May 21 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 7:56 p.m. ET, May 21, 2021
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1:33 p.m. ET, May 21, 2021

School Covid-19 testing programs can preserve in-person learning days and extracurriculars, CDC study finds

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

School-based programs to test for Covid-19 in students could preserve in-person instruction and help extracurriculars continue, according to a study published Friday in the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

The report from researchers in Utah detailed two state programs, called Test To Play and Test to Stay. Under Test to Play, students were tested for Covid-19 every 14 days in order to be allowed to continue extracurriculars. In Test to Stay, school-wide testing was implemented in response to outbreaks, as opposed to a switch to remote instruction. 

Both programs were facilitated by the Utah Department of Health. Over half of Utah’s high schools participated in Test to Play, while 13 schools used Test to Stay. 

Over the course of the study, 59,552 students were tested as part of the two programs. Only 3.2% of students tested returned a positive test result. 

Researchers credited these programs with preserving 95% of planned athletic events, and for saving an estimated 109,752 days of in-person instruction among all the students tested in participating schools. 

“By identifying 1,886 cases among students, Utah’s testing programs likely helped reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools and communities through isolation of students with diagnosed infections and quarantine of contacts,” researchers said. 

Study authors suggested health departments increase community messaging efforts to encourage schools to participate in testing programs, and said Utah’s programs could serve as an example for states looking to implement similar protocols. 

2:20 p.m. ET, May 21, 2021

Go There: CNN reports from Miami as one of the largest post-pandemic US food festivals takes shape

As more and more states drop their mask mandates, one of the largest post-pandemic food festivals to come back in the US is taking place this weekend.

The South Beach Wine & Food festival expects 30,000 people to attend. Event organizers say they have numerous Covid-19 safety measures and protocols in place.

CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago reports from Miami and answers viewers' questions.

Watch: 

1:38 p.m. ET, May 21, 2021

Covid-19 cases in elementary schools are 37% lower when masks are required for staff, study says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Lies Toribio teaches her kindergarten students at Bethesda Elementary in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on April 22.
Lies Toribio teaches her kindergarten students at Bethesda Elementary in Lawrenceville, Georgia, on April 22. Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS/ZUMA

Covid-19 case numbers in elementary schools appear to be 37% lower when teachers and staff are required to wear masks, and 39% when air ventilation is improved, according to new research published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings are based on data from before coronavirus vaccines became available, but until children younger than 12 are eligible for the vaccine, "universal and correct mask use is a critical prevention strategy CDC recommends that schools prioritize regardless of vaccination status for in-person learning," according to the study published on Friday.

Despite vaccinations beginning for children ages 12 to 15 and CDC’s changing mask guidance for fully vaccinated people, the agency has said schools should continue masking and using other coronavirus prevention strategies for at least the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. Given that masking reduces transmission and is easy to implement, it’s “an important COVID-19 prevention strategy in schools,” the study says.

"This study highlighted the importance of masking and ventilation for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in elementary schools and revealed important opportunities for increasing their use among schools," wrote the researchers from the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The new research included data from 169 K-through-5 schools in Georgia. The schools opened for in-person classes last fall. At that time, the Georgia Department of Health required all schools to submit weekly data on the number of Covid-19 cases among students and staff.

The researchers examined those case numbers during November 16 through December 11. They also assessed responses from an online survey that was emailed to the school superintendents, asking about the Covid-19 prevention strategies implemented within the schools at the time — including mask-wearing and air ventilation.

The researchers found that, while the incidence of Covid-19 was lower in schools that required masks, it varied depending on whether the staff or the students were required to wear masks. Schools with mask requirements for teachers and staff had a 37% lower incidence, the researchers found. Schools with mask requirements for students had a 21% lower incidence. 

"The 21% lower incidence in schools that required mask use among students was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional," the researchers wrote. "This finding might be attributed to higher effectiveness of masks among adults, who are at higher risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection but might also result from differences in mask-wearing behavior among students in schools with optional requirements."

When it came to air ventilation, the researchers found that there was a 35% lower incidence of Covid-19 when only windows and doors were left open or fans were used. But the data showed when those ventilation measures were used in combination with high-efficiency particle absorbing or HEPA filters, or other filter methods, there was a 48% lower incidence.

"In rooms that are difficult to ventilate or have an increased likelihood of being occupied by persons with COVID-19 (e.g., nurse’s office), installation of HEPA filters or UVGI should be considered," the researchers wrote. They added that only about one half — or 51.5% — of school representatives reported in the online survey that they were "sure" that ventilation was improved in their schools' classrooms.

While 18% "reported that their school implemented dilution methods in combination with filtration," the researchers wrote. "These findings suggest that there are opportunities for many schools to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission through improved ventilation."

More research is needed to determine whether similar findings may emerge in other parts of the United States and in data that are not self-reported or based on online surveys.

12:02 p.m. ET, May 21, 2021

Biden administration balances messaging on vaccinations and improving US pandemic outlook

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Odilest Guerrier, a medical assistant, administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Pasqual Cruz at a clinic on May 20 in Immokalee, Florida.
Odilest Guerrier, a medical assistant, administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Pasqual Cruz at a clinic on May 20 in Immokalee, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Biden administration wants Americans to keep forging ahead with vaccinations, a messaging balance that the nation “can’t take our foot off the accelerator” despite the pandemic’s improving outlook across the country.

“The right message, we believe, is we are seeing improvements because people, in fact, have been vaccinated. And if we continue on this path and more people get vaccinated, we can sustain the decline in cases that we’ve seen, the declining deaths and hospitalizations,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said at Friday’s White House Covid-19 briefing in response to a question from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond.

But, Murthy warned, “If we stop where we are right now, if people do not get fully vaccinated and millions more out there who still need to, then we will still be at risk potentially for more infections in the future.”

Murthy’s comments come as the US has seen sustained decreases in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In the US, the average daily pace of coronavirus vaccinations is down almost 50% from its April peak, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.

“We will continue to emphasize that we should keep moving forward with vaccinations. Do not let your guard down. But we can be encouraged and cautiously optimistic that we are absolutely heading in the right direction, and we just can't — can't take our foot off the accelerator,” Murthy said. 

White House senior Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt added that the administration has more work to do on educating Americans about vaccinations but said “many, many more people will get vaccinated.”

11:23 a.m. ET, May 21, 2021

More than 3 million excess deaths in 2020 could be attributable to Covid-19, WHO report says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

More than 3 million excess deaths in 2020 could be related to Covid-19 – over a million more deaths than what was reported globally, according to preliminary data from the World Health Organization.

“Preliminary WHO estimates suggest the total global excess deaths attributable to Covid-19, both directly and indirectly, amounts to at least 3 million in the year 2020,” according to WHO’s World Health Statistics 2021 report published Friday. “This is 1.2 million more than the reported 1.8 million global Covid-19 deaths.” 

The report says that preliminary assessments of excess mortality estimate that during 2020, there were 1.34 to 1.46 million excess deaths in the region of the Americas and 1.11 to 1.21 million in the European region. This is 60% more than the reported deaths in the Americas and double the reported deaths in the European region. 

WHO points out there are “significant data gaps” in the other regions: the African region, Eastern Mediterranean region, Southeast Asia region and the Western Pacific region, with only 16 of the 106 member states that make up these regions have enough data to calculate 2020 excess mortality empirically.

Excess deaths provide “a more accurate picture of the full impact of the pandemic as it accounts for both the total COVID-19 deaths directly attributable to the disease as well as the indirect impacts of the pandemic and responses to it, such as travel restrictions,” the report says.

The report describes the 3 million excess deaths as coming from a “tentative extrapolation of the results from the Americas Region and the European Region.” It also notes that further data collection and additional statistical modeling is needed to refine the estimate. 

9:36 a.m. ET, May 21, 2021

J&J will supply up to 200 million doses of its single-shot Covid-19 vaccine to COVAX by end of 2021

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief medical officer of Johnson & Johnson, speaks at the G20 Health Summit on May 21.
Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief medical officer of Johnson & Johnson, speaks at the G20 Health Summit on May 21. EbS+

Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief medical officer of Johnson & Johnson, said during the G20 Health Summit Friday that the company has entered an agreement with GAVI to supply up to 200 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to COVAX by the end of the year, will the possibility of more next year. 

“We strongly support the mission of COVAX and we are pleased to announce that we have entered into an agreement with GAVI with the goal to supply up to 200 million doses to COVAX by the end of 2021 and will stay in close discussion with GAVI on the potential supply of an additional 300 million doses in 2022 for a combined total of up to 500 million doses,” Stoffels said. 

The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is a single-shot vaccine. 

Stoffels described the GAVI partnership as “the single greatest step” J&J has taken to ensure its vaccine is accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Some more context: COVAX is an entity run by a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance known as Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), and is funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations.

Its mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can't compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.

9:44 a.m. ET, May 21, 2021

EU pledges to supply 1.3 billion vaccines to low and middle income countries

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stands after reviewing the honor guard during the Global Health Summit in Rome on May 21.
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stands after reviewing the honor guard during the Global Health Summit in Rome on May 21. Gregorio Borgia/AP

The European Union has pledged to supply 1.3 billion vaccines to low and middle income countries, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Friday. 

One billion will be from the two billion doses announced by BioNtech/Pfizer, 200 million from Johnson & Johnson and 100 million from Moderna, der Leyen said on Twitter. 

An initiative to boost manufacturing capacities in Africa has also been launched, she announced. 

“Together with our African partners, we will develop regional hubs across the continent, so all countries can benefit” she said.

The pledges were first announced as part of the Global Health Summit held in Rome Friday, which is co-hosted by the European Commission and Italy.

9:11 a.m. ET, May 21, 2021

Thailand reports 15 cases of Covid-19 variant first detected in India

From CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok

A healthcare worker collects a nasal swab at a mobile Covid-19 testing center in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, May 20.
A healthcare worker collects a nasal swab at a mobile Covid-19 testing center in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, May 20. Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/Getty Images

Thailand has reported 15 cases of the B.1.617 Covid-19 variant first detected in India, according to Thailand's Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesperson Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin. 

"It was found that there is a high number of infections in worker dormitories in Laksi District. There are 15 workers found infected with variant found in India or B.1.617.2. They are all receiving good medical care,” Dr. Visanuyothin said in a press conference Friday. 

A disease investigation team was dispatched to the area to investigate the outbreak in the district, the spokesperson added.

Thailand reported 3,481 new confirmed cases Friday, bringing the country's total number of cases to 123,066. Of Friday's new infections, 951 were reported from prison and detention facilities.

Thailand's prison clusters came to light when several pro-democracy protest leaders, accused of insulting the monarchy and held in pre-trial detention following popular demonstrations last year, announced they had tested positive for Covid-19 after being released on bail. Following the news, Thai authorities began mass testing the country's prison population.

Some 14,548 cases have been reported from prison and detention facility outbreaks across the country as of May 21.

The health ministry also reported 32 new deaths from the virus, bringing the death toll to 735.

The Thai government has extended the country's state of emergency until July 31 due to the third wave of the outbreak.

9:53 a.m. ET, May 21, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech pledge 2 billion vaccine doses to lower and middle-income countries over next 18 months

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, speaks at the G20 Global Health Summit on May 21.
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, speaks at the G20 Global Health Summit on May 21. EbS+

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said during the G20 Global Health Summit Friday that the company will provide 2 billion doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to lower and middle-income countries over the next 18 months. 

“Today, Pfizer and BioNTech are pledging to provide two billion doses of our Covid-19 vaccine to middle- and low-income countries over the next 18 months,” Bourla said. “We expect to provide a billion of these doses to low- and middle-income countries this year, and we pledge to deliver another billion doses to these countries in 2022.” 

Bourla said he hopes this will accelerate the ability to save even more lives globally. 

Bourla told Axios on Wednesday that Pfizer plans to produce 6 billion doses of its Covid-19 vaccine over the next 18 months.