The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, CNN

Updated 8:11 PM ET, Wed March 17, 2021
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1:41 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

Older children have highest Covid-19 test positivity rate in most states, according to CNN analysis

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

In at least 34 states, Covid-19 test positivity rates are higher among older children between the ages of 12 and 17 than any other age group, according to a CNN analysis of the latest Covid-19 Community Profile Report published by the federal government.

On average, test positivity rates among the 12-17 age group were more than double state rates over the past week, the federal data shows. Three states did not have test positivity data by age group available.

Test positivity rates can give an indication of how widespread infection is and how it is spreading, but only if testing is broadly accessible and utilized. Among children, some say that fewer tests focused on symptomatic cases and known exposure may have driven higher positivity rates.

“Since the testing is so targeted, it stands to reason a higher proportion of the tests would be positive,” Zachary Clark, public information officer for the Idaho’s health department told CNN. 

In Idaho, the test positivity rate for the 12-17 age group was nearly 12% over the past week, the fifth highest in the country and about 60% higher than the state’s overall positivity rate of about 7%. The health department is working with the education department, school board association and governor to implement CDC guidance, he said.  

The federal Covid-19 Community Profile Report does not publish the number of tests reported by age group, and the US Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to CNN’s request for more information. 

However, HHS on Wednesday announced a $10 billion initiative to implement Covid-19 surveillance testing in schools across the country and upcoming guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on appropriate use of surveillance testing in schools and other communal settings. 

Last week, Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for Arkansas’s health department, told CNN that they have “no plans at this time to require routine, regular testing as screening of school kids,” despite a positivity rate among the 12-17 age group that was more than double the state rate.

However, many experts are supportive of more testing among children.

Schools should “absolutely” be testing more to help reduce community spread, says Gigi Gronvall, an immunologist and senior scholar with Johns Hopkins University.

“Lots of people thought it would be too much of a burden for children to do the self-swabbing, but children are resilient and able to learn,” she said.

In Colorado, rapid tests are already distributed to teachers, staff and select students. And some school districts encourage students and their families to test weekly through state-funded community sites, Brian Spencer, a spokesperson for the Colorado State Joint Information Center, told CNN.

But “testing isn’t going to be the only way out of here,” Gronvall says. “It needs to be testing plus masking plus improved air quality plus vaccination strategies.”

She says she hopes building a healthier infrastructure in schools is something that evolves past Covid-19. 

 “A holistic approach to reduce disease transmission in schools will make it a healthier environment for kids and help them learn better.”

 

1:15 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

It's unclear when US will hit herd immunity, Fauci says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

It’s not entirely clear when the United States will hit herd immunity against coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both pushed back against questions about herd immunity, saying much depended on how quickly Americans take vaccines. 

It’s also not clear when children can and will be vaccinated, said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Let’s just keep pushing to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can. And as we do that, you will see the type of infection, the dynamics of the outbreak, get less and less and less, so whatever that time is – middle of the summer, end of the summer, early fall, we’ll be much, much better off than we are now,” Fauci told a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

1:18 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

NIH director says it seems unlikely AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine causes clots

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

A nurse administers the AstraZeneca vaccine to a patient in Melbourne on Wednesday.
A nurse administers the AstraZeneca vaccine to a patient in Melbourne on Wednesday. Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on Wednesday that is seems “fairly unlikely” that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is causing blood clots, and that he was surprised that so many countries have paused administration of the vaccine.

“Everything that I have heard so far – but we’re waiting for the European Medicines Agency report tomorrow – would indicate that this is one of those things where clotting is a fairly common medical problem and you have 17 million people getting a vaccine, some of them are going to have various medical problems just because that was going to happen to them anyway,” Collins told CNN on Wednesday.

“To try to draw a cause and effect would require much stronger evidence than some coincidences of those experiences, but let’s see what the data looks like," he added.

Collins said the that US Food and Drug Administration will look “with great care and stringency” at AstraZeneca trial results from the US. The information will start to be revealed soon, he said, and that the company will put in a request for emergency use authorization. 

Collins said he was “a bit surprised” that so many countries have decided to pause the rollout of the vaccine, “especially at a time where the disease itself is so incredibly threatening in most of those countries.”  

However, he added that he didn’t have access to any of the primary data that may have caused alarm in those countries.

 

12:55 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

Lambeau Field opens as Covid-19 vaccination site in Wisconsin

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers toured the newly opened Covid-19 community vaccination site at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, which he says has the capacity to vaccinate 6,000 to 10,000 people a week, depending on supply.

The governor said the state is heading in the right direction with vaccinations, saying, “We've put over 2 million shots in people's arms. We have more than 1.25 million people who have received the first dose and more than 700,000 people in the state of Wisconsin have been vaccinated twice.”

Lambeau Field is now one of 17 NFL facilities being used as a vaccination site, Green Bay Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said.

“It's been a challenging year for all of us and we all want this pandemic to end for so many reasons. And the Packers and everybody here at Lambeau Field, we're just so proud to be part of providing our atrium as a vaccination site and doing what we can to help bring an end to this pandemic,” Murphy said.
3:05 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

Approximately 90 million stimulus checks have been disbursed

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Approximately 90 million stimulus checks have been disbursed to Americans, the Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service announced Wednesday, totaling over $242 billion in payments. 

The payments of up to $1,400 per person began processing on Friday after President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill into law last Thursday, with direct deposits beginning over the weekend. 

“The first batch of payments were mostly sent by direct deposit, which some recipients started receiving this past weekend. As of today, all recipients of this first batch of direct deposit payments will have access to their funds,” the Department of Treasury said in a statement with the IRS. 

This first batch, the statement said, “primarily went to eligible taxpayers who provided direct deposit information on their 2019 or 2020 returns, including people who don’t typically file a return but who successfully used the Non-Filers tool on IRS.gov last year.” 

The first batch of payments also included approximately 150,000 mailed paper checks totaling approximately $442 million, the statement said. 

Additional batches will be sent in the coming weeks, a majority via direct deposit, but also through checks and debit cards. 

Families will receive an additional $1,400 per dependent, so a couple with two children could receive up to $5,600. Unlike prior rounds, families will now receive the additional money for adult dependents over the age of 17. 

The full amount goes to individuals earning less than $75,000 of adjusted gross income, heads of households (like single parents) earning less than $112,500 and married couples earning less than $150,000. But then the payments gradually phase out as income goes up.

Americans can now track the status of their payments via a “Get May Payment” tool on IRS.gov.

1:04 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

NIH director says he's "surprised" so many countries paused AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, speaks at an event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, speaks at an event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said he’s “surprised” at the number of countries temporarily halting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout.

“I was a bit surprised that so many countries decided to put pause on the administration of the vaccine, especially at a time where the disease itself is so incredibly threatening in most of those countries,” Collins said to CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

The European Medical Authority has said there's "no indication" that the vaccine has caused blood clots. The EMA's safety committee is investigating whether there is any possible link between the vaccine and a small number of blood clots in vaccinated people. It is slated to release its findings on Thursday.

“It seems at the present time fairly unlikely that this is something that has been in any way caused by the vaccines,” Collins said, adding that he doesn’t have access to the data that might have caused alarm. 

The US Food and Drug Administration will look at the vaccine with “great care and stringency,” he said. 

Collins also said he is surprised by overall vaccine hesitancy, despite vaccines with “amazing characteristics.” 

“There's all this overlay — and some of it is politics, and some of it’s social media conspiracy theories, and some of it is distrust of anything the government had anything to do with. We have a long way to go yet to overcome that. And I'm kind of a little astounded as well that we haven't gotten further in overcoming that hesitancy,” he said. 

Watch:

12:07 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

US Health Department announces $10 billion to expand coronavirus testing in schools

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

The US Department of Health and Human Services is funneling $10 billion to states to help implement coronavirus surveillance testing in K-12 schools across the country, the agency announced Wednesday. It's part of the Biden administration's push to help schools reopen safely for in-person learning.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also releasing new guidance on the appropriate use of surveillance testing in schools and other communal settings, HHS announced.

The agency said the funds, which were approved as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law, "will be able to be deployed quickly" and will help schools test teachers, students and staff who were exposed to the virus and help identify asymptomatic cases of the virus to prevent the virus from spreading further in schools.

"Covid-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity," the agency's acting Secretary Norris Cochran said in a statement. "As part of the Biden administration's national strategy, HHS will continue to expand our capacity to get testing to the individuals and the places that need it most, so we can prevent transmission of the virus and defeat the pandemic."

President Biden has set a goal of reopening a majority of schools in the US for in-person learning within his first 100 days in office.

Earlier this month, Biden urged states to prioritize teachers and school staff to get at least one shot by the end of March and used his authority to prioritize teacher vaccinations through the federal supply of vaccines to pharmacies.

The CDC will also spend an additional $2.25 billion to boost testing and other mitigation measures in underserved populations, which will include grants to public health departments and funding to improve data collection efforts.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan delivered a windfall for coronavirus testing efforts in the US, dedicating a total of $47.8 billion.

Biden's efforts to reopen schools have moved ahead in fits and starts over the last month, amid messaging stumbles, pressure from Republicans to move faster and feuds between some teachers unions and school districts across the country.

12:06 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

UK health officials say more than 25 million people have received first dose of coronavirus vaccine

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Pharmacist Ellie Morton prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccination center in London on Friday.
Pharmacist Ellie Morton prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccination center in London on Friday. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

More than 25 million people in the United Kingdom have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said Wednesday in a statement, adding that almost half of all adults across the country have now received the jab. 

“Figures out today show the UK health services vaccinated a total of 25,273,226 people between 8 December and 16 March with first doses of the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, while 1,759,445 people have had their second dose,” the DHSC said in a statement. 

“This means almost half of the adult population (26.5 million) have already been vaccinated and will soon develop strong protection from serious illness, saving countless lives and significantly reducing pressure on the NHS,” the statement added. 

According to data from the Department of Health and Social Care, nine in ten clinically extremely vulnerable people in the UK have also now received their first dose of the vaccine. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that the latest data marks an “incredible achievement” for the country’s vaccination rollout campaign, describing the milestone as “25 million reasons to be confident for the future” as the government prepares to ease restrictions.  

“Thank you once again to the brilliant NHS, scientists, armed forces, volunteers, and all those who’ve helped our rollout,” Johnson added. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has said that the vaccine rollout is “continuing at fast pace,” adding that the UK is “on track to achieve the Prime Minister’s target of offering the first dose of the vaccine to all over-50s by 15 April, as well as all adults by the end of July.” 

Projections from the DHSC show that the UK expects to have vaccinated 26.5 million people — half of all UK adults — by the end of this week. 

“The vaccination programme will continue to expand over the coming weeks and more people will receive their second doses,” UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said in a statement.  

“This is an incredible milestone and moves us one step closer to safely seeing our friends and family again,” he added. 

12:04 p.m. ET, March 17, 2021

Disneyland plans to reopen on April 30

From CNN's Frank Pallotta,

Jae C. Hong/AP
Jae C. Hong/AP

It's been a long year for Disneyland fans, but "The Happiest Place On Earth" is finally set to reopen its doors.

The Disney resort, which houses Disneyland and its sister theme park California Adventure, plans to reopen with limited capacity on April 30, the company announced Wednesday.

Disneyland, the company's flagship theme park located in Anaheim, California, has been closed more than a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The day all of us have long been waiting for is almost here," Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, said in a statement Wednesday. "We're excited to have more than 10,000 cast members returning to work as we get ready to welcome our guests back to this happy place."