March 31 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Christopher Johnson and Angela Dewan, CNN

Updated 0629 GMT (1429 HKT) April 1, 2021
47 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
5:27 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Italy makes coronavirus vaccines mandatory for health care workers 

From CNN's Livia Borghese

The Italian government has made the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all health care and pharmacy workers, according to a new decree passed on Wednesday. 

In a statement, the government said the measure was introduced to protect medical staff, patients and vulnerable people who are at a risk of infection.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said there was “great satisfaction” on the decree’s passing, adding that winning the “health battle is a prerequisite for a real restart of the country.” 

Health care workers who refuse the vaccine will be reassigned where possible to not be in contact with patients. However, sanctions can include not being paid, according to Labour Minister Andrea Orlando who provided details at the end of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.

The decree also protects those who administer the vaccine by excluding them of criminal liability as long as the inoculation has been carried out in accordance with instructions set by the health ministry. 

The Italian government has also extended coronavirus restrictions until the end of April. The only exception will be for students up to 14 years old who will have to return to school even if they are in a “red zone,” the strictest three-tier system Italy has adopted to curb the spread of the virus.

According to the latest data from the Italian health ministry there has been an increase of at least 23,904 coronavirus cases on Wednesday and at least 467 deaths over a 24-hour period. 

This brings the total number of cases to at least 3,584,899 since the start of the pandemic. 

5:30 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

CDC warned the UK variant would become dominant by March, and there's evidence it has

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman and Christopher Rio

Mounting evidence suggests the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, which experts believe is partly driving an uptick of cases in places like Michigan, may already be dominant across the US.

“I think we are there,” said William Lee, vice president of science at Helix, a company whose tests have identified a large share of variant cases across the country. “But at the end of the day, it's hard to say for sure,” given gaps and delays in the data.

Lee is one of the authors of a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell estimating that the variant, known as B.1.1.7, would cause the majority of Covid-19 cases in the US by March 19. 

According to that study, B.1.1.7 cases are expected to double every week and a half as a percentage of the country’s total coronavirus cases. The study also concluded the variant was introduced several different times to the US, as early as late November. The study’s conclusions were based on testing data through February.

Lee said that there’s strong evidence the variant is already responsible for a majority of cases in states like Florida, Michigan and Georgia — with a number of others close on their heels, like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Southern California. However, Helix’s data does not include robust samples from a number of other states, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest regions.

While officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t yet say whether the variant is dominant, its scientists previously predicted this would be the case by now. 

In January, a CDC study predicted that the variant would exhibit “rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.” At the time, the variant was assumed to account for less than 0.5% of cases. 

“B.1.1.7, we know from our most recent data, is about 26% of circulating virus right now,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing Wednesday. This appears to be based on preliminary data of samples collected in the two weeks leading up to March 13, according to CDC’s website. “It is starting to become the predominant variant in many US regions," she added.

A CDC spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that “national prevalence estimates are inherently delayed by a few weeks.” While the present-day picture of the variant is “unclear,” they said the agency expects to share its projections “in the near future,” based on mathematical modeling that’s currently underway.

Nearly 12,000 cases of the variant have been identified in 49 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, per the CDC. The agency said 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.

Florida and Michigan lead the country in these raw numbers. 

4:50 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Kentucky will open vaccine eligibility to people 16 and older next week

 From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Kentucky Governor's office
Kentucky Governor's office

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state will be moving up opening Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to Kentuckians 16 and older from April 12 to April 5.

Beshear said the state decided to move up its vaccination schedule because a number of other states are seeing increasing Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, and because Kentucky is seeing open vaccine appointments across the state that it wants to fill

“So, starting on Monday, if you’re 16 and up, you qualify to get this vaccine, no other limitations out there. So, make sure you make your plan to get your shot of hope,” the governor said Wednesday.

Beshear also announced that Kentucky’s Department of Corrections is now scheduled to receive extra Johnson & Johnson vaccines on either April 2 or April 5, which will cover all interested inmates as soon as next week. He noted that the Kentucky State Penitentiary and Western Kentucky Correctional Complex will hold off on vaccines for the moment, as they are currently recovering from an outbreak.

4:19 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Nursing homes see a 96% decline in Covid-19 cases since vaccines rolled out in late December

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Nursing homes have seen a 96% decline in new Covid-19 cases since vaccines started rolling out in late December, according to a new analysis from the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

By March 7, the country saw the lowest number of weekly cases and deaths since Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been tracking them, according to the report published Tuesday. With 547 deaths the week of March 7, deaths were down 91% since December.

Since December, nursing home cases have been declining at a much faster rate than community cases, the group’s analysis showed.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly for more than a year to protect our residents,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, said in a statement. “This trend shows that when long term care is prioritized, as with the national vaccine rollout, we can protect our vulnerable elderly population.”

AHCA/NCAL represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country. The facilities provide care for about five million people a year. 

4:18 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Trial of Moderna’s variant-specific Covid-19 vaccine has begun, US health institute says

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The clinical trial for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine designed to protect against the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, has begun, the US National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.

First shots have been administered as part of Phase 1 of the trial that is taking place in the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Seattle areas.

The trial aims to enroll around 210 participants.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, current available vaccines should be “adequate” against the variant, but NIAID is continuing its work with Moderna on this trial “out of an abundance of caution.”

The variant-specific vaccine is also an mRNA vaccine that targets spike proteins, like Moderna’s original vaccine, but the targeting takes into account the mutations that distinguish the B.1.351 variant. 

The trial will be enrolling people who have already received Moderna’s initial vaccine as well as people who are so far unvaccinated. Participants will be split into eight different vaccine cohorts that will test different dosages and combinations. Some participants will receive only the variant-specific vaccine or the general vaccine, while some will be testing a combination regimen of the two. 

4:19 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Johnson & Johnson says it met goal to deliver 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to US government by March

From CNN's Jen Christensen and Betsy Klein

 Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
 Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Johnson & Johnson told CNN that it has met its goal to deliver 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to the US government by the end of March. 

Last week, the Biden administration expressed some doubts the company could meet its self-imposed deadline, but by Friday, the administration seemed more confident that J&J would meet its goal, as White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey Zients said, “they appear on track to meet that goal with at least 11 million doses delivered next week.”

The US Food and Drug Administration authorized J&J’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine in late February, but the company had struggled to ramp up production and failed to meet earlier production timelines that had been laid out in its contract with the federal government. 

The Biden administration has worked with all three authorized vaccine manufacturers to ramp up the supply of the Covid-19 vaccines.

President Biden used the Defense Production Act to acquire new materials and equipment, and brokered a rare partnership between J&J and pharmaceutical rival Merck & Co., to make more vaccines. That vaccine supply won’t be available until later in the year. 

In February, J&J also said it had been working to expand its own manufacturing capacity and was expanding the number of third-party vaccine manufacturers with which it was working.

3:56 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Michigan plant packaging Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets OK to work in Europe 

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing (GRAM), the company that is doing some of the fill and finish work for the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine in the US, was given the certification it needs to provide commercial services to the European market, the company said Wednesday.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company was recently audited by the Dutch Health and Youth Care Inspectorate and was issued a European Union Good Manufacturing Practices certificate. That’s the last official piece of paper it needs to work in Europe. 

However, J&J would not confirm if it will work with GRAM in Europe. J&J announced Monday that it will supply Europe with 200 million Covid-19 vaccines this year.

Fill and finish are the last two steps in the manufacturing and packaging process for vaccines. The first J&J doses that went out immediately after the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine in February came from the GRAM plant. 

Last year, the company expanded and added a new 60,000 square foot facility with new rapid vial filling equipment. 

In August, GRAM signed a $160 million deal with the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Health and Human Services to expand the US capacity for manufacturing and the distribution of vaccines and therapeutics in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. GRAM got the emergency authorization to do the fill and finish work on the J&J Covid-19 vaccine in the US in February.

GRAM said it will continue its expansion and open a new finishing center sometime later this spring.  

4:02 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

University of Pittsburgh orders shelter-in-place for all students due to rising Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Alec Snyder

The Cathedral of Learning is seen on the University of Pittsburgh's main campus.
The Cathedral of Learning is seen on the University of Pittsburgh's main campus. Shutterstock/FILE

The University of Pittsburgh is implementing a shelter-in-place for its main campus for 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, according to an official university email sent to students, faculty and staff.

“This action is being taken to respond to a consistent increase in positive cases among students,” the email said. "With the presence of the U.K. variant, B 1.1.7., on campus and in Allegheny County, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO) is concerned that this trend will continue. Of significant concern is that the increase in positive cases since the end of last week is now among our residence hall students.”

The news comes on the heels of a Tuesday report that there are confirmed positive Covid-19 cases in 13 of the university’s residence halls, along with 30 new positive cases between students and staff. A March 26 release confirmed 50 new cases the week before, 42 of which were detected in students.

The shelter-in-place will remain effect “until the CMRO advises that it is safe to lift,” the memo said. Students are being advised to leave their rooms only to “attend classes, labs, or clinical in person; pick up food; exercise safely; work when necessary; and shop for essentials and medical needs,” and on-campus dining will be available to students through takeout options.

3:43 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

CDC ensemble forecast estimates a decline in projected deaths by April 24

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid and Deidre McPhillips

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 565,000 to 585,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by April 24.

The agency's forecast has shown a general decline in projected deaths in the past weeks.

The current forecast projects up to 566,617 deaths by April 10. That's about 7,000 fewer deaths than expected by that date, based on a projection from two and a half weeks ago.

The lower estimate in the current forecast projects around 4,100 new deaths per week between now and April 24, while the upper limit of the forecast projects 9,900 new deaths per week over that time frame.

The US has seen 6,960 new deaths in the last seven days.