July 29, 2021 US coronavirus news

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

Updated 10:52 PM ET, Thu July 29, 2021
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9:28 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

The FDA says it's working as fast as possible to fully approve vaccines. Here's where the process stands. 

From CNN's Kristen Holmes, Jen Christensen, Jeff Zeleny and Tara Subramaniam

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

The US Food and Drug Administration insists it is working as quickly as possible to review applications for full approval of the Covid-19 vaccines as the number of cases continues to rise and vaccination rates decline across the country.

Though the FDA has yet to disclose a time line for when its work will be done, medical experts and sources familiar with the process tell CNN that full approval could come within the next couple of months. While that would amount to a record fast pace, the urgency is rising for a fully approved vaccine given the troubling surge in Covid cases sweeping the country.

An FDA official told CNN on Wednesday that the agency continues to work as fast as possible to review the applications. The official noted that as part of the emergency use authorization granted last year, the vaccines have already undergone a "thorough scientific evaluation" in order to "meet FDA's rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality."

Still, federal medical officials and business leaders agree that full FDA approval would be helpful in the fight against vaccine hesitancy and would support companies eager to issue vaccine mandates to employees returning to the office.

Where the process stands: The FDA should have all the paperwork and data from the vaccine trials from Pfizer and be in the reviewing process, medical experts said.

In July, Pfizer announced that the FDA had granted its vaccine a priority review, accelerating the process from 10 months to six, meaning that technically approval should be granted by January.

But the acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock, has said the FDA intends to complete the review far in advance of its January deadline. Multiple officials told CNN the FDA is working nonstop to get through the review process and grant approval.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on Wednesday that he believed the approval could come as early as next month.

"I long felt that the FDA would approve the vaccine probably within a three- to four-month time frame from when the application was submitted. Those applications were submitted about two and a half, three months ago. ... So I think that puts you on (an) end of August, September time frame in terms of when these are going to be approved."

Medical experts stressed that the vaccination approval process takes time, even for something as vital as Covid-19 vaccines.

Read more here.

9:01 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Beijing reports first Covid-19 case in nearly 6 months

From CNN's Jessie Yeung

Medical workers swab residents during COVID-19 testing in Nanjing, China, on July 25.
Medical workers swab residents during COVID-19 testing in Nanjing, China, on July 25. Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua/Getty Images

Beijing recorded its first Covid-19 case in nearly six months on Wednesday, as Chinese authorities scramble to prevent the spread of the Delta variant amid an outbreak linked to an airport in the populous eastern city of Nanjing. 

The latest outbreak first emerged last week after more than a dozen cases were detected among cleaning staff at Nanjing Lukou International Airport. It prompted officials to launch mass testing for more than 9 million residents starting July 21; a second round of mass testing was completed over the weekend, and a third round began on Wednesday.

So far, at least 175 cases are connected to the airport cluster, which officials have linked to the more infectious Delta variant. 

"The recent spike in infections in the city can be attributed to the special location of the outbreak and the highly contagious nature of the (Delta) strain," said Ding Jie, vice director of Nanjing's center for disease control and prevention, at a news conference, state media reported Tuesday. 

Despite the rapid and aggressive testing campaign, the virus appears to have already spread beyond Jiangsu province.

China recorded 49 new cases on Wednesday, including 24 local infections from three additional provinces, according to the National Health Commission (NHC), taking the total number of cases associated with the new cluster to at least 175. 

A second new case was reported in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, with health authorities describing the two local cases as a husband and wife who had recently traveled outside of the capital. Close contacts of the couple have been placed under quarantine. 

Though the latest nationwide count marks a slight drop from the 86 cases recorded Tuesday – the highest single day increase since January – the virus' spread across provincial borders is sparking alarm among the country's leaders, after more than a year of low case numbers and resumed daily life.

Some background: The coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, rapidly spreading across China and the world. Yet despite being the first country to succumb to the virus, China has since managed to successfully contain its spread. Since March 2020, the official case figures have remained low, and occasional flare-ups have been quickly contained with mass testing and severe restrictions, including mass lockdowns of hundreds of millions of people across the country.

The current outbreak, however, poses a new threat, with the more transmissible Delta variant identified in the eastern city of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province and a major industrial and transport hub home to more than 9.3 million people.

It will also be a test of the efficacy of China's massive vaccination program, which has administered more than 1.5 billion doses so far – a scale and speed unrivaled by any other country in the world.

Other countries in the region, including Thailand and Australia, have also been hit by the Delta variant and are currently battling outbreaks. But these countries have also struggled with a slow vaccination rollout beset by delays and shortages. This is in sharp contrast to China, which is on track to reach its goal of achieving so-called "herd immunity" – the point at which enough people have either been infected or vaccinated to end community transmission – by December this year.

8:32 a.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Biden expected to announce vaccination requirement across federal government today

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Jason Hoffman

President Joe Biden speaks in Macungie, Pennsylvania, on July 28.
President Joe Biden speaks in Macungie, Pennsylvania, on July 28. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

President Biden will announce on Thursday a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against Covid-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The announcement will come in remarks today at 4:00 p.m. ET. Biden is also expected to lay out a series of new steps, including incentives, in an attempt to spur new vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads rapidly throughout the country. It will also follow the decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated over the course of the next two months.

Biden alluded to the looming announcement on Tuesday.

"That's under consideration right now," Biden said, when asked if he would impose a vaccination mandate on federal workers.

More on the announcement: While the specifics are still being finalized, the source said, federal workers would be required to attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The source said the proposal will be roughly similar to what is being implemented in New York City. Additional requirements for the unvaccinated could be added as agencies push to vaccinate their employees.

Biden will not impose the requirement on the US military, despite his authority to do so, for the time being. He is, however, likely to outline how the Department of Defense may seek to approach the issue going forward, the source said.

Read more here.