Covid variant from South Africa confirmed in U.S.


CDC mandates masks on public transportation

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that mask-wearing will be required on all on all public transportation beginning Monday night.

The mandate issued by CDC division director Martin S. Cetron was made after President Joe Biden issued an executive order Jan. 21 that called for “immediate action” on mask-wearing for “all forms of public transportation.”

It applies to all public commercial transportation — planes, trains, boats and buses — and to transportation hubs, such as air terminals, train stations, subway stations, seaports and bus depots.

It also covers ferries, subways, taxis and ride-hail vehicles, the CDC said. Operators and transportation workers must wear masks, too.

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Arizona reports first cases of U.K. variant

Arizona on Friday joined 30 other states that have detected a Covid-19 variant first seen in the United Kingdom and which is believed to be more transmissible.

The Arizona Department of Health Services said the variant, B.1.1.7, has been confirmed in three test samples. It’s the first detected cases in the state.

That variant has been now found in 31 states, including Arizona, according to the state health department announcement and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is tracking detected cases on its website. There have been more than 400 cases of that variant reported in the nation.

The U.K. variant is believed to be more transmissible. UK scientists earlier this month reported evidence that it could be associated with an increased risk of death, but more studies are needed to confirm if that is the case, the CDC says.

Public health officials have stressed that there is much uncertainty around the conclusion it could be more deadly.

U.K. variant detected near Seattle

A more contagious strain of the coronavirus, B.1.1.7, has been detected in King County, Washington, public health officials announced Friday evening. 

King County is home to Seattle, an early Covid-19 hotspot. 

Public health officials called the development “worrisome, but not surprising” because the variant spreads more quickly than others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously said it expects B.1.1.7 to become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March.

“As the virus gets better at spreading, we must get better at fighting it,” the public health department tweeted. “Double down on what we know works: masks, distance, ventilation, testing, and hand hygiene.”

The variant, which originated in the United Kingdom, has also popped up in neighboring Snohomish and Pierce counties. 

Broken freezer leads to late-night vaccinations in Seattle

Fauci welcomes third vaccine to virus fight

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top immunologist, said Friday a third coronavirus vaccine will add a necessary tool to the nation’s arsenal against the pandemic, despite its lower rate of effectiveness in research trials.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spoke about the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected to be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization as early as next week, during an interview on “Nightly News with Lester Holt” Friday.

“The protection against severe disease is very high,” he said.

The vaccine has a 72 percent effective rate in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, Johnson & Johnson said earlier in the day. That compares to 95 percent for the Pfizer vaccine and 94 percent for Moderna’s version.

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West Virginia governor claims nursing homes vaccination victory

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday the state is the nation’s first to complete vaccinations at long-term care facilities, which had been an early source of Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths.

He said 17,763 residents and 19,836 staff members at the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities have received second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

“We’re already starting to see some positive impacts,” Justice said at a news conference. “We have cut the number of active outbreaks in nursing homes by 50 percent since the beginning of January.”

The largely rural state has become a national leader in getting people inoculated, a crucial step in returning American life and commerce to normal. The state’s elementary and middle schools were reopened Jan. 19.

Justice said West Virginia teachers and school staffers 50 and older who have requested the vaccine have received at least a first of two shots. State pandemic czar Dr. Clay Marsh said at the news conference, “We believe that the classroom is actually a safe place to be at this point.”

Coachella 2021 canceled by health officials

Health officials in California on Friday  ordered the Coachella music festival and its sister event, the country music Stagecoach festival, canceled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 event had not been canceled by its promoter, Goldenvoice, but the talent lineup was not announced despite a history of rolling out the roster around the first of year. The festivals also didn’t take place last year because of the pandemic.

“This order is intended to reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19,” the Riverside County health officer said in a public notice to organizers. “If COVID-19 were detected at these festivals, the scope and number of attendees and the nature of the venue would make it infeasible, if not impossible, to track those who may be placed at risk.”

The Coachella event, which started as an indie rock and dance music-showcase in 1999 but has morphed into a pop showcase, attracts more than 100,000 people to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About 12 sailors aboard the USS Chafee have tested positive for Covid-19

About a dozen sailors aboard the USS Chafee have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been removed from the ship, the Navy confirmed Friday.

“Individuals who were in close contact with those sailors are also off the ship and are in quarantine while they monitor for any symptoms,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Third Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement. 

Robertson said the warship, which is docked in San Diego, “remains able to meet its mission.”

“No Chafee sailors have been hospitalized,” the commander said. 

Robertson’s statement came on the heels of a Navy Times report that 41 sailors out of a crew of 350 had either tested positive or had “been in close contact with infected shipmates,” including several of the ship’s cooks.

And because of equipment shortages, some sailors on trip over from Hawaii have had to “wear dirty N95 mask for five days,” Navy Times reported.

Washington hospital apologizes after offering donors vaccine signup

A hospital in Washington apologized after offering 100 donors an invitation to register for a Covid-19 vaccination appointment.

Last Friday, the Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue said in an email to benefactors that the hospital was “pleased to share that we have 500 new open appointments in the Overlake COVID-19 vaccine clinic,” The Seattle Times first reported.

The facility provided donors with an access code to register for appointments “by invite” only, according to the newspaper.

Hospital officials told NBC News in a statement Friday that it did not exclusively offer the vaccine signup to the 100 donors. The hospital also extended an invite to 4,000 other community members, which included board members, volunteers, retired medical personnel, and current employees, the hospital said.

All who registered had to be eligible under the state’s Covid-19 vaccine policy, according to the hospital.

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Cardinal Dolan in quarantine after coming in contact with someone who’s tested positive

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the Archdiocese of New York, is now in quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19.

“The Cardinal has not tested positive, feels fine, and has no symptoms,” the diocese said in a a statement.

“He will, however, continue to follow health and safety protocols as instructed by medical professionals, as will others on his staff who also had close contact with this individual.”

That means Dolan will not be celebrating this week’s 10:15 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Disney theme parks will continue to require masks, even if vaccinated

Disney World and Disneyland will continue requiring visitors and workers to wear masks in the theme parks – even if they’ve been vaccinated for Covid-19, the company announced Friday.

That’s in line with the current federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which recommend that people keep wearing masks and social distancing even after they’ve gotten their shots.





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