March 16 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, CNN

Updated 3:19 AM ET, Wed March 17, 2021
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7:08 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Officials investigating whether a new Covid-19 variant is linked to a Kentucky nursing home

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Gov. Andy Beshear
Gov. Andy Beshear Kentucky Governor's office

Kentucky is investigating whether cases impacting a nursing home facility are linked to a new variant that has not been previously identified, Gov. Andy Beshear said, adding that people should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“What we do know, is that it is not one of the common variants, the ones we associate with the United Kingdom [B.1.1.7] or South Africa [B.1.351] or Brazil [P.1], but it is a cluster, and it looks like it's the same infection in a group of these individuals,” Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said. “And so, what we'll do is genetically sequence all of these, map it out, and compare it against the larger database that the sequencing labs report to, and then see if we can find any patterns or any lessons we need to learn here.”

The state is presently aware of 41 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 at the nursing home facility, the health commissioner said. It appears that an unvaccinated person brought Covid-19 into the nursing facility, where 85% of residents and 48% of health care staff were vaccinated, Stack said.

Of the 41 persons infected, 27 are residents and 14 are health care workers. Notably, of the 41 infected persons, 30% of the vaccinated individuals have been symptomatic, while 83% of the unvaccinated people have been symptomatic, Stack added.

Five of the infected residents have been admitted to the hospital, four of whom are unvaccinated, according to the health commissioner.

“The more people who get infected, the more opportunity it has to mutate, and then eventually find combinations that help it to be more dangerous. So, the good news is that the vaccines appear to be doing their job in protecting people,” Stack added.

7:06 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Half of Brazilian states implement curfews and other restrictions to curb Covid surge

From CNN's Rodrigo Pedroso

Governors of the hardest hit regions of Brazil are adopting curfews at night and more restrictive measures to try to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections – without the backing of the federal government. The country has been reporting a record-high number of virus deaths.

Fourteen of the 26 Brazilian states plus the Federal District are under curfew. Generally they are in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. The majority of them were enforced in the last week. 

In addition, 18 state governments announced more restrictive measures over the last five days. The restrictions were aimed at what is considered non-essential activities – gyms, parks, shops, shopping malls, churches and schools. 

Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, the three wealthiest states of Brazil, all adopted measures to decrease the movement of the population. On Tuesday, Minas Gerais Gov. Romeu Zema said the state health system is overcrowded and doesn't support new patients.

"I don't want Minas Gerais to become a horror movie," Zema said.

Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso and Federal District in the Center-West region of the country, the epicenter of Brazil's agribusiness industry, and Rio Grande do Sul, in the South, are facing a collapse of their health systems since last week and had to announce curfews and restrictive measures. The same has happened at Rondonia, in the Amazon, and Parana, in the South, where health systems there are also bordering on collapse. 

With the absence of federal coordination, the Brazilian national association of governors sent a letter to the country's health ministry on Sunday requesting the adoption of lockdown measures nationwide. The governors called, among other measures, for the implementation of restrictions on the operation of airports, ports, highways, and railways in the country.

The latest numbers: Brazil had a record high number of deaths on Tuesday with at least 2,841 deaths, according to the health ministry. Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul states presented the highest number of deaths on their territory since the beginning of the pandemic.

6:42 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

More House staff expected to have access to vaccines

From CNN's Lauren Fox

In an email to House offices provided to CNN by a source, House administration informed staff they are “expecting” more guidance from the Capitol physician later today that would allow for more member and committee staff to get vaccinated. 

The email made clear that the expectation is that there still won’t be enough doses of vaccines for every staffer on the hill. 

The expectation is that a certain number of vaccines will become available to each office like the last time. 

6:31 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

The church can play a leading role in increasing vaccine confidence, NIH director tells faith leaders

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

The church can play a leading role in increasing Covid-19 vaccine confidence by encouraging followers to get vaccinated, Dr. Francis Collins, director of National Institutes of Health, said Tuesday. 

Collins spoke at the Washington National Cathedral, where faith leaders gathered to help bolster Covid-19 vaccine confidence. 

“The vaccines have in many ways for many people been an answer to prayer,” he said. “They are safe and effective, beyond what we had a right to expect."

“Unfortunately, many who could most benefit, because they are at highest risk of serious and even life-threatening infections, are still holding back," Collins added.

He said getting vaccinated is a “love your neighbor opportunity.”   

“Today, all of you are putting hope into action,” he said. “Hope for an end to the terrible suffering and loss of life from Covid-19, hope for an end to the economic devastation it has caused, hope that the vaccine can not only protect you, but also – if we do this together – your family, your friends, your community, your nation, your whole world.” 

6:15 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Kentucky will start vaccinating inmates age 70 and older this week

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Kentucky Governor's office
Kentucky Governor's office

The Kentucky Department of Corrections is expected to begin vaccinating inmates age 70 and older on Thursday at Little Sandy Correctional Complex, J. Michael Brown, secretary of the Executive Cabinet, announced today.

All 14 of Kentucky’s correctional institutions have now been enrolled as a vaccine distribution point and are going to be targeted for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as the state receives supplies, he said.  

“Which means we'll be able to start vaccinating inmates at all 14 of our institutions with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it becomes available. That's going to be a significant game changer, just as it is for the rest of our population,” Brown added.

“We do have a serious Covid-19 outbreak at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. But 11 of 14 state correctional institutions have zero active inmate cases,” he said. “There is hope on the way.”

5:59 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

New Covid-19 cases are at least 10% higher in some states, but still down in US overall

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

In 15 states, new Covid-19 cases reported over the past seven days are at least 10% higher than a week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In two of those states – Minnesota and Michigan – cases are more than 40% higher than they were a week ago. 

New Covid-19 cases are still trending down in the United States overall, and weekly case counts in these 15 states haven’t been increasing for long. The seven-day average of new cases has only been higher than the week before for seven days or less in each of those states, except for Michigan, a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

Typically, experts say that more sustained data – at least a couple weeks – is needed to identify a trend. But as newer, more contagious variants become more prevalent in the US, catching early warning signs may be key to limiting continued spread. 

CNN has reported the Biden administration is closely monitoring data and investing resources to prevent and prepare for a fourth surge.

There is no clear link between case growth and variant prevalence in states. Despite having the largest number of coronavirus variants recorded by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has seen a 16% drop in cases compared to last week. However, the US notably lags in genetic sequencing and only tests a very small portion of samples for the presence of coronavirus variants.

6:07 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Florida governor makes recommendations for how state should spend federal stimulus money 

From CNN's Pamela Kirkland

The Florida Channel
The Florida Channel

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new round of budget recommendations on Tuesday outlining how the state should spend the latest round of federal relief funds. 

During a news conference in Tallahassee, DeSantis recommended a one-time $1,000 bonus be paid to every first responder in the state for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the $208 million to first responders, the recommendations include giving the state’s unemployment CONNECT system $73.2 million, and $50 million for infrastructure. 

The governor also announced an additional $50 million dollars to boost Florida’s tourism industry.

“I think that with the advent of these vaccines, you’re already seeing people feel really good about traveling again about doing some of this stuff. There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” DeSantis said. “We obviously want Florida to be the beneficiary of that when people start getting back into the mix on enjoying themselves, on traveling.”

He said the state is expecting to receive between $9 to $10 billion from the federal government, but the governor is only proposing to spend $4.1 billion. Those recommendations will be sent to the Florida statehouse.

He also complained that the state is getting less money in stimulus spending than “blue states.”

“All in all, we're getting the short end of the stick, make no mistake about it, but we'll be getting the job done for the people of Florida," he said.

6:04 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Everyone 16 and older will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine starting April 1 in Montana

From CNN's Jennifer Selva

Paramedic Alex Baukus administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at the Park County Health Department COVID-19 vaccination clinic for seniors 80 years and older on January 28, in Livingston, Montana.
Paramedic Alex Baukus administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at the Park County Health Department COVID-19 vaccination clinic for seniors 80 years and older on January 28, in Livingston, Montana. William Campbell/Getty Images/FILE

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that all Montanans 16 years of age and older will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine on April 1. 

The governor made the announcement during an afternoon news conference, pointing out that projections a month ago showed availability to this group being as late as mid-July.

“This week nationwide we will receive about 16 million doses, and in the first week of April that supply will increase to about 22 million doses per week,” Gianforte said. “So we have greater supply, that’s whey we’re expanding distribution and making the vaccine available to all Montanans.” 

As of Tuesday morning the state had administered 367,000 doses, with more than 142,000 Montanans fully immunized.

5:57 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021

UK adviser says Europe's "abundance of caution" on AstraZeneca vaccine is "very dangerous"

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton

European countries are only looking at the narrow question of where to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine right now and aren’t considering the wider dangers associated with the decision, Dr. Peter Openshaw, an adviser to the UK government on pandemic viruses, told CNN.

“They haven't been asked to address the wider issue of what this is going to do to vaccine competence or vaccine rollout or whether it might cause thousands of people to die from Covid. I think on the wider question, I think this abundance of caution is actually very dangerous indeed,” said Openshaw, professor of medicine at Imperial College London.

Some context: At least 16 European countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and three more have suspended use of certain batches of the vaccine. 

Regulators including the European Medicines Agency (EMA) say there is no known link between the vaccine and blood clots, and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

WHO is expected to make a statement on the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as Tuesday. EMA is due to make a statement on Thursday.