Virus Updates: Biden Signs More Orders; Vaccine Provider Spoils 890 Doses

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Thursday marks exactly one year since the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported the nation's first confirmed case of the coronavirus – on Jan. 21, 2020.

Now, as the U.S. enters "what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus," President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that they be worn for travel. Biden is expected to announce more information about his administration's plans on Thursday.

The day before Biden was sworn in, the U.S. topped 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to NBC News.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from the U.S. and elsewhere:

Biden Signs Burst of Virus Orders, Requires Masks for Travel

President Joe Biden is signing 10 executive orders aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic, including one broadening the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production.

Biden also signed an order Thursday mandating masks for travel, including in airports and planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation, as well as one directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states for some costs related to their COVID-19 response and to provide funds to help reopen schools.

Biden is ordering FEMA to begin setting up vaccination centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month. And he’s mobilizing the Public Health Service to deploy to assist localities in vaccinations.

The administration is trying to provide 100 million vaccine injections during the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, an initial step toward getting the country inoculated from the disease so that schools and businesses can fully reopen.

United Says US COVID Test Requirement Hurting Demand for Vacations Abroad

United Airlines said demand for Mexico and some Caribbean beach destinations has softened after the U.S. announced it will require all international travelers, including American citizens, to test negative for COVID-19 within three days of departure, CNBC reports.

The new rule goes into effect next Tuesday.

“We have seen a change, the change is very focused on Mexican beach resorts,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said during an earnings call.

The carrier is working to help increase the supply of tests and said while it expects a short-term hit to sales, more widespread testing will help bolster travel demand.

Ohio Provider Suspended for Mishandling, Spoiling 890 Vaccine Doses

A Columbus, Ohio, vaccine provider was suspended by the Ohio Department of Health, after they were accused of mishandling close to 900 doses of vaccine. According to the Ohio Department of Health, SpecialtyRX had improperly stored 890 of their allotted 1,500 doses, with the company failing to monitor fridge and freezer temperatures after injecting the first round of doses to residents of eight long-term care facilities.

Miami Heat to Use COVID Detection Dogs When Fans Return to AmericanAirlines Arena

The Miami Heat will be using COVID-19 detection dogs and have a mandatory mask rule in place when they begin allowing a limited number of fans at home games next week, NBC Miami reports.

The team has released a number of health and safety guidelines ahead of their Jan. 28 game at AmericaAirlines Arena, when they're expected to host a limited number of season ticket holders for the first time this season.

All guests will be scanned by the coronavirus detection dogs upon arrival and will have to participate in a mandatory health screening questionnaire.

Read the full story here.

Mobile Labs Take Vaccine Studies to Diverse Neighborhoods

More potential COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic still are being tested, and some researchers are driving mobile labs into neighborhoods to recruit diverse volunteers.

With scarce supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots, proving whether additional vaccines work is critical. So is ensuring they're tested in communities of color that are hard-hit by the coronavirus yet have questions about vaccination. A U.S. program offers researchers RV-sized mobile clinics that help volunteers enroll in studies of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines without having to visit a doctor's office.

At the same time, researchers can answer general vaccine questions from passersby.

Eli Lilly: Antibody Drug Can Prevent COVID-19 Illness in Nursing Homes

Drugmaker Eli Lilly said Thursday its COVID-19 antibody drug can prevent illness in residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.

It's the first major study to show such a treatment may prevent disease.

Residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19 compared to others at the same facility who got a placebo, the drugmaker said. Among nursing home residents only, the risk was reduced by up to 80%.

The study involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations. The research was conducted with the National Institutes of Health.

The Food and Drug Administration in November allowed emergency use of Lilly antibody drug as a treatment for mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 that do not require hospitalization. It’s a one-time treatment given through an IV.

Lilly said it will seek expansion of that authorization to include using the drug to prevent and treat COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes and other long-term care locations have been hard hit by the pandemic. In the United States, they account for less than 1% of the population, but nearly 40% of deaths from COVID-19.

New CDC Director: Work of Vaccinating 100 Million ‘Has Begun Already’

Virus Outbreaks Shut Down Two Alaska Seafood Processing Plants

COVID-19 outbreaks have shut down operations at two of Alaska’s largest seafood processing plants in the Aleutian Islands.

The plants owned separately by Trident Seafoods Corp. and UniSea Inc. are halting work as the lucrative crab and pollock seasons begin, Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

The Trident Seafoods plant is a processing center for Bering Sea harvests of pollock, crab and cod in Akutan, about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage.

The plant has about 700 workers and is the largest Alaska location owned by Seattle-based Trident, the largest harvesting and processing company in North America.

Prior to the suspension, Trident said Monday it was assessing potential operational impacts after four workers at the Akutan plant, who were roommates, tested positive for the virus.

About 365 plant employees are waiting in Anchorage while the company contends with the outbreak, Trident said.

UniSea locked down its facility in Unalaska, 1,172 miles (1,886 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, after 55 workers tested positive for the virus. About two-thirds of the positive test results occurred during a travel quarantine intended to identify positive cases.

Fauci Lays out Biden’s Support for WHO After Trump Criticism

President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser on Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the United States will cease reducing U.S. staff counts at the World Health Organization and pay its financial obligations to it as it vows to stay fully engaged with the U.N. health agency to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told the WHO’s executive board meeting in Geneva via videoconference. The administration announced just hours after Biden’s inauguration that the United States would revoke a planned pullout from the WHO in July that had been announced by the Trump administration.

Fauci’s quick commitment to WHO—whose response to the coronavirus outbreak was repeatedly berated by the Trump administration— marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic.

He said the administration will “will cease the drawdown of U.S. staff seconded to the WHO” and resume “regular engagement” with WHO. He added: “The United States also intends to fulfill its financial obligations to the organization.”

US Sees Deadliest Day of Pandemic on Inauguration Day

Wednesday was the deadliest day in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The nation reported 4,131 deaths, according to a tally by NBC News.

The previous record was set on Jan. 7, when a reported 4,110 people in the U.S. died from the coronavirus.

The U.S. also recorded 178,935 cases on Inauguration Day.

According to NBC News, there have now been more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States since the start of the pandemic

CDC Extends Eviction Moratorium

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that the eviction moratorium will be extended until at least March 31, NBC News reports.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to our nation's health," CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement. "It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities.

"Despite extensive mitigation efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in America at a concerning pace," she continued. "We must act to get cases down and keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings — like shelters — where COVID-19 can take an even stronger foothold."

California: OK to Use Moderna Vaccine After Illness Reports

California on Wednesday said it’s safe to resume using a batch of Moderna coronavirus vaccine after some people fell ill and a halt to injections was recommended, NBC Los Angeles reports.

The decision frees up more than 300,000 doses to counties, cities and hospitals struggling to obtain supplies. The state Department of Public Health on Sunday urged a pause in the use of a specific lot after fewer than 10 people who received shots at a San Diego vaccination site needed medical care, possibly due to rare but severe allergic reactions.

But after a safety review and consultation with Moderna and local and federal health agencies, the state “found no scientific basis to continue the pause” and said vaccinations can “immediately resume,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said in a statement.

Read the full story here

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