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January 28 coronavirus news

WH Covid-19 task force: There is no vaccine stockpile
02:17

What you need to know

  • The US detected its first cases of a more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in South Africa. The variant has been detected in more than 30 other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
  • It will “be months” before all Americans who want a Covid-19 vaccine can get one, the White House’s senior Covid-19 adviser said.
  • A team of WHO scientists investigating the origins of the pandemic left their hotel in Wuhan after completing a two-week quarantine in the central Chinese city.

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US can beat Covid-19 even as the virus mutates, says White House Covid-19 adviser 

With the right tools, the United States can defeat Covid-19, even as the virus mutates, senior adviser on the White House Covid-19 response team, Andy Slavitt, said Thursday.

More contagious virus variants, including one first identified in South Africa, have been emerging across the United States.

As of now, Covid-19 vaccines still appear to provide some degree of protection against the variants that have been identified in the US.

“We’re going to have to stay one step ahead of these mutations,” said Slavitt. “We’re going to need processes to keep developing tests, therapies and vaccines to make sure that as and if the virus mutates a little bit, like the flu does, we’re able to stay ahead of it.”

White House aims "to close the gap" between vaccines available and people vaccinated, adviser says

White House senior adviser on the Covid-19 response team, Andy Slavitt, speaks with CNN on Thursday, January 28.

The US needs to do “everything possible to close the gap” between the number of Covid-19 vaccines available and people who are vaccinated, White House senior adviser on the Covid-19 response team, Andy Slavitt, said Thursday.

“We need to have enough vaccinators,” Slavitt told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We need doctors to know that they can safely go ahead and administer the doses they’ve been sent as first doses, not hold them back as second doses because they will get reliable shipments.”

This week, the Biden administration announced it will take action on several fronts to speed the administration of Covid-19 vaccines in the US. 

“We’re standing up these community vaccination centers. We’re changing the laws to allow more people to vaccinate. We’re sending shipments directly to pharmacies,” Slavitt said. “We are invoking the Defense Production Act and have done so to get more syringes and more other gear available to people. We’re working with states hand in glove every day to find more vaccines.” 

“There’s not an idea that we won’t consider,” Slavitt added.

Some context: Speaking at a media briefing Wednesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said not all vaccine that’s been delivered to states is available for “inserting into people’s arms.”

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients took that explanation a step further. “Some of what the states have right now is inventory to do the very, very important second shot,” Zients said. “I think it’s important that when you’re looking at state’s inventories that you recognize that some of that inventory is being held for the very important second shot.”

WHO says its team in Wuhan will visit labs, markets and hospitals

A team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators examining the origins of the coronavirus pandemic will meet Chinese scientists on Friday, according to WHO.

“The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets. Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, Wuhan CDC laboratory,” WHO said in a tweet.

The team will also speak with early responders and some of the first Covid-19 patients in Wuhan, it said. 

“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work,” it said, adding “they should receive the support, access and the data they need.”

The team left their hotel in Wuhan on Thursday afternoon, after completing a two-week quarantine. 

Read more about the WHO’s team’s investigation:

WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 26:  A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she visits an exhibition on the city's fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan on January 26, 2021 in Wuhan, China. In order to curb the spread of the new crown pneumonia COVID-19 disease, the Chinese government closed the city of Wuhan for 76 days starting January 23, 2020.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

WHO team in Wuhan begin long-delayed coronavirus investigation after clearing quarantine

LA's mayor receives Covid-19 vaccine after vowing not to "jump the line"

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during a press conference held at the launch of a mass Covid-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on January 15, in Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti quietly received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine last week despite not meeting the official vaccination eligibility requirements set by county health officials.

Garcetti’s office confirmed to CNN that the mayor received the vaccine on January 21 while working his fifth day at Dodger Stadium, the largest vaccination site in the nation.

“The medical personnel strongly recommended that he receive the vaccine as they have recommended and provided for other field staff and volunteers at the site who have close contact with clients,” Communications Director Alex Comisar said in a statement.

The mayor held a news conference from Dodger Stadium on the day he received the vaccination, but did not mention receiving the dose himself. It was unclear why Garcetti or his office did not disclose the shot for a week.

What the rules say: Under current vaccine eligibility guidelines for Los Angeles County, the 49-year-old mayor does not qualify to receive the vaccine as he is not a health care worker, over 65 years of age, or a staff or resident of a skilled nursing facility.

Garcetti has previously asked residents to be patient and wait their turn when it comes to the vaccine.

“I can’t wait to get the vaccine when it’s my turn,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper last month. “I’m not going to be jumping the line, but I certainly will do that and I hope that all of us will sort of get back our economy and get back our city to normal.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has not responded to a CNN request for a comment. 

Novavax vaccine data against coronavirus variant not "that good," Fauci says

A syringe of the Novavax vaccine is prepared for use in the trial at St. George's University hospital in London on October 7, 2020.

Newly released data on an experimental coronavirus vaccine made by biotechnology company Novavax indicates some problems protecting against one new variant of coronavirus circulating in South Africa, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

Fauci said studies are ongoing that will help tell whether vaccines work against the new, more contagious variants of coronavirus first spotted in the UK and South Africa that are worrying officials and the public. 

Novavax’s preliminary data shows while it’s 89% effective overall, tests done in South Africa when the new variant was dominant show a potentially diminished effect.

“And the early indications from a trial that literally just came out from its press announcement this afternoon at 4 o’clock, from a company called Novavax, indicates that a vaccine that looks really good against what we’re dealing with now doesn’t look that good, in the sense of not 90-95%,” Fauci told a webcast sponsored by the National Education Association.

In a Phase 3 trial in Britain, the Novavax vaccine showed an efficacy of 89.3%. Phase 2 results from South Africa were less positive.

“It’s somewhere down around 60% for non-HIV infected individuals and about 49%” when HIV-infected people were included in the mix, Fauci said.

South Africa variant found in US: South Carolina officials on Thursday announced the United States’ first two confirmed cases of the strain first spotted in South Africa. There is no known travel history or connection between the cases, both adults, according to a release from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

This post has been updated to clarify Fauci’s characterization of the Novavax data.

UK prime minister hails efficacy of Novavax vaccine in trials 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday celebrated the success of the Novavax vaccine during UK trials.

“Good news that the Novavax vaccine has proved effective in UK trials. Thank you to all the volunteers who made these results possible. Our medicines regulator will now assess the vaccine, which will be made in Teesside. If approved, we have 60m doses on order,” Johnson tweeted.

Johnson was joined by UK Health Minister Matt Hancock who welcomed Thursday’s trial results, calling it a “great vaccine story,” adding that the UK’s “vaccine strategy is working.”

Their reactions comes as the Phase 3 trial of biotechnology company Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine showed it has an efficacy of 89.3%, the company announced on Thursday. 

The company’s vaccine, known as NVX-CoV2373, “is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants,” Stanley Erck, Novavax president and CEO, said in a company announcement. “NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis.”

Africa secures 400 million additional doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, official says

Vials of AstraZeneca-Oxford's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine are being manufactured at India's Serum Institute in Pune on January 22.

Africa has secured 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine which will be supplied by the Serum Institute of India (SII), according to the director of the African Union’s disease control and prevention body.

“We are beginning to make very, very good progress,” Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong said in an online briefing Thursday.

This is in addition to the 270 million Covid-19 vaccines doses secured by the African Union on Jan. 14. Those doses were from Pfizer, AstraZeneca (also through the SII) and Johnson & Johnson.

These vaccines have been secured alongside a vaccine program from COVAX – a World Health Organization and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative to bring more vaccines to Africa on a fair basis.

“This is a historical effort that will require all types of partnerships,” Nkengasong said. “In order to be successful, we need to achieve a 60% target within two years. If we do not do that, then Covid becomes endemic on the continent,” he added. 

Health experts say some people are experiencing "long Covid" months after getting coronavirus

Health experts are working to understand more about a condition they are calling “long Covid,” among patients who experience lingering symptoms months after contracting coronavirus.

“Persons with long Covid often present reporting persistent, severe fatigue, headaches and brain fog, which is defined as mild subjective cognitive and cognitive impairment, approximately four weeks after acute illness,” Dr. Alfonso Hernandez-Romieu, a member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid-19 response team, said during a CDC briefing Thursday.

Doctors have reported the severity of Covid-19 illness may have little impact on whether patients experience long Covid symptoms, Hernandez-Romieu said. He noted that the CDC is working to better understand long Covid.

Dr. Allison Navis, an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said one of the most common symptoms of long Covid is called “brain fog.”

“Brain fog is a symptom, it is not a diagnosis, and it means many different things to different people,” said Navis. “Oftentimes it’s a combination of short-term memory issues, concentration, or sort of word-finding speech difficulty.”

Navis said brain fog does not appear to have a clear connection to the severity of Covid-19 infection, age or other risk factors. She said doctors have observed these symptoms in younger patients – including children and adolescents ­– who had mild coronavirus and were previously healthy.

She said patients can benefit from “symptomatic and supportive” treatment, including specific medications, cognitive rehab, increased hydration and limited exercise. She stressed that patients should get enough sleep and look after their mental health.

Novavax says UK Phase 3 trial shows its coronavirus vaccine has 89% efficacy 

A Phase 3 trial of biotechnology company Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine shows it has an efficacy of 89.3%, the company announced on Thursday. 

But the company highlighted the vaccine’s apparent efficacy against new variants of the virus that have alarmed politicians and scientists alike.

The trial, conducted in the United Kingdom, included efficacy estimates by strain based on PCR tests performed on strains from 56 Covid-19 cases in the trial. The vaccine was found to have 95.6% efficacy against the original novel coronavirus and 85.6% against the variant first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7. 

The company also announced that a Phase 2b study conducted in South Africa, where another variant was first identified, showed 60% efficacy. 

“With today’s results from our UK Phase 3 and South Africa Phase 2b clinical trials, we have now reported data on our COVID-19 vaccine from Phase 1, 2 and 3 trials involving over 20,000 participants,” Stanley Erck, Novavax president and CEO, said in the announcement. 

The company’s vaccine, known as NVX-CoV2373, “is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants,” Erck said. “NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis.”

Regarding the trial in South Africa, “the 60% reduced risk against COVID-19 illness in vaccinated individuals in South Africans underscores the value of this vaccine to prevent illness from the highly worrisome variant currently circulating in South Africa, and which is spreading globally,” Shabir Maddi, principal investigator in the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, said in the announcement. 

“This is the first COVID-19 vaccine for which we now have objective evidence that it protects against the variant dominating in South Africa,” Maddi said.

France adapts its vaccination program due to expected shortages

A nurse prepares the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Schiltigheim, France, on January 28.

France will adapt some of its vaccination schedules due to concerns over expected shortages, the French Health Ministry said in a news statement Thursday. 

The amount of Moderna doses to be received by France is 25% below what was anticipated for February, the Ministry explained.

France will also receive 200,000 fewer Pfizer doses, the statement added.

“The decrease in supplies has a natural impact on the number of injections that can be scheduled: around 5% of first injections appointments will have to be delayed for a few days,” the statement said.

In the Paris region, between 15,000 and 20,000 appointments for a first injection, that were initially scheduled during the second week of February, will be rescheduled over the two following weeks, according to the regional health agency. 

In the Hauts-de-France, northern France, “all appointments for a first injection scheduled until February 2nd will be immediately cancelled and rescheduled from the first week of March”, the regional health agency announced.

In Burgundy, appointments for a first dose “might be delayed for a few weeks or days” for similar reasons, the regional health agency said.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal tried to reassure the public Thursday evening, saying, “Doses are still coming into our country, the vaccination campaign will continue.”

As of Thursday evening, 1,349,517 shots of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered, according to numbers from the French Health Ministry.

"We're in a race against the variants," says incoming US surgeon general

Dr. Vivek Murthy looks on as Joe Biden speaks at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s pick for US surgeon general, said Thursday that he is deeply concerned by the emergence of new Covid-19 variants in the US.

“We’re in a race against the variants right now,” Murthy said in an interview with the Washington Post. “The faster we’re able to reduce overall rates of infection by taking the public health measures, like masking, distancing, the faster we’re able to vaccinate people, the sooner we’ll be able to turn this pandemic around.” 

Murthy noted that variants first identified in Brazil, South Africa and the UK all appear to be more transmissible, but do not appear to evade all protection from vaccines.

He said the administration is now working with Pfizer and Moderna to develop a booster to address variants.

We have got to do a much better job doing genomic surveillance here in the United States so we can detect these variants earlier,” he added. “We’ve got to invest much more in treatment, because treatment becomes extraordinarily important when you’ve got a virus that’s spreading this quickly.”

Murthy’s comments come as South Carolina officials announced the first two confirmed cases in the US of a more contagious coronavirus strain first spotted in South Africa.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement it was aware of the cases, noting “we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease.” The agency said it would continue working with labs around the country to genetically sequence samples of the virus.

Ohio pulls vaccine from statewide allocation to vaccinate K-12 staff

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a press conference in Columbus, Ohio, on January 28.

Ohio has pulled vaccine from their statewide allocation specifically for vaccinating K-12 staff, allocating around 55,000 vaccines to schools every week, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

“This plan that we have will allow most of the K-12 staff in a county to be vaccinated within seven days,” DeWine said, going county by county, around the state. 

“The goal is to make the logistics of this as easy as possible locally, to maximize the capacity of local vaccination partners,” he said, adding, “there just isn’t enough to do every school in the first week.”

DeWine said the state is trying to do two things at once, continuing to vaccinating older Ohioans in February, while keeping school vaccinations on track as well.

The governor also announced today that every public school in the state has agreed to go back to in-person instruction by March 1, except for one.

More than 26 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the US, CDC data shows

Drivers wait in line at a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on January 27.

More than 26 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An average of about 1.2 million doses have been administered each day since President Biden took office.

The CDC reported that 26,193,682 total doses have been administered, about 54% of the 48,386,275 doses distributed.

Nearly 21.7 million people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 4.3 million people have been fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Remember: States have 72 hours to report vaccine data, so data published by the CDC may be delayed – and may not necessarily mean all doses were given on the day reported.  

Biden administration expands who can legally give a Covid-19 vaccine

A pharmacist prepares COVID-19 vaccines for patients arriving at Town Toyota Center on January 26 in Wenatchee, Washington.

The Biden administration is expanding the number of people who are now legally allowed to vaccinate people against Covid-19 to meet the “urgent need to expand the pool of Covid-19 vaccinators” and to increase access to vaccinations.

The US Health and Human Services Department said it amended the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act — otherwise known as the PREP Act — on Thursday.

These groups will now be able to vaccinate people:

  • Now any person who is licensed or certified to administer vaccines in one state can vaccinate people in another state.
  • Retired doctors and nurses whose license expired in the past five years are also eligible, as long as that license was in good standing before it became inactive.

Both groups will need to complete a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid-19 vaccine training.

For those health care professionals whose license has experienced or who are not currently practicing also need to be observed by a practicing professional for a set period of time.

“As vaccine supply is made more widely available over the coming months, having additional vaccinators at the ready will help providers and state health departments meet the demand for vaccine and protect their communities more quickly,” HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran said in a news release.

White House Covid Coordinator Jeff Zients announced plans for the move Wednesday.

Poland extends coronavirus measures until Feb. 14

A man delivers a supply of heating gas to Piw Paw pub in Warsaw, Poland, on January 25.

Poland has extended its coronavirus measures until Feb. 14, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski announced at a news conference Thursday.

The measures were due to end Sunday.

Although the restrictions are being extended – there will be an exception. Shops in shopping malls can open starting Sunday.

The existing restrictions that remain unchanged include ski slopes being closed, restaurants shut except for take away or delivery, and people coming to Poland being subject to a 10-day quarantine. Weddings are banned, as are gatherings of more than five people. 

The decision is mainly influenced by the epidemic situation in Europe and new, more contagious mutations of the coronavirus, the head of the Ministry of Health explained. However, Niedzielski said the situation has been slightly better over the last week, stabilizing due to “social discipline.”

He said the last weekly average was just over 5,500 daily infections. This decrease in the number of cases was also felt in the number of deaths. Last week deaths dropped more or less 10%, calculated Niedzielski. He added that the hospitalization rate fell below 14,000 for the first time in a long time.

There's a chance schools will be able to reopen in the fall, says incoming US surgeon general

Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.

With the right resources and precautions, there’s a good chance schools will be able to safely reopen this fall, Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s pick for US surgeon general, said Thursday. 

“I think that we have a good shot by fall of certainly getting these schools to a place where we want them to be, but it’s going to require a few steps,” Murthy said in an interview with the Washington Post. 

Before schools can reopen, they need resources, like masks and testing, Murthy said. Plus, communities need to bring down their Covid-19 infection rates, and school staffers need to be vaccinated. 

“When we do have the opportunity to vaccinate kids when the trial data comes through and shows that it is safe and effective, then we’ve got to start vaccinating children too,” he added. 

“If we take these steps though – get schools the resources, have clear guidance, get testing in place and vaccinate our educators – it is a good chance absolutely that we could have our schools open, and that your kids and my kids could be back in the classroom in the fall,” Murthy said. 

Despite dropping Covid-19 cases, 95% of US population lives in a "sustained hotspot"

Few people walk through the streets of downtown Atlanta on December 7, 2020.

New Covid-19 cases continue to trend downward, with 16% fewer cases reported this week than last. But 95% of the US population lives in a county that the federal government considers to be a “sustained hotspot,” according to a report.

The interagency White House Covid-19 Team publishes a daily report tracking key indicators for regions, states, cities and counties across the country. Wednesday’s report showed that two-thirds of counties reported fewer Covid-19 cases in the past seven days than they had the week prior, and one-third of counties reported fewer deaths this week than last. 

But more than 1,900 counties – home to 95% of the population – are still considered “sustained hotspots,” or places that maintain a high case burden and may be at risk for a strain on health care resources.

More than half of the US population lives in a county with a test positivity rate of 10% or higher, which could indicate an undercount in cases. About 5% of the population lives in a county where at least 1 in 5 people are testing positive for Covid-19, including five counties in the Atlanta metro region, along with four counties each in the Dallas, Cincinnati and Tulsa metro regions.

Denmark extends coronavirus restrictions until Feb. 28

The famous "Stroeget" pedestrian street in Copenhagen, Denmark, is empty on January 12.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the country will extend its coronavirus restrictions until Feb. 28. She made the announcement during a news conference on Thursday.

Frederiksen said the country’s infectious diseases institute, the Statens Serum Institut, has assessed that the new mutation is spreading, “even with the restrictions we have in Denmark”. 

We cannot stop the spread, but we must do everything we can to slow it down, Frederiksen said.

“However, it is the hope that students from 0-4 classes can come to school before that date. We will announce a possible new school start at the beginning of next week,” Frederiksen added.

Covid-19 outbreaks on college campuses put broader community at risk, new CDC report shows

The headquarters for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seen in Atlanta on March 6, 2020.

Covid-19 outbreaks on college and university campuses can lead to subsequent outbreaks in the surrounding community and other high-risk places, such as nursing homes and prisons, according to a new report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the study, published on Thursday, researchers in Wisconsin and at the CDC examined data on Covid-19 cases reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health between March and November. The researchers looked closely at a sharp rise in cases — increasing at a rate of 24% per week — from late August to mid-November.

The data showed that, in August, Covid-19 cases linked to outbreaks on college and university campuses increased sharply and then were followed by outbreaks in other high-risk settings. 

The researchers found that, overall, three places accounted for the largest numbers of outbreak-associated Covid-19 cases in Wisconsin: long-term care facilities at 26.8%, colleges or universities at 15% and correctional facilities at 14.9%. 

Another report from researchers in Indiana, also published by the CDC on Thursday, details how one university in Indiana responded to a Covid-19 outbreak on its campus.

The university implemented safety measures, including daily online health assessments for students, and requiring all students to complete PCR testing before arriving on campus. But then in mid-August, an outbreak occurred with 371 confirmed cases. Contact tracing identified several large, off-campus parties as being related to the outbreak, according to the report. 

In response, the university switched to online classes for undergraduates. On-campus students had to stay on campus. Off-campus students were restricted from campus. 

“This approach is consistent with recommendations for universities with outbreaks to avoid sending students home to avoid spreading infections into local and other communities,” the researchers wrote. The researchers found that case numbers then decreased, testing capacity increased, and classes resumed in September with an average rate of new cases comparable to the overall county numbers at the time.

For both studies, only data on reported cases and outbreaks were included — there could have been more Covid-19 cases that were either asymptomatic or simply went unreported.

UK adds UAE, Burundi and Rwanda to travel ban list

The United Kingdom has added the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda to its travel ban list, according to the UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. 

“From tomorrow (Friday 29 Jan at 1pm), we’re extending our travel ban with the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda all added to the UK’s red list,” Shapps tweeted Thursday. 

“This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at home,” he added. 

It comes after the UK announced a new policy of enforced hotel quarantine for travelers from 30 countries Wednesday. However, Shapps emphasized that British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights coming from the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda would only need to isolate at home and not in a hotel. 

Passengers are still required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test and complete a passenger locator form. Failure to do so will mean a £500 fine (about $686) for each offense, Shapps warned.

These new travel bans follow the “discovery of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, that may have spread to other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda,” a statement from the Department for Transport said.

New York City school enrollment drops by 4%

Students sit in class at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 13 in New York City.

New York City public schools are seeing a loss of 43,000 students for this school year, about 4% in grades 3K (preschool) through 12th grade, according to new data from the New York City Department of Education.

The total enrollment for the 2020-21 school year now stands at approximately 960,000 students – a number dipping below one million for the nation’s largest school district for the first time in 15 years. While the district says school enrollment has been on the decline over the past several years, it attributes the larger loss this year in part to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Given the current circumstances of pandemic it is no surprise that we are seeing greater fluctuations in enrollment this year,” said Katie O’Hanlon, spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE). “However, no school district has stabilized its school system the way we have, which means that we can and will continue to offer the gold standard in health, safety, and learning in a completely transformed educational environment to our students.”

The steepest decline is among the youngest students, with pre-K seeing a 13% drop and kindergarten down 9% compared with data from the 2019-20 school year. The city’s 3K program, a preschool program for children aged 3 to 4, accounted for 1% of the overall decline, with a drop of 10,000 students from the previous year.

“This could be COVID-19 related enrollment loss as these grades are not mandatory and families may be trying to limit travel and socially distance,” a news release from the DOE said.

Officials from the DOE say they’re conducting outreach in parts of the city and specific school districts that show a “lower than normal” enrollment rate, and say they are dedicating staff to engage in outreach campaigns which will be conducted in nine different languages.

“Given the pandemic, we know that New Yorkers are facing myriad circumstances in this unprecedented year and we remain committed to supporting all of our families in helping them make the best decisions for their children,” the release said.

South Carolina detects first US cases of Covid-19 variant first seen in South Africa

South Carolina officials have announced the United States’ first two confirmed cases of a more contagious coronavirus strain first spotted in South Africa.

There is no known travel history or connection between the cases, both adults, according to a release Thursday from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

One case was confirmed to the department late yesterday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the other was identified by the state’s public health laboratory while testing samples over the past several days.

The variant – also known as B.1.351 – has raised concerns over being more transmissible than other versions of the virus, and potentially evading the immune protection offered by antibodies. Experts say they believe vaccines will still be effective against the variant.

“The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, the health department’s interim public health director, said in a statement Thursday.

The variant has been detected in over 30 other countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Elizabeth Cohen reports:

02:57

New York undercounted Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by about 50%, according to report

The New