Flights to Victoria have been suspended as the Australian state begins a hard five-day lockdown, Premier Daniel Andrews said Saturday.
No flights will be allowed into Victoria until next Thursday, other than those carrying more than 100 passengers who have already commenced travel to the state.
“A lot of people will be hurting today,” Andrews said at his daily news briefing, adding “we can't have a situation where in two weeks' time, we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now.”
Victoria recorded one additional Covid-19 case Saturday, connected to the recent Holiday Inn cluster. A total of 14 confirmed cases of the UK variant have been linked to the cluster.
The state entered the five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown at 11:59 p.m. local time on February 12.
The US state of California is adding millions of people to its Covid-19 vaccination priority list, including residents “at high risk with developmental and other disabilities" and those with “serious underlying health conditions."
The plan, outlined by state health officials in a briefing Friday, will begin March 15 and allow cancer patients, pregnant women, and other disabled individuals to join health care workers, seniors, teachers, and farm staff in line for a vaccine. The expansion could add as many as 6 million more Californians to the priority list.
It also broadens the ages from 65 and over to ages 16 to 64 in those categories.
California Health and Human Service Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters the March 15 start will give officials time to work out details on how to get vaccines to those with various disabilities and could include at-home visits.
Ghaly acknowledged the timing could be optimistic, cautioning “we are still dealing with the scarcity of vaccine. This week the drastic shortfall of vaccines in the state led to the closure of the mass vaccination centers in Los Angeles."
The expanded list of those eligible includes people with cancer, chronic kidney disease, oxygen-dependent heart disease, Down Syndrome, immune-suppressed organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, people with sickle cell disease, severe obesity and certain type-2 diabetes.
Ghaly expressed concern about the inequity of distribution among communities of color and low-income areas. There are plans to reach out to community clinics, public health systems and what they’re calling “trusted messengers in communities that data shows are reluctant to get vaccinated."
Senior state health officials acknowledged complaints from rural counties that they have not been given their fair share of vaccines. However, officials say these areas have historically been medically underserved and much of the early distribution was in areas with high numbers of medical workers.
Officials say the focus will now be shifting to rural areas in California’s agricultural community, which has been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.
Officials also believe a focus on Californians with development disabilities and severe underlying conditions will allow more vaccinations in vulnerable settings, like jails, homeless shelters and areas where homeless reside.
The state estimates 13 million Californians are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3 million health care workers, 3.4 million food and agricultural workers, 1.4 million in the education sector, a million in emergency services and more than 6 million people over the age of 65.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) said during a press conference Friday that the state has learned there are a handful of schools that have indicated they will break the commitment they signed to reopen schools full-time or in a hybrid model by March 1, in return for receiving vaccines for their personnel.
“This is simply not acceptable. This is about the kids... We said to our school districts that we would take some of the precious vaccine allotted to Ohio and vaccinate teachers and other staff as long as they'd be back in school full-time or in a hybrid model no later than March 1,” DeWine said.
DeWine warned if schools do not intend to return by March 1, Covid-19 vaccines will need to be reallocated away from their personnel and back to other eligible, vulnerable populations.
The Governor said the issue came to a head today, because the state is in the midst of vaccinating personnel at Cleveland Public Schools, but heard they were not going to return by March 1.
“I expressed to the CEO, I said look, we’ll just have to cut off the vaccinations, because that’s the deal,” DeWine said.
After speaking with the Cleveland Public Schools CEO, the Governor said their CEO has made a commitment to do everything in his power to get children back in class by March 1.
“Frankly, the purpose of this is not to threaten anybody or punish, the purpose is - let's get our kids back to school, let’s get this worked out,” DeWine said. “We’re not forcing anybody to go back into school, but we felt that if we offered this [vaccinations], it might give them more comfort and feel better about going back to school.”
DeWine emphasized that there is no requirement that any school in the state go back to in-person learning.
About 99% of children in the US live in a county considered a “red” zone with high levels of Covid-19 transmission under new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a CNN analysis of federal data.
Nearly 73 million children – about 99% of the US population under the age of 18 – live in a “high transmission” community, defined by the CDC as a county where there were at least 100 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people or a test positivity rate of at least 10% during the past seven days.
In these zones, the new CDC guidelines recommend virtual learning for middle and high schools and hybrid learning or reduced attendance for elementary schools.
The CDC also stresses five key mitigation strategies: Requiring masks, physical distancing, hand-washing, maintaining clean facilities and contract tracing.
It also recommends different strategies based on how much transmission there is in the surrounding community, and has a color-coded guide with areas of high transmission colored red; substantial transmission colored orange; moderate transmission coded yellow and low transmission as blue.
The CDC says school districts should re-assess weekly.
If schools in “high transmission” communities cannot “strictly implement all mitigation strategies,” the CDC says all extracurricular activities should be virtual.
Fewer than 100,000 children in the US live in a county considered “low” or “moderate transmission” where the CDC recommends K-12 schools open for full in-person instruction. Most of those students live in Hawaii or Washington.
The CNN analysis used the latest federal data on new case rates and test positivity rates, published Thursday by the US Health and Human Services Department, to determine each county’s risk threshold according to CDC guidelines.
Population data is from the US Census Bureau’s 5-Year American Community Survey 2019 estimates.
The US Department of Education released a handbook with detailed strategies to help schools follow new guidance for reopening from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a top official said Friday.
The CDC issued school opening guidance that stresses mask use; social distancing; handwashing; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
To help schools, the Department of Education issued the first in a series of handbooks, Donna Harris-Aikens, senior adviser for policy and planning for the department, told a CDC news briefing.
“All of our handbooks could supplement the CDC operational strategy with practical examples, and roadmap. We want to give educators and schools the tools they need to implement mitigation strategies to help safely reopen for in-person learning,” Harris-Aikens said.
One example: using signs to remind students to wear masks, she added.
There’s also guidance on how to keep students physically distanced, Harris-Aikens said.
“For example, the handbook talks through a variety of strategies around podding. Podding can actually reduce the spread of Covid by keeping students together into a pod that stay together all day with a core teacher and aide -- and we acknowledge that this strategy is actually easier in elementary schools than it would be in middle and high school."
“The handbook also discusses ways to get creative about laying out classrooms, and using auditoriums and cafeterias for instruction," she added.
The spread of new variants and a sluggish vaccine rollout has Canadian officials urging caution even as new cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 drop.
“The new variants that are more communicable, more easily transmitted, are increasingly out there so we need to stay careful,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference Friday.
“Nobody wants a third wave to start, particularly not one comprised of new, more communicable variants that can cause real challenges,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also announced details of stepped-up international border restrictions.
International travelers arriving in Canada by air will have to pre-book a government-approved, quarantine hotel, at their own expense, starting February 22nd. There are exemptions for essential travel.
Air passengers will also be tested at airports when they arrive. The quarantine is likely to last about 3 days or until the traveler’s COVID-19 test comes back negative. Those who test negative can continue with a 14-day quarantine at home or an appropriate quarantine location.
In addition, before entering Canada either by land or air, travelers will have to show proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test 72 hours before arriving.
"We're trying to keep people safe and keeping Canadians safe from the viruses and discouraging all nonessential travel and ensuring that if people do have to travel, they're doing the things that we can be certain are going to prevent the virus from spreading," said Trudeau.
There have only been a few hundred cases of the variants identified in Canada so far, most of them the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK.
However, public health officials have been warning that the incidence of variants could double every 10 to 14 days and that means there is a risk of a third wave of the pandemic hitting Canada.
“These past weeks have been very challenging, but we've made great progress and are now almost two-thirds of the way down this curve. But we'll need to keep putting the brakes on the spread of new virus variants of concern in Canada,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer during a COVID-19 update on Friday.
When it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine, about 31% of adults say they plan to “wait and see” how it works for other people before deciding whether to get vaccinated themselves, according to a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Friday.
Because they are still undecided, KFF says that group is a smart target for vaccine education. To do that, the foundation notes that it’s important to understand the group is not a monolith and concerns about getting vaccinated vary.
About half of those in the “wait and see” group are White, 16% are Black and 19% are Hispanic. A majority say they are worried that they or a family member will get sick from coronavirus.
Over half of the “wait and see group” view getting vaccinated as a personal choice and just 40% see vaccination as a responsibility to protect others.
The “wait and see group” are also politically diverse; 42% identify as Democrats or Democratic leaning and 36% identify as Republicans or Republican leaning.
About 67% of “wait and see” Republicans view the decision to get vaccinated as a personal choice, relative to 43% of Democrats. 52% of “wait and see” Democrats believe everyone has a responsibility to protect the health of others while just 29% of “wait and see” Republicans believe the same.
About half of Republicans who want to “want and see” believe the seriousness of the pandemic has been exaggerated
Black and Hispanic adults who plan to “wait and see” are very concerned about the prospect of personally getting sick or having a family member getting sick from coronavirus. However, many are skeptical of the vaccine and the health care system at large.
About 61% of Hispanic adults and 59% of Black adults in the “wait and see” group said they were concerned that they might get coronavirus from the vaccine. About 57% of “wait and see” Black adults expressed distrust in the health care system and KFF noted that the lower levels of trust are associated with lower uptake of the vaccine.
Many who say they plan to “wait and see” said that a close friend or family member getting vaccinated would be most likely to sway their decision.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released guidelines for reopening schools, including “five key mitigation strategies” for returning to in-person school safely.
Those five key strategies are: the universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and doing contact tracing, isolation and quarantining.
The CDC says vaccination and testing “provide additional layers of COVID-19 prevention in schools,” but don’t describe them as key strategies.
"With the release of this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen. These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed roadmap for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in prepared remarks for the agency’s news briefing on Friday.
"We also know that some schools are already providing in-person instruction and we want them to be able to continue to do this, but we know that some are not following the mitigation strategies we know work," Walensky said. "For these schools, we are not mandating that they close; rather, we are providing these recommendations and highlighting the science behind them to help schools create an environment that is safe for students, teachers and staff."
Walensky added that while each strategy is important, CDC recommends "prioritizing the first two" -- wearing masks and physical distancing.
“These two strategies are incredibly important in areas that have high community spread of Covid-19, which right now is the vast majority of communities in the US," Walensky said.