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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

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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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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

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.

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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.

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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.