CDC releases new guidelines for Americans vaccinated against Covid-19

By Ben Westcott, Brett McKeehan, Kara Fox, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0103 GMT (0903 HKT) March 9, 2021
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7:46 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

Houston Health Department finds large amount of UK coronavirus variant in wastewater testing

From CNN’s Kelsie Smith

Dr. David Persse speaks at a press conference on Monday, March 8.
Dr. David Persse speaks at a press conference on Monday, March 8. Pool

Houston health officials announced that the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first seen in the UK has been identified in over half of the city’s wastewater treatment plants.

“There is a fairly large amount of the UK variant in our community,” said Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse in a news conference. “And it is spreading.”

Persse said the variant was identified in 21 out of 39 wastewater treatment plants on Feb. 8 and two weeks later on Feb. 22 the variant was found in 31 plants.

“In the end, what we found is that 19% of all the virus that has been tested in the wastewater tests across the city has the genome that is consistent with the UK variant,” said Persse. Other variants of the virus, such as the Brazilian and South Africa variants, were also found in the city’s wastewater, but the measurements were not available to report, according to Persse. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid-19 can be shed in the feces of people with symptomatic or asymptomatic infections. Wastewater testing can provide data on changes of viral infection within a community. 

With the Texas mask mandate being lifted on Wednesday, city officials expressed concerns for another surge if people do not continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

“We’re not there yet. Those viruses are in the community,” said Persse. “The race is on to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the UK variant is able to take over and cause us to have another surge.”

7:31 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

Schools in New Mexico can reopen by April 5, official says

From CNN's Deanna Hackney 

All students in New Mexico will be allowed to return to in-person learning by April 5, said the state's Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart.

At a news conference this afternoon, Stewart said in addition, all school staff will be vaccinated within the next three weeks. 

The Public Education Department said in an informational sheet to New Mexico residents that they've "spent months developing and implementing the protocols to make our schools safe. Viral transmission and case numbers are down. About 15,000 New Mexico educators — approximately a third of our public-school workforce — have already received at least one shot of the vaccine. We’re offering all educators a first shot by the end of March. And the federal government is doing all it can to help us reopen quickly and safely. It’s time to go back to school!"

"All schools are required to maintain adequate supplies and implement daily cleaning protocols. While we now know that surface transmission is rare and that airborne respiratory droplets drive the spread of COVID-19, students and staff will continue washing hands frequently, and facilities will be thoroughly and regularly cleaned."

The department added that schools must strictly enforce the Covid-safe practices which include, but are not limited to, mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing.

The New Mexico Department of Health reported at least 126 additional cases of Covid-19 and three deaths on Monday. 

7:06 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

6,300 people mistakenly receive lower Covid-19 dose at FEMA site in California due to "human error"

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

More than 6,000 people who were vaccinated at the Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site on Feb. 28 and March 1 received less than the recommended dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, in what the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) calls “the result of human error.”

The Oakland Coliseum site is the nation’s first mass vaccination location as part of a federal/state partnership to boost vaccine administration. People who were vaccinated after 4 p.m. on Feb. 28 and before 3 p.m. on March 1 may have been given just 0.22 ml of the Pfizer vaccine, which is recommended to be given at 0.3ml per dose, state health officials said.

About 6,300 people had appointments at the mass vaccination site during that time frame and could have received the smaller dose.

“The CDC has determined that any dosage of 0.15 ml or larger is safe and does not require the dose to be repeated to protect people against Covid-19,” CDPH spokesperson Ali Bay said in a statement to CNN.

The agency believes the vast majority of those affected were receiving their first dose of the vaccine, given this was a newly-opened site.

Each person who may have received the lower than recommended dose is being notified by a letter from CDPH, and is urged to complete their vaccination series as usual. 

The error was corrected by on-site staff on the afternoon of March 1, according to CDPH, and additional training and quality assurance steps have been implemented as a preventative measure.

Reached by CNN, California’s Office of Emergency Management deferred comment to CDPH. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not comment.

6:59 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

CDC's digital symptom checker may overlook severe coronavirus cases, study suggests

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s digital Covid-19 symptom checker may overlook severe cases of coronavirus, suggests research published Monday in the journal BMJ Health & Care Informatics.

Researchers found that the CDC’s symptom checker was likely to delay referral of serious cases to appropriate care, potentially resulting in increased risk of illness and death.

Digital symptom checkers allow users to input information about their symptoms and receive automatic advice about what to do next, for instance, visiting a physician. These online tools have been used to help reduce the burden on the health care system during the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers looked at four nationwide digital symptom checkers: Singapore's Covid-19 Symptom Checker, Japan’s Stop Covid-19 Symptom Checker, the US CDC Coronavirus Symptom Checker and the UK’s 111 Covid-19 Symptom Checker.

To compare the performance of the symptom checkers, researchers simulated 52 cases to represent coronavirus presentations of varying severity, along with diseases that mimic coronavirus symptoms, like sepsis and bacterial pneumonia.

The team notes that the symptom checkers from Singapore and Japan – where Covid-19 death rates are low – referred twice as many cases to seek direct clinical assessment as those from the US and UK, which have higher death rates.

Singapore’s checker referred 88% of cases to seek further medical assessment, while the US CDC checker referred just 38% of cases.

“From the cases not referred, the USA and UK triaged a significant number of cases to ‘stay home’ that would typically have required early clinical assessment,” the researchers wrote. They said it was particularly concerning that cases representing older adults with coronavirus symptoms and those with shortness of breath or persistent fever were not advised to seek clinical assessment.

The CDC did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment about the study.

The researchers note that distinguishing mild coronavirus from potentially severe cases and other conditions with similar symptoms is “a challenge for even trained clinicians let alone an automated system.”

6:51 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

White House previews Biden speech to nation Thursday

From CNN's Jason Hoffman and Betsy Klein 

Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond outlined President Biden’s first primetime address on Thursday, the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown, saying he expects Biden to tell the nation that the administration is executing its plan to defeat the pandemic. 

“As a country, we're going to come together, we're going to beat this pandemic, we're going to rise from this economic crisis and then we're going to build back better, which means we're not going to leave anybody behind this time,” Richmond said.

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “The President will deliver his first primetime address to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown on Thursday. He will discuss the many sacrifices the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered.” 

She said Biden looks forward to “highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and moving the country toward getting back to normal.” 

6:50 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

Biden adviser says he's not surprised by LeBron James' decision to keep vaccination plans private 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Senior adviser to President Biden, Cedric Richmond, today said he was not surprised by LeBron James' remark that he would keep his own decision private on whether or not he gets vaccinated.

"The unfortunate part is it doesn't surprise me," said Richmond, responding to the NBA star's comment on Sunday. "There's some real hesitancy in African-American males."

Richmond pointed to distrust sown by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among African Americans in the infamous Tuskegee Experiment as well as the many lies told by the Trump administration as reason some African Americans harbor distrust over the vaccines.

"It was a vaccine created... with a former administration that was not that truthful," he said. "African Americans have a history with the Tuskegee Experiment and other things so there is a hesitancy there."

Speaking after the NBA All Star game on Sunday, James suggested he would not publicly reveal whether or not he would take a vaccine. 

"That's a conversation that my family and I will have. Pretty much keep that to a private thing," James said. "...On things like that, when you decide to do something, that's a conversation between you and your family and not for everybody. I'll keep it that way."

Richmond went on to say he saw James' remark as a learning opportunity for Americans.

"It just gives us a chance to do what I think we need to do with a lot of people, educate them on how safe the vaccines are and hopefully LeBron James will come around in feeling comfortable in telling everybody about his decision," he said.

5:49 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

CDC guidance tied to vaccination rate, senior White House adviser says

From CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Biden administration Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt told CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that the guidance on what vaccinated people can and cannot do is tied to directly to vaccination rates. Currently, about 10% of the US population is fully vaccinated.

“The rate at which new guidance will develop is directly related to how quickly we vaccinate the country. This is the key point. At 10% vaccinations we have this guidance. At 20-30%, we will have new guidance,” Slavitt told Gupta.  

Slavitt also said that there was going to be a distinct shift in the messaging of what people can and cannot do – moving away from more binary messaging to one that describes activities as a range of low, medium and high risk.  

The much-anticipated guidance released on Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people who are fully vaccinated are able to gather indoors with others who are fully vaccinated, without a mask and distancing. 

The CDC also said that people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, if the people who are unvaccinated are at low risk for severe Covid-19.  

The agency also said those who are fully vaccinated can skip quarantine and testing if exposed to someone who has Covid-19 but are asymptomatic, but they should monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Slavitt said the Biden administration's first principal was to let the CDC drive recommendations without interference. He noted that it was not difficult for the CDC to determine the recommendations; the challenge was in communicating them so as not to confuse people.

“There are many nuances,” he said.

Slavitt said that there were learning lessons taken away from last year, with specific reference to the confusion over masks. 

“We still haven’t recovered,” said Slavitt. 

As a result, he said there was great emphasis placed on clear visuals, ease of understanding, and repetition in the both the recommendations as well as the messaging: explaining that the guidance is “being shared as a process” and emphasizing a handful of times throughout today’s White House briefing that the guidance was a “first step.”

The CDC defines people who are fully vaccinated as those who are two weeks past their second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines or two weeks past a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. There is growing evidence that people who are vaccinated don't spread Covid-19, but scientists are still trying to understand how long vaccine protection lasts.

4:35 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

House vote on Covid relief bill will be "Wednesday morning at the latest," Pelosi says 

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with members of the media at the U.S. Capitol on March 8.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks with members of the media at the U.S. Capitol on March 8. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that a final vote on the Covid relief bill will come “Wednesday morning at the latest” and that the timing depends on when they get the bill back from the Senate, but that there are no hang ups to the legislation.

“It depends on when we get the paper from the Senate,” she said. “It has to be very precise, and it takes time to do that. It has some changes that they have to precisely write. It could be that we get it tomorrow afternoon and then it has to go to rules. And we’d take it up Wednesday morning at the latest.”

She said she does not expect more Democrats to vote against the bill because of the changes that were made in the Senate, saying “I think more will vote for it” and that she felt “sad” for Republicans who will vote against it. 

“I feel sad for them that they are so oblivious to meeting the needs of the American people and oblivious to the support that this bill has among Republicans across the country,” Pelosi said.

4:27 p.m. ET, March 8, 2021

March and April are critical months to stop another coronavirus surge, CDC director says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks on December 8.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks on December 8. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The next two months are critical to whether the United States experiences another surge in coronavirus cases, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

“There is so much that’s critical riding on the next two months,” Walensky told the National League of Cities Monday. “How quickly we will vaccinate versus whether we will have another surge really relies on what happens in March and April.”

Walensky said she hopes local leaders will do what they can to encourage people to wear masks and keep good physical distance from each other – and encourage people to get vaccinated. 

“Be part of the action that gets us out of this,” Walensky said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added that the country urgently needs to get ahead of the variants, some of which are more transmissible. 

The country should have enough vaccines manufactured by the end of May for everyone who wants one, but it will take longer to get those vaccines into arms. 

“I would imagine that we can probably do that within a couple of months following the total availability of vaccines somewhere this summer,” Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told the National League of Cities Monday. “I think that this is going to change a lot of what we can and cannot do.” 

He also encouraged people “not to pull back on public health measures prematurely.”

“In other words, listen to the recommendations of the CDC regarding mitigation methods, wearing of masks, physical distancing,” Fauci said. “Listen to what their recommendations are.” 

The CDC released new guidelines for the vaccinated Monday that suggest vaccinated people can safely get together with other vaccinated individuals in small groups, but the guidelines still encourage all people to wear masks and keep physical distance to protect those that have not yet been vaccinated.

About 90% of the US population still has not been vaccinated, according to the CDC.