What you need to know about coronavirus on Thursday, January 21


After being sworn in as President, Biden referred to Covid-19 as a “once in a century virus that silently stalks the country,” during his inauguration speech. “We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” he added, as an ensemble forecast by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projected 100,000 more deaths in the next few weeks.
Biden’s urgency to turn the pandemic around took form later that day as he signed a series of executive orders that halted the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO); restored the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense (an office gutted by the Trump administration); and mandated masks on federal property.
Regular White House press briefings made a comeback after ending in April when Trump suggested injecting disinfectant could be a cure for coronavirus (it’s not, don’t do it). New press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday “truth and transparency” had returned to the briefing room, and the White House will combat misinformation by giving accurate information to the American people “even when it is hard to hear.”

She added that the White House will require daily Covid-19 testing, N95 masks for staffers, and stringent requirements on social distancing — in a bid to model good pandemic behavior. The President “has asked us also to be models to the American people,” she said, in stark contrast to Trump and his administration, which largely ignored government mask and social distancing recommendations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who remains as chief medical adviser, represented the US during a virtual WHO meeting Thursday, where he thanked the health body for leading the global Covid-19 response. He also announced that the US will resume regular engagement with the organization and fulfill its financial obligations. Today will also see Biden address the crushing threat of the pandemic, signing more orders focused on getting the pandemic under control.
“Healthier days lie ahead,” the new CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, promised in her first statement, but getting there will require a rapid acceleration of Covid-19 testing, surveillance and vaccination. “We must also confront the longstanding public health challenges of social and racial injustice and inequity that have demanded action for far too long,” she said.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: How many people have been vaccinated in the US so far?

A: More than 16.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US, about 46% of the 36 million doses distributed, according to data published by the CDC yesterday. At least 2.1 million people have received both of the required doses, according to the data.

Wednesday’s numbers mark a significant increase in the share of doses administered out of the total distributed. Previously that share had stayed below 40%. However, a note on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker site indicates that the agency is “refining how the number of doses distributed is reported,” which could affect this calculation.
The US vaccine rollout has not been smooth, with the nation lagging behind several other countries in its Covid-19 vaccination efforts, according to a recent CNN analysis of government data. Sources with direct knowledge of the new administration’s Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Studies suggest vaccinated people protected from new Covid-19 variants

New research out this week provides reassuring evidence that people vaccinated against coronavirus are protected against emerging new variants. Two teams tested two of the new variants against blood taken from people who had received the full two-course dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine, Maggie Fox reports.

While the mutations in the new variants of the virus — one first seen in Britain, and another first identified in South Africa — did allow them to evade some of the immunity induced by vaccination, it was far from a complete escape, the two teams reported separately.

Reminiscent of last year, China announces travel restrictions ahead of Lunar New Year

China’s National Health Commission has announced a series of domestic travel restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 as the country prepares for mass movement of people to celebrate Lunar New Year. Millions of Chinese migrant workers who plan to travel back to the countryside are now required to present a negative Covid test result from within seven days of departure. People from medium- or high-risk areas are being discouraged from traveling altogether.
This comes as Chinese officials reported 144 new Covid-19 cases across the country on Wednesday, including 18 imported infections. All residents in Beijing’s Daxing district have been banned from leaving since Wednesday due to the rising numbers of cases.

California officials say providers can resume administering Moderna vaccine from a specific lot after pause

California health officials have given providers the all-clear to “immediately” resume administering the Moderna vaccine from a specific lot after pausing earlier this week due to possible allergic reactions. It comes as most coronavirus metrics improve in the state, which has been the epicenter of the virus in the US. But the severity of cases in the state and the death toll remain high.
California added 22,403 new cases Wednesday, which is well below the average daily number for the state of around 38,000, but also reported 694 new Covid-19-related deaths Wednesday — the second-highest single-day toll to date. And with a limited supply of coronavirus vaccine, state epidemiologist Erica Pan said it may take four to five months to get all Californians over the age of 65 vaccinated.

ON OUR RADAR

  • Zimbabwean foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo — known for going on state television in 2017 to announce the military’s takeover of power from the late president Robert Mugabe — died after catching Covid.
  • Amazon wasted no time in reaching out to newly installed US President Joe Biden about prioritizing its essential workers in his administration’s vaccine distribution plans. The company also offered to assist in Biden’s pledge to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days.
  • Quarantining Australian Open tennis stars are urged not to feed mice in hotel rooms after world No. 28 Yulia Putintseva discovered an infestation.
  • The number of North Korean defectors entering South Korea plummeted in 2020. It’s probably due to the pandemic.

TOP TIP

Anosmia — a condition known as “smell blindness,” or loss of smell — is a common symptom of Covid-19 (and other viruses), and can severely affect ability to taste, since the senses are intertwined. And while most people regain their sense of smell or taste within days to weeks, experts say some may not regain their sense of smell after months.

For instance, Kaya Cheshire is still missing 90% of her sense of smell since contracting a mild case of Covid-19 last July. At her doctor’s suggestion, Cheshire recently began “scent training,” using strong-smelling things like rose, lemons, cloves, garlic, eucalyptus and menthols to retrain her brain. Read about how Covid-19 survivors have been modifying their meals as a result of anosmia.

TODAY’S PODCAST

“We wanted science to rescue us. But it cannot save us from our own human nature.” — CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta

One year ago this week, a man walked into a clinic in Washington state, becoming the first patient to test positive for Covid-19 in the US. Gupta looks back on the painful lessons of this tragic year. Listen now.



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