March 19 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 2:44 AM ET, Mon March 22, 2021
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1:56 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

UK variant is more deadly and contagious, Fauci says

From CNN's Nick Neville and Maggie Fox

White House
White House

One of the new coronavirus variants that’s rapidly spreading in the US is both more contagious and likely more deadly as well, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

The spread of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK means vaccination is more important than ever, as are measures such as mask use and social distancing, Fauci said during a White House briefing.

It was first spotted in Colorado at the end of December, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Since then it has been detected in 50 jurisdictions in the United States, and likely accounts now for about 20 to 30% of the infections in this country. And that number is growing."

“Of concern is that there are about 50% increase in transmission with this particular variant that has been documented in the UK and there's likely an increase in severity of disease if infected with this variant,” added Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden.

“In a couple of UK studies, this one looking at over 54,000 matched pairs of participants in the UK in which one person was infected with the B.1.1.7 and another one with the previously circulating variant, there was a 64% increased risk of death for those with the B.1.1.7,” Fauci told the briefing. He showed a second study that indicated a 61% higher risk of death with B.1.1.7.

But vaccines appear to protect well against B.1.1.7 and treatments such as monoclonal antibodies also appear to work against this particular variant, Fauci noted.

“The way we can counter 1.1.7, which is a growing threat in our country, is to do two things: To get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with the vaccine that we know works against this variant and, finally, to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time and that was on Dr. [Rochelle] Walensky's slide — masking, physical distancing, and avoiding congregant settings, particularly indoors,” he said.
1:39 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

CDC director: Teachers unions have been "very respectful" of science behind new school distancing guidance

From CNN's DJ Judd and Kaitlan Collins

White House
White House

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN Friday that teachers’ unions have been “very respectful” of the CDC’s commitment to following science in rolling out new distancing guidance at schools.

Earlier today she announced that low levels of in-school coronavirus transmission in three states helped persuade the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lower its distancing guidelines for many schools from 6 feet to 3 feet. 

“First, let me just acknowledge what the teachers have had to do this year and the context of Covid-19 and how they have had to evolve their thinking and their curricula, and how they teach their students in through in truly an overwhelming and challenging time,” Walensky told CNN Friday. “I've spoken to the teachers' unions — they know that we need to follow the science and to make our guidance based on that science, and they've been very respectful of that.”

In a statement, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, expressed concern over the new guidance, writing, "We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not detract from the larger long-term needs of students.”

1:30 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Here's a look at the latest US vaccination figures

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients outlined today some key updates from the administration’s efforts to vaccinate Americans.

 Here's a breakdown of the figures:

  • 100 million shots have been administered in 58 days.
  • 22 million doses have been sent out to states, tribes and territories, and through the federal channels, including pharmacies and community health centers this week – over 2.5 times the weekly supply that was being distributed when President Biden took office.
  • Nearly 6,000 federal personnel have been deployed to serve as vaccinators and support vaccinations, including over 2,000 active duty troops – that will grow to more than 6,000 active-duty troops in the coming weeks.
  • More than 600 community vaccination sites receiving federal support are administering more than 1 million shots, over 60% of which administered to minority populations.
  • 14,000 pharmacies are participating in the federal pharmacy vaccination program – Biden has committed to doubling the program.
  • More than 500 mobile vaccination clinics have been set up to meet people where they are.
  • 250 community health centers are receiving vaccines directly, with an additional 700 centers expected by the end of April.
  • 2.5 million shots have been administered per day, per the current seven-day average.
  • 2 out of 3 adults age 65 and older have gotten at least their first shot.
1:21 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Biden administration surpasses goal of 100 million vaccine doses, Covid response team announces

From CNN's DJ Judd

The Biden administration officially hit 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered Friday under their watch, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients announced.

“I want to start with the important announcement the President made yesterday —we reached our 100 million shots goal in just 58 days, weeks ahead of schedule,” Zients announced Friday during a virtual briefing from the Ryan Health Center in New York. “Achieving this goal is a direct result of deliberate aggressive actions guided by the President's whole of government national strategy to end the pandemic. Now, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we will have the resources to fully implement the strategy and put the pandemic behind us.”

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 115,730,008 total vaccine doses have been administered to date — 75,495,716 Americans have received at least one dose, while 40,981,464 have been fully vaccinated.

2:12 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

US will send around 4 million of its AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses to Canada and Mexico

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients
White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients White House

The US will loan a portion of its releasable AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to Mexico and Canada, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients officially announced on Friday.

The US will be loaning around 4 million doses to the two countries as the US waits for official usage approval of the vaccine in the US, Zients said. CNN has previously reported Mexico will be receiving approximately 2.5 million doses, with 1.5 million going to Canada.

“Right now we have three effective vaccines that went through a rigorous review process authorized by the FDA. We have other vaccines going through that process now, including one from AstraZeneca. As we await the results of these trials here in the US, many countries have already approved AstraZeneca, but need more supply. That includes Canada and Mexico,” Zients said during Friday’s Covid briefing. 

He continued, “So balancing the need to let the approval process of the AstraZeneca vaccine take place here in the US, with the importance of helping to stop the spread in other countries, we will loan a portion of our releasable AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada.”

The loan, Zients said, will allow US neighbors “to meet a critical vaccination need in their countries, providing more protection immediately across the North American continent.”

Zients clarified that those doses will not be taken from Americans since this vaccine is still not authorized for emergency use in the US. 

“No American will be without a vaccine because of this action,” he said of the move. 

Zients was pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to clarify how the loan process would work. He suggested it would follow “the structure of a loan” and the doses would be returned through AstraZeneca later in 2021.

“The structure of a loan, that's what makes most sense. And given what we're balancing here, which is helping our global partners while they have a critical need, and we await the results of the clinical trials here in the US and FDA action on AstraZeneca in the next several weeks,” Zients said.

He continued, “So this arrangement helps Canada and Mexico, in the moment, meet that critical need while ensuring that they return those doses through the company — through AstraZeneca — later in the year.”

12:31 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

WHO committee says there is no evidence AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

A medical worker prepares an AstraZeneca vaccine in Turin, Italy, on March 19.
A medical worker prepares an AstraZeneca vaccine in Turin, Italy, on March 19. Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

Current available data does not indicate that recent reported blood clots following the administration of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are connected to the vaccine, the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said Friday.

The committee concluded that data “do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines.”

The committee noted that people naturally develop blood clots, and Covid-19 infection can also cause them. It said observed rates of these events have actually been lower than expected. Just because someone suffers a blood clot and was also recently vaccinated does not mean the vaccine caused the clot, the committee said.

“A causal relationship between these rare events has not been established at this time,” said the committee.

The committee says it will continue to review vaccination data and update guidance as necessary. It said health authorities should continue to keep careful watch.

12:25 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Biden says administration is on pace to administer 200 million Covid-19 vaccines by his 100th day in office

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

President Biden said on Friday that his administration may be able to double its previous goal of getting 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses into the arms of Americans by his 100th day in office, a day after he announced that his administration had reached the 100 million goal less than 60 days since being sworn in.

“We hope we can keep the pace, about 2 and a half million a day, which would mean that you may be able to get to – may be able to double it,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House. “But we’ve met the goal and we’re continuing to move forward.”

The US seven-day average crossed the 2.5 million mark yesterday, which would get the country to more than 205 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by day 100 of Biden's presidency.

12:24 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Finland pauses AstraZeneca vaccinations for a week

From CNN's Chloe Adams

Finland has suspended use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for at least one week, a spokesperson for the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare told CNN Friday, despite assertions from the European Union's medicines regulator that the vaccine is safe. 

According to the spokesperson, administration of the vaccine — developed by AstraZeneca in conjunction with the University of Oxford — will be paused in order to allow for further investigations to be carried out into potential side effects of the vaccine.

The decision comes just a day after the European Medicines Agency [EMA] announced its conclusion on an emergency investigation into the risks associated with the vaccine, recommending Thursday that the vaccine is “safe and effective” in preventing coronavirus and “not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots.” 

Following a series of temporary suspensions across Europe, several countries have now announced plans to resume AstraZeneca vaccinations in light of the EMA’s conclusion, including France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

12:08 p.m. ET, March 19, 2021

CDC updates physical distancing guidelines for students in schools from 6 feet to 3  

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

First grade students practice social distancing at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Washington, on February 18.
First grade students practice social distancing at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Washington, on February 18. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools from six feet to three feet.

The CDC has previously said schools should try to maintain at least six feet of distance between children, but in light of new data, the agency is now recommending students generally maintain at least three feet of distance.

On Friday, the agency is releasing three new studies it says support distancing of three feet between students, so long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place.

Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in Covid-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated three feet of physical distance compared to six feet, as long as everyone wore masks.

At times when it’s not possible to accommodate masks, such as when eating, the CDC said six feet of distance should be maintained. 

The agency recommends keeping student and teachers in distinct groups, or cohorts, throughout the day and maintaining six feet of distance between those groups, when possible. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is high, CDC advises students to stay six feet apart, if cohorting is not possible. 

The CDC also recommends six feet of distance in common areas, like lobbies and auditoriums, and during activities like singing, shouting, band or sport practices. They say it’s better to move those kinds of activities, where increased exhalation occurs, outdoors or to well-ventilated spaces. 

In classrooms, the CDC says layout changes, like removing nonessential furniture and facing desks in the same direction, can help maximize distance between students. On school buses, the agency recommends seating students one child per row, skipping rows and opening windows to increase ventilation. 

What about adults? When it comes to adults, including teachers and staff, the agency says it's better to stick to six feet of distance, both with other adults and with children.

“Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools,” the agency notes. CDC advises limiting interaction among teachers and staff during meetings and breaks. 

The CDC says screening testing can provide additional protection for sports and in schools that use less than six feet of distancing between students in classrooms.