July 28, 2021 US coronavirus news

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 11:23 PM ET, Wed July 28, 2021
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9:50 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

CDC can urge Covid-19 vaccinations in schools, but can't mandate them, director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on July 28, 2021.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on July 28, 2021. CNN

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the CDC can push for vaccination in schools, but it can’t mandate it – that will have to be a local decision.

“We can provide this advice, but we can’t mandate it at the federal level,” she told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Wednesday. “Those are all jurisdictional discussions and jurisdictional mandates. We are hoping that our advice will lead to more and more jurisdictions leaning in to get more people vaccinated.” 

There are very few places in the country right now where enough people are vaccinated for children to not have to wear masks in school. 

“I can imagine a situation where a school system might have all of their teachers documented and vaccinated, all of their children in a high school documented as vaccinated and very little disease in the community,” she said. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of situations that are like that, but I could imagine a situation like that, and boy, do I hope we get there.”   

Asked what it would take for the CDC to say that they no longer recommended masks in schools, Walensky said, “I think if we see more and more people who are vaccinated, our children are vaccinated, we have full vaccination in schools, we have full vaccination in teachers, all of those are documented, we have disease rates that are low – I think then we can start thinking about how we can loosen up. And, you know, not seeing clusters and outbreaks in these school systems."

“If we have more and more people vaccinated, we will win in this race and the virus will be less transmitting and we will be able to lift some of these things," she added.

9:14 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

United States donates more than 5 million Pfizer vaccines to South Africa – it’s largest donation yet

From CNN’s David McKenzie

In its largest bilateral vaccine donation to date, the United States government announced on Monday that it would donate 5.7 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to South Africa – with the first tranche of vaccines to arrive in Johannesburg over the weekend. 

“On behalf of the American people, I am very proud that we are able to donate these vaccine doses to South Africa and have no doubt that the medicines will help save many lives in South Africa,” said the US Mission’s Chargé d’ Affaires Todd Haskell in a statement. 

The donations are part of the Biden-Harris pledge to donate 500 million vaccine doses globally, the statement read. 

South Africa has been one of the worst hit countries in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic and is emerging from a dramatic third wave of the virus driven by the more transmissible Delta variant. On Sunday, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa eased some restrictions that had been in place for a several weeks to combat the rise in infections. 

The South African government had been criticized for its slow rollout of vaccines, but in recent days the vaccine drive has accelerated substantially. From Sept. 1 anyone over the age of 18 will be eligible for a jab. 

Earlier this month, two provinces in South Africa were hit by widespread looting and unrest that slowed vaccination efforts temporarily. 

“South Africans know they can count on the United States, as a friend and partner, to support their efforts to fight the pandemic and get their economy back on track,” said Haskell in the statement. 

8:42 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Pfizer data show that a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine "strongly" boosts protection against Delta variant

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine can "strongly" boost protection against the Delta variant – beyond the protection afforded by the standard two doses, suggests new data released by Pfizer on Wednesday.

The data posted online, which are expected to be discussed in a company earnings call on Wednesday morning, suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant in people ages 18 to 55 who receive a third dose of vaccine are greater than five-fold following a second dose.

Among people ages 65 to 85, the Pfizer data suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant after receiving a third dose of vaccine are greater than 11-fold following a second dose.

There's "estimated potential for up to 100-fold increase in Delta neutralization post-dose three compared to pre-dose three," researchers wrote in the Pfizer data slides.

The data also show that antibody levels are much higher after a third dose than a second dose against the original coronavirus variant and the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.

9:52 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Pfizer now expects Covid-19 vaccine data on children ages 5 to 11 by end of September

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine vial is pictured at a mobile clinic in Los Angeles on July 9, 2021.
A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine vial is pictured at a mobile clinic in Los Angeles on July 9, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Pfizer said in its quarterly earnings news release on Wednesday that it expects Covid-19 vaccine safety and immune data that could support emergency use authorization for children ages 5 to 11 by the end of September, and later for younger children.

“The full dataset from this study, which will be required to support licensure in this age group, is expected by the end of 2021,” the company said. “Similar data packages will be submitted shortly thereafter to support EUA and licensure in children 6 months to 5 years of age.”

The announcement appears to shift the company’s previously stated timeline around vaccines for younger children; the company had previously said it expected to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 2 to 11 in September.

The New York Times reported this week that Pfizer would expand vaccine trials in younger children after the US Food and Drug Administration found the trials were too small to detect rare side effects. Pfizer told CNN at the time it did not have an update on details for its trial in children; vaccine maker Moderna confirmed it would expand the size of its Covid-19 vaccine trial in younger children, and did not expect to seek emergency use authorization for the vaccine for children until later this early or early next year. 

9:21 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

Masking is the safest way to have US children back in schools, CDC director says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Students work in a classroom at an elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 17, 2021.
Students work in a classroom at an elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 17, 2021. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Wednesday that masking is the safest way to get children back in schools. 

“We’ve seen over the summer that there have been numerous school outbreaks in places that haven’t taken the proper prevention strategies,” she said, adding that the goal is to make sure that children get back to full in-person schooling and have a relatively normal school year. 

Children younger than 12 aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet, and just 30% of 12- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated, Walensky said.

“The majority of people in our schools right now will be unvaccinated, just by virtue of the numbers,” she said. “And we felt it was really important to lean in and try and have our children back to school in the safest way possible, and that would mean masking.” 

Walensky also pointed out that although there is no evidence to suggest Delta is making children sicker, “it’s really important for people to understand that this is not a benign disease in kids compared to other diseases that our kids see.” 

9:22 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

House attending physician reinstates mask-wearing in the Capitol

From CNN's Annie Grayer

The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on July 25, 2021.
The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on July 25, 2021. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The House of Representatives' attending physician sent out new guidance requiring “well-fitted, medical grade” masks be warn in all interior spaces in the House in light of yesterday's new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidance and as the Delta variant is rising.

Here's a portion of a memo:

“For the Congress, representing a collection of individuals traveling weekly from various risk areas (both high and low rates of disease transmission), all individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask (for example an ear loop surgical mask or a KN95 mask) when they are in an interior space. This CDC recommended measure further reduces risk of acquiring infection, and potential risk of transmitting disease to an individual’s vulnerable household members (children under age 12, immunocompromised family members, etc.). For all House Office Buildings, the Hall of the House, and House Committee Meetings, wearing of a well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask is required when an individual is in an interior space and other individuals are present. To be clear, for meetings in an enclosed US House of Representatives controlled space, masks are REQUIRED”
8:25 a.m. ET, July 28, 2021

CDC mask guidance change was prompted by new science, director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Wednesday that CDC’s mask guidance change was prompted by science only days old that showed vaccinated people with breakthrough Delta infections can pass the virus to others. More information will be published in the coming days, she said.

Walensky first emphasized that the vaccines are working exactly as it was thought that they would with the Delta variant by preventing hospitalization and death, adding that “we should be getting vaccinated to prevent severe disease in ourselves and to protect ourselves from the Delta variant and from getting severe Covid.” 

“Here’s the new science that we saw just in the last several days,” she said. “With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others, but with the Delta variant, we now see in our outbreak investigations that have been occurring over the last couple of weeks, in those outbreak investigations we have been seeing that if you happen to have one of those breakthrough infections, that you can actually now pass it to somebody else.” 

“That was the new science that prompted the guidance,” she said. “And, you know, it weighed heavily. I know this is not a message America wants to hear.”