March 15 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0741 GMT (1541 HKT) March 16, 2021
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2:36 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Pennsylvania will ease restrictions on restaurants and businesses starting April 4

From CNN’s Jennifer Henderson

An empty restaurant is seen in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 17.
An empty restaurant is seen in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 17. Keith Srakocic/AP

Due to a decline in Covid-19 cases and climbing vaccination rates, Pennsylvania will ease restrictions on restaurants and businesses, and increase mass gathering limits starting April 4, according to a news release from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office Monday.

Indoor dining capacity at restaurants that are self-certified or are undergoing the self-certification process will be raised to 75%, the release states. Restaurants that are not self-certified can raise their capacity to 50%. To be self-certified, restaurants must agree to strictly comply with all public health safety guidelines and orders.

The curfew for removing drinks from tables will be lifted in restaurants, bar service will resume, and customers will no longer have to order food in order to purchase alcohol on April 4, according to the release. 

Capacity limits for personal service facilities, gyms and entertainment facilities like casinos, malls and theaters will increase to 75%. Indoor venues will now be allowed to have up to 25% capacity and outdoor venues will be allowed 50% capacity, the release added. 

Pennsylvania's Covid-19 numbers: The state reported 1,388 new cases of coronavirus Monday in addition to 1,914 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, according to data from the Department of Health. 

Pennsylvania had 14 additional Covid-19 deaths over the weekend for a total of 24,587 deaths from Covid-19, the department added. 

The state has administered more than 3.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with more than 1.2 million people fully vaccinated. An average of 76,000 people are being vaccinated a day.

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

3:03 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Spain joins Germany, France and Italy in halting AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccinations

From CNN’s Al Goodman

A healthcare worker prepares doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on March 5 in Rome, Italy.
A healthcare worker prepares doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on March 5 in Rome, Italy. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Spain joined Germany, France and Italy today in halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in response to a small number of people across Europe suffering blood clots – and some dying – after receiving the shot.

Spain’s suspension will last for two weeks, Health Minister Carolina Darias announced at a nationally televised news conference Monday.

It's a "temporary and precautionary" suspension, she said, "until the risks can be evaluated by the European Medicines Agency."

The EMA reiterated on Monday that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and that data did not indicate people were more likely to have blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

The agency has an emergency meeting on Thursday about the issue.

2:13 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Some Trump administration CDC guidance was not grounded in science, agency review finds

From CNN's John Bonifield

A review of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid-19 guidance has found that some of the agency's guidance during the Trump Administration was not grounded in science and free from undue influence, according to a statement from a CDC spokesperson.

The review found that some guidance "Used less direct language than available evidence supported"; "Needed to be updated to reflect the latest scientific evidence"; and "Presented the underlying science base for guidance inconsistently," according to the spokesperson.

Additionally, the review identified three documents that were not primarily authored by the CDC and yet were presented as CDC documents, according to the spokesperson. The agency removed two of the documents from its website, and updated and replaced the third.

The review was ordered by President Biden's CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in response to concerns about some of the CDC's guidance during the first year of the pandemic, when the Trump Administration was in charge of the agency.

"I am focused on moving CDC forward with science, transparency and clarity leading the way. It is imperative for the American people to trust CDC. If they don’t, preventable illness and injury can occur — and, tragically, lives can and will be lost," Walensky said in a statement to CNN. "This agency and its critical health information cannot be vulnerable to undue influence, and this report helps outline our path to rebuilding confidence and ensuring the information that CDC shares with the American people is based on sound science that will keep us, our loved ones, and our communities healthy and safe.”

News of the CDC review was first reported by The Washington Post.

2:11 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Europe has nearly 8 million unused AstraZeneca doses

From CNN’s James Frater

A vial of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is handled on March 15 in Dippoldiswalde, Germany.
A vial of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is handled on March 15 in Dippoldiswalde, Germany. Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

Europe has nearly eight million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting unused, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data shows as of Sunday.

That is more than half the total number of doses distributed to European nations, the data shows.

It shows 14,851,497 doses have been distributed, while 6,895,411 have been used – leaving 7,970,323 doses unused. 

Only Lithuania has used its full allocation, the data shows. 

The ECDC notes that member states are asked to upload data at least twice a week, on Tuesdays for the preceding week and Friday for the current week, so there may be a lag in reporting. 

2:07 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

White House would welcome Trump's help in promoting vaccine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 15 in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 15 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The White House said it would welcome former President Trump's help in promoting the vaccine to his supporters but cited other ways to convince conservatives to get the shot.

"If former President Trump woke up tomorrow and wanted to be more vocal about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine certainly we’d support that," press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Monday press briefing.

Health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said Trump's voice in promoting the vaccine would go far in convincing Republicans to get it. Polls have shown Republicans are more likely to say they are wary or don't plan to get inoculated.

Trump has made small efforts to promote the vaccine, including in a speech at CPAC, but he did not appear in a public service announcement featuring former presidents that was released last week.

Psaki noted those presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — "did not need an engraved invitation" to promote the vaccine.

CNN reported that Trump wasn't approached to participate in the PSA, and expressed little interest in joining his predecessors to promote the vaccine.

Still, Psaki said the administration was focused on using "trusted messengers" to convince wary populations to get the vaccine. 

"The President’s goal is to vaccine all Americans, not just those who voted for him," she said. "We know we need to meet everyone where they are, and that includes conservatives."

She said Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, would meet with evangelical leaders on Tuesday to discuss vaccines and the best way to promote them among that population.

And she cited polls showing more Republicans would trust a doctor or health care provider when deciding whether to get a shot.

1:22 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

US child cases of Covid-19 decline for 8th consecutive week 

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Last week at least 52,695 new child Covid-19 cases were identified through testing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

However, it’s the eighth consecutive week with a decline in new cases. 

Children still represent more than 13% of all cases in the US and more than 3.28 million children in the US have tested positive for Covid-19 as of Feb. 25. 

Children made up between 6% and 18.6% of those who were tested for Covid-19, and 5.3% to 31% of children tested were positive for the coronavirus, depending on the state.

Children are still considered much less likely than adults to develop severe symptoms of Covid-19 or to die from the disease. Children represented 1.3% to 3% of total reported hospitalizations for Covid-19, based on the information provided by 24 states and New York City. Only 0.1%-2.1% of all cases of Covid-19 in children required hospitalization. 

10 states reported zero child deaths among the 43 states that provided data on Covid-19 mortality. 

1:09 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Mississippi will open up Covid-19 vaccination appointments to all residents starting tomorrow  

From CNN's Gregory Lemos 

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that the state will be opening up Covid-19 vaccination appointments to all residents 16 and older starting Tuesday. 

"Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians. Get your shot friends - and let’s get back to normal!" the governor tweeted Monday.  

Reeves said there will be around 10,000 appointments available over the next three weeks and encouraged those over the age of 50 to "lock them down."  

According to the governor's office, Reeves has been hinting that he was ready to do this for a few weeks.  

"He's been saying for a while that he was ready to open it up to anyone of any age who wants to get it. Today is the official announcement," the governor's press secretary Bailey Martin told CNN Monday.  

See his tweet:

1:09 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine benefits outweigh risks, European Medicines Agency reiterates

From CNN’s James Frater

A doctor holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a drive-thru clinic in Milan, Italy, on March 15.
A doctor holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a drive-thru clinic in Milan, Italy, on March 15. Pier Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The benefits of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks, and the number of people developing blood clots after vaccination does not seem to be higher than in the general population, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Monday.

The statement comes after Germany, France and Italy announced temporary suspensions of use of the vaccine.

The agency said it would hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to advise on “any further actions that may need to be taken.”

The EMA said last week after Denmark suspended use of the vaccine over the death of a person with a blood clot that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

12:37 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Canada sticks with AstraZeneca vaccine despite European concerns

From CNN’s Paula Newton

Michael Gray moves a pallet of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses in Ontario, Canada, on March 3.
Michael Gray moves a pallet of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses in Ontario, Canada, on March 3. Carlos Osario/Pool/AP

Canada says it will continue with its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine despite concerns in Europe about a link between the shot and blood clots. 

“Obviously we’re following what has been happening with a specific batch used in Europe but I can reassure all Canadians that no doses of AstraZeneca came from the same batch that has caused concerns in Europe,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a news conference in Montreal. 

Health Canada confirmed last week that it is aware of reports of adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, but said "the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks." 

“At this time, there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events. To date, no adverse events related to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, or the version manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, have been reported to Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada,” the statement posted last week said. 

“The best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered to you,” Trudeau added Monday. 

Canada’s vaccine regulator approved the AstraZeneca shot late last month, approving it for all Canadians over the age of 18, including seniors. However, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) chose not to recommend the AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people aged 65 years and older, due to what it called an insufficient amount of evidence for that age group.

Canadian provinces, responsible for administering vaccines, have taken different approaches, with some restricting the AstraZeneca vaccine to those under the age of 65.

Earlier Monday, Trudeau visited a mass vaccination site in downtown Montreal, a city that remains a stubborn hotspot for coronavirus infections. 

Trudeau said that while he was relieved to see his mother get vaccinated in recent days, he has no firm date for receiving his own vaccine shot. 

“I’m not overly focused on when my turn will come. When it comes, I will gladly get vaccinated but I will wait my turn,” he said.