March 24 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 25, 2021
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4:13 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Biden announces $81 billion in funding to reopen schools as part of Covid-19 relief bill

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference at the White House on March 23, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference at the White House on March 23, in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden announced the release of $81 billion in funding from the Covid-19 relief bill for school reopenings Wednesday, part of the administration’s efforts toward getting the majority of schools opened in his first 100 days in office and addressing inequity caused by the pandemic.

“I’m really proud to announce that starting today, states will begin receiving nearly $130 billion in school funding that we included in the American Rescue Plan. In fact, $81 billion of those dollars will be arriving today to those schools,” Biden said during a virtual summit on school reopening hosted by the Department of Education.

Biden called on states to take the next steps, saying, “I need states to move quickly to get these resources down to the school districts and put them to work.”

The President also reiterated his message that “help is here.”

“Help is here for schools to purchase PPE, hire additional personnel like nurses, counselors, custodial staff, improve ventilation and sanitation, avoid devastating layoffs and give students extra support,” he said, adding, “Help is here to help students make up for lost time and lost learning. Unless we act quickly, this pandemic could have a devastating long term impact on our kids who have gone through this, including on their mental health.”

More on the funds: The administration is releasing funding for schools as part of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, on Wednesday. The bill included $122 billion in relief for Pre-K to 12 schools, and two-thirds of those funds, totaling $81 billion, “will be made available to states immediately,” the Department of Education said in a statement.

The funds, the statement said, will “support their efforts to get students back in the classroom safely for in person learning, keep schools open once students are back, and address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students.”

The additional one-third of funding, per the Department of Education, “will become available after states submit the plans they are developing and implementing for using (emergency relief) funds to safely reopen schools and meet the needs of students to the Department.”

Part of the funding for schools will be used to address educational inequity that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona outlining inequity in the return to in-person learning.

Vice President Kamala Harris expressed concern for students disproportionally impacted, explaining how the funding could help address those challenges.

“We're all worried about our students falling behind, especially those who attend schools that are underfunded and under-resourced, and especially our students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Those who are learning English, students with disabilities, students without access to broadband, students who are food insecure and so many more,” Harris said.

The money for schools, she said, includes “evidence-based interventions that will help bridge the gaps in learning and meet social and emotional needs in the wake of the pandemic.”

One specific measure aimed at addressing that is summer learning and enrichment opportunities, with Biden calling on states, school districts, and community partners to work together on the matter.

3:15 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

EU and UK working together to "expand vaccine supply"

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in London, on Tuesday, March 23.
A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in London, on Tuesday, March 23. Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union and the United Kingdom are working together on specific steps “to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply,” they said in a joint statement on Wednesday. 

“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes cooperation between the EU and UK even more important,” the statement read. “We have been discussing what more we can do to ensure a reciprocally beneficial relationship between the UK and EU on COVID-19.”

"Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take – in the short, medium and long term – to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens,” they said. 

The statement goes on to say that global cooperation not just between the two, but with all countries will be key to overcoming this pandemic and future challenges, with the two sides vowing to continue discussions. 

2:14 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Covid-19 testing will need to continue "forever," infectious disease expert says

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

People with Covid-19 symptoms will need to be tested for Covid-19 well into the future, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy director Michael Osterholm said Wednesday.

“We’re going to need to test people who have potentially clinically compatible symptoms with Covid-19 forever,” Osterholm said during a webcast on the state of Covid-19 testing hosted by Axios.

"This virus is not going away around the world,” he said. “Remember, we have billions of people in low-income countries, some in middle-income countries, who will never have access to vaccines, and where those cases are occurring in those countries, we’ll also see variants spread out.”

Osterholm said testing would also be helpful in tracking the effectiveness of vaccines and determining the need for booster doses.

2:22 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Pace of Covid-19 vaccinations has doubled in less than two months, CDC data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Covid-19 vaccine doses are prepared at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 19.
Covid-19 vaccine doses are prepared at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 19. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Almost 130.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States, according to data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that 130,473,853 total doses have been administered – about 77% of the 169,223,125 doses delivered.

That’s nearly 2.3 million more doses reported administered since yesterday, for a seven-day average of about 2.5 million doses per day.

A month ago, the seven-day average was about 1.5 million, with about 1 million fewer doses being administered per day, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data. And in less than two months, the pace of vaccination has doubled.

About 26% of the population – almost 85.5 million people – have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 14% of the population – more than 46 million people – are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows. A third of adults and about 70% of seniors have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

1:43 p.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your questions about the EU's proposal to tighten Covid-19 vaccine export controls

The European Union is proposing tighter Covid-19 vaccine export controls, which could affect the US and the UK. 

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

CNN's Melissa Bell has the latest from Paris, France.


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.