The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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

Updated 7:58 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021
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7:01 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Covid-19 hospitalization risk doubles with Delta, UK study suggests

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Medical workers help prone a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, England, on March 23.
Medical workers help prone a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, England, on March 23. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Covid-19 patients infected with the Delta variant face about double the risk of hospitalization compared to those infected with the Alpha variant, according to a new study out of the United Kingdom.

"The results suggest that patients with the Delta variant had more than two times the risk of hospital admission compared with patients with the Alpha variant," researchers from Public Health England and the University of Cambridge wrote in their new study, published Friday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

"Emergency care attendance combined with hospital admission was also higher for patients with the Delta variant, showing increased use of emergency care services as well as inpatient hospitalization," the researchers wrote.

The study included data on 8,682 Covid-19 patients in England who were infected with the Delta variant and 34,656 infected with the Alpha variant. Across both groups, most of the patients — 74% — were unvaccinated.

The patients were tested for Covid-19 between March 29 and May 23 this year, and the researchers examined how many of them were hospitalized.

In general, 2.3% of patients with Delta and 2.2% of patients with Alpha were admitted to the hospital within two weeks after they were tested for Covid-19. But once the researchers accounted for certain factors that could raise a patient's risk for hospitalization, such as age or vaccination status, they found Delta was associated with a 2.26-fold increased risk of hospitalization compared with Alpha and 1.45-fold increased risk of requiring emergency care or hospital admission.

Some context: The researchers noted that their study results are similar to separate research previously conducted in Scotland that also found a higher risk of hospital admission within 14 days for patients infected with Delta versus Alpha.

The researchers also noted that new Covid-19 infections in England have been increasingly caused by the Delta variant. Although the proportion of cases in the study caused by the Delta variant was 20% overall, the researchers wrote, "this increased to 74% of new sequenced cases in the week starting May 31, 2021."

During this summer in the United States, the Delta variant overtook the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, as the dominant coronavirus strain circulating.

4:08 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Biden: US efforts to understand Covid-19 origins "will not rest" following inconclusive report

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Joe Biden listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27 in Washington, DC. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden said in a statement on Friday that an intelligence review of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic has concluded, but added that “our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest.”

He also described a lack of transparency by the Chinese government in sharing information related to the pandemic’s origins, saying that “from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.”

“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics,” the statement continued.

The President said the US “will continue working with like-minded partners around the world to press the PRC to fully share information and to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19 – including by providing access to all relevant data and evidence.”

In addition, Biden said the US will continue to press China “to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations.”

“We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy. Nothing less is acceptable,” the statement said.

4:03 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

China "continues to hinder" global investigation on Covid-19 virus origins, US intelligence report says 

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Jeremy Herb

The US intelligence report on the origins of the Covid-19 virus says the virus probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure. 

The intelligence community is still divided about which of the two theories — that the virus came from a lab leak or that it jumped from animal to human naturally — is likely to be correct, the report found. There is consensus among the intelligence agencies that the two prevailing theories are plausible, according to the report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and laboratory-associated incident," the report says.

But the report says that the intelligence community would need more information from the early days of the pandemic to provide "a more definitive explanation for the origin of Covid-19." 

"The IC – and the global scientific community – lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest Covid-19 cases," the intelligence community wrote.

China's unwillingness to cooperate hampered the intelligence community's ability to get answers on the origins of the virus. "China's cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of Covid-19," the report says.

"Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame(s) other countries, including the United States," the report continues.

While the report does lay blame on China, it says Chinese officials "did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak.”

Earlier this month, CNN reported intelligence agencies were poring through a trove of genetic data drawn from virus samples at the lab in Wuhan that some officials believe could have been the source of the outbreak.

Biden launched the review into the origins of Covid-19 earlier this year amid growing calls for a deep dive after a US intelligence report found several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.

Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they want Biden to continue investigating the virus' origins even after the 90-day review is completed. 

The window to find an answer to the pandemic's origins could be fading, however. A team of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the opportunity to find out where the pandemic began is disappearing as people's immune responses fade away and any evidence in the bodies of animals vanishes.

4:07 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

New Covid-19 origins intel report gives inconclusive assessment, but knocks down some theories 

From CNN's Alex Marquardt and Jeremy Herb

The US intelligence community reached an inconclusive assessment about the origins of the Covid-19 virus following a 90-day investigation ordered by President Joe Biden, according to an unclassified summary of the probe released publicly on Friday.

The intelligence community is still divided about which of the two prevailing theories – that the virus came from a lab leak or that it jumped from animal to human naturally – is likely to be correct, the report found.

There is unified consensus among the intelligence agencies that the two theories are plausible, according to the report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and laboratory-associated incident," the report says.

The unclassified report was released Friday by the intelligence community after Biden had asked intelligence agencies to "redouble" their efforts to determine how the Covid-19 pandemic began. Biden, who tasked the intelligence community with declassifying as much of the report as possible, was briefed on the investigation earlier this week.

While the report failed to reach a conclusive assessment on the origin of the virus, it did knock down some theories.

The intelligence community assessed, for instance, that Covid-19 was not developed as a biological weapon, as some Republicans had suggested last year. The report says most agencies assessed with low confidence it's unlikely Covid-19 was genetically engineered, either.

Four intelligence community agencies and the National Intelligence Council assessed, with low confidence, that Covid was likely caused by natural exposure to an animal, the report says. One agency assessed with moderate confidence, however, that the first human infection most likely was the result of a lab-associated incident that "probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute."

And three agencies said they were unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information.

The intelligence report says the virus probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure. 

But the report says that the intelligence community would need more information from the early days of the pandemic to provide "a more definitive explanation for the origin of Covid-19." 

"The IC – and the global scientific community – lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest Covid-19 cases," the intelligence community wrote. 

2:51 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

White House says "nothing has changed" about 8-month timeline for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House on August 27 in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House on August 27 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that “nothing has changed” about the federal government’s decision to recommend Covid-19 booster shots to eligible Americans eight months after they are fully vaccinated, after President Biden relayed that his administration was looking into whether to get booster shots in arms of Americans sooner than that.

“Well let me be very clear. The President would rely on any guidance by the CDC and the FDA and his health and medical experts. That guidance continues to be eight months. That has not changed. So I want to be very clear on that. If they were to change their guidance based on data for any particular group, he would, of course, abide by that. But for people watching from home, for you all who are reporting this, nothing has changed about the eight-month timeline as it relates to boosters,” Psaki said during the White House press briefing.

When asked what triggered the conversation to shorten the timeline, Psaki said she wasn’t in the room.

“As Israel has taken the step of doing six-month boosters and the President referenced advice he’d been given from the prime minister," she said. "Obviously, we make our own assessments based on our health and medical experts here in the United States. And nothing has changed on that front. So I think it was more likely a reference to that.”

 

2:19 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

An unvaccinated and unmasked elementary school teacher infected nearly half of their students, CDC reports

From CNN's Maggie Fox

An unvaccinated elementary school teacher who took off their mask to read to students ended up infected nearly half of them last May – and they went on to infect other students, family members and community members, California public health officials reported Friday.

It's a prime example of how easy it is to undermine efforts to protect children too young to be vaccinated, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

The teacher came to work even though they had Covid-19 symptoms and then took off their mask to read to the young students, a team at Marin County Public Health reported in the CDC’s weekly report on death and disease. 

In the classroom of 22 students, 12 became infected, and eight of the 10 students sitting closest to the teacher became infected.

“The school required teachers and students to mask while indoors; interviews with parents of infected students suggested that students’ adherence to masking and distancing guidelines in line with CDC recommendations was high in class. However, the teacher was reportedly unmasked on occasions when reading aloud in class,” the report reads. “Throughout this period, all desks were separated by six feet.”

Eventually, 27 people, including the teacher, were infected. None were seriously ill and all recovered. Those cases that were analyzed involved the Delta variant of coronavirus, and the researchers said they were not necessarily able to test everyone who may have been infected in the outbreak. 

“The introduction of the virus into the classroom by a teacher who worked in school, while she was both symptomatic and unvaccinated and who was unmasked when reading aloud to a class, resulted in cases within the classroom, across the school and among families of students and staff in the community,” Walensky told a White House Covid-19 briefing Friday. “We know how to protect our kids in school. We have the tools.”

Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy health officer for the county, said officials there had been urging teachers to be vaccinated since January, but many had not done it. “We saw firsthand that it wasn’t kids who were going to get teachers sick. It was going to be the reverse,” Santora told CNN.

The CDC also highlighted what happens when things go right. 

Los Angeles County officials studied cases in their schools from September to March. They counted 463 cases among students in that time that could be linked back to a school exposure, and 3,927 among staff who were back in person. This was a far lower case rate than in the community at large during the same period, they reported.

“In schools with safety protocols in place for prevention and containment, case rates in children and adolescents were 3.4 times lower during the winter peak compared with rates in the community,” they wrote. 

1:40 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Most teens who get one Covid-19 shot get the second — but only 42% have started the vaccination process

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Luke Allan, 13, closes his eyes as he gets a Covid-19 vaccination at the Fairfax Government Center vaccination clinic in Fairfax, Virginia on May 13.
Luke Allan, 13, closes his eyes as he gets a Covid-19 vaccination at the Fairfax Government Center vaccination clinic in Fairfax, Virginia on May 13. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

The majority of adolescents ages 12 to 17 who get their first Covid-19 shot end up completing the vaccine series, but less than half of this population in the United States has received even one dose, according to data released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to the data published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, more than 86% of adolescents who received a first dose of a Covid-19 later got a second dose 

However, overall, only 42% of adolescents have initiated vaccination, and just under 32% of adolescents are fully vaccinated. 

CDC researchers collected data on vaccination rates in the adolescent population from December 2020 to July 2021 using vaccine administration numbers from 49 states and Washington, DC; Idaho was excluded. 

Vaccination rates were higher in 16- and 17-year-olds than in other adolescent age groups, which researchers credited to that age range having a longer window of eligibility; people as young as 16 were eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since it was first authorized. The vaccine was authorized for people ages 12 to 15 in May.

Adolescents in the Northeast and the West had higher vaccine coverage than other areas of the country. 

The researchers said vaccine uptake in the adolescent population will be important as schools continue to return to in-person learning. 

“Improving vaccination coverage and implementing Covid-19 prevention strategies are crucial to reduce Covid-19–associated morbidity and mortality among adolescents and to facilitate safer reopening of schools for in-person learning,” the study authors wrote. 

1:13 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Biden says his administration is exploring whether to move up Covid-19 booster interval

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Oakland County Health Department emergency preparedness specialist Jeanette Henson fills syringes with doses of the coronavirus vaccine on August 24, at the Southfield Pavilion in Southfield, Michigan.
Oakland County Health Department emergency preparedness specialist Jeanette Henson fills syringes with doses of the coronavirus vaccine on August 24, at the Southfield Pavilion in Southfield, Michigan. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

President Biden said Friday that his administration was looking into shortening the window of the planned Covid-19 booster shot program, something he discussed with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a visit at the White House.

“We’re considering the advice you’ve given that we should start earlier,” Biden said.

Biden noted that the US booster program is set to start Sept. 20, pending approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee, 

“The question raised is should it be shorter than eight months, should it be almost five months? That’s being discussed. I spoke with Dr. Fauci this morning about that,” Biden said. 

Earlier this month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that booster shots would begin Sept. 20 starting eight months after an individual’s second dose.

2:15 p.m. ET, August 27, 2021

Judge rules against Florida governor's ban on mask mandates in schools 

From CNN’s Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt in Miami

Principal Nathan Hay performs temperature checks on students as they arrive on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year at Baldwin Park Elementary School in Orlando, Florida.
Principal Nathan Hay performs temperature checks on students as they arrive on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year at Baldwin Park Elementary School in Orlando, Florida. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in schools will not remain in place, Leon County’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled Friday. 

The court said that under the law the defendants “did not have the authority for a blanket mandatory ban against face mask policy, that does not provide a parental opt-out. They simply do not have that authority,” the judge said.  

The order will not take effect until the written order is issued, Cooper said. The court expected the written order to be issued early next week.

Some more context: Florida is among a small number of states — others include Texas and Oklahoma — that had moved to restrict school districts' ability to require masks in schools to protect students from Covid-19 infection.

That's as Florida reported more Covid-19 deaths last week than ever before, with one in every five US deaths reported in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Florida broke its January record for new daily cases about two weeks ago, and cases have increased since to the current average of 21,534 new cases each day.

More than 14,000 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Florida's 15 largest school districts since the start of the school year — 11,851 students and 2,610 school employees, according to a CNN analysis. Almost 30,000 are in quarantine.

CNN's Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt contributed reporting to this post.