March 15 coronavirus news

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

Updated 0741 GMT (1541 HKT) March 16, 2021
21 Posts
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11:35 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

UK variant of Covid-19 will be dominant in US by end of March or early April, CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is still projected to become the dominant variant in the United States by the end of this month or early April, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing on Monday.

"Our current models still project that by end of March, early April, B.1.1.7 will be the dominant variant," Walensky said.

At least 4,858 cases of coronavirus variants first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the United States, according to data updated Sunday by the CDC.

Most of these cases, 4,690, are the more contagious variant known as B.1.1.7. This variant has been found in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Walensky said on Monday that "in some states, Florida and California, it's up to 25%, and in other states it's lower."

CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

11:32 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

CDC considering guidelines that could change physical distancing at schools from 6 feet to 3 feet

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reviewing new data to see if physical distancing rules in schools should be changed to advise people to stay at least 3 feet apart instead of at least 6 feet apart, according to a federal official.

The official pointed to a study published last week that showed “no significant difference” in rates of Covid-19 at Massachusetts public schools that had implemented social distancing rules of more than 3 feet apart compared to those with rules to stay more than 6 feet apart.

“CDC has reviewed the data from this study and is completing additional studies looking at Covid transmission in schools, and when those studies are complete and CDC has done additional analysis, if necessary the agency will update its guidance to reflect the most up to date science regarding Covid and schools,” the official said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, was asked about the study by CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.

“The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are okay, under certain circumstances. They're analyzing that and I can assure you within a reasonable period of time – quite reasonable – they will be giving guidelines according to the data that they have. It won't be very long,” Fauci said.

More on the study: In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine and their colleagues looked at data from 537,336 students in 251 Massachusetts school districts and did not find a difference in Covid-19 rates between schools that mandated at least 3 feet of physical distance compared to 6 feet – as long as everyone wore masks.

The study notes that while the CDC recommends 6 feet or more between students, the World Health Organization recommends 1 meter, which is 3.3 feet, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 3-6 feet.

“Lower physical distancing policies can be adopted in school settings with masking mandates without negatively impacting student or staff safety,” the authors concluded.

12:14 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

CDC director urges Americans to continue Covid-19 mitigation practices

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is urging the public to continue wearing masks, physical distancing and other Covid-19 safety measures

During a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing Monday, Walensky warned that some European countries have seen a resurgence of Covid-19 cases after relaxing mitigation measures. These countries have had "strikingly similar" Covid-19 trends and surges during the pandemic as the United States, Walensky said.

With clocks springing ahead over the weekend, a recent surge in travel and the beginning of spring break, Walensky said she now worries that the United States could see a spike in Covid-19 cases as well.

"We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities, maskless. This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day," Walensky said on Monday.

"I'm pleading with you for the sake of our nation's health," Walensky said. "These should be warning signs for all of us – cases climbed last spring, they climbed again in the summer, they will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we get more and more people vaccinated," she added.

CDC director: We still have much work to do

11:30 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Biden administration increasing Medicare reimbursement for Covid-19 shots

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The Biden administration announced it will increase Medicare reimbursement for Covid-19 shots, another step toward the administration’s goal of more equitable vaccine distribution. 

“We’re announcing that the Biden administration will nearly double Medicare’s reimbursement rates for administering Covid vaccines from about $23 per shot to $40 per shot. That’s $80 total for a two dose vaccine,” White House senior Covid adviser Andy Slavitt said at Monday’s Covid briefing. 

The move, Slavitt said, will “make it easier for more healthcare providers to get out into communities and give more Covid shots to people in need,” which will help get vaccines to the nation’s underserved communities more expeditiously.

Slavitt also explained that through the Covid relief bill, the administration will also be covering 100% of the cost for Medicaid and children’s health insurance beneficiaries to get vaccinated.

“It means that vaccines will continue to be free to you. You do not need insurance to get vaccinated, you do not need cash or a credit card or worry about a copayment or deductible. You will not get a bill. The vaccines are free, they’re safe, and they’re effective,” he said, adding, “That also means that doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers you trust will be out in your communities administering vaccines… because the federal government will now pay them more for each shot they deliver.”

11:26 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

More evidence severe Covid-19 can affect brain function, study finds

From CNN’s Christopher Rios

A new study published Monday provides additional evidence that severe Covid-19 can affect brain function.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, used advanced techniques to examine the brains of people with severe Covid-19.

The study found that patients with severe Covid-19 – and no other clear reason for their neurologic symptoms – were more likely to have movement disorders such as tremor or seizures, frontal lobe syndrome or brainstem impairment, which can cause problems with planning and social behavior.

These patients were defined as having Covid-19-related encephalopathy, or CORE.

“In our study, we showed that patients with CORE mostly had movement disorders (mainly seizures and/or myorrhythmia), brainstem impairment (oculomotor disorders such as head bobbing) and frontal syndrome (disinhibition and grasping),” the researchers wrote.

The study was conducted at a single hospital in Paris between March 30 and June 11, 2020. It included 78 patients with severe Covid-19 who also underwent a special test looking at electrical firing of brain cells during their hospitalization, called an electroencephalogram, or EEG. Many, but not all, of these patients also had other advanced imaging techniques performed, such as brain magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI

Of the 78 patients included in the study, nine were found to have CORE

While the cause of brain changes in people with severe Covid-19 is unknown, the findings reinforce the hypothesis that the virus could be invading the frontal lobe through nerves in the nose, the researchers said.

The researchers also developed a tool using the patient’s clinical presentation, EEG and MRI to predict which people are more likely to develop CORE. But more research on CORE is needed to determine the utility of such a tool.

11:26 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Covid-19 protocols force Masters to cancel annual Par 3 contest

from CNN's Wayne Sterling

A general view of play on the fifth hole during the Par 3 Contest prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia.
A general view of play on the fifth hole during the Par 3 Contest prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The 2021 Masters Par 3 Contest will not be played when the tournament begins next month due to social distancing protocols, Augusta National announced on Monday. 

The club hopes the event will resume in 2022.

The annual contest, which usually occurs the day before the start of the Masters tournament, was canceled last year as well after the tournament was moved from April to November because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 85th Masters, scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Augusta, Georgia, will have a limited, unspecified number of spectators. 

The tournament will have similar health and safety standards to those instituted last November.  

11:12 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Moderna launches trial of new easier-to-distribute Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Moderna announced it has launched an early-stage trial of an updated Covid-19 vaccine.

The vaccine is refrigerator stable, so it would be easier to distribute. The company is testing it as a single-dose vaccine as well as testing it as a double dose.

“Our investments in our mRNA platform have enabled us to develop this next generation vaccine candidate, which is a potential refrigerator-stable vaccine that could facilitate easier distribution and administration in a wider range of settings, including potentially for developing countries. We remain committed to helping address this ongoing public health emergency,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release Monday.

In future trials, Moderna said that the company will also test this version of the vaccine to see if it could work as a booster. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have said that they will be testing boosters, in case their current vaccines aren’t as effective against variants.

11:07 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Few people have missed their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine so far, CDC data show

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Nurse Liliana Ocampo administers the second dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine into the arm of Sister Patricia Supple, 86, on March 3, in Los Angeles, California at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center.
Nurse Liliana Ocampo administers the second dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine into the arm of Sister Patricia Supple, 86, on March 3, in Los Angeles, California at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet independent living center. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Most people who have received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine are getting their second dose on time, according to early data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But CDC researchers warn that the initial groups prioritized to receive the vaccine – health care workers and long-term care facility residents – have had easy access to a second dose through their workplace or residence.

"As priority groups broaden, adherence to the recommended dosing interval might decrease," the researchers wrote in their report published on Monday. 

For the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, it is recommended for second doses to be administered 21 and 28 days later, respectively, but the researchers noted in their report that up to 42 days between doses is permissible if needed.

The report includes data on more than 37 million people who received at least their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine between Dec. 14 and Feb. 14.

The researchers analyzed the data, taking a close look at when the first dose was received, whether a second dose was received and whether that second dose was received on time. The data came from 58 jurisdictions across the United States.

The researchers found that among those where enough time had gone by to receive a second dose, 88% of people had completed their second dose, 8.6% had not but there was still enough time to receive their second dose, and 3.4% had missed the second dose completely – meaning at least 42 days had gone by since receiving their first dose.

Among those in the data who had received both doses, the researchers found that 95.6% received their second dose within the recommended time interval.

The researchers noted that several winter weather events led to distribution challenges and vaccination clinics canceling appointments during the study, and more research is needed to examine the completion of second doses over a longer period of time.

"Continued monitoring of series completion status across jurisdictions and by demographic characteristics is important to ensure equity in vaccine administration and vaccination coverage, especially as vaccination efforts expand to additional population groups," the researchers wrote.

12:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Germany halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Stephanie Halsaz

Medical staff Thomas Holler gives a jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine center in Bremen, northwestern Germany, on February 26.
Medical staff Thomas Holler gives a jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine center in Bremen, northwestern Germany, on February 26. Hauke-Christian Dittrich/Pool/Getty Images

Germany is “precautiously” halting vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to CNNs German affiliate n-tv.  

The decision today is purely a precautionary measure. It is a purely scientific and not a political decision. And that's why I'm following the recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, ” a statement by German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

"In order to maintain confidence in the vaccine, we have to give our experts in Germany and the EU the time to review the latest incidents.We are pausing to check. The result of the check is open and that's why we are now counting on the EMA, ideally, coming to its decision and recommendation in the course of this week," he continued.

"The PEI (Paul-Ehrlich-Institute) advises that people who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca & feel increasingly unwell more than 4 days after vaccination - e.g. with severe and persistent headaches or punctiform skin bleeding - should seek medical treatment immediately. It has happened very rarely. So far there have been 7 reported cases that may be related to such a cerebral vein thrombosis and that meanwhile over 1.6 million vaccinations in Germany."

Germany is now the seventh European country to suspend AstraZeneca's use despite advice from the European Union's medicines regulator that the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks.

Here's a look at the other EU countries that have suspended use:

  • Denmark: On Thursday, March 11, Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for 14 days as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots” after one Danish person died following vaccination, according to Danish health officials.
  • Norway: On Thursday, March 11, Norway chose to “pause” vaccinations following reports of the death in Denmark. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said similar cases had been reported in Norway, but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.” 
  • Iceland: On Thursday, March 11, Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country. 
  • Bulgaria: On Friday, March 12, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered a halt to all AstraZeneca vaccinations until the EMA “rejects all doubts” about the vaccine's safety.
  • Ireland: On Sunday, March 14, Ireland decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to "maintain confidence" in its vaccine program, according to the Chairman of its National Immunization Advisory Committee.
  • Netherlands: On Sunday, March 14, the Dutch government said it would pause AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”