March 9 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Kara Fox, and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 0803 GMT (1603 HKT) March 10, 2021
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4:56 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Maryland plans to remove all Covid-19 capacity restrictions on restaurants and other businesses

From CNN's Laura Ly

Maryland is removing all Covid-19 capacity restrictions on restaurants and other businesses on Friday, citing "significant improvements in [their] health metrics," Gov. Larry Hogan announced at a news conference Tuesday.

Although physical distancing will still be required, capacity limits will be lifted on all indoor and outdoor dining establishments, retail businesses, religious buildings, fitness centers, personal service locations, such as hair and nail salons, and indoor recreation centers, such as casinos, bingo halls, bowling alleys, and skating rinks, the governor said.

All changes will be effective on Friday starting at 5 p.m. ET, Hogan said. 

Large venues, such as for conferences, weddings, or concerts, may expand their indoor and outdoor capacity to 50%, Hogan said. 

"Masking, physical distancing, and other safety protocols will remain in place," the governor said.
4:58 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Here's how Covid-19 vaccines could combat coronavirus variants

From CNN's Ashley Ahn

CSIS
CSIS

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, outlined today two ways Covid-19 vaccines could combat coronavirus variants: vaccinated people could get specific booster shots against each variant that crops up or a shot that offers protection against several variants.

“Here is the challenge: Are we going to chase each variant in an almost 'whack-a-mole' way or are we going to try and get a vaccine that has a good degree of protection against several (variants) and get the level of virus so low that we don't really have an outbreak proportion,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event Tuesday.

Both strategies are being pursued in the US, Fauci said.

4:53 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Austin will still require masks despite Texas lifting state order

From CNN’s Chris Boyette

Dr. Mark Escott, chief medical officer for Austin, Texas, announced Tuesday that masks remain required in the city to protect from the spread of Covid-19, despite Gov. Greg Abbott lifting the statewide mask mandate.

“In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives. Period. If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will,” said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar.

Austin City Council passed an ordinance last year allowing the health authority to establish public health mandates and Texas state law allows cities to create their own health rules, according to Casar's spokesperson Tara Pohlmeyer. 

The city mask mandate and other health rules remain in place through April 15, when they may be extended based on health authority and Austin Public Health Department recommendation.

4:50 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

McConnell criticizes Covid-19 relief bill, calling it "purely partisan"

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/FILE
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/FILE

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill the narrowly passed the Senate Saturday as “very liberal and purely partisan,” saying it was only able to get through because Democrats “put lock-step unity ahead of substance” when they defeated almost every GOP amendment to the bill.

“We are hearing reporting that this giveaway will simply wipe out the budget deficit of New York state and eliminate a big part of the deficit in San Francisco, courtesy of the taxpayers in Kentucky and middle America,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Already we hear heat the administration is saying they want some of these sweeping new welfare policies to become permanent, like a no-strings-attached benefit that disregards all the pro-work lessons of bipartisan welfare reform.”

McConnell also said that “Democrats inherited a turning tide” because the “vaccine trends and economic trends were in place” before this bill voted on and before President Biden was sworn in.

The timeline: The US House is expected to vote tomorrow on the bill, according to a Democratic leadership aide. The House Rules Committee will take up the rule today, and the House will approve the rule governing floor debate tonight, the aide said.

The nearly $2 trillion package includes up to $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans, and billions of dollars for states and municipalities, schools, small businesses and vaccine distribution.

Roughly 90% of American households will be eligible to receive stimulus checks, according to an estimate from the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

4:29 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

North Carolina vaccinates more than 1 million people

From CNN’s Juliana Battaglia

Tyson Foods team members receive Covid-19 vaccines from health officials at the Wilkesboro, North Carolina. facility on Wednesday, February 3.
Tyson Foods team members receive Covid-19 vaccines from health officials at the Wilkesboro, North Carolina. facility on Wednesday, February 3. Melissa Melvin/AP/FILE

North Carolina has fully vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"This puts us even closer to a time when we can hug our loved ones and gather without fear of severe illness," he said. "I'm grateful for the vaccine providers across our state for working hard to get shots off shelves and into arms, your hard work is saving lives."

Part of the state's vaccination efforts have gone towards fair and equitable distribution.

"In the last four weeks over 20% of our first doses have been administered to Black North Carolinians," Cooper said.

The state will continue to focus their efforts on equity, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We will continue to use every lever we have to ensure historically marginalized populations can easily access a Covid-19 vaccine," Cohen said.

The state's positivity rate has stayed around 5%, which is on track for the state, according to Cooper. However, the governor cautioned about "celebrating too early."

"Let's continue wearing our masks and being responsible so that one day soon we can turn the corner on this pandemic," he said.

4:17 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Covid-19 vaccine boosters may be needed six months to year later, Novavax official says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Biotechnology firm Novavax is developing a booster shot to its coronavirus vaccine, and company officials anticipate that vaccinated people might need boosters every six months or annually to stay protected against Covid-19. Similar to others, Novavax's Covid-19 vaccine is administered as two doses given three weeks apart.

After the second dose, “we’re seeing that at six months, there's a pretty big decline in antibodies and I think all the vaccine makers are going to see that," Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development for Novavax, told CNN on Tuesday.

“But it's our view that somewhere between six months and one year, we’re going to need to boost everybody to protect them,” Glenn said. “I think governments are gearing up for that kind of thinking – but we're still collecting the information that will guide that. This is a new virus, these are new vaccines, and we just don't have enough information.”

Novavax has initiated a booster shot study to gather that information.

"We have actually started a trial where some of the people who got our vaccine last summer, at six months later we're giving them a boost," Glenn said. "We're going to see how good that looks in terms of immune responses – and it can either be one dose, given once, or maybe we kind of repeat the same thing we did before where we give them a three-week interval."

4:07 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Cases of Covid-19 in children decline for the seventh consecutive week 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Cases of Covid-19 in children have declined for the seventh consecutive week, with at least 63,562 cases being reported last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP notes this is a “much smaller drop” than the previous six weeks. 

Children make up about 13.2% of all Covid cases, and at least 3,231,836 children have tested positive since the onset of the pandemic. 

In the 11 states that reported testing, children have made up between 6% and 18.5% of total state tests, with 5.3% to 30.7% of children who were tested testing positive. 

Since states began reporting, between 1.3% and 3% of all hospitalizations were children, with between 0.1% and 2.2% of child Covid-19 cases leading to hospitalization. This is based on data from 23 states and New York City. 

Overall, children made up zero to 0.19% of all Covid-19 deaths. Ten states reported no child deaths. Under 0.05% of all child Covid-19 cases resulted in death, AAP says. Mortality was reported from 43 states, New York City and Guam. 

4:23 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Novavax on track to have US and Mexico Phase 3 trial data in April, company says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Medical lab scientists, Glenda Daza, left, and Emily Degli-Angeli, work on samples collected in the Novavax Phase 3 Covid-19 clinical vaccine trial at the UW Medicine Retrovirology Lab at Harborview Medical Center on February 12, in Seattle, Washington.
Medical lab scientists, Glenda Daza, left, and Emily Degli-Angeli, work on samples collected in the Novavax Phase 3 Covid-19 clinical vaccine trial at the UW Medicine Retrovirology Lab at Harborview Medical Center on February 12, in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Biotechnology company Novavax still expects to see results from its PREVENT-19 trial, a Phase 3 study of its Covid-19 vaccine in the United States and Mexico, sometime in April. The trial has enrolled 30,000 volunteers across more than 100 locations.

“Everybody's enrolled and now we're watching for cases,” Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development for Novavax, told CNN on Tuesday.

“I think sometime in the April timeframe we'll have finished that trial. So, we'll have three pivotal trials testing our vaccine — that's extremely important for evidence that your vaccine is safe and can work,” Glenn said.

In January, the American biotech firm announced that its Covid-19 vaccine was found to have an overall efficacy of 89.3% in a Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the United Kingdom, where it was found to have 95.6% efficacy against the original coronavirus strain and 85.6% against the variant strain first identified in the UK.

The coronavirus vaccine was not among the first authorized in the United States because the company faced some challenges in building the staff needed to develop such a new vaccine, Glenn said.

"We were a small company," Glenn said. 

In January of last year, around the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Maryland-based company recruited more staff to work on developing its Covid-19 vaccine in response to the health crisis, Glenn said.

“We had to recruit people, and our funding was kind of low,” Glenn said. “In addition to all the challenges of developing the vaccine, which is really complicated, we had the challenge to build a company.”

Glenn added that Novavax has “reached a really good point now” with building the company and developing the vaccine. The company still expects to apply for emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine sometime in the second quarter of this year.

4:00 p.m. ET, March 9, 2021

No unexpected outcomes from Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy so far, CDC vaccine safety lead says

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Current data suggests that women who are pregnant should feel comfortable receiving a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the head of Covid-19 vaccine safety for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The data we have so far are reassuring. We do not see any signs of a safety problem in pregnant women — both with respect to the pregnant women individually and with respect to the developing fetus,” Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, vaccine safety lead with the Covid-19 Response Team at the CDC, said. “No unexpected pregnancy or infant outcomes have been observed related to Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy.”

A health official also addressed the vaccine's impact on breast milk.

“There are no concerns that the vaccine would be in the breast milk or be dangerous to a breastfeeding infant,” Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a co-lead on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices with the CDC, said.

Shimabukuro said that despite the small amount of clinical data on Covid-19 vaccinations and pregnancy, pregnant people should consider the risks of contracting Covid-19 as well.

 “There is evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk for complications from Covid infection and or increased risk for more severe disease. There is also some evidence that Covid infection may increase the risk of certain pregnancy birth outcomes,” he said. “So, I think in order to protect both the mother and the developing baby, I think it’s important that the women get vaccinated.”