The President made a plea to governors as the US faces the possibility of another wave of Covid infections

19 min ago

Biden calls on state and local officials to “please” reinstate the mask mandate

From CNN’s Betsy Klein

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden made a plea to the nation’s governors Monday as the US faces the possibility of another wave of Covid-19 infections.

“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please. This is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” Biden said during remarks on the state of vaccinations Monday.

The plea comes as some states have lifted requirements for face coverings, as well as guidance on restaurant capacity and other measures, and cases have again begun to rise. Last week, the administration called on states to slow the relaxation of Covid guidelines.

With a nod to the role of the private sector, Biden also suggested businesses should also require the use of masks.

“The failure to take this virus seriously precisely what got us to this mess in the first place, risk more cases, more deaths,” he said.

Biden also renewed calls for Americans to wear masks, framing the choice as a “patriotic duty.”

“I need the American people do their part as well. Mask up, mask up. It’s a patriotic duty. It’s the only way we ever get back to normal,” he said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she would be conveying Biden’s message to governors on Tuesday after she warned of “impending doom” over concerns about another wave of Covid-19 cases.

“With regard to the surging, we are working closely with the states. I will be speaking with the governors tomorrow to try and reinforce the need for current restrictions to not open up,” Walensky said earlier Monday. “I think what we’ll do on masking will really depend on where we are 30 days from now.”

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40 min ago

“Private sector” will oversee Covid-19 vaccine passports in US, White House adviser says

From CNN’s Jacqueline Howard

It’s not the federal government, but “the private sector” that will likely create and store data for Covid-19 vaccine passports, Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said on Monday. 

Vaccine passports are a way for people to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“The government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens. We view this as something that the private sector is doing, and will do,” Slavitt said during a virtual White House briefing. 

Instead, the Biden administration is working to develop a set of standards for such a vaccine passport program or database.

“What’s important to us, and we’re leading an interagency process right now to go through these details, are that some important criteria be met with these credentials. Number one, that there is equitable access — that means whether or not people have access to technology or whether they don’t. It’s also important that we recognize that there are still many, many millions and millions of Americans that have not yet been vaccinated. So that’s a fundamental equity issue,” he said.

“Privacy of the information, security of the information, and a marketplace of solutions are all things that are part of what we believe in, as is the ability for people to access this free, and in multiple languages,” Slavitt said. “So, I think you will see more from us as we complete our interagency process. But this not slowing down the process in any way.”

He went on to describe why the government will be involved in the process.

“The core here is that Americans, like people around the world who are vaccinated, will want to be able to demonstrate that vaccination in various forms,” Slavitt said. “This is going to hit all parts of society, so naturally the government is involved.”

29 min ago

Balkan countries flock to Serbia for Covid-19 vaccinations

 Freom CNN’s Antonia Mortensen, Fred Pleitgen and Claudia Otto

Serbia is becoming a regional vaccination hub as foreigners flock there from the surrounding Balkan region where there are vaccine shortages. 

The country’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, spoke to CNN about the importance of offering regional support: “We are also trying to support mostly the region. So our neighbouring countries, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Boston Herzegovina. Because if I mean we are, we are a small region, and if you’re not safe. Even when we get the collective immunity, we’re not going to be safe,” she said. 

Serbia has donated 10,000 doses of Astra Zeneca to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brnabic added.

Serbia ranks among the top five countries in the world in terms of the successful per million rate of vaccination of its citizens, outperforming richer EU countries, according to data from University of Oxford research group Our World in Data.

Serbia has administered over two million doses of the vaccine – around 50% of its adult population according to the Serbian government. People can currently choose between Pfizer-BioNTech, Astra Zeneca, Moderna, China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, and the vaccination process is open to all adults with no age limits. People can sign up online and turn up at any vaccination centre and, given the availability on the day, receive the vaccine very quickly.

In Monday’s interview with CNN, Serbia’s prime minister stressed that her country:

“Did not treat the vaccine as geopolitical issue or political issue overall, we treated it as a health care issue. So we negotiated with all of the producers from the East as well as from the West. What was important for us is that it is safe, and it is effective. So we got, as I said, we were one of the first countries to sign a contract with Pfizer-BioNtech, but also the first country to sign contract with Chinese Sinopharm.” 

Brnabic told CNN that early negotiations were key to securing vaccine doses. “We were the second country in Europe – I mean after UK – the first country in continental Europe to get Pfizer vaccines, that’s basically the testimonial to how early we started negotiations, and we were the first country to receive Sinopharm vaccines.”

Preparation has meant that Serbia has raced ahead of the far richer and usually better-organized countries in Europe to offer all adult citizens five different vaccines to choose from, according to Brnabic. 

It now has the highest vaccination rate in Europe, behind only the United Kingdom while the rest of the EU lags behind.

36 min ago

More than 80% of Chicagoans now eligible for Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Deanna Hackney 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city is entering phase 1C of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout today, making all essential workers and people 16 and older with underlying medical conditions eligible for vaccination. 

Lightfoot made the announcement Monday afternoon in partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor, at a vaccine site created specifically to serve union essential workers. 

“It’s our union essential workers that make up the backbone of the city,” Lightfoot said.

“That’s why we’re especially proud that this unique partnership will create the first vaccine site in the nation, run by the labor movement, as well as further equity base vaccination strategy by getting vaccines to our black and Latinx residents who have disproportionately borne the brunt of this terrible pandemic and have kept our city running by serving Chicago in essential roles,” the mayor said.

About 84% of adults in Chicago are now available to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, said Lightfoot, but “we are not out of the woods yet, by a long shot.”

The mayor spoke of a “troubling uptick” in the case positivity and daily case rates.  

“So folks, we’ve got to get back to what we know saves us, saves our family, saves people in our network, in our community. So, to everyone listening in right now and especially to our young people: Please continue to remain vigilant and keep your guard up. The actions that you take now will impact what we can all do in the future,” Lightfoot said.

54 min ago

WHO draft report on coronavirus origin sticks with theory it came from an animal

From CNN’s Sandi Sidhu and Maggie Fox

Covid-19 probably came to people through an animal and probably started spreading no more than a month or two before it was noticed in December of 2019, a World Health Organization draft report finds. 

The least likely source is a laboratory leak, WHO’s joint international team concluded.

WHO is scheduled to release the final report on its investigation into the origins of coronavirus on Tuesday, but a draft version of the report obtained by CNN shows there’s still no smoking gun and no evidence suggesting the virus was spreading any earlier than the very end of 2019.

The report gives four possible sources for the virus and the most likely scenario is via an intermediate animal host, possibly a wild animal captured and then raised on a farm. 

But the investigation has not found what the intermediate host might be. “The possible intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 remains elusive,” it reads.

Next likely is direct transmission from one of the animals known to carry a similar coronavirus, such as a bat or a pangolin. Possible but not probable is transmission from frozen or chilled food, and least likely is an accidental laboratory release, the report finds.

Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, that his personal opinion was the virus was released from a lab. The report says this is “extremely unlikely.” 

“There is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that in combination could provide a SARS-CoV-2 genome,” it reads. “In view of the above, a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely.”

The role of the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan is also unclear. It’s possible the market was not the original source of the outbreak, but that the crowds that gathered at the market – which was densely packed, with a roof and open sewers – may have amplified the spread of the virus.

Samples found at the market showed the virus was there on surfaces, but no samples taken from animals or food sold at the market turned up the virus. Plus, there is evidence the virus was circulating before the Huanan market outbreak – including at other markets. “No firm conclusion therefore about the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced into the market, can currently be drawn,” the report concludes.

It recommends more testing of blood samples taken and stored before the first outbreak in December, more testing of animals from Southeast Asia, and more in-depth study of mass gatherings that could have aided the spread of the virus.

50 min ago

More than one in five US adults are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center on March 25, 2021 in Bowie, Maryland.  Win McNamee/Getty Images

Nearly 146 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that 145,812,835 total doses have been administered — about 81% of the 180,646,656 doses delivered.

That’s about 2.4 million more doses reported administered since yesterday, for a record-high seven-day average of about 2.8 million doses per day. 

Nearly 29% of the US population – more than 95 million people – have received at least one dose, and nearly 16% of the population – about 52.6 million people – are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows. Among those 18 and older, more than one in five are fully vaccinated.

Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

1 hr 2 min ago

CDC adds substance abuse disorders to list of conditions that may increase risk of severe Covid-19

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday updated its website to include substance abuse disorders in the agency’s list of underlying conditions that can increase risk for severe Covid-19.

The agency pointed to two new studies released at the end of 2020 that found that people who were infected with Covid-19 and had a history of substance use disorders — such as alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine use — had increased risks for hospitalization. 

“This update is keeping up with my commitment to lead with science, to have clear information on our website and to better describe the signs underlying these conditions,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on the federal government’s Covid-19 response on Monday.

The CDC also added a new page for clinicians that provided the scientific evidence for the CDC’s listing of specific underlying conditions that increased risk for severe Covid-19.

The agency also simplified previous language used to describe different levels of risk. The previous iteration of the list divided conditions between those that “are at increased risk of severe illness” and those that “might be at an increased risk for severe illness.”

The page now divides conditions as those which “can make you more likely to get severely ill from Covid-19” and those that “are more likely to get severely ill from Covid-19.”

1 hr 4 min ago

Go There: CNN is in Havana, as Cuba begins to mass vaccinate with its homegrown vaccines

A nurse prepares a dose of the Soberana-02 Covid-19 vaccine in Havana, Cuba, on March 24. Ramon Espinosa/Pool/AP

Cuba is vaccinating 150,000 frontline workers with one of its homegrown Covid-19 vaccine candidates. It’s the first country in Latin America to develop two vaccines that have advanced to the final phase three trials. 

The island nation says its vaccines will comply with international standards, and it will eventually sell or donate their vaccines to other countries. 

CNN correspondent Patrick Oppmann was live from Havana, answering your questions.

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1 hr 20 min ago

American Airlines is preparing almost all the planes it put in storage in the pandemic

From CNN’s Pete Muntean

An American airlines Airbus A321-200 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.  Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

American Airlines says ticket sales are currently at about 90% of pre-pandemic levels and it will soon pull most of its idle aircraft out of storage. 

The airline says it “experienced softness in its bookings” at the start of this year, but “experienced recent strength in domestic and short-haul international bookings” thanks to a decline in coronavirus infection rates and an uptick in vaccine distribution. 

American said the load factor on its flights — a measure of the fullness of flights overall — is about 80% over the past week.

The airline said it thinks bookings will remain strong in this first half of this year, but warns the future is still murky.

Some background: The new details, part of the airline’s latest financial disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission, come as airline travel just recorded its biggest day of the pandemic, and suggest the airline expects summer travel to continue growing. The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.57 million people at airports on Sunday, continuing a weeks-long streak of screenings higher than one million.

On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she fears “impending doom,” citing high travel numbers. “I know that travel is up and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again.”