January 18, 2021
Warp Speed chief stepping down; US Covid deaths hit another one-day high; California lifts shelter order for 13 counties
Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have hit another one-day high at more than 4,300. The nation’s overall death toll from coronavirus has eclipsed 382,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. It is closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II, about 407,000. The U.S. recorded 4,327 deaths on Tuesday; Arizona and California are among the hardest-hit states.

In the headlines:

► California has lifted a stay-at-home order for 13 northern counties with improving hospital conditions, but most of the state’s population remains under tight restrictions in the pandemic. The state on Tuesday lifted the order in the Sacramento region – a rare turn of good news as the state pushes through what Gov. Gavin Newsom called its “most intense surge” of the coronavirus.

► Los Angeles County is asking residents to wear masks at home if they go out for work or to get groceries, the Los Angeles Times reported, as the region nears 1 million virus cases.

► Scientists have identified a mutation that may decrease the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. The mutation, first spotted in South Africa two months ago, has since spread to 12 other countries.

► Texas has become the second state to surpass 2 million COVID-19 cases, a milestone passed in June for the nation. California was the first state to report the marker in December.

► Travelers flying into the United States from international destinations will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. The policy will go into effect Jan. 26.

► Recent analysis of late-stage trials found China's COVID-19 candidate vaccine, CoronaVac, has an overall effectiveness of 50.38%, the Butantan Institute said Tuesday in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While the vaccine meets the threshold for regulatory approval, it's a disappointing descent from early results that showed it was 78% effective.

The U.S. has more than 1.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 382,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 91 million cases and 1.9 million deaths.

Some states speed up vaccine distribution while others push back on federal changes

Facing a slower-than-hoped coronavirus vaccine rollout, officials around the nation shifted gears Tuesday to accelerate the delivery of shots to more people.

The U.S. government is asking states to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations to people over 65 and others at risk instead of holding back vaccines for a second dose. The government will also stop holding back the required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

The change had immediate effects in New York where Gov. Andrew Cuomo expanded the vaccine eligibility requirements to follow the new CDC guidelines. Idaho will implement the guidelines Feb. 1 Gov. Brad Little said. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are other states that say they're "immediately" expanding vaccination guidelines to include patients 65 and older.

However, other states are pushing back on federal guidance citing supply concerns. Rhode Island Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said the state does not plan on expanding vaccinations to people 65 and older, citing supply concerns. Iowa's health department said the state may consider adopting new guidelines "once we have reasonable confidence that supply meets the demands of this broader eligibility criteria."

Hospitals face COVID-19 surge, staff shortages and rising deaths

Four states with the largest share of hospital beds occupied with COVID-19 patients – California, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia – are struggling to keep pace with the unprecedented surge.

More than two dozen Georgia hospitals have no available beds in intensive care units, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While public health officials are optimistic widespread vaccination will provide a glimmer of hope this spring, there’s no respite now for doctors and nurses in overburdened emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui resigns but will stay on through Biden transition

Moncef Slaoui, who has helped lead the Trump administration’s vaccine development effort, is resigning but has agreed to stay on in an advisory role for 30 days to support the transition to the Biden administration.

Slaoui has long said that he would resign around the end of 2020 or early 2021 when he felt like he had contributed as much as he could to the vaccine development effort. The emphasis has now shifted to distribution and delivery, which is under the purview of General Gus Perna.

Last week, Slaoui said he would stay longer than initially planned to ensure the success of three more large clinical trials underway, testing candidate vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Oxford University and Novavax.

The Johnson & Johnson trial is fully enrolled and waiting to meet two milestones: for half of its participants to be eight weeks past their second shot, to ensure safety; and for enough people in the trial – both those who received the active vaccine and those who got a placebo, to contract COVID-19 so the vaccine’s effectiveness can be determined.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford trial is nearly fully enrolled and will be ready early in March to request FDA authorization, Slaoui said. Novavax’s candidate vaccine trial is enrolling about 800 subjects a day, he said, and should complete enrollment in early February, with an FDA request ready in late March or early April. A sixth government-supported vaccine, made by Sanofi and GSH, remains further behind.

What will COVID-19 look like in the future? Possibly another common cold, study says

SARS-CoV-2 “could join the ranks of mild, cold-causing … human coronaviruses in the long run,” according to a model developed by Emory University and Penn State University scientists.

The model, published Jan. 12 in the peer-reviewed journal Science, compares the deadly virus to four common cold coronaviruses plus the SARS and MERS viruses, which surfaced in 2003 and 2012, respectively.

Researchers determined from the model that if the coronavirus continues to circulate in the general population and most people are exposed to it from childhood, it could be added to the list of common colds.

Study authors concede the model makes some assumptions about the coronavirus and common colds that is not known yet, but a the take-home message is “the critical need for broad-scale vaccination may wane in the near term,” said Ottar Bjornstad, study author distinguished professor of entomology at Penn State University. (Source: USA Today)
Story Date: January 14, 2021
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