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Jan. 7 Coronavirus updates: Over half of virus spread may come from people without symptoms

About 17.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed to states, while 5.3 million people have received an initial dose, according to the CDC.
Image: Gravediggers bury a Covid-19 coronavirus victim amid pouring rain at Keputih cemetery in Surabaya, Indonesia
Gravediggers bury a Covid-19 coronavirus victim amid pouring rain at Keputih cemetery in Surabaya, Indonesia on Jan. 7, 2021.Juni Kriswanto / AFP - Getty Images

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The U.K. variant of Covid-19, which scientists say spreads more easily, has been detected across the U.S., including Texas, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

That news came as the U.S. marked 4,000 deaths Thursday, according to an NBC News tally — the highest national daily total since the pandemic began.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Wednesday that he is advising states to begin vaccinating lower-priority groups against Covid-19 if the doses they have on hand would otherwise be sitting in freezers.

Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant

The Associated Press

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine's ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.

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U.S. records more than 4,000 deaths in a single day

Colin Sheeley

The U.S. reported more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths Thursday, the most in a single day, according to an NBC News tally.

The exact number was 4,110 deaths, and there were 268,883 cases reported, breaking the record for both for the second consecutive day.

On Wednesday, the country set a near identical record of 268,840 cases and posted 3,920 deaths, the highest daily total before Thursday.

This week alone, 1,614,756 new cases and 19,230 deaths were logged.

California virus deaths climb as ICU space tightens

The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and the state’s hospital association are at odds over how best to create space for critically ill coronavirus patients at already strained medical facilities that soon could be overwhelmed by the expected surge of new cases from holiday gatherings.

A surge following Halloween and Thanksgiving produced record hospitalizations, and now the most seriously ill of those patients are dying in unprecedented numbers. California health authorities reported 583 new deaths Thursday and a record two-day total of 1,042.

The state has deployed 88 refrigerated trailers, up from 60 a few weeks ago, for use as makeshift morgues, mostly in hard-hit Southern California.

Hospitalizations are nearing 22,000 and state models project the number could reach 30,000 by Feb 1.  State health officials caught hospitals off guard earlier this week with new orders limiting nonessential surgeries and requiring hospitals that have scarce ICU space to accept patients from those that have run out, an order that may require transferring patients hundreds of miles.

California administers over 530,000 vaccine doses

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s epidemiologist, Dr. Erica Pan, said more than 2 million vaccine doses have shipped to the state and well over 530,000 doses administered, although she expects the numbers are several days out of date. She said like other states, California needs to ramp up distribution and expects to do so as more doses arrive and more pharmacy, dental and medical field staff made available to administer the doses.

“Having the vaccine come in the middle of our worst surge of all has been a real stress on our health care system and on our public health departments,” said Pan at a Thursday webinar hosted by San Francisco area’s business association Bay Area Council. 

Pan said momentum for vaccinations is building as more frontline workers receive the vaccine but said how quickly regular people get the doses will depend on local conditions. About 3 million people are expected to be in the current phase.

U.K. extends England entry ban to travelers from 11 African countries


The United Kingdom said on Thursday it would extend a ban on travelers entering England to southern African countries in a measure to prevent the spread of a new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa.

The restriction will take effect on Saturday and remain in place for two weeks, the government said in a statement.

"Entry into England will be banned to those who have travelled from or through any southern African country in the last 10 days," the country's Department for Transport said.

The nations include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola.

Two cases of U.K.'s Covid-19 variant detected in Connecticut

Connecticut on Thursday afternoon became the latest state to confirm at least one case of the Covid-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom last fall.

Gov. Ned Lamont said two people in New Haven County, ages 15 and 25, were found to have the new strain after they were tested earlier this month. One of the patients had recently traveled to Ireland and the other to New York state, and both developed symptoms within three to four days of returning to Connecticut, Lamont added.

Contact tracers are helping to identify others who may have come into contact with the individuals in both cases.

"The U.K. variant is widely assumed to be more highly transmissible than other strains of the virus," Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state's acting commissioner of public health, said in a statement. "However, our current vaccines should be effective against this strain, and we continue to urge everyone who is currently eligible to get the vaccine to do so."

Connecticut's Covid-19 positivity rate increased to 8.5 percent on Wednesday from 7.6 percent the day before. At least six other states have logged cases of the U.K. variant: California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, which also announced its first known case on Thursday.

Texas logs first known case of Covid-19 variant from U.K.

Public health officials in Harris County, Texas, said Thursday they have logged the first known case in the state of the Covid-19 variant that was initially discovered in the United Kingdom.

The male patient is between the ages of 30 and 40 with no known travel history, and remains in stable condition, health officials said. Epidemiologists in Harris County, the third-largest county in the nation, said they were conducting a review with state health officials to notify those who may have come into contact with the patient.

Harris County, which is home to Houston, has seen its Covid-19 positivity rate climb above 15 percent in recent days, with nearly 250,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday, according to county data.

The new Covid-19 strain, which was first detected in England in November, is considered to be more contagious, but does not necessarily result in more severe symptoms of the coronavirus. So far, the variant has been discovered in more than a dozen countries and at least five other states, including California, Colorado, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania

'Winning the lottery': How some have lucked into a vaccine

Akshay Syal

Across the U.S., there are a handful of people who have lucked into access to a Covid-19 vaccine despite not being in one of the priority groups, which are determined by state. From Northern California to Connecticut, there are reports of other individuals getting vaccinated to prevent the vaccines from going to waste.

That's what happened with David MacMillan and a friend, who were at a grocery store in Washington, D.C., on New Year's Day. The 31-year-old law student told TODAY he was passing by the pharmacy section when he noticed a pharmacist speaking to an older woman about whether she wanted to receive the Moderna vaccine that very moment. The customer looked "hesitant" and "confused" and eventually declined, MacMillan said. Then the pharmacist turned to him and his companion.

MacMillan recalled her asking, "Hey, I have two doses of the Moderna vaccine. They're going to expire, and I'm going to throw them out at the end of the day, and we close in 10 minutes. Do you want them?"

MacMillan said he was "ecstatic" at the prospect and agreed.

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More than half of Covid spread comes from people without symptoms

Nearly 60 percent of all Covid-19 spread may come from people with no symptoms, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Using mathematical modeling, CDC researchers estimated that 35 percent of Covid-19 spread is from people who are contagious before they develop symptoms, called presymptomatic transmission. Another 24 percent comes from people who are truly asymptomatic, and never go on to develop symptoms. 

Such widespread asymptomatic transmission means that simply identifying and isolating people who have symptoms of Covid-19 "will not control the ongoing spread of SARS-CoV-2," the virus that causes Covid-19, the study authors wrote. 

Rather, the findings mean that everyday behaviors to mitigate the spread of the virus are even more critical.

"Measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and strategic testing of people who are not ill will be foundational to slowing the spread," the study authors wrote, "until safe and effective vaccines are available and widely used."

Oxygen is the latest Covid bottleneck as hospitals cope with intense demand

Rae Ellen Bichell

Lauren Weber, Kaiser Health News

Rae Ellen Bichell and Lauren Weber, Kaiser Health News

As Los Angeles hospitals give record numbers of Covid patients oxygen, the systems and equipment needed to deliver the life-sustaining gas are faltering.

It’s gotten so bad that Los Angeles County officials are warning paramedics to conserve it. Some hospitals are having to delay releasing patients as they don’t have enough oxygen equipment to send home with them.

“Everybody is worried about what’s going to happen in the next week or so,” said Cathy Chidester, director of the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency.

Oxygen, which makes up 21 percent of the Earth’s air, isn’t running short. But Covid damages the lungs, and the crush of patients in hot spots such as Los Angeles, the Navajo Nation, El Paso, Texas, and in New York last spring have needed high concentrations of it. That has stressed the infrastructure for delivering the gas to hospitals and their patients.

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First case of Covid-19 variant confirmed in Pennsylvania

A case of the Covid-19 strain that was first reported in the United Kingdom in December has been confirmed in Pennsylvania, according to the state's Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

Levine confirmed the case, in Dauphin County, on Thursday in a press release. 

The person who tested positive, who has not been identified, did so after "known international exposure," according to the release. The state investigated the case and performed contact tracing in order to inform others who may have been exposed. The person who tested positive had mild symptoms but has since recovered. 

“Pennsylvania has been preparing for this variant by working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been sending 10-35 random samples biweekly to the CDC since November to study sequencing and detect any potential cases for this new COVID-19 variant,” Dr. Levine said. 

Virus mutation is common, according to the release, and while this particular strain is thought to spread more easily, there's no evidence the strain makes people sicker than the regular Covid-19 virus.  

“There is still much to learn about this new variant, so we need to remain vigilant and continue to urge Pennsylvanians to stop the spread by washing their hands, practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings, downloading COVID Alert PA and answering the call. Stay calm, stay alert and stay safe,” Dr. Levine said. 

The newly discovered coronavirus variant has had confirmed cases in more than a dozen countries and at least four other states, including New York, California, Colorado and Florida. 

Weekly initial jobless claims total 787,000

After a brief reprieve due to seasonal hiring, the latest weekly initial jobless claims total 787,000according to data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. Analysts had predicted claims for the week ending Jan. 2 would total 803,000.

“We see still heartbreakingly elevated levels of new unemployment claims, with more than 19 million Americans recently receiving some form of jobless assistance," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “This week’s dramatic events in Washington may have forced an elevation of the middle ground and a reckoning of understanding that constructive solutions are needed to address the pandemic and economy-boosting measures including infrastructure funding."

Thursday's numbers come one day after a report from payroll processing company ADP, which showed the total number of people employed fell in December for the first time since April. Payrolls fell by 123,000 last month, compared to forecasts of an increase of 60,000.

Focus now turns to Friday's closely watched jobs report, the last employment snapshot under Trump, which is expected to show the lowest monthly total since April. Economists forecast that just 50,000 jobs were added for the month of December and the unemployment rate rose to 6.8 percent.

U.S. sets new daily records for Covid deaths, cases; California reports 530 dead in a day

The U.S. reported 3,920 Covid-19 deaths and 268,840 new cases Wednesday, two new records amid a worsening pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic as of Thursday morning, 361,999 have died of Covid-19 and 21.4 million have been infected, according to NBC News' count.

California reported 530 dead, a single-day record in the state.

These states also set single-day records in cases Wednesday:

  • Louisiana, 6,876 cases
  • Nevada, 60 dead
  • New Hampshire, 24 dead
  • New York, 16,707 cases
  • Oklahoma, 62 dead
  • Virginia, 5,387 cases

South Africa buys 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

The Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa says it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country's health workers. This is South Africa’s first announcement of the purchase of a Covid-19 vaccine as its cases soar.

The first 1 million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by an additional 500,000 doses in February, Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced Thursday.

South Africa is battling a dramatic resurgence of Covid-19 that is quickly outstripping its first peak. It announced record highs of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths late Wednesday.

Less than half of Chicago Public School teachers showed up for first day of school reopening

CHICAGO — Despite a work order requiring public school teachers to return in person this week, Kirstin Roberts did not go into the Brentano Elementary Math and Science Academy, on the city’s northwest side, where she teaches preschool.

Instead, she cleared several inches of snow from the school’s courtyard, set up her laptop and taught her students remotely outside as temperatures dipped well into the 30s on Monday.

“I feel safer sitting outside and working than I do inside the building,” Roberts, 53, said, who along with several other teachers sat in the cold in protest of the order.

Chicago Public Schools phased in its reopening plan on Monday by requiring some teachers to return to schools to prepare for in-person instruction, but Roberts said conditions were not appropriate to reopen. She is now teaching from home despite receiving an email from the district that she is not complying with employee attendance expectations.

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South Korea extends ban on travelers from U.K.

The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea says it will extend its ban on incoming flights from Britain for two more weeks until Jan. 21.

Authorities said Thursday they’ve found three additional cases of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus identified in the U.K, taking the total to 14. South Korea has also found one case of a coronavirus variant detected in South Africa.

All foreigners entering South Korea will be required to submit negative COVID-19 test results starting Friday.

Officials say a recent outbreak appears to have peaked because they aren’t seeing a further upsurge in infections. The country reported 870 new cases on Thursday, the third day in a row that the figure has been below 1,000. The new cases took the national caseload to 66,688 with 1,046 deaths.

South Korea on Monday extended its second-highest social distancing rules, called “Tier 2.5,” in the greater Seoul area and the third-highest rules in other areas for two more weeks.

Japan declares state of emergency for Tokyo, nearby areas

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It kicks in Friday until Feb. 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.

The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep the economy going.

Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will get publicized on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.

Coronavirus cases have been surging in Japan after the year-end and New Year’s holidays.