February 16 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Zamira Rahim, Mary Ilyushina and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 10:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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6:11 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

US consumers now have the first national standards for face mask quality 

From CNN’s Keri Enriquez

A worker at a Honeywell International Inc. factory works on N95 masks May 5, in Phoenix.
A worker at a Honeywell International Inc. factory works on N95 masks May 5, in Phoenix. Brendand

The American Society for Testing and Material, an international technical standards organization, has published the first national standard for consumer masks.

The standards outline things like minimum fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and would require user instructions, package labeling and a permanent tag on the product. 

ASTM said it hopes it creates a baseline for quality and protection moving forward.

“This standard brings value by specifying minimum design, performance, and testing requirements and allowing comparison of products by end users where current guidelines have been limited,” the approved ASTM standard reads.  

To be certified as meeting the standards, manufacturers are required to test their facial coverings in accredited labs to certify performance, register their products and use the outlined labeling system to use the ASTM package labeling system.

How this impacts you: Consumers in stores would be able to evaluate the quality of masks on store shelves from the labeling on the packaging. If a mask has ASTM labeling, it could ensure the customer that product has met the testing and quality requirements outlined in “ASTM F3502."

The ASTM standard labeling requirements indicate results of two testing criteria: breathability and filtration efficiency. Typically, when a mask has a higher filtration, it results in more resistance and can make it harder to breathe.

According to the ASTM guidelines, a lower performance, level one designation would require the product to filter at least 20% of particles – something that would make the mask easy to breathe through, but that would provide less protection. A level two certification would designate high performance filtration of at least 50% of particles but would provide less breathability.

The standards strictly prohibit the use of vents, valves or any feature that allows people to blow out or breathe in unfiltered air.

5:44 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

WHO reports 16% decline in global coronavirus cases from last week

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Global coronavirus cases declined by 16% in the week leading up to Feb. 14, the World Health Organization reported in an update Tuesday.

WHO says 81,000 coronavirus deaths and 2.7 million new cases were reported last week – more than 500,000 fewer new cases compared to the previous week. 

New cases declined by double digit percentages in all regions except the Eastern Mediterranean region, and new deaths declined in all regions, WHO reported.

The US is currently reporting the highest number of new cases, by far, followed by Brazil, France, Russia, and the UK and Northern Ireland.

WHO noted that the coronavirus variant first identified in the UK has now been found in 94 countries, the variant first identified in South Africa has been found in 46 and the variant first identified in Brazil has been found in 21.

 

5:43 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

FEMA will have 6 vaccination sites staffed by military personnel running next week

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Ellie Kaufman

Drivers and passengers in vehicles arrive for their Covid-19 vaccinations administered by members of the National Guard on the opening day of a new mass Covid-19 vaccination site established between the federal government and the state on February 16, on the campus at California State University of Los Angeles.
Drivers and passengers in vehicles arrive for their Covid-19 vaccinations administered by members of the National Guard on the opening day of a new mass Covid-19 vaccination site established between the federal government and the state on February 16, on the campus at California State University of Los Angeles. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will have six vaccination sites staffed with military personnel running next week, including one site in Los Angeles that was launched Tuesday morning, acting administrator Bob Fenton said.

There is an additional FEMA site in Oakland staffed by civilian personnel.

The sites in Houston, Dallas and Arlington, Texas, as well as Queens and Brooklyn in New York, are scheduled to open next Wednesday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of US Northern Command, said speaking via teleconference.

The sites are a combination of 222-person "type 1" teams, capable of 6,000 vaccinations per day, and 139-person "type 2" teams, capable of 3,000 vaccinations per day.

In total, they will bring FEMA's total vaccinations to 30,000 vaccinations per day across the sites. The deployments will include approximately 1,000 troops from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin initially authorized the call up of 1,110 troops to assist in vaccination efforts, then added another 3,700 troops.

FEMA has its own supply of vaccine doses to administer and will not be using vaccines from the states' allocation, Fenton said. That supply stands at 11 million doses per week now, said Fenton, and it is expected to rise to 13.5 million doses next week.

"This is a dedicated supply above and beyond the state allocation, above and beyond what the pharmacies are receiving, and in a pilot phase right now," Fenton said.

As of now, there are no outstanding requests from states or territories for additional vaccination sites, Fenton added.

The Pentagon has also allocated smaller teams of 25 troops to help in New Jersey and the US Virgin Islands. This is separate from the troops used for vaccination sites.

Initial discussions with FEMA called for 100 teams capable of delivering a total of 450,000 vaccinations per day, far higher than what the planned sites will be able to deliver.

Fenton explained the request for so many teams was based on more vaccine being available in the near future.

"How much will we have to get to those 100 teams? It depends on how much the pharmacies can do, how much states and local governments can handle and what is the gap," Fenton said. "We want to make sure we have the capability to go up to almost 500,000 vaccines a day. That's what the 100 teams buys us. How much we'll use will depend on vaccine supply and the capability of state and local government, the pharmacies, and other avenues."

In the past three weeks, FEMA has also provided $3.2 billion to 40 states and territories to improve their capability and resources, Fenton said.

5:33 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout now expected to be slower due to miscommunication, official says

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Sara Murray and Naomi Thomas

Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Once it is authorized, the rollout of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be slower than federal health officials initially anticipated, CNN has learned. 

The administration is still expecting single digit millions of doses if the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. However — due to a miscommunication over the production timeline — government officials thought that number would ramp up to between 20 or 30 million doses by April. They are now expecting fewer than 20 million Johnson and Johnson doses in April, an administration official told CNN. 

This delays their expectations by about a month. Officials do still expect to get 100 million doses by the end of June to the beginning of July.

On a call with governors Tuesday, the administration said the initial flow of J&J vaccine would be in the low millions and then would ramp up substantially, according to a source familiar with the call.

Johnson and Johnson did not directly address the slower vaccine rollout, but said in a statement, “Johnson & Johnson intends to distribute vaccine to the U.S. government immediately following authorization, and expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. in the first half of 2021. The Company expects to have product available to ship immediately following authorization.” 

Some context: Earlier Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that it could be mid to late May or early June before vaccines are widely available to the general population after he offered an earlier timeline last week.

“I was hoping that that would be by the end of April,” Fauci said. “That was predicated on J&J, the Johnson product, having considerably more doses than now we know they’re going to have.”

“So, that timeline will probably be prolonged, maybe into mid to late May and early June, that’s fine,” Fauci said.

The FDA has scheduled its meeting of independent experts to evaluate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and make a recommendation on Feb. 26. It has not been authorized yet.

5:37 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your questions about rising hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic

Hate crime attacks against Asian Americans have increased during the pandemic.

More than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and the District of Columbia were reported between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020, with 7.3% of those incidents involving Asian Americans over the age of 60, according to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition documenting anti-Asian hate and discrimination amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

CNN's Kyung Lah answers your questions from Los Angeles.

Watch:

4:32 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Catch up: Here are the latest coronavirus headlines from the US

A man is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts on February 16.
A man is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts on February 16. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

As Congress works to pass another Covid-19 relief package, the Biden administration is ramping up distribution of the vaccines. Meanwhile, the US is seeing a downward trend in new infections, but officials warn the next spike could come from virus variants.

Here is what you need to know to get up to speed.

Covid relief package timeline:

  • This coming week, the House Budget Committee will assemble a final bill based off the measures approved by at least nine committees. The full House is expected to vote on the bill by the end of next week, followed by Senate action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the package to be on President Biden's desk by March 14.
  • The measure will be part of budget reconciliation legislation which means it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.

What's in Democrat's plan:

  • The Democrat's proposal is pretty close to what Biden outlined last month. It would include $1,400 direct stimulus payments, extend two key pandemic unemployment programs, money for state and local governments and nearly $130 billion for schools, among other things.

Vaccine distribution:

  • More than 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 72% of all the doses that have been distributed.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said he thinks the process of widespread vaccinations will likely start in the spring and large portions of the public will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Ramping up rollout:

  • The Biden administration is again increasing its weekly Covid-19 vaccine supply being sent to states, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Officials said the administration is “increasing the vaccine supply to 13.5 million doses per week to states," Psaki said at Tuesday’s briefing, a 57% increase from inauguration levels.
  • About 2 million doses will be sent directly to pharmacies across the country this week, according to Psaki.
  • Moderna said it expects to deliver 100 million doses by the end of March, followed by an additional 100 million doses by the end of May and another 100 million doses by the end of July.

Kids and Covid-19:

  • More than 3.03 million children in the US have tested positive for Covid-19 as of Feb. 11, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last week alone, about 99,000 new child cases were identified through testing – that's an 8% increase in the last two weeks.

Variants:

  • Andy Slavitt, White House Covid-19 senior adviser, said that while it is nice to see case numbers drop, "it could be misleading," adding the next new wave will be with the variant first detected in the UK.
  • The Connecticut Department of Public Health has detected its first positive case of the variant first found in South Africa, it said in a statement.
  • Researchers said they have identified a batch of similar mutations in coronavirus samples circulating in the United States. They stress that the US needs to do more sequencing to identify these mutations faster.
4:23 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Quest Diagnostics says it is doubling efforts to help CDC identify new variants

From CNN’s Amanda Sealy

A Children's National Hospital healthcare worker holds a Quest Diagnostics bag containing a Covid-19 swab at a coronavirus drive-thru testing site at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 2, 2020.
A Children's National Hospital healthcare worker holds a Quest Diagnostics bag containing a Covid-19 swab at a coronavirus drive-thru testing site at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Quest Diagnostics said Tuesday it is now sequencing 2,000 tests a week, doubling the amount of genomic sequencing it started performing last month.

The company said it is sequencing the tests for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are proud to support the CDC’s efforts to track new mutations in, and patterns of transmission of, SARS-CoV-2 across the United States,” Quest said in a statement.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has detailed US efforts to increase genetic sequencing of coronavirus samples in recent weeks, noting that much more is needed to get a better handle on the circulation and prevalence of variants such as B.1.1.7.

"We anticipate that we're probably going to be sequencing up to three to four more than we are already sequencing," Walensky said last week. "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.”

In addition to the CDC requesting samples from states for sequencing, its website states that, “CDC has also contracted with commercial diagnostic laboratories and obtained commitments to sequence an additional 6,000 samples per week, with plans for further expansion.”

4:18 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

FEMA vaccination sites will have their own supply, acting director says

From CNN's Oren Libermann and Michael Conte

Robert Fenton testifies during a hearing before Senate Indian Affairs Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building July 1, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. 
Robert Fenton testifies during a hearing before Senate Indian Affairs Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building July 1, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.  Alex Wong/Getty Images

The joint Federal Emergency Management Agency/Defense Department mass vaccination sites will have their own vaccine supplies, according to Robert Fenton, FEMA’s acting director. 

The vaccines will be in addition to the states’ allocations of vaccines.

“This is a supply that’s above and beyond what the state’s allocation is,” Fenton told reporters remotely at the Pentagon. He said FEMA has a supply of approximately 11 million doses to distribute across the states, and that number will rise to 13.5 million next week. 

Fenton also said that there were no outstanding requests for vaccination sites from states in the current pilot phase of the program.

“This is part of a pilot to build this federal capability, and we’ve reached out to states,” he said.

3:42 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

House Majority Leader says he expects Congress to give final approval of Covid relief plan week of March 8 

From CNN's Manu Raju and Annie Grayer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speaks to reporters while walking to the House Floor at the US Capitol on January 13 in Washington.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speaks to reporters while walking to the House Floor at the US Capitol on January 13 in Washington. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his colleagues in a letter that Congress may take final action on the Covid-19 relief package on the week of March 8.

That means the House will vote on the bill at the end of next week, followed by Senate action. If the Senate amends the bill, it will send it back to the House for final passage the week of March 8.

This timeframe is in line with what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, which is that she expects the Covid-19 relief package to be on President Biden’s desk by March 14 when jobless benefits expire. 

Hoyer said the reason he changed the schedule for next week was because the Covid-19 relief package “will not be ready for a vote until later in the week,” and warned that the House “may need to remain in session through the weekend next week to complete consideration of the American Rescue Plan.”

Read about what is in the House Democrats' stimulus relief plan here.