January 15 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:57 a.m. ET, January 16, 2021
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11:25 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Coronavirus numbers are abysmal in the US. Here's what's fueling the surge.

From CNN's Holly Yan.

Health care workers tend to a patient with Covid-19 who is having difficulty breathing at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California, on January 11.
Health care workers tend to a patient with Covid-19 who is having difficulty breathing at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California, on January 11. Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images

Despite hopes of widespread vaccinations this year, experts warned the start of 2021 would be a very rough time in this pandemic.

It turns out the first two weeks have been abysmal: The US has shattered hospitalization, death and daily case records.

Why is this happening? People are letting their guard down due to pandemic fatigue. And many of those who are sick of taking precautions are getting sick.

Now that the weather is colder, more people are socializing indoors. And the coronavirus primarily spreads during close contact with others through respiratory droplets — produced when someone talks, coughs, sings or even breathes.

Socializing indoors with anyone outside your bubble – even just one friend – is risky. Gathering with multiple friends indoors can be dangerous.

"If you go to a party with five or more people, almost certainly there's going to be somebody with Covid-19 at that party," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

One reason why the coronavirus spreads so easily is because people can be contagious without knowing they're infected – and can pass along the virus without looking or feeling sick.

The CDC estimates more than 50% of all infections are transmitted from people who aren't showing symptoms.

And just like doctors predicted, holiday travel and gatherings have triggered new waves of infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the country.

Fallout from the holidays could still ripple across the United States for weeks to come.

9:06 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Brazilian Air Force flies oxygen into hard-hit Amazonian city of Manaus

From CNN's Marcia Reverdosa

The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) landed in the Amazonian city of Manaus at 2:10 a.m. (3:10 a.m. ET) Friday, carrying six cylinders of liquid oxygen, totaling 9,300 kg of charge.

The air force also flew out nine patients and five doctors from Manaus to Teresina.

This comes after the Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello warned Thursday that the healthcare system in Manaus is in "collapse" as Covid-19 cases surge.

He said there was a low supply of oxygen and large lines to get into hospitals.

10:11 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Fauci says 100 million vaccine doses in Biden's first 100 days is doable

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Teaneck, New Jersey, on January 13.
A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Teaneck, New Jersey, on January 13. Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Friday morning that "it's quite feasible" the United States can achieve President-elect Joe Biden's goal to distribute 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in his first 100 days of office. Fauci is set to serve as Biden's chief medical adviser.

"You still optimistic that we can get 100 million doses in 100 days?" NBC's Craig Melvin asked Fauci during an interview on the "Today" Show.

 "I really do think so," Fauci responded.

"We've discussed it with the Biden team, and we think it's quite feasible that we can do that. Right now, even now, we've gone from half a million a day to 750,000 a day. I believe strongly that it's doable — and if we do it, stay on target to get the overwhelming majority of the country vaccinated," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"If we get about 70% to 85% of the people in the country vaccinated, we likely will get to that umbrella of herd immunity," Fauci said. "We can start approaching some form of normality, but it's really going to be dependent on the uptake of vaccines."

8:40 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Biden will speak later today about his plans for US vaccine distribution 

From CNN's Sara Murray, Kate Sullivan and Eric Bradner

President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on January 14.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on January 14. Matt Slocum/AP

President-elect Joe Biden will deliver remarks today on his plans to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine once he takes office next week. He's set to speak at 3:45 p.m. ET in Wilmington, Delaware.

His remarks come a day after he outlined a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package to fund a nationwide vaccination effort and provide direct economic relief to Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, telling Americans that "the health of our nation is at stake."

Last month, Biden he laid out his three-point plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, including his plans to distribute 100 million vaccine shots in his initial 100 days in office.

CNN reported last week that Biden will aim to release nearly every available dose of the coronavirus vaccine when he takes office, a break with the Trump administration's strategy of holding back half of US vaccine production to ensure second doses are available.

Releasing nearly all vaccine doses on hand could quickly ratchet up the availability of coronavirus vaccines by allowing more people access to a first dose.

It could also be a risky strategy as both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna's vaccines require two doses, administered at specific intervals, and vaccine manufacturing has not ramped up as rapidly as many experts had hoped.

The Department of Health and Human Services then announced sweeping changes Tuesday in vaccine rollout guidelines in an effort to boost the lagging number of vaccinations in the first month — effectively adopting the approach proposed by Biden's incoming administration.

8:29 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Fauci says it's unclear how long Covid-19 patients could be naturally protected after recovery

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Dr. Anthony Fauci on December 22, 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on December 22, 2020. Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images

It still remains unclear for how long someone who has recovered from Covid-19 might be protected from getting reinfected and whether they can still carry the virus and spread it to others, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Friday morning. 

"We do not know the duration of the durability of protection from yourself to get reinfected as well as spreading to others," Fauci said in an interview with NBC's Craig Melvin on the "Today" show.

He added: "We are doing studies to answer those kinds of questions."

8:02 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Germany's Merkel and regional leaders to convene Tuesday over coronavirus curbs

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press briefing on January 5 in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press briefing on January 5 in Berlin. Andreas Gora/Pool/Getty Images

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet earlier than planned with the country's 16 regional leaders to discuss ramping up coronavirus restrictions, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert announced on Friday, as the virus surges across the country.

''New infection cases are too high,'' Seibert said, adding that Germany is on high alert for new, more contagious mutations of the virus. ''The German government is observing these developments very carefully and is taking this seriously,” he added.

Merkel was set to meet with the regional leaders on January 25.

Germany on Friday surpassed two million coronavirus cases after adding 22,368 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours, bringing the total number of reported infections to 2,000,958, the country's disease and control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said. 

On Thursday RKI chief Lothar Wieler said that the current lockdown in place is ''not as effective as in spring,'' urging that more people should work from home and adding that the current lockdown needed to be tightened.

Germany entered a partial national lockdown in November but tightened curbs in mid- December, closing schools and nurseries as well as non-essential shops. The lockdown is currently in place until the end of January. 

8:37 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

European Medicines Agency chief defends against 'perceived delays' of vaccine authorizations

From CNNs Eleanor Pickston in London

A photo taken of a laptop screen shows Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, explaining the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine during an online press conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on December 21, 2020.
A photo taken of a laptop screen shows Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, explaining the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine during an online press conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on December 21, 2020. Pieter Stam De Jong/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The executive director of the European Medicines Agency, Emer Cooke, has defended the organization against “criticism of perceived delays” in authorizing Covid-19 vaccines. 

“We constantly hear criticism about perceived delays in the EU, particularly after the emergency use authorizations that were granted in the UK and US. There is no European provision for such emergency approvals,” the head of the regulatory body said, while speaking at an Institute of International and European Affairs webinar event on Friday. 

The EU faced extensive criticism for its authorization speed in December, after the UK became the first nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine -- the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine -- on December 2, which the EMA did not approve until December 21. 

Cooke emphasised the EMA was applying “the same robust authorization standards that we would for any vaccine” during its Covid-19 vaccine review process. 

To date, two Covid-19 vaccines have been authorized for use in the EU: the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 21 December 2020 and the Moderna vaccine on 6 January 2021.

The EMA received an application for conditional marketing authorization for the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday and the EMA is “hoping we can conclude the evaluation by the end of January,” according to Cooke. 

When asked about reports that drug maker Johnson and Johnson will seek regulatory approval for its Covid-19 vaccine in February, Cooke responded that she expects the company “to seek approval when they’re ready to seek approval… we hope it to come in February but whether I could confirm that’s the case, I’m afraid I’m not in a position to do so.”

7:48 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Oxygen supplies running short as healthcare system in Brazil's Amazonas state faces 'collapse'

From CNN's Laura Smith-Spark, Taylor Barnes and Tatiana Arias

Workers carry empty oxygen tanks at Getulio Vargas Hospital in Manaus, Brazil, on January 14.
Workers carry empty oxygen tanks at Getulio Vargas Hospital in Manaus, Brazil, on January 14. Edmar Barros/AP

Oxygen supplies are running short and hundreds of patients are waiting for beds, as hospitals in Brazil's largest state, Amazonas, face a crisis amid surging coronavirus infections,

Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello described the healthcare system in the state capital, Manaus, as being in "collapse" during a Facebook live with President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday.

"I would say yes, there is a collapse in healthcare in Manaus. The line to get a hospital bed has grown a lot, today we have about 480 people waiting in line. And the reality is that there is a lower supply of oxygen -- not an interruption, but a lower supply of oxygen," he said.

The latest surge in cases in Amazonas may be fueled by a new variant of the virus recently identified in Brazil. Manaus, globally known as the gateway to the Amazon region, also suffered badly in the first wave of the pandemic.

Brazil's Covid-19 death toll is the second highest in the world, behind only that of the United States. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 207,000 deaths from Covid-19 in Brazil and more than 8.3 million reported cases of coronavirus.

Read more on this story:

7:06 a.m. ET, January 15, 2021

Almost half of Ireland’s total cases since the pandemic began were reported in last 14 days 

From Peter Taggart in Belfast

Almost half of Ireland’s total Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began have been reported in the last two weeks, Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said on Thursday.

"Just to put it in perspective, 71,286 new cases confirmed in 14 days. That means almost half -- 44 percent -- of all the Covid cases we've ever reported have been reported in the last 14 days. It means that one in 67 people in this country have been notified Covid positive in the last 14 days," Nolan told a briefing. 

Dr. Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer for Ireland’s Department of Health, warned at the briefing that "there are going to be difficult days and weeks ahead as we report these numbers and unfortunately all of that is unquestionably going to translate into significant levels of mortality in the days and weeks to come”. 

In a statement from Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on Thursday, Nolan also said that “from an epidemiological perspective, what we are seeing in this wave is different to what we have seen since springtime, and perhaps worse”. 

“The penetration of the virus throughout all ages of the population is a particular cause for serious concern,” he added.

When Ireland came out of a strict six-week lockdown in December it had one of the lowest levels of Covid-19 cases in Europe. Since then, the situation has dramatically unraveled. The country recorded the highest infection rate in the world last week, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford.

The seasonality of the virus, the presence of the more transmissible UK variant, and households mixing over the holidays all contributed to the surge, according to a spokesperson from Prime Minister Micheál Martin's office.

On Thursday, the country's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) reported 28 additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 3,955 new confirmed cases.

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