virus from replicating in lab studies. But just because it works in the lab, doesn’t mean it will work in real life. Most mainstream physicians have reserved their judgment about it

In this study based in Cali, Colombia, nearly 500 adults with mild disease who had symptoms for 7 days, volunteered to help test the drug. The trial is what’s known as a double-blind randomized control trial, the gold-standard of trials. 

Half the volunteers got the drug for five days, the other half got a placebo, and standard care. Patients were enrolled in the trial between July 2020 and November 2020 and doctors followed up with that through December. 

At the end of the trial, there were a nearly equal number of adverse events (mostly headache) in both groups of volunteers. The patients who got the drug said their symptoms subsided by 10 days. For the group that got the placebo, it was 12 days. Two days was not considered a “significant” improvement. 

“The findings do not support the use of ivermectin for treatment of mild COVID-19,” the study concludes. It adds that larger trials may be needed to better understand if ivermectin provides any other kind of benefit to patients with Covid-19. In this case, the study focused on symptoms and mild disease.