The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Sarah Faidell, Brad Lendon, Joshua Berlinger, Mary Ilyushina and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 8:38 a.m. ET, February 19, 2021
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4:44 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

US life expectancy dropped a full year in first half of 2020, according to CDC. Covid-19 was a big factor

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Funeral workers load the casket of a Covid-19 victim into a hearse at East County Mortuary on January 15, in El Cajon, California.
Funeral workers load the casket of a Covid-19 victim into a hearse at East County Mortuary on January 15, in El Cajon, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Life expectancy in the US dropped a full year in the first half of 2020, according to a report published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. Experts say that Covid-19 was a significant factor contributing to the decline.

The life expectancy for the entire US population fell to 77.8 years, similar to what it was in 2006, CDC data shows.

Changes to life expectancy also widened racial and ethnic inequities. Compared to 2019, life expectancy for non-Hispanic Black people in the US fell about three times what it did for non-Hispanic White people, by 2.7 years. It fell by twice as much for Hispanic people, by 1.9 years.

Life-expectancy disparities between Black people and White people had been shrinking in recent years, but these latest figures reverse some of that progress.

Over the past 40 years, life expectancy has increased slowly but rarely declined. Between 2014 and 2017 -- a peak period of the opioid epidemic -- life expectancy declined a third of a year, which itself was significant.

Life-expectancy estimates before 1980 have been measured less consistently, but experts told CNN that estimates for drops in life expectancy after World War II range from less than a year to three years.

Read more:

3:41 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

Biden administration confronts regulatory maze and hazy messaging in push to reopen schools

From CNN's Maeve Reston and Stephen Collinson

A closed public school is seen in New York, on November 19, 2020.
A closed public school is seen in New York, on November 19, 2020. Wang Ying/Xinhua/Getty Images

President Joe Biden's promise to try to open schools within his first 100 days has become one of most vexing puzzles facing the new administration, leading to confusion and anger among parents who still aren't getting clear answers.

There are few more urgent issues facing the country with the pandemic about to hit the one-year mark. Many kids have been out of in-person school for almost that long. Online school is especially tough for lower income children, particularly for households where parents cannot oversee daily school work because their careers require them to continue working outside the home during the pandemic. Some parents fear that the abrupt transition to online learning during the pandemic could have a lasting impact their kids' mental health and ability to keep up. And re-opening schools is crucial to easing child care issues that threaten to slow the return of workers needed to reboot the economy.

A month into the new administration, the White House still cannot provide the clarity much of America needs about when children can return to school, which kids can go back and when their teachers will be vaccinated. Biden declared Tuesday night at a CNN town hall that teachers should be prioritized for vaccinations. But decisions about teacher vaccinations and schools reopening are made at the local level -- with school districts often having to abide by state guidelines that determine based on the level of transmission in a community.

Read more about the Biden administration's plans here:

2:59 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

More than 68,000 Covid-19 cases were reported in the US on Wednesday

From CNN's Joe Sutton

At least 68,419 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the United States on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At least 2,366 peopled died.

To date there have been at least 27,825,043 cases of coronavirus in the US. As of the end of the day Wednesday, at least 490,447 people have died amid the pandemic.

These totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories as well as repatriated cases.  

Vaccine rollout: At least 72,423,125 vaccine doses have been distributed, and at least 56,281,827 total doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2:01 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

FBI and US prosecutors scrutinizing New York's handling of data surrounding Covid nursing home deaths

From CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and Paul LeBlanc

The United States attorney's office in Brooklyn, along with the FBI, is scrutinizing the handling of some of the data surrounding Covid-19 deaths in long term care facilities in New York, according to a law enforcement official.

The inquiry is described as preliminary, according to the source. It was not clear whether authorities were looking at Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself or members of his administration.

A senior adviser to the governor said that the administration had been cooperating with the Justice Department and would continue to do so.

Separately, 20 New York state lawmakers sent a letter to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, demanding it vacate Cuomo's International Emmy Award in light of his administration's handling of the Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes.

Read more:

1:29 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

"We really, really would advocate for not traveling right now," CDC director warns

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Americans should not travel due to the increased risk posed by new Covid-19 variants, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

Walensky said the organization would not recommend people get tested for the virus before taking domestic flights because of supply constraints. Other health protocols, like quarantines at destinations and post-arrival tests, need to be further evaluated before the CDC would recommend them, Walensky said during a conversation hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"You shouldn't be traveling anyway," said Walensky.


12:35 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021

New standards will take the guesswork out of choosing the most effective face masks

From CNN's Keri Enriquez

Americans may soon be able to choose between two clearly labeled levels of face mask protection while browsing store shelves.

The new national mask standard outlines 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 International -- an international standards organization -- spent seven months conducting expedited testing and review and published its guidance on Tuesday. Experts and industry leaders say the new "Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings" has the potential to transform the quality of masks available for personal protection in the American marketplace.

Until this point, there were no standards even though masks are highly recommended by US health officials to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Read more:

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

El Salvador nurse gets country's first Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Tatiana Arias

A 53-year-old nurse became the first person in El Salvador to be vaccinated against Covid-19 on Wednesday.

Mirna Moreno has been a nurse for 24 years and has preexisting conditions, according to the office of the President of El Salvador.

El Salvador received its first 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine Wednesday which, according to the government, is enough to vaccinate all the country's front-line health workers fighting the virus.

El Salvador has had recorded 58,023 cases of Covid-19 and 1,758 virus-related fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

11:39 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines will be available for all Americans by July, but vaccination process will take longer, Fauci says

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Even though the United States will have enough Covid-19 vaccines for all Americans by at least the end of July, it may take an additional couple of months to get everyone vaccinated, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the US needs "about 600 million doses" to vaccinate the entire population. 

"How long it will take to vaccinate people will really depend upon the efficiency with which you get doses into people's arms," Fauci told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday.

Countdown to herd immunity: Fauci said he believes between 70% and 85% of the population may need to get immunized against coronavirus for herd immunity to take effect.

"I hope that by the time we get to that point, whereas the President said, we have enough available for anyone who wants it, that people come forward and we actually do vaccinate that 70 to 85% of the population, which hopefully will get us to the point of herd immunity," he said.

10:52 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Covid-19 infections have fallen by two-thirds in England, study finds

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Meera Senthilingam in London

Patients wait after receiving their Covid-19 jabs at a vaccination centre at Salisbury Cathedral on February 11, in Salisbury, England.
Patients wait after receiving their Covid-19 jabs at a vaccination centre at Salisbury Cathedral on February 11, in Salisbury, England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Covid-19 infections in England have fallen by more than two-thirds in recent weeks, initial findings from a survey on community prevalence show. 

The interim findings from the ninth report of REACT-1, a study into Covid-19 infections in England, were released Thursday by Imperial College London.

More than 85,400 volunteers were tested with throat and nose swabs in England between February 4 and 13 to examine the levels of infection in the general population.

The findings show national prevalence fell by two thirds — from 1.57% to 0.51%, or 51 per 10,000 infected. This is a significant decline in infections compared to the last report from January 6 to 22. England entered its third national lockdown of the pandemic on January. 6.

“These encouraging results show that lockdown measures are effectively bringing infections down. It’s reassuring that the reduction in numbers of infections occurred in all ages and in most regions across the country,” Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said in a statement. 

The decline in prevalence was larger in some regions, in particular in London where it fell from 2.83% to 0.54% since the last report.

“In London, South East and West Midlands, prevalence fell by around 80%, although declines were smaller in the northern regions,” the Imperial report says.

Prevalence fell substantially across all age groups with highest prevalence among 18- to 24-year-olds at 0.89% and those between the ages of 5 and 12 at 0.86%, the report adds. The report concludes that although there is a " strong decline" in prevalence of coronavirus in England among the general population five to six weeks into lockdown, it still remains high — "at levels similar to those observed in late September 2020."

There are also still more people hospitalized with Covid-19 than at the peak of the first wave in April 2020.

The UK began its mass vaccination campaign in December, offering nearly all people over 70 a vaccine during January and February. It has now given more than 15 million people a first dose.

“The fall in prevalence was similar among those aged 65 years and over compared with other age groups, suggesting that if vaccines are effective at reducing transmission as well as disease, this effect is not yet a major driver of prevalence trends. Therefore, the observed falls described here are most likely due to reduced social interactions during lockdown,” the report reads.

“We do not yet know whether being vaccinated stops someone from passing the virus on to others,” England’s Department of Health added.

However, on Tuesday the UK Office for National Statistics reported almost 41% of over-80s in England tested positive for antibodies "most likely due to the high vaccination rate in this group.”