March 2 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Brett McKeehan, Rob Picheta, Kareem Khadder and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 2:11 AM ET, Wed March 3, 2021
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5:44 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

The pandemic has pushed more than 200 US casinos to go 'smoke free'

From CNN’s Christopher Rios

An employee wears a protective mask and face shield while overseeing the craps table at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in July 2020.
An employee wears a protective mask and face shield while overseeing the craps table at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in July 2020. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images

More than 200 commercial and tribal casinos -- including every casino in New Jersey -- reopened their doors as 'smoke free' on Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, this kind of public health momentum in casinos would not have been possible, Brian King of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health said during the CDC’s weekly partner call.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in smoke-free casino adoption, which is certainly a silver lining in the context of the pandemic,” King said.

All casinos in New Jersey, which includes Atlantic City, have adopted smoke-free policies, King said.

“Seeing that implementation of a broad public health policy in this environment at the state level of a major hub for gambling and casinos is very important,” King said. “It’s definitely a public health win and shows an added benefit of not only protecting workers but also patrons.”

The benefits of smoke-free policies go beyond reducing secondhand smoke exposure, which has been shown to increase risk of stroke, lung cancer and heart attack in adults. Smoke-free policies also encourage more people to stop smoking and keep people from starting at all, King said. 

The question remains if these casinos will remain smoke-free when other restrictions ease and more people become vaccinated. 

“If all these casinos remain smoke free even post Covid-19, this could have an immeasurable in terms of not only protecting the public who attend these venues, but also workers who are working eight hours or more per day in these environments,” King added. 

5:22 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines cut risk of hospitalization by 80% in over 80s, real-world data shows 

From CNN's Meera Senthilingam

A doctor prepares a dose of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine at a vaccination unit in London on February 28.
A doctor prepares a dose of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine at a vaccination unit in London on February 28. Hollie Adams/Getty Images

A single dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines reduces the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 by more than 80% in people aged over 80, new data from Public Health England (PHE) shows.

The effect was seen three to four weeks after vaccination.

People aged over 70 were also shown to have up to 61% protection against symptomatic disease from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and up to 73% from the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine.

"This adds to growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives," Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at PHE, said in a press release. 

During a press conference on Monday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the real-world data, highlighting that the UK’s daily number of deaths is decreasing "much faster" than in the first peak, and it’s “falling faster in the over 80s who got the jab first than in the under 80s.”

The UK has administered Covid-19 shots to more than 20 million people, with campaigns first targeting the over-80s who are most vulnerable to the disease. 

The new data supports the country’s decision to use both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines at a time when other countries in Europe showed concern about using the AstraZeneca shot in older people.

"These findings are particularly welcome news due to the age range of the participants who were all aged 70 and over," said Deborah Dunn-Walters, chair of the British Society for Immunology COVID-19 and Immunology Taskforce, and Professor of Immunology at the University of Surrey.  

"Previous clinical trials for both vaccines have not included many individuals from this age range. This is important because as we get older, our immune systems don’t function as well as they did when we were younger, meaning that older people sometimes produce lower immune responses to vaccination," she said.

"The fact that vaccination is effective in significantly reducing symptomatic cases, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 in this older age group is really positive news," Dunn-Walters added.
"Although more research is needed, this study also provides further reassurance around the UK’s decision to offer the two doses of the vaccine 12 weeks apart."

But Ramsay stressed the need for people to stay vigilant with measures such as social distancing and hand washing.

"It is important to remember that protection is not complete and we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 onto others," she said.

Data released last week by PHE from studies in health workers found that one dose of the vaccine prevented people from catching asymptomatic Covid-19 by at least 70%, which suggests the vaccines may help to reduce the spread of infection, but more data is needed.

The UK is increasing the rate of second doses being administered, with just over 800,000 now inoculated with both shots.

3:23 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

China aims to have more than half a billion of its citizens vaccinated by the end of June

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

A nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hong Kong, on February 26.
A nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hong Kong, on February 26. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Getty Images

China plans to inoculate 40% of its population with Covid-19 vaccines by the end of June, respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan has revealed.   

“Today I asked my CDC friends about China’s (vaccination) plan and they replied that (China is) planning to reach 40% by the end of June," said Zhong on Monday at a panel hosted by Tsinghua University and the Brookings Institution.

With a population of 1.4 billion, 40% represents about 548 million people. China has only vaccinated 3.56% of its population — roughly 51 million people — so far, Zhong said.

He added that it could take at least three years to reach any kind of herd immunity.

However, Wu Zunyou of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention said if existing vaccination rates continue, China and the US could be the first countries to open up travel.

“In the United States, [let’s] look at the vaccination rate," Wu said, speaking at the same event. "Now it's already reached over 20%. Hopefully it can reach over 80% by June. So by August could reach 90 % to reach the herd immunity.
"So if that’s the case, if we could remove all the political barrier [and] just based on the science, the two countries could possibly be the first two countries to remove all the barrier for free travel. We can try our best. No matter what’s the result, we could do our best.”
2:06 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent Covid-19, WHO says 

From CNN’s Christopher Rios

A bottle of hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020.
A bottle of hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. George Frey/AFP/Getty Images

A panel of World Health Organization experts has strongly advised against using hydroxychloroquine to prevent Covid-19 after reviewing all existing studies on the subject. 

The panel announced the recommendation in the BMJ medical journal on Monday, as part of the first version of WHO’s living guideline for drugs to prevent Covid-19. 

The panel concluded with high certainty that taking hydroxychloroquine does not prevent hospitalization or death from Covid-19. The panel also recommended that researchers studying hydroxychloroquine as means of Covid-19 prevention — also known as prophylaxis — consider ending their trials. 

Trump's claims: Hydroxychloroquine is typically used to treat autoimmune diseases and to prevent malaria, but early in the pandemic it was touted by former US President Donald Trump as a “game-changer,” prompting a flurry of clinical trials and a bump in sales of the pills. But many studies later showed the drug was not helpful in treating coronavirus patients and also did nothing to prevent infection.

The panel’s recommendation is based on six studies that included more than 6,000 participants. Three of the trials included volunteers who had a known exposure to Covid-19. 

“The panel felt that further research was unlikely to uncover a subgroup of patients who benefited from hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis on the most important outcomes (mortality, admissions to hospital) given the consistent results of the trials completed to date,” the researchers wrote.  

Emergency use: The US Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for use of the drug against coronavirus last year, and the National Institutes of Health stopped its research.

2:00 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Key things to know about the first single-dose Covid-19 vaccine authorized for use in the US

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

An employee with the McKesson Corporation packs a box of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines for shipping in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, on March 1.
An employee with the McKesson Corporation packs a box of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines for shipping in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, on March 1. Timothy D. Easley/Pool/Getty Images

The first single-dose Covid-19 vaccine has been authorized for use in the United States after advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously voted to recommend the Johnson & Johnson shot for Americans 18 and older.

Distribution of the vaccine began Sunday night, right after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky officially rubber-stamped the authorization.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a bit different than the two already in use in the US. Most importantly, it only requires one dose and is easier to handle, because it can be kept at simple refrigerator temperatures for up to three months. That makes its rollout a lot easier compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The technology is different too. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a brand-new technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA. They deliver genetic material directly into cells, which then follow the genetic instructions to make tiny pieces that look like a part of the coronavirus.

Those little proteins stimulate an immune response, generating antibodies and immune cells that "remember" what they look like and that will be ready to respond quickly in case of a fresh attack.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses viral vector technology. A common cold virus called adenovirus 26 is genetically engineered so it can infect cells, but won't replicate there. It cannot spread in the body, and won't give people a cold. Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it delivers genetic instructions.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown efficacy of 72% in the US and offered 86% protection against severe forms of the disease in the country. Moderna's and Pfizer efficacy rate in clinical trials was 94% to 95%.

A version of this story appeared in the March 1 edition of CNN's Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.

1:51 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

CDC director issues stark warning to Americans about Covid-19 variants

From CNN's Holly Yan and Christina Maxouris

Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The US risks losing its recent gains in the battle against Covid-19 as highly contagious variants take advantage of Americans getting lax with safety measures.

"Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After weeks of tumbling case numbers, new infections are on the rise again — about 2% more this past week compared to the previous week, Walensky said Monday.

"Similarly, the most recent seven-day average of deaths has also increased more than 2% ... to nearly 2,000 deaths per day," she added.

Walensky also called out states easing up on Covid-19 safety mandates.

"I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19," she said.

"Please stay strong in your conviction. Continue wearing your well-fitting mask and taking the other public health prevention actions that we know work.

"Ultimately, vaccination is what will bring us out of this pandemic. To get there, we need to vaccinate many more people."