March 18 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Brett McKeehan and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 0748 GMT (1548 HKT) March 19, 2021
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1:14 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

New York venues and sports stadiums to reopen with restrictions on April 1

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

A general view of Yankee Stadium is seen on August 20, 2020, in New York City.
A general view of Yankee Stadium is seen on August 20, 2020, in New York City. Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Beginning April 1, large outdoor venues that host live concerts and shows across New York state will be permitted to reopen at 20% capacity, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a Thursday news briefing. 

These large venues – that can hold over 2,500 people – will see capacity increase as Covid-19 numbers across continue to decline.

Sports venues with over 1,500 indoor or 2,500 outdoor capacity will be permitted to reopen – with indoor capacity capped at 10% and outdoor capacity raised to 20%.

“We’ll have testing required when we open,” Cuomo said.

“You get your vaccine – I have my card, I can go to a game as soon as it opens. You can take a rapid test, you can take a PCR test, but we’re going to have testing as a precaution. As time moves on, and as our experience grows, and we see how the games work, we then right away do what's called contact tracing where we follow up on the game to see if anybody got infected, et cetera, and I think you're going to see the capacity increase and the testing requirements decrease as we get more evidence, but we want to start safe and smart," he said.

Citi Field could see up to 8,384 fans and Yankee Stadium could see up to 10,850 fans, Cuomo said.

Starting March 29, statewide travel for sports and recreational activities will also be permitted across New York, the governor announced.

At present, travel for sports is limited to contiguous counties and regions.

12:22 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

How the NCAA is keeping teams safe during March Madness

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

March Madness banners for the NCAA college basketball tournament cover crosswalks in downtown Indianapolis on March 17.
March Madness banners for the NCAA college basketball tournament cover crosswalks in downtown Indianapolis on March 17. Darron Cummings/AP

As March Madness gets underway today, NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt says the effort to keep players safe during the Covid-19 pandemic has been “quite an undertaking.”  

All 68 teams are competing in one city — Indianapolis — for the entire tournament, one year after the tournament was canceled completely due to the pandemic. 

Gavitt outlined the protocols for this year’s tourney to CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

“We’ve created this controlled environment where all of the participants are being tested on a daily basis. … Everyone has their own hotel room. Hotels are connected by skywalk with the Indiana Convention Center, where there are practice courts set up, a dozen of them. So all activities are taking place — all team meetings, all meals, all practices and preparation — in this controlled environment,” Gavitt said. 

“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risk, obviously with social distancing, with masking, to make sure that everybody is safe and healthy, and can both start and finish the tournament to determine a very worthy national champion,” Gavitt added. 

He said he thinks the chances for coronavirus spread are low, due to months of planning for these protocols. 

There’s still time to fill out your bracket. Find out how here.

11:54 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

US CDC wants to scale up search for new coronavirus variants, director says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill on March 18 in Washington, DC.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill on March 18 in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images

The United States is now sequencing 10,000 to 14,000 samples of coronavirus every week in its search for cases of new variants across the country, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.  

But even more sequencing is needed to keep on top of the spread of concerning new variants, Walensky told a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“We're now doing somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 sequences a week,” Walensky said. “Right now, we really would like to be up at the 25,000 range.” 

The US is doing far less genomic sequencing than other countries, such as the UK, and the CDC said this means there’s not a clear picture of the spread of variants. The CDC has forecast that the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant will be the dominant version of the virus across the US by the end of March. 

What the CDC needs: Walensky said the agency needs the money allocated in the American Rescue Plan to step up sequencing capability. “The additional $1.75 billion is in fact essential to help fund jurisdictions for next genome sequencing capacity,” she said. “Not all jurisdictions have this capacity and we really do need to be able to scale this up across the country.”

Equipment is also needed to sequence samples, and trained staff are essential, Walensky said. “We need to develop a work force, so that people understand how to do genomic epidemiology,” she said. “That is not standard application. That is not what people standardly know and so we need to develop that work force.”

11:37 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Democratic senators urge US Department of Justice to investigate Covid-19 deaths in federal prisons

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

From left to right, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Dick Durbin
From left to right, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Dick Durbin Getty Images

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Dick Durbin, along with 19 more Democratic lawmakers, sent a letter Thursday to the US Department of Juice Office of the Inspector General asking for an investigation into Covid-19-related deaths among people in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as well as staffers.

Some of the key questions they want answered are whether incarcerated people in these prisons who died received “timely and sufficient care” for Covid-19.

The letter notes Bureau of Prisons data saying that 225 incarcerated people as well as four staff members have died as a result of Covid-19 in federal prisons as of March 17.

“A comprehensive review would not only provide a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding each individual loss of life but would also help policymakers establish whether the appropriate (Bureau of Prisons) policies were in place and being followed in each case, as well as whether new policies or practices should be implemented to reduce risk during the current pandemic and to prevent similar outbreaks in the future,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
11:24 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

AMC Theatres will have 98% of their US locations open tomorrow

From CNN’s Alison Kosik

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

AMC Theatres, the world's biggest movie theater chain, announced that 98% of its theaters in the US will be open on Friday, with even more theaters opening a week later.

 “It was exactly one year ago that we closed all AMC locations in the United States,” said AMC CEO and President Adam Aron, in a news release.

 “As we have done at all of locations around the country, AMC is reopening and operating with the highest devotion to the health and safety of our guests and associates,” he said.

AMC says it expects 52 of its 54 locations in California will be open. That list includes two brand new theaters in the Los Angeles area.

11:12 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

New York City mayor gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

From CCNN's Kristina Sgueglia

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just received the Johnson & Johnson vaccination during his Covid-19 briefing. It was administered by the city's Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi.

He said he could “barely feel” the shot, adding “really I’m not joking you.”

He joins the over three million who have received vaccinations in New York City, “on track” he says to hit the five million goal the city intends to hit by June, so long as the supply remains. 

“That was easy,” he said. 

“I have total faith in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, that’s why it’s now in my arm,” he said 
10:50 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Finland reports highest weekly number of new Covid-19 cases since start of pandemic

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Finland has recorded the highest weekly number of new Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, the country's Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said Thursday in a statement.

"Between 8 and 14 March, a total of nearly 4,800 new cases were recorded in Finland, showing an increase of over 300 cases from the previous week," the ministry said, adding that, the incidence of new cases was 86 per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 80 the previous week.

Because the situation has "worsened considerably" throughout the country, "it is justified that regions maintain and proactively increase comprehensive and effective ways to prevent infections and to ensure the capacity of the healthcare system."

The ministry also said that the Covid-19 situation "remains difficult" in the southern region of Uusimaa, which includes the greater Helsinki area, and Southwest Finland region, which includes the historic city of Turku. 

In these regions, "over the past few weeks, the need for specialized healthcare and particularly the need for intensive care have increased considerably."

10:29 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

US agency targets early April for restaurant and independent live venue relief

From CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich

The Small Business Administration is targeting an early April roll out of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Grant, the agency said Thursday.

The $28.6 billion fund, passed as part of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, will provide funding for restaurants and bars that have suffered pandemic related losses. Establishments must have less than 20 locations to qualify.

The SBA historically acts as a lending institution, working though lenders and banks to process loans to businesses. Instead, this grant program will be distributed directly to businesses from the SBA. The agency says it is building a new automated system in order to accept the grant applications.

The proposed timeline for the Restaurant Relief Fund is swift compared to the roll out the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant – $16 billion fund aimed at helping live venue spaces. That grant was passed as part of the December stimulus bill. However, it is also scheduled to roll out in early April, the agency announced last week.

The agency said it is hiring additional staff to review both grant programs.

10:24 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

British regulator maintains there's no evidence AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite

Jens Schlueter/Getty Images
Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

There is no evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots, a British medical regulator said Thursday, advising people to continue getting the vaccine.

The statement from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency comes shortly before the European Medicines Agency is expected to announce the results of an emergency review of the vaccine. 

“The available evidence does not suggest that blood clots in veins (venous thromboembolism) are caused by COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. This follows a detailed review of report cases as well as data from hospital admissions and GP records,” the MHRA said.

"The MHRA’s advice remains that the benefits of the vaccines against COVID-19 continue to outweigh any risks and that the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so."