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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10:13 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

CDC guidelines for vaccinated people are a “huge emotional release,” former acting director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A patient receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on March 6, in Thornton, Colorado. 
A patient receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on March 6, in Thornton, Colorado.  Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The new CDC guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are a “huge, huge emotional release and lift" Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday.

“I’m excited about these guidelines,” Besser, who is now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “I think it gives us a cautious step forward and an emotional release in the sense that we really, truly are on the road out of this pandemic.”

He offered the example of elderly people who may be socially isolated, saying that they now know that if they are fully vaccinated, they can get together with friends who are also fully vaccinated, and they can hug their grandchildren.

Besser spoke about his own parents, both in their early 90s, and said that he knew for them that “getting two doses of vaccine, being fully vaccinated, now knowing they can get together with other people, that’s a huge, huge emotional release and lift.”

10:01 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Houston Police Chief calls lifting statewide mask mandate "a step in the wrong direction"

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks with CNN on Tuesday, March 9. 
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks with CNN on Tuesday, March 9.  CNN

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called Texas governor’s decision to lift statewide mask mandate a “step in the wrong direction” and added that he expects it will lead to an uptick in calls to his department for service and conflict.

“In this state, businesses have property rights. And so you know, ‘no mask, no service’ means you can't be in that business,” he said. “So if a person does not want to wear the mask and refuses to wear the mask and refuses to leave, they’re committing what’s called criminal trespass.”

He added:

“I can assure you that we’re going to start seeing our calls for service and conflict go up — conflict that can be avoided by simply continuing to follow the science and being patient. We're almost to that finish line. I think this is a step in the wrong direction,” he told CNN. 

He said he hopes Texans will observe voluntary compliance but he can still see some cases of conflict “and the cops will be stuck in the middle like we always are.”

“We've already seen … a glass broken over [an employee’s] head simply for asking someone to wear the mask. We have another restaurant where the owner is calling me where they're talking about calling ICE on their employees because they've chosen to follow the science and keep their customers healthy. And so the conflict is coming. It was avoidable. This was unnecessary and unfortunately, something else that will be on our plate moving forward,” he said Tuesday.

Acevedo also criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for lifting the mandate for “political theatre.”

“He's going to continue to wear his mask, is my understanding because he understands the risk to his own health. If it's good enough for him to wear a mask, I'm not sure why he doesn't care enough about the rest of Texans to continue to follow the science,” he said.

Watch the interview:

10:21 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

More Americans think that there will be a return to normal within the next 6 months, poll finds 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Fans sit in designated rectangles to encourage social distancing during the first spring training game between the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida, on February 28.
Fans sit in designated rectangles to encourage social distancing during the first spring training game between the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida, on February 28. Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News/USA Today Network

The number of Americans who think there will be a return to normal within the next six months or sooner is increasing, according to new poll results from Axios-Ipsos released Tuesday. Now, 40% of respondents think that’s the case, compared with 26% in late January.

And the number who think it will take a year or more to return to normal is more decreasing, now 17% compared with 30% in late January. The poll, which was conducted March 5 to 8, was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,001 Americans age 18 and over.  

In the poll, 20% say they don’t know when they will return to pre-coronavirus activity levels for in-person gatherings outside their household or dining at a restaurant. The rest have a mix of responses — 30% say they already have attended in-person gatherings, 29% said they will once they or everyone in their circle has been vaccinated, 21% say they will when officials say it is safe, and 20% don’t know.

As 25% of respondents reported getting the vaccine, the vast majority of respondents say that they will continue public health measures even after being vaccinated, with 81% saying they would continue to wear a mask, 66% continuing to social distance and 87% saying they will continue frequent hand washing or sanitizing. 

As these numbers are changing, so are the number of Americans staying home and avoiding contact with others and engaging in social interactions outside the home. 

The number of Americans who say they are avoiding contact, 13%, is at its lowest since October, and down six points from a month ago. The number of Americans who have visited family or friends in the past week — 44% — is up seven points from a month ago. 

The poll also looked at personal benefits experienced since the start of the pandemic. It found 36% said spending more time at home was the biggest personal benefit experienced, 33% said spending less/saving more was the biggest personal benefit, and a quarter noted spending more time with family.  

There was also “some cautious optimism” around finances, with fewer people saying that their ability to pay their rent or mortgage had gotten worse, and a lower number of people saying they have been temporarily furloughed or suspended from work.

Finally, the poll looked at how the pandemic has affected dreams. It found that 1 in 3 Americans reported strange or vivid dreams in the last month, one-quarter had stressful or frightening dreams and fewer than 1 in 10 had coronavirus-specific dreams.

9:18 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

About 60% of people age 65 and older have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine in US

From CNN's Ben Tinker

A registered nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine dose at Allen Senior Citizens Housing Complex in New York City, on February 20.
A registered nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine dose at Allen Senior Citizens Housing Complex in New York City, on February 20. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/AP

About 60% of people age 65 and older have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine the United States, a CNN analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Census Bureau indicates.

About 30% of US residents age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, meaning they have either received two shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The proportion of people over age 65 who have been vaccinated in the US is about three-fold the general population.

This is important because the risk of severe disease in death increases significantly as a person gets older.

People ages 65-74 are 35 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1,100 times more likely to die from Covid-19, compared to someone who is 5-17 years old, according to the CDC.

People ages 75-84 are 55 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2,800 times more likely to die. People ages 85 and older are 80 times more likely to be hospitalized and 7,900 times more likely to die.

 

8:37 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Some Covid-19 "long-haulers" may originally have no symptoms at all, study suggests

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

People who at first experience no symptoms when they have Covid-19 may still go on to become "long-haulers" – meaning they may develop and experience long-term symptoms later, according to early research, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The pre-print paper, posted online to the medical server medrxiv.org last week, found that nearly a third of Covid-19 patients who were reporting symptoms more than 60 days after testing positive initially experienced no symptoms when first testing positive, making them asymptomatic.

"There has been conflicting information regarding whether asymptomatic individuals go on to become long-haulers, and roughly 32% of those reporting symptoms at day 61+ in our study were initially asymptomatic at the time of SARS-CoV-2 testing," researchers from various institutions in the United States wrote in the paper. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes Covid-19.

The new study included data from the electronic health records of 1,407 Covid-19 patients in California who were never hospitalized during their coronavirus infection.

More on the study: The researchers analyzed the Covid-19 symptoms patients reported during the first 10 days of their infection and then at least 61 days later, which was the criteria used to define "long-haulers." The researchers found that 27% of the patients reported symptoms at least 61 days later.

More women than men experienced lingering symptoms at least 61 days later, the researchers found, and the most prevalent symptoms were: chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, abdominal pain, cough, low back pain and fatigue. The researchers also found all age groups were represented among the "long-haulers."

 The researchers noted in their paper that "these long-term consequences of becoming a long-hauler are unclear, and further research is urgently needed to corroborate our findings."

8:42 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

5.6 million people flew over the last 5 days, TSA data shows

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Travelers walk through Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, on March 2.
Travelers walk through Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, on March 2. Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

The last five days are the busiest air travel has been over such a stretch since the holidays. The Transportation Security Administration just reported it screened 1.1 million people at airports on Monday, meaning 5.6 million people have traveled by air over the last five days.

The new numbers come as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling people to still not travel, even if they are fully vaccinated against coronavirus — and as health experts are worried about a spike in the virus after upcoming spring break trips. 

The airline industry insists that flying is safe regardless of whether people are vaccinated or not. More than two dozen travel industry trade associations and unions sent a letter to the Biden administration Monday saying that it should work with the industry to come up with standard traveler health records as a way to bring back travel.

8:11 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Kremlin denies Russia undertaking disinformation campaign against covid vaccines  

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Zahra Ullah in Moscow 

A healthcare worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 8.
A healthcare worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 8. Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Russia has never participated and will not participate in disinformation campaigns against Covid-19 vaccines, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. 

Speaking to journalists on a conference call, Peskov said statements claiming that there is a Russian campaign working to undermine confidence in Covid-19 vaccines used in the US are “absurd” and “have no basis at all.”

“We do not understand the reasons for such statements. We intend to continue to explain patiently and very consistently that such messages are absurd,” Peskov said.

On Sunday, a State Department spokesperson told CNN that online platforms directed by Russian intelligence are spreading disinformation about two of the coronavirus vaccines being used in the US.

Peskov said there is a broad discussion across the globe about coronavirus vaccines in general and Russia has always been against politicizing covid vaccines. 

“We have always been against politicizing any vaccine-related issues in any way. It is necessary to test the vaccine first, and as soon as its effectiveness is confirmed, to produce as much as possible of it in order to save the world from coronavirus and save as many human lives as possible,” he said. 

Peskov also said that despite its efficacy, the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, has been subject to criticism, adding it sometimes happens under the guise of objectivity and at other times “completely without any attempt to pretend to be objective, just sweeping criticism.”

“Russia never participated and is not going to participate in an information campaign against any other vaccines. On the contrary, by the way, it is the Russian Federation that is now involved in collaboration with other vaccine companies in order to make a more effective product,” Peskov added. 

7:51 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

US airline industry pushes back on CDC guidance that says vaccinated people should avoid travel

From CNN's Pete Muntean

A person walks through LaGuardia Airport in New York, on March 6.
A person walks through LaGuardia Airport in New York, on March 6. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The airline industry is pushing back against new US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention guidelines that fully vaccinated people should still avoid travel.

In a new statement, industry group Airlines For America insists being on board a plane poses a low risk of coronavirus infection because of heavily filtered air and federally mandated mask wearing. "We remain confident that this layered approach significantly reduces risk," the group said.

The announcement comes after the CDC said those who are vaccinated can meet with others who are vaccinated and even low-risk people who aren't vaccinated but should still avoid travel.

"Every time there's a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during Monday's White House coronavirus response briefing.

Health experts remain concerned that upcoming spring break travel will lead to an uptick in coronavirus infection rates.

This is the second pandemic-related disagreement between the airline industry and the new Biden administration.

The transportation industry pushed back hard earlier this year when the CDC was considering requiring that domestic air travelers get tested for coronavirus at the start of their trip. The White House met with airline CEOs, and the idea fell apart.

An airline industry source told CNN that it is urging the CDC to publicly release the criteria it will use to adjust travel guidance.

7:19 a.m. ET, March 9, 2021

Lab studies suggest Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can protect against Brazil variant

From CNN's Kara Fox and Meera Senthilingam

Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/Getty Images
Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/Getty Images

A new study suggests that the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine can protect people against the concerning coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil.

Blood serum samples from people who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine “efficiently” neutralized a version of the virus engineered to carry the same mutations as the variant, known as the P.1.

For the study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday, researchers at Pfizer, BioNTech and the University of Texas Medical Branch genetically engineered the virus to create versions carrying mutations found in a range of coronavirus variants, including P.1.
They tested them against blood samples taken from 15 people 2 or 4 weeks after they had received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as part of a clinical trial.
The team found that the blood samples were able to neutralize the Brazil variant “roughly” as well as it could neutralize an earlier strain of the virus from January 2020. 

The P.1 variant is suspected of fueling a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Brazil. It was found in 42% of samples in one survey carried out in Manaus and cases have since emerged in countries including the US, the UK and Japan.  

The P.1 variant has mutations in common with the variant first identified in South Africa that are thought to make it more contagious and possibly able to evade immunity from vaccines -- though this new study suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may still be effective.

Pfizer previously reported findings that blood samples also neutralized variant B.1.351, first reported in South Africa. The study found neutralization was still “robust but lower."

In February, Pfizer said that there is no evidence in real life that the South African variant escapes the protection offered by its vaccine but that they were working on developing a booster shot and an updated vaccine.

"Nevertheless, Pfizer and BioNTech are taking the necessary steps, making the right investments, and engaging in the appropriate conversations with regulators to be in a position to develop and seek authorization for an updated mRNA vaccine or booster once a strain that significantly reduces the protection from the vaccine is identified," Pfizer said in a statement at the time.