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March 24 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 25, 2021
30 Posts
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2:21 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Few rapid antigen Covid-19 tests meet WHO standards, review finds 

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang

A health worker processes a rapid antigen Covid-19 test on February 23, 2021 in Naumburg, Germany.
A health worker processes a rapid antigen Covid-19 test on February 23, 2021 in Naumburg, Germany. Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

A new large scale international review of rapid Covid-19 tests finds that few of them meet the World Health Organization’s minimum acceptable performance standards. 

There are two kinds of rapid tests – molecular tests, including PCR, which are considered to be the gold standard of molecular diagnostics; and rapid antigen tests, which detect proteins of the virus. Proponents of rapid tests say these diagnostics can be utilized to quickly screen individuals as businesses and society continue to re-open. Airlines already are already employing rapid tests to screen passengers for flights. 

When looking at the antigen tests, the independent research group Cochrane, a collaborative of researchers and health professionals from 130 countries, found the were best used within the first week after someone began experiencing symptoms. In those conditions, the tests correctly identified 78% of people with Covid-19. Overall, when used to test among people who were symptomatic, rapid antigen tests positively identified 72% of people who had Covid-19. 

When the antigen tests were used among people who were asymptomatic, the tests were much stronger at ruling out infection than identifying it. The tests correctly identified a negative Covid-19 finding about 99% of the time in people who just had Covid-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, when tested among people with a positive Covid-19 diagnosis, the rapid antigen tests only identified them correctly 58% of the time. 

The reviewers also found a wide discrepancy in accuracy among the tests – ranging from 34% to 88%. The WHO’s minimum standards require a test to identify at least 80% of people with an infection and 97% of those without an infection. The SD Biosensor STANDARD Q and the Abbott Panbio antigen tests were identified as the two most accurate tests reviewed. 

When looking at the rapid PCR tests, the researchers found that on average they positively identified an infection 95% of the time, and correctly identified a negative diagnosis 99% of the time. However, the researchers noted that there were limitations to these findings, because most of the studies evaluated looked just at the Abbot ID Now and Xpert press rapid PCR tests. There wasn’t enough data to evaluate when the tests were most precise relative to symptom onset. 

3:41 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Mexico aims to distribute AstraZeneca vaccines to Latin America and Caribbean by mid-April

From CNN's Karol Suarez

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the country had received 12 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses that remain at the final packaging process to start the distribution for Mexico and Latin American countries.

"Today we're going to receive an additional six million doses so we'll have in total 18 million doses at the Liomont laboratory; they're at the final process to start the distribution in Mexico and Latin America, to the countries that have contracts or orders; from the third week of April, once all procedures have been completed," Ebrard announced Wednesday from the National Palace.

The foreign minister said Mexico and Argentina had promoted vaccine access to the region and went on to say, "We've proposed this with other vaccines and companies, but so far, in Mexico, we're also producing CanSino, and they're willing and have contracts with Latin America."

Mexico on Monday announced the first batch of China's CanSino Biologics vaccine —940,022 doses —were produced and packaged in the country.

Ebrard said the country is very close to starting distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine in Latin America, saying, "this would be a great step for Latin America and the Caribbean; we can act together, we can solve these important challenges, and we can guarantee that our people have access to what they're entitled to."

Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne said Tuesday that 33 of 35 member states had started immunizations, and 21 countries in the Americas will receive their first deployment of vaccines by the end of this week.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the additional number of Covid-19 vaccines that Mexico received from AstraZeneca.

 

1:49 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

75% of US students are back to some level of in-person learning, education secretary says

From CNN's Elizabeth Stuart

Third grade students attend class at Green Mountain School on February 18, in Woodland, Washington. 
Third grade students attend class at Green Mountain School on February 18, in Woodland, Washington.  Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said about three-quarters of students in the US are back to some form of in-person learning, commending the work of local districts on reopening during the National Safe School Reopening Summit on Wednesday.

Cardona said more than 45% of elementary and middle schools are offering in-person school daily, and about 75% of schools have some form of in-person learning, like a hybrid method, according to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

"That's a great start," Cardona said. "We must continue that so every school K-8 offers in-person learning five days a week.

There are still inequities when it comes to in-person learning, Cardona said.

"Only 28% of black students are going to school in-person daily, 33% of Latino students are doing it," Cardona said. "15% of our Asian students are going to school in-person daily. That's compared to half of white students that are doing daily throughout our country."

Some of these inequities will be addressed with the funding from the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan, which is providing more than $122 billion for K-12 schools to go towards reopening.

"We can address those inequities that I just talked about with that we can safely reopen our schools when we have to act wisely and with urgency to get it done," Cardona said.

3:12 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Senior diplomat urges caution over use of proposed EU Covid-19 vaccine export rules

From CNN's James Frater

Vaccinators administer the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a medical center in Bridport, England, on March 20. 
Vaccinators administer the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a medical center in Bridport, England, on March 20.  Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

A senior European diplomat is urging caution over the use of proposed new rules that would govern exports of Covid-19 vaccines to outside of the EU. The rules were announced by the European Commission earlier Wednesday.

The tougher export controls put forward by the Commission would see vaccine shipments assessed based on the destination country's rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports.

In a briefing to journalists, the diplomat said the EU and European countries need to, “be careful with the very the nuclear option of a pure export prohibition.” And if not used correctly in, “appropriate situations, it will backfire.”

“We speak as – I would say – a pharma superpower, we have a huge concentration of pharmacological companies on our territory,” whose presence, “counts for several percentages of our employment, of GNP,” the diplomat explained.

“We are very much aware of the interdependence of these logistical chains, and we think that, using a tool of an export blocking could turn itself very quickly against ourselves,” the diplomat said, adding he fears “it will expose us to clearly retaliation measures, breach of trust, and also future diminished possibilities for investments and trade.”

The existing export mechanism – which focuses on pharmaceutical firms – has been in place since the end of January and requires each company manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine to register its intention of exporting doses outside of the EU. European countries in collaboration with the Commission decide whether to approve or reject shipments.

In figures released today by the Commission, over 300 applications were made, with 43 million vaccines exported to 33 countries. Only one shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Italy to Australia was blocked.

The diplomat welcomed this “excellent by-product” of the current mechanism. “We understand of course the need for more transparency, we are squarely behind the Commission in that respect,” adding that, “we have now a very precise view on how the export flows are organised.”

Asked why the expanded legislation was being brought forward now, the diplomat said they felt it, “probably it is a sign of some nervousness which is reigning,” in some European counties. 

“The Commission is not deaf for what lives in member states, they hear cries for help or indignation, and it's up to the Commission to reflect on that and to put proposals on the table,” he added.

European leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday to discuss this proposal and the wider coronavirus crisis in Europe. If signed off, the expanded export mechanism would “apply until six weeks from its entry into force,” according to the Commission’s draft text.

12:14 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

More evidence shows vaccines are “extremely effective in preventing infection,” Fauci says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

More new research suggests that Covid-19 vaccines are effective in preventing Covid-19 in the real world, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said during a White House virtual briefing on Wednesday.

"Right now, as the weeks go by, we see more and more that not only are these vaccines efficacious but in the community they are extremely effective in preventing infection with SARS-CoV-2," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes Covid-19.

Two new papers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday, have added to that growing body of research.

One study of employees at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas found that among those who were fully vaccinated, the infection rate was 0.05%. That was compared with 2.61% of the non-vaccinated employees and 1.82% of the partially vaccinated employees. The other study, on fully vaccinated workers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Los Angeles, also showed a very small positivity rate after vaccination.

"Now, 70% of Americans 65 years of age or older have received at least one dose," Fauci said.

"Every day, 2.5 to 3 million people get vaccinated. So, every day we get closer and closer to that extraordinary degree of effectiveness, which we're seeing at the community level – and at the end of the day, that is what it is that is going to end this pandemic in this country."

Watch:

12:17 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

CDC director says she's worried about latest US Covid-19 data and the pandemic's possible trajectory

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

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

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that the latest Covid-19 data in the United States has her worried.

"Cases continue to increase slightly. The most recent seven-day average is nearly 55,000 per day, up about 3% from the prior seven-day average. The most recent seven-day average of new hospitalizations is about 4,600 per day and is similar to the data on Monday. And the latest seven-day average of deaths — approximately 968 per day — has also remained flat this week," Walensky said during a White House virtual briefing on Wednesday.

"I continue to be worried about the latest data, and the apparent stall we are seeing in the trajectory of the pandemic," Walensky said. "CDC is watching these numbers very closely."

Walensky added, "We have made such extraordinary progress in the last several weeks, and if we choose to invest in prevention right now, we will ultimately come out of this pandemic faster and with fewer lives lost."

She applauded the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations in the United States.

"I've been so impressed by the pace of vaccination," Walensky said during the briefing.

“So many Americans have embraced vaccination and have chipped in with their families and communities to help others get vaccinated," Walensky said. "We are now vaccinating between 16 and 20 million people a week — and this means that we are closer to resuming activities we love to do with those we care about the most."

Hear her concern: 

11:51 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

More than 1.3 million educators have been vaccinated in the US, CDC director says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A nurse practitioner administers a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic for Catholic school education workers including elementary school teachers and staff at a vaccination site at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) on March 8, 2021 in Los Angeles.
A nurse practitioner administers a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic for Catholic school education workers including elementary school teachers and staff at a vaccination site at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) on March 8, 2021 in Los Angeles. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky touted “substantial progress” toward vaccinating the nation’s educators Wednesday as the Biden administration’s deadline to get school staff vaccinated by the end of the month approaches.

“We've been working hard with our federal retail pharmacy program to vaccinate K through 12 teachers, staff, and childcare workers throughout the month of March. Our pharmacy partners now report they have vaccinated more than 1.3 million educators, staff and childcare workers, about 566,000 of those were just in the last week,” Walensky said.

She continued, “This is substantial progress towards our goal of getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated by the end of March.”

There were about 3.7 million teachers in the fall of 2020, per the National Center for Education Statistics.

This progress comes as the Department of Education is set to hold a summit on the safe reopening of schools Wednesday afternoon, with President Biden expected to announce $81 billion in funding for states toward supporting reopening measures via the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.

“During the summit, we will continue the important dialogue of school reopening and hear firsthand experience from school administrators, teachers, staff, and students about how they have been able to successfully get back to in person learning,” Walensky said.

11:10 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Study confirms remdesivir shortens Covid-19 illness

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Vials of the drug Remdesivir are displayed during a press conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, on April 8, 2020
Vials of the drug Remdesivir are displayed during a press conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, on April 8, 2020 Ulrich Perrey/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The antiviral drug remdesivir shortens the duration of illness even among non-White patients, who have a higher risk of severe disease, doctors reported Wednesday.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, adds to evidence the drug can relieve the burden of coronavirus illness, even if it’s not a cure.

Remdesivir, sold under the brand name Veklury, was approved in October. It was the first drug to get full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for use in treating Covid-19.

“Receipt of remdesivir was associated with faster clinical improvement in a cohort of predominantly non-White patients,” Dr. Brian Garibaldi of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues wrote in their report. Garibaldi was among the team of doctors who treated then-President Trump for a coronavirus infection last year. 

The team looked at the records of 2,483 patients with Covid-19 treated in the Johns Hopkins system. Of those, 342 received remdesivir, and 184 of these patients also received corticosteroids.

And while patients given remdesivir were less likely to die, the findings on this were not statistically significant, the team said. 

Only very ill patients got remdesivir – those with low oxygen levels and indications of organ damage.

“Our study included a much higher percentage of patients from underrepresented minority groups than previous remdesivir clinical trials. Approximately 80% of patients in our cohort were non-White individuals compared with 30% to 47% in clinical trials,” the team wrote.

“Because underrepresented minority groups have shouldered a disproportionate burden during the COVID-19 pandemic but have not been widely represented in clinical trials, our results provide important evidence that receipt of remdesivir is associated with decreased time to clinical improvement in these populations," they wrote.

 

10:42 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Covid-19 vaccine demand may be next challenge as more states expand eligibility

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard

A registered nurse measures a vaccine dose at a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic on March 23, 2021 in Severn, Maryland. 
A registered nurse measures a vaccine dose at a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic on March 23, 2021 in Severn, Maryland.  Win McNamee/Getty Images

As more states expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older in the general population, local health officials are growing concerned that demand may become more of a challenge than supply.  

It could happen within the next four to six weeks, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday morning. 

“We will get to the point pretty quickly where we're saying, ‘OK now we're into the really hard phase of this where we're down to the population that is not so willing to get the vaccine,’ ” Freeman said. 

“That’s important to think about in the context of — how far have we really gotten towards overall blanketing the country with vaccine uptake? And how far off are we in terms of the herd immunity component? Because it's that last mile of people that are hesitant that will be challenging,” Freeman said. “It will happen, I think, pretty quickly. We'll be thinking, talking, putting effort on this within the next four to six weeks.”