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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.



Fauci looks forward to being 'completely transparent' in Biden administration

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government's top public health experts, said in his first news briefing since President Joe Biden took office that the new administration was committed to being "completely transparent, open and honest."

"One of the new things about this administration is that, if you don't know the answer, don't guess. Just say you don't know the answer," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci said that he had met with Biden just 15 minutes before the news conference and that they discussed how "everything we do will be based on science and evidence." 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said Fauci and other public health officials will make more regular appearances in the briefing room to discuss the coronavirus after the Trump administration largely declined to update the public in its final months. 

Fauci said his commitment to transparency got him in trouble sometimes in the Trump administration.

"It is somewhat of a liberating feeling," he said of operating in the Biden administration.

1 in 4 hospitalized for Covid likely to die, L.A. county officials say

One in 4 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Los Angeles County are likely to die from the virus, public health officials revealed Wednesday. 

That figure doubled since the fall, when the chances of someone dying from the virus while hospitalized were about 1 in 8 between September and early November. The increased likelihood of death from the coronavirus coincides with a massive spike in cases that started at the beginning of November and has continued to batter the region.

Public health officials are cautiously optimistic after seeing the number of new hospitalizations level off in recent days. Still, outcomes for new patients remain dire. From Nov. 3 to the present, each Covid-19 patient admitted to a hospital required on average two days in the intensive care unit and 9.5 days overall hospitalization, according to public health data.

Timing of second Covid vaccine dose doesn't need to be exact. Just get it, experts say.

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 dose within the prescribed time frame of 21 or 28 days.

While potentially worrisome, public health experts across the country say there's no cause for concern.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national pharmacy chains, infectious disease experts, and doctors on the front lines of treating patients say that there is some wiggle room for that second dose — while also emphasizing that it's still essential to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

There is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine," the CDC says on its website.

Click here to read the full story.

Biden invokes Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine rollout

President Biden announced Thursday that his administration will employ the Defense Production Act to increase vaccination rollout. 

As part of his series of executive actions and to meet his goal to deliver 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, Biden pledged to shore up the supply chain and devote more of the federal government's reserves to the effort.

Biden encouraged agencies to look to the Defense Production Act to accelerate production, hoping to combat short supply as states are already reporting they are running out of vaccine doses.

Former President Donald Trump previously invoked the Defense Production Act to speed the production of medical supplies and components to test for Covid-19.

Biden signs executive orders on Covid vaccinations, pandemic response

WASHINGTON — On his second day in office, President Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations, expand testing and reopen schools as he outlined a detailed plan to tackle the pandemic.

Biden's team began warning weeks ago that they saw the outgoing administration's Covid-19 vaccine plan as subpar, and since he took office Wednesday, the president has moved quickly to implement a new framework for getting vaccines into arms.

As part of the plan, the new administration will increase the number of vaccination sites by creating federal community vaccination centers in stadiums, gymnasiums and conference centers staffed with thousands of additional workers, some of them from federal agencies and the military, as well as first responders. Biden said there should be 100 of those centers next month.

"We didn't get into this mess overnight and it is going to take months to get it turned around," Biden said, warning the country will likely top 500,000 deaths next month. "But let me be equally clear, we will get through this, we will defeat this pandemic."

Biden's 198-page plan also looks for ways to speed vaccine production, including using the Defense Production Act, shoring up the supply chain and releasing more of the federal government's reserves. Biden encouraged all states to start vaccinating people 65 and older, along with certain essential workers, including teachers and grocery store employees.

Click here to read the full story.

Biden Covid plan includes efforts to fight disinformation

The Biden administration's Covid-19 plan released Thursday includes efforts to re-establish trust with the American public and fight disinformation, which public health experts have labeled a major problem facing the U.S. response.

"The Administration will lead world-class public education campaigns — covering topics like masking, testing, vaccinations and vaccine hesitancy — designed with diversity and inclusivity in mind, including communications in multiple languages, to maximize reach and effectiveness," the administration wrote in the plan. "The campaigns will be coordinated, across national, state, and local levels, and engage with the private and public sector. They will be anchored by science and fact-based public health guidance. The Administration will work to counter misinformation and disinformation by ensuring that Americans are obtaining science-based information."

The plan lays out four ways to accomplish that: Encourage engagement to support the campaign; identify and address misinformation; address vaccine hesitancy especially in hard-to-reach communities; and provide clear information on how people can get vaccinated.

The plan does not touch on whether it plans to work with major internet platforms that are often the way Covid-19 misinformation reaches mass audiences.

Washington commemorates 1 year since Covid-19 first diagnosed in state

Biden says deaths will top 500K by next month: "Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better"

President Biden announced his plans to address the pandemic through executive action Thursday, insisting the nation will get through the pandemic, but warning of a long road ahead in which deaths will "top 500,000" by next month.

“I understand the despair of so many Americans," he said. "Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.” 

Biden said "help is on the way" with his administration, sticking to his pledge to get 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his presidency.

He also talked about the implementation of his federal pharmacy plan, helping turn local pharmacies into Covid-19 vaccination sites; an action to protect worker safety; and an action to ensure more equitable response across racial lines.

“The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated," Biden said.

"We're in a national emergency, it's time we treat it like one," the president said, adding he wants to get schools back open and get Americans back to work.

Covid-19 claims the lives of nine Catholic bishops in the same week

In the last week, nine Catholic bishops around the world have died after testing positive for Covid-19, according to the Catholic News Agency.

In the period between Jan. 8 and Jan. 15, bishops living across three continents and ranging in age from 53 to 91 died as a result of the virus, CNA reported. Five of the bishops died in Europe, which has been shaken by a new strain of Covid-19.

Four of the bishops died on the same day, according to CNA: Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, 70; Bishop Moses Hamungole of Monze, Zambia, 53; Bishop Mario Cecchini of Fano, Italy, 87; and Cardinal Eusébio Oscar Scheid, 88, the retired archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In response to Cuomo, Pfizer says it can't sell vaccines to states without fed approval

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday asked Pfizer chief Albert Bourla whether the state could purchase Covid-19 vaccine doses directly from the pharmaceutical giant. In response, Pfizer said the Biden administration's Health and Human Services Department would need to sign off before the company can sell vaccines directly to states.

"We appreciate Governor Cuomo’s kind words and the pride he expressed in his letter that Pfizer is a New York-headquartered company," the company said this week. "Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible.

"However, before we can sell directly to State governments, HHS would need to approve that proposal based on the [Emergency Use Authorization] granted to Pfizer by the FDA.”

Meanwhile, NYC announced today that it is rescheduling all vaccine appointments from Thursday to Sunday for next week while it deals with vaccine shortages.

'We need more': Cities and hospitals feel pinch of Covid-19 vaccine shortages

The U.S. vaccine rollout hasn't been perfect, but states and cities have worked to ramp up distribution and make sure vaccines don't expire.

Now, they're worried the distribution could get ahead of the supply. Some health care providers and cities say they are running out of doses within a few days of getting their weekly allocation, a change from a couple weeks ago when local vaccinators had trouble keeping up with the supplies they were getting.

Covid-19 vaccines were always going to be in short supply after receiving U.S. approval for emergency use only last month, but patients, hospitals and local officials say even the meager allocation has been unpredictable.

San Francisco said this week that the supply its city health department received Tuesday could be gone by the end of Thursday, while New York City warned that its weekly supply also may not last into the weekend.

Read the full story here.

U.S. logged a record 4,131 Covid deaths on Wednesday

A record 4,131 Covid-19 deaths were logged on Wednesday as the pandemic continues to roll through America.

More than 61,000 people have died of Covid-19 since the start of January, making this month already the second-deadliest of the entire pandemic, after December 2020. New daily deaths have risen more than 30 percent in the last two weeks.

Nevada and Alaska set new daily death records, with 71 and 23 deaths, respectively.

178,935 new cases were logged as well, according to NBC News' tally.

Overall, 24.5 million cases and more than 407,000 cases have been recorded in the United States.

Ohio provider suspended for mishandling, spoiling Covid vaccine doses

A Columbus, Ohio, vaccine distributor has been suspended after authorities said the company mishandled 890 doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine.

In a press release Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health said the provider, SpecialtyRx, received 1,500 vaccine doses to administer to residents of eight long-term care facilities before Jan. 1.

After administering the initial doses, the remaining ones sat in SpecialtyRx's refrigerator and freezer, where the temperatures were not monitored regularly as required to maintain vaccine viability.

"The company was exploring a transfer of the doses to another provider when it was discovered that they had failed to appropriately monitor temperatures in their refrigerator and freezer," the health department said in the release.

The state agency investigated and determined the 890 doses were not viable. Officials also "immediately halted any future allocations to Specialty Rx, and the provider has been instructed to not administer or transfer any of the affected doses and to keep them quarantined in both units until next steps are given," the health department said.

Click here to read the full story.

Eli Lilly: Monoclonal antibodies may prevent Covid-19 in nursing homes

Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced Thursday that its monoclonal antibody therapy may lower the risk for Covid-19 by up to 80 percent in people living in nursing homes.

The findings, from the clinical trial BLAZE-2, included nearly 1,000 nursing home residents and staff. Residents who received the treatment, called bamlanivimab, had up to an 80 percent lower risk of developing symptomatic Covid-19 in the eight-week study period, compared with residents in the same facility who got a placebo drug, the company said. 

The company released few details, but said full results are forthcoming. 

Monoclonal antibodies, including the Lilly therapy, are authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration for people with newly diagnosed Covid-19 who are at high risk for developing complications, such as those with underlying health conditions and anyone over age 65.

The BLAZE-2 trial, however, aimed to look at whether monoclonal antibodies could be given prophylactically to high risk individuals to prevent disease. The trial — done in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health — is expected to enroll up to 5,000 people. 

Lilly's chief scientific officer Dr. Daniel Skovronsky said in a company press release that "these data provide important additional clinical evidence regarding the use of bamlanivimab to fight Covid-19 and strengthen our conviction that monoclonal antibodies such as bamlanivimab can play a critical role in turning the tide of this pandemic."

Eleven people who received a placebo in the study died, four of them attributed to Covid-19. Five people who received bamlanivimab died, unrelated to the virus or the treatment. 

First weekly initial jobless claims of Biden era fall to 900,000

Around 900,000 Americans filed for initial jobless claims last week, versus economists' projections of 925,000, according to the first labor market data released under President Joe Biden.

First-time weekly jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, have exceeded 750,000 a week since summer, and surged to a revised 926,000 for the week ended Jan. 9 as rising coronavirus cases continue to keep consumers home and businesses under restrictive measures.

The elevated figures reflect the intensity of the damage that the virus has inflicted on the labor market — and the enormity of what Biden must now tackle. Around 44 weeks into the pandemic, almost 16 million people continue to receive some form of unemployment assistance.

"There is real pain overwhelming the real economy," Biden said. "There is no time to wait. We have to act, and act now."

Read the story here.

New CDC director says Covid vaccine won't be in every pharmacy by late February

The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that the Covid-19 vaccine would not be widely available by late February as the Trump administration previously said.

The new administration is determined to meet the goal of 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in 100 days, Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Savannah Guthrie on the "TODAY" show.

But the shots won't be available for just anyone in pharmacies, like the flu vaccine is, by late February, as former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Guthrie last month.

"We are going to, as part of our plan, put the vaccine in pharmacies. Will it be in every pharmacy in this country by that timeline? I don't think so," Walensky said. "I don't think late February, we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country."

Click here to read the full story

Fauci expects Johnson & Johnson vaccine data in 1-2 weeks

Dr. Anthony Fauci told "Good Morning America" on Thursday he expects the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine data to be submitted within one to two weeks.

"They are within a week or two of getting their data analyzed, so that we can make a decision," Fauci said. "We can look forward to having more companies supplying vaccines."

He added it was "refreshing" for the U.S. to renew its support for the World Health Organization after the Trump administration gave formal notice of its withdrawal last summer.

"When you're dealing with a global pandemic, you have to have an international connectivity," Fauci said.

On President Joe Biden's plan to roll out 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days, Fauci said he was not only "fairly confident" that the new president in office would reach that benchmark, but also surpass it.

British music festival in Glastonbury canceled for second year in a row

Music festival lovers around the world will be sad to learn that the Glastonbury festival will not take place this summer, organizers announced on Twitter on Thursday.

As was the case last year, fears of Covid-19 has rendered the event impossible to organize safely. Organizers said tickets sold in Oct. 2019 would roll over and give those who had already paid a deposit priority in buying tickets for 2022. 

"We are very confident we can deliver something really special for us all in 2022," the statement read. 

The five-day U.K. music festival has been around since 1970 and began the day after Jimi Hendrix died. Previous headliners include David Bowie, Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. 

In an interview with the BBC last month, former Beatles band member Paul McCartney had said he would love to perform at the festival in 2021 but was skeptical the event would go forward given the pandemic and it being a potential "superspreader." 

Biden outlines ambitious pandemic response on 2nd day in office

WASHINGTON — On his second day in office, President Joe Biden has revealed plans to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic by creating federal community vaccination centers in stadiums, gymnasiums and conference centers staffed with thousands of additional workers, some of them from federal agencies and the military, as well as first responders.

Biden's plan also looks for ways to speed vaccine production, including using the Defense Production Act, shoring up the supply chain and releasing more of the federal government's reserves. Biden will encourage all states to start vaccinating people 65 and older, along with certain essential workers, including teachers and grocery store employees.

Biden has set an ambitious goal of giving 100 million shots in 100 days — picking up the pace from the 17 million shots the Trump administration recorded in a little over a month. Administration officials think they have the supply and resources to meet the goal, but they said they will need funding from Congress to expand vaccinations to the wider population, increase testing and help schools reopen. Biden is asking for more than $400 million for the pandemic response as part of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Read the full story here.

British scientists fear viral transmissions are not declining, despite national lockdown

England’s latest national lockdown has not reduced the spread of the coronavirus, according to a study conducted by Imperial College London, as the U.K.'s Covid-19 death toll rose to a record 1,820 on Wednesday.

The study said prevalence of the virus in England is “very high with no evidence of decline.” Researchers looked at 142,900 nose and throat swabs between Jan. 6 and Jan. 15. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowed Britons from parts of the country to reunite with their families over Christmas.

Viral spread was highest in London at 2.8 percent, more than double the figure in late November, according to the study.

Fauci lays out Biden’s support for WHO after Trump criticism

GENEVA — 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.”

Shanghai reports first Covid-19 cases since November

China’s major business city of Shanghai reported three new Covid-19 cases Thursday, its first signs of local infections since Nov. 23.

The news comes amid concerns over a second surge of new cases across the country ahead of China’s most important holiday, Lunar New Year. Lockdowns, isolation centers and mass testing sites are already underway in other Chinese provinces in the hopes of preventing viral spread from spiraling out of control. Shanghai has begun mass testing hospital staff after two workers returned with "suspicious" test results. 

Back in November, Shanghai had reported an outbreak of 349 locally transmitted cases, according to China's Global Times. By early January, China’s most populous city of 23 million had discharged all of its patients and noted there were no new hospitalizations.