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Jan. 21 Coronavirus updates: President Biden signs 10 executive orders

President Joe Biden's ambitious Covid-19 plan promises to deliver 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days.
Image: A person walks past the entrance to a testing site amid the Covid-19 pandemic in London
A person walks past the entrance to a testing site amid the Covid-19 pandemic in London, on Thursday.Hannah McKay / Reuters

Live coverage on this blog has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage on Covid-19.

President Joe Biden has revealed an ambitious Covid-19 response plan that promises to deliver 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days. Biden aims to speed up vaccine production, including using the Defense Production Act, and will encourage states to start vaccinating people 65 and older, along with certain essential workers, including teachers and grocery store employees.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases, says the country is now committed to working with the World Health Organization under Biden, following years of harsh criticism and obstruction from the Trump administration.

Inauguration Day was the deadliest day so far for the U.S. since the start of the pandemic: There were 4,131 deaths on Wednesday, according to an NBC News tally, beating the previous record set on Jan. 7.

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Dave Chappelle tests positive for Covid-19

LOS ANGELES — Dave Chappelle has tested positive for Covid-19 in the midst of a residency in Austin, Texas, a rep for the comedian confirmed to Variety on Thursday.

Chappelle performed the first of a planned five shows on Wednesday night at the Stubbs Waller Creek Amphitheater, and was scheduled to perform subsequent sets on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The remaining shows have been canceled, and a statement from Chappelle's rep says "ticket holders should contact their point of purchase for refunds."

"Chappelle has safely conducted socially distanced shows in Ohio since June 2020 and he moved those shows to Austin during the winter," the statement reads. "Chappelle implemented Covid-19 protocols which included rapid testing for the audience and daily testing for himself and his team. His diligent testing enabled him to immediately respond by quarantining, thus mitigating the spread of the virus."

The statement adds that Chappelle is quarantining and asymptomatic. TMZ first reported the news.

A Covid-19 peak? Variants muddy forecasts for coming months

Hospitalizations for Covid-19 in the United States are falling after having hit record levels this month — a welcome sign that the winter surge may finally be leveling off. But as new, potentially more contagious variants of the virus circulate, coronavirus modelers warn that the U.S. is by no means out of the woods yet.

The emergence of new variants isn't altogether surprising, but experts say that without a better understanding of how these strains affect things like transmissibility and the effectiveness of existing vaccines, it's difficult to know how the pandemic may play out.

"There's so much up in the air, and the new variants have thrown a huge monkey wrench into our ability to model things," said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a professor of medicine and director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "All of those things make the crystal ball very cloudy."

Read the full story here.

Biden to sign two executive orders on Covid economic relief, worker protections

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to sign two executive orders Friday to address the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, including expanding food stamps and beginning the process to require that everyone working for the federal government get a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said the orders, which add to a slew Biden has already approved, are "not a substitute" for the massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that Biden hopes Congress will pass, but rather a "critical lifeline" for millions of Americans who need assistance now.

"The American people can't afford to wait. So many are hanging on by a thread," he said.

Read full article here.

As national death toll tops 50,000, Germany vows to vaccinate entire population by summer

Germany passed 50,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Friday, according to the country’s disease control center.

Despite infection beginning to decline in the country of 83 million people, 859 deaths in the last 24 hours were reported by the Robert Koch Institute, pushing the death toll to 50,642.

This past week, the German government enforced stricter social distancing measures to tackle its second wave of the coronavirus. The government extended its national lockdown and mandated medical-grade masks in public.

The new record in deaths comes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to vaccinate “every German” by the end of summer in a news conference on Thursday.

CDC: Some wiggle room in timing of second vaccination doses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an update Thursday that people can get their second Covid-19 vaccination shots up to six weeks after they receive their first doses as the vaccines continue to be in short supply.

"The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible," the CDC said on its website. "However, if it is not feasible to adhere to the recommended interval, the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines may be scheduled for administration up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose."

The slow rollout of Covid-19 vaccines — including delayed deliveries, states' receiving fewer doses than expected and difficulty scheduling appointments — has led to some consternation that people may not be able to get their second doses within the prescribed time frame of 21 or 28 days.

While it's potentially worrisome, public health experts say that there's no cause for concern and that there is some wiggle room for the second dose.

Read the full story.

Health experts blame rapid expansion for vaccine shortages

Public health experts Thursday blamed Covid-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the President Donald Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people ages 65 and over.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S.

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around.

Florida moves to limit 'vaccine tourism'

Florida is limiting Covid-19 vaccinations to residents and leaving the tourists and the snowbirds out in the cold.

Dr. Scott Rivkees, the state's surgeon general, signed a public health advisory Thursday that requires vaccination providers to ensure that every person who gets a shot in the state is a Florida resident.

Jared Moskowitz, Florida's director of emergency management, has decried "vaccine tourism."

"People who live here, rent, own a house, pay taxes and contribute to the economy, they are eligible," Moskowitz said.

'Not time to push the panic button': Experts confident vaccines can protect against variants

Vaccine safety experts and public health officials said they are confident that both the Pfizer/ZbioNTech and Moderna vaccines being used in the U.S. will work against new variants of the coronavirus, thanks in part to how effective they are to begin with. 

Two variants — strains that emerged in South Africa and Brazil — have caused some worry among scientists that they could affect how well the vaccines work. A mutation in their genetic code alters the virus's spike protein and may make it more difficult for antibodies to attack it. So far, neither variant has been detected in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It appears the vaccines will still be effective" against the variants, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday during a White House briefing.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a livestreamed interview Tuesday, the day before she was sworn in as director of the CDC, that she expects the vaccines to work.

"The good news with regards to the variants is the efficacy of the vaccines is so good and so high that we have a little bit of a cushion," she said.

"I just want to remind people: Almost no vaccine we have is 95 percent effective," Walensky said, referring to the remarkably high efficacy rates of the two authorized vaccines. For reference, the flu vaccine is typically 40 percent to 60 percent effective each year.  

Dr. Norman Baylor, president and chief executive of Biologics Consulting and former director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Vaccine Research and Review, agreed.

"If this high efficacy of the current vaccines continues and, say, with the variants we go down to 75 percent, these vaccines are still useful," Baylor said during a vaccine safety call with reporters Thursday.

Even if a mutation decreases protection, "that may not be time to push the panic button," he said. 

NYC first responder vaccinations suspended because of to supply concerns

New York City's first responder agencies are suspending new Covid-19 vaccinations because of vaccine supply concerns, senior officials said.

The New York Police Department, which vaccinated more than 12,000 members of its 54,000-member force in just nine days, suspended new first-dose vaccinations because of supply concerns Wednesday, a spokesperson said.

The Fire Department of New York has vaccinated over 7,100 members of the more than 11,000-person department — which includes hard-hit emergency medical services workers. It also suspended new first-dose vaccinations Wednesday.

The department said it has enough doses to cover the second doses for every member who has received a first shot to ensure that they get properly vaccinated.

The supply challenge is hitting throughout the city and across the country.

"We've had to tell 23,000 New Yorkers who had an appointment this week that they will not be able to get that appointment for lack of supply," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Ohio couple die from Covid-19 within minutes of each other

Dick and Shirley Meeks of Coschocton, Ohio, died from Covid-19 on Saturday.Facebook

An Ohio couple married for 70 years died from Covid-19 within minutes of each other, according to an obituary published Thursday.

Edwin "Dick" Meek, 89, and Shirley Meek, 87, of Coshocton died from the virus Saturday while holding hands, Shirley's head on Dick's shoulder, the family obituary stated.

"They had a fairytale ending," the family wrote in the couple's obituary. "Our hearts are shattered, but we are at peace knowing that they are together forever." 

Dick Meeks, who served in the Air Force as a sergeant from 1951 until 1955, was an accomplished carpenter and a jack of all trades who loved woodworking, the family wrote. Shirley Meeks, the more reserved of the two, was a homemaker and retired food service worker who often took young colleagues under her wing. 

The childhood sweethearts married in 1950 and had celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Dec. 22. The couple enjoyed spending the winter months in Florida and visiting with their 13 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. 

Ohio has reported more than 849,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to an NBC News tally