February 9 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Christopher Johnson and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 6:29 a.m. ET, February 10, 2021
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8:10 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

US considers Covid-19 testing requirement for domestic air travel

From CNN's Marnie Hunter

The Biden administration is considering a rule that would require negative Covid-19 test results for domestic air travel, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg mentioned the possible testing requirement for air travelers within the United States in an interview Sunday with "Axios on HBO."

"There's an active conversation with the CDC right now," Buttigieg told Axios. "What I can tell you is, it's going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out."

On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that screening US travelers for Covid-19 could be helpful. But she did not expand upon whether there are plans to test domestic travelers.

"To the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, first and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel," Walensky said during a White House briefing. "But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread."

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8:09 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Covid-19 antigen tests not counted among cases in some states, CNN analysis shows

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Antigen test results still are not included in the total count of Covid-19 cases for some states -- not even as probable cases, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Five states -- California, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri and Nevada -- publicly report only cases confirmed with PCR tests in their online tallies, according to a CNN analysis of health department dashboards across all 50 states.

Some states only report polymerase chain reaction test results in their Covid-19 case numbers and exclude antigen test results since antigen tests are generally seen as less accurate. But as antigen testing ramps up in the United States, this exclusion could lead to potential miscounts.

"Antigen tests are relatively inexpensive, and most can be used at the point of care. Most of the currently authorized tests return results in approximately 15 minutes," according to the US Food and Drug Administration, but also notes it's generally less sensitive than other types of tests.

In California, for instance, CNN was told that antigen Covid-19 test results are required to be reported to local health departments and to the California Department of Public Health. But publicly reported Covid-19 testing data only reflects results from diagnostic tests that detect the coronavirus' genetic material, such as PCR -- polymerase chain reaction -- tests.

CNN requested antigen testing data from the state's department of public health, but was told in an email that "antigen test results are not being publicly reported statewide at this time."

Across the four remaining states, the data they each shared with CNN represent about 10,000 positive Covid-19 antigen test results reported over just a small sampling of days in January.

If included in reported case counts, those positive antigen test results would increase Covid-19 cases reported by those states between 5% and 50% in that time, according to CNN's analysis.

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8:06 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

US ramping up Covid-19 genome sequencing to track variants, CDC director says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard, Nick Neville and Christina Maxouris

The United States has ramped up its genome sequencing efforts in the hunt for coronavirus variants, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

"Over the last three weeks or so we've increased our sequencing about tenfold," Walensky said during a White House briefing. "So as we look more, we certainly anticipate we might find more" variants.

The US effort in genetic sequencing lags far behind many other developed nations. One analysis ranked the US 33rd in the world for sequences per 1,000 cases of Covid-19.

Scientists search for coronavirus mutations by taking samples of the virus from patients' nasal swabs and analyzing their genetic sequences.

Mutations are changes in the genetic code of a virus that occur naturally over time when an animal or person is infected -- and such mutations can lead to the emergence of new variants.

"We anticipate that we're probably going to be sequencing up to three to four more than we are already sequencing," Walensky said.
"I think once we have more sequencing that's happening, we'll have a better idea as to how many variants there are and what proportion are out there."

Walensky said during the briefing that she was "reluctant" to provide an estimate of how many coronavirus variant cases there could be based on the current data. She also warned that variants could reverse encouraging declines in Covid-19 statistics.

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8:05 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

South Africa Covid-19 variant does not appear to be more transmissible, British health expert says

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy

British analysis does not suggest that the South African coronavirus variant is more transmissible than other variants, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said Monday.

Van-Tam’s analysis was based on “early data on modelling” the variant, he said. 

He contrasted the South Africa variant with what he referred to as the Kent variant -- referred to internationally as the UK variant -- which he said does have a transmissibility advantage. 

Some context: Van-Tam’s comments come a day after South Africa paused its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after early data from a study showed that it offered "minimal protection" against mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant first identified there, known as B.1.351.