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Jan. 27 Coronavirus updates: Oklahoma to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine

The U.S. remains the leader in recorded cases with more than 25.5 million infections.
Image: People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk through a subway station in Beijing
People in Beijing walk through a subway station on Wednesday. China has given more than 22 million Covid-19 vaccine shots to date as it carries out a drive ahead of next month's Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday.Mark Schiefelbein / AP

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

Global Covid-19 cases topped 100 million as virus mutations continue to create new concerns, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The milestone comes less than three months after the world hit 50 million cases, and just over a year after the first case was diagnosed in the U.S., which remains the leader in recorded cases with more than 25.5 million infections.

Teachers say they want the Covid-19 vaccine before they head back to the classroom

CHICAGO — Children who have been marooned at home for months by the pandemic are slowly returning to classrooms, but many teachers say they won’t go back until they’ve received the Covid-19 vaccine.

Especially in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest public school district, where teachers who were supposed to return to classrooms Wednesday worked from home again and are once more threatening to strike.

“Community spread is still so high in Chicago, and so many people are sick and dying. I don’t know how to keep myself safe in an old building with so many people," said Kirstin Roberts, a preschool teacher at the Brentano Math and Science Academy, on the city’s northwest side “I don’t understand why we have to risk our lives when we’re so close to a vaccine.”

Read the full article here

Thai police arrest 89 foreigners in local bar for flouting Covid-19 rules


BANGKOK — Police raided a party at a bar on a popular resort island in southern Thailand and arrested 89 foreigners for violating coronavirus regulations, officials said Wednesday.

The Tuesday night raid on the Three Sixty Bar on Koh Phangan also netted 22 Thais, including one identified as the bar’s owner and another who sold drinks there, said police Col. Suparerk Pankosol, superintendent of the provincial immigration office.

He said the gathering was illegal under a national state of emergency declared last March to combat the coronavirus.

Those arrested were from more than 10 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Switzerland and Denmark, Suparerk said. Photos of the raid distributed by police showed a dark, crowded room with casually dressed partygoers, almost all wearing face masks.

U.K. announces hotel quarantine for residents returning from 30 high-risk Covid-19 countries

U.K. nationals and residents returning from dozens of countries will have to quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday.

In an effort to prevent new Covid-19 variants from entering the country, Johnson said travelers returning from 30 high-risk countries, including South Africa, Portugal and large parts of South America, will have to isolate in hotels on arrival.

Under England's current lockdown rules, Johnson stressed that it is "illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes."

"In order to reduce the risk posed by U.K. nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days without exception," he added.

U.K. opposition leaders called for these quarantine requirements to extend to all incoming travel. "Today's announcement is too limited, it leaves huge gaps in our defenses against emerging strains," Labour's home affairs spokesman Nick Thomas-Symonds said.

Colombia will ban flights from Brazil over variant concerns

The Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia will ban flights from Brazil effective Friday over concerns of a variant of the coronavirus that is circulating in that country.

Colombia President Ivan Duque on Wednesday announced the 30-day measure. No flights will take off from Colombia to Brazil either.

In addition, anyone who arrived from Brazil to Colombia between Jan. 18 and Wednesday will have to quarantine for 14 days.

The Brazil P.1 variant was first identified in four travelers who were tested at an airport outside Tokyo. It contains a set of mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colombia has recorded more than 2 million cases and over 52,100 deaths of COVID-19.

Alabama, Alaska announce first cases of U.K. variant

Alabama and Alaska have joined a growing list of states where a Covid-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom — and which is believed to be more transmissible — has been found.

Health officials in Alabama said Wednesday that the variant, B.1.1.7., has been identified in three Alabamians, two of whom are children under 19 and one of whom is an adult.

On Tuesday the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said testing had identified the state's first case of B.1.1.7., in an Anchorage resident who tested positive for Covid-19 in December. They and another person they lived with who also got sick recovered, and both isolated while sick, it said.

The U.K. variant has been detected in more than two dozen states.

It is believed to be more transmissible but it doesn't appear to be more likely to make someone seriously ill or to kill someone, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week. 

Effects of gerrymandering felt in Wisconsin as governor, GOP clash over Covid restrictions

At one point during the pandemic, Black residents of Milwaukee County were six times more likely to die from the coronavirus than Wisconsin's white residents, state health officials said.

The state's governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat in his first term, issued a mask order and other mandates to protect all citizens, but the Republican-led legislature successfully sued to strike down those decisions.

The more Evers fought for Covid-19 restrictions, the more GOP resistance he faced inside the state Capitol. The state Supreme Court issued several decisions siding with Republicans in limiting Evers’ power to act during a public health emergency.

“It’s pretty shameful they didn’t want to act or didn’t seem concerned with the loss of life toward Blacks and Latinos,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, said. “It seemed like they could care less.”

Click here to read the full story.

Virginia enacts Covid-19 workplace safety standards

Virginia has enacted permanent Covid-19 workplace health and safety standards to protect workers.

The standards "mandate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record-keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces," according to a statement from the office of Virginia's Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.

“No Virginia worker should have to weigh their family’s economic security against their physical safety,” the governor's chief workforce development adviser, Megan Healy, said in the statement. “These permanent standards provide workers with essential recourse if faced with this untenable decision while giving businesses a clear understanding of the steps they must take to maintain a safe working environment.” 

The standards require all employees who interact with the public to wear masks. Employers must make hand sanitizer readily available. The new rules also lay out guidelines for returning to work after testing positive for Covid-19.

In July, Virginia became what Northam said was the first state in the nation to adopt emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements in response to the pandemic in the absence of federal regulations. Since then, at least six other states have adopted Covid-19 workplace standards, Northam's office said. 

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will enforce the permanent requirements. So far, the department has received more than 13,000 complaints concerning Covid-19 workplace safety, with 100 needing a full investigation due to serious concerns and 27 employers being cited, the governor's office statement said.

Long Beach vaccine distributing outpacing the rest of California

The port city of Long Beach, in Los Angeles County, is outpacing the rest of California when it comes to vaccine distribution, Mayor Robert Garcia said during an Instagram Live discussion with Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

The city, which has its own health department, is "pretty much done" vaccinating its medical workers with more than 50 percent having received second doses as of this week. Long Beach is now vaccinating people 65 years and older, teachers and food workers. 

"We've been planning for six months," Garcia said. "I would argue we have one of the best vaccine rollouts in the state of California." 

California and Los Angeles County, in particular, continues to experience rollout difficulties amid confusion, frustration and short supplies. As of last week, L.A. has received roughly 850,000 doses but requires 4 million to complete shots for health care workers and seniors over the age of 65 who are eligible to receive the vaccine, according to public health officials. 

Both California and county public health officials have blamed dwindling supplies at the federal level for vaccine distributions problems at the local level.

Maryland gov announces $258M in additional rental relief funds

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that a total of $402 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding has been given to his state to help people struggling to cover their rent because of the pandemic.

Hogan said $258.1 million was given to the state this week alone, and an additional $143 million was sent out directly to eight jurisdictions with populations over 200,000 people, including Baltimore County.

“We continue to back one of the strongest eviction moratoriums in the country with direct relief for rental payments, legal services, and affordable housing,” Hogan said in a statement. “We look forward to working with legislative leaders to determine the best way to utilize these resources for Marylanders in need.”

Oklahoma seeking to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is attempting to return $2 million worth of a malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter, said Hunter is attempting to negotiate a return of the 1.2 million hydroxychloroquine pills Oklahoma acquired in April from a California-based supplier, FFF Enterprises. He said the office was acting on a request from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which authorized the purchase.

A spokeswoman for FFF Enterprises didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday seeking comment.

The attempt by Oklahoma to return the hydroxychloroquine was first reported by the online news publication The Frontier.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt defended the purchase last year, saying the drug was showing some promise as a treatment in early March and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to acquire it.

“I was being proactive to try and protect Oklahomans,” Stitt said at the time.

The drug has since been shown to have little or no effect on severe cases of Covid-19, and a former state health official chalked up Oklahoma’s purchase to something that happens in “the fog of war.”

While governments in at least 20 other states obtained more than 30 million doses of the drug through donations from the federal reserve or private companies, Oklahoma and Utah bought them from private pharmaceutical companies.

Then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, initially defended the state’s $800,000 purchase of 20,000 packets of hydroxychloroquine compounded with zinc, but later canceled an additional plan to spend $8 million more to buy 200,000 more treatments. The state then managed to secure a refund on the $800,000 no-bid contract it signed with a local pharmacy company that had been promoting the drugs.

The CEO of the pharmacy company has since pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for mislabeling the drug imported from China. Dan Richards, the operator of Meds In Motion, acknowledged receiving large amounts of the drug from an unregistered manufacturer in China incorrectly labeled as an herbal supplement.

His lawyer has said he trying to help procure as much of the product as possible because at the time it seemed like a promising treatment for the coronavirus.

Cannes Film Festival delayed until July

The famed Cannes Film Festival, set for May following its coronavirus cancellation last year, will be delayed again, organizers said Wednesday.

Initially scheduled for May 11-22, the current "global health situation" has forced officials to redraw plans with hopes to stage it between July 6 and 17.

The annual winter Sundance Film Festival went off last year in Utah, as one of America's last, mass cultural events before the coronavirus shutdown. This year's Sundance is scheduled to begin on Thursday, as a largely virtual event.

Cannes 2020 Special, a mini-version of the Cannes Film Festival
A guest poses as she arrives at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres ahead of Cannes 2020 Special, a mini-version of the Cannes Film Festival, on Oct. 27, 2020, in Cannes, southeastern France.Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images file

Auschwitz survivors mark liberation anniversary online amid pandemic

WARSAW, Poland — A Jewish prayer for the souls of the people murdered in the Holocaust echoed Wednesday over where the Warsaw ghetto stood during World War II as a world paused by the coronavirus pandemic observed the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Most International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations were being held online this year due to the virus, including the annual ceremony at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site is closed to visitors because of the pandemic.

In one of the few live events, mourners gathered in Poland's capital to pay their respects at a memorial in the former Warsaw ghetto, the largest of all the ghettos where European Jews were held in cruel and deadly conditions before being sent to die in mass extermination camps.

Read more here.

Biden to reopen Obamacare enrollment for those affected by Covid

President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday to re-open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act markets for people who need medical care because of the pandemic, Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, confirmed.

Boushey said the move was in the works in an interview with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson on Wednesday, adding, "I cannot stress how important this is."

"Opening this up for Americans right now in the middle of a health crisis is a way to ensure more people can get access to the health insurance they need," she said. "People need access to health care." 

The Associated Press first reported the expected action. Former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly tried to repeal "Obamacare," had resisted calls to allow such a special enrollment period.

It's unclear when Biden's order would take effect. The AP reported the details were still being hashed out.

Cuomo: If supply weren't an issue, all of New York state could be vaccinated in a month

With an adequate supply of Covid-19 vaccines, everyone in New York state could be vaccinated within one month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

"That's the real shame," Cuomo told MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle. "One month, we could get the state done. We have 3,000 providers who are now online. We have mass distribution sites that could do hundreds of thousands [of doses]. This is purely a supply issue."

Speaking a day after President Joe Biden announced his administration is working to buy 200 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines — enough to inoculate nearly everyone in the United States by the end of the summer — Cuomo slammed the Trump administration for not buying more earlier.

"What was shocking about President Biden's announcement yesterday was that the United States government hadn't even ordered enough medicine. How do you treat a pandemic? First, order the medicine necessary," he said. 

The purchase from the Biden administration comes in addition to the 400 million doses pharmaceutical companies have already promised to the U.S., for a total of 600 million doses — enough for 2 doses for 300 million Americans.

"The president said honestly, which is always refreshing, it's going to take six months to get that number of doses," Cuomo said. "I wish the previous administration had done that."

White House task force introduces plan to increase number of vaccinators

White House officials announced on Wednesday a plan to speed up the administration of vaccines and avoid bottlenecks from resource constraints.

Jeff Zients, head of the President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 task force, said the Department of Health and Human Services will introduce changes to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to allow retired doctors and nurses to administer shots and to enable licensed doctors and nurses to help out with vaccinations across state lines. 

The PREP Act is designed to provide immunity from liability, but amendments are often introduced to address public health emergencies and enforce countermeasures to fight infectious diseases.

Peru sees second Covid wave, orders total lockdown of capital and 9 other regions


LIMA, Peru - President Francisco Sagasti of Peru on Tuesday night announced a total lockdown of the capital and nine other regions following a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, which he said had pushed hospitals close to collapse.

Sagasti said the new measures covering central Peru would remain in effect until at least Feb. 14. They include instructions to work from home, the closure of all nonessential shops, the suspension of interregional land and air travel, and the extension of a ban on flights coming from Europe to flights from Brazil in a bid to curb new, more contagious strains of the virus.

On Tuesday, Peru reported 4,444 new cases of the coronavirus, taking its total to 1,107,239, and 40,107 deaths. According to Reuters data here, Peru's cases are at 57 percent of an Aug. 22 peak, when more than 9,000 new cases were confirmed.

Sagasti said Covid-19 vaccines were the way out of the crisis and pledged to be among the first to receive the shot.

Click here to read the full story.

Moderna confirms talks with federal government to deliver another 100 million doses

Moderna confirmed Wednesday it was in discussions with the federal government to deliver another 100 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine later this year.

“To date, the U.S. government has agreed to purchase 200 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine,” the drugmaker said in a statement. “This new purchase would bring the U.S. government’s confirmed order commitment to 300 million doses.”

President Joe Biden revealed Tuesday the government was working to buy 200 million more vaccine doses, which would be enough to inoculate every American by the end of the summer.

Biden to sit out Covid briefing as part of a new plan to talk to Americans

WASHINGTON — When the Biden administration holds its first coronavirus briefing Wednesday, there will be no cameo from the president, no speakers behind the White House podium jousting with reporters, and no data coming from outside the federal agencies involved in the pandemic response.

And in a sign of the awareness of the risks of putting people in a room together, the briefing won't even be held in person.

It will be a different scene from the coronavirus news briefings of the Trump administration, which often became freewheeling televised spectacles with the president jockeying with journalists. It's one of the clearest signs yet of how President Joe Biden is taking a vastly different approach when it comes to talking to the American people.

From the start of the pandemic, public health officials have been making the case that combating the virus requires a communal effort.

Biden and his pandemic advisers argue that changing the way information gets to the public will be one of the primary ways to turn around the trajectory of the pandemic.

Click here to read the full story.

Japan's PM apologizes after politicians break rules and visit nightclubs


Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized Wednesday after lawmakers from his ruling coalition visited nightclubs, despite his government's call for people to avoid unnecessary outings to stop the spread of Covid-19.

"I'm terribly sorry that this happened when we are asking people not to eat out after 8 p.m. and to avoid nonessential, nonurgent outings," Suga told Parliament. 

Japan this month issued a state of emergency in Tokyo to curb a sharp rise in cases. Japanese people vented on Twitter at the double standards of politicians. "I want them to quit! " one user wrote. Another said they were "unqualified to represent the public." 

Sanofi to lend rival Pfizer-BioNTech a hand with vaccines in Europe

Andy Eckardt

Rachel Elbaum and Andy Eckardt

French drugmaker Sanofi will help rivals Pfizer and BioNTech manufacture 125 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for the European Union, the company announced Wednesday.

The news comes as the E.U. struggles with the rollout of coronavirus vaccines, falling behind other parts of the world, including the U.S. and the neighboring U.K.

Sanofi will manufacture the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in its Frankfurt facility this summer.

“We are very conscious that the earlier vaccine doses are available, the more lives can potentially be saved,”  Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said. “We have made the decision to support BioNTech and Pfizer in manufacturing their Covid-19 vaccine in order to help address global needs, given that we have the technology and facilities to do so.”

January now the deadliest month of the pandemic

The U.S. has counted 80,677 reported Covid-19 deaths in January as of Wednesday morning, more than December's 77,124 dead and the the most in any month of pandemic, according to an NBC News tally. 

On Tuesday, the country counted 169,687 cases and 3,718 reported deaths, bringing the totals to 25.5 million cases and 426,586 deaths as of Wednesday morning.

The U.S. has averaged 3,367 deaths and 169,687 cases per day in the last week. Four weeks ago, that number was 2,615 deaths and 224,938 cases.

These states set single-day records:

  • Alabama, 234 dead
  • Hawaii, 59 dead
  • Tennessee, 192 dead

At-home Covid tests offer promises — and challenges

Ben Popken, Vicky Nguyen and Lauren Dunn

Three new completely at-home Covid-19 tests are hitting the market soon, promising to deliver results within minutes.

The BinaxNowLucira and Ellume tests all offer slight variations on a similar approach: swab, insert and get results without even leaving your kitchen table, in 30 minutes or less.

The tests offer promising accessibility: No visits to a doctor or clinic, or scheduling a drive-through at a pharmacy. And, since patients don’t have to leave home, it's easier for them to take the test, decreasing the risk they might infect others.

“If millions of Americans tested themselves at home twice a week we would start to see dramatic reductions in cases within a month or two,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Read the story here.

China administered more than 22M vaccine doses so far

The Associated Press

BEIJING — China has given more than 22 million coronavirus vaccine shots to date as it carries out a drive ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday.

The effort, which began six weeks ago, targets key groups such as medical and transport workers and has accelerated vaccinations in China. About 1.6 million doses had been given over several months before the campaign began.

“The carrying out of vaccination has been ongoing in a steady and orderly manner,” Zeng Yixin, vice chairman of the National Health Commission Said at a news conference.

He said that 22.76 million doses had been administered as of Tuesday. It’s not clear how many people that represents since the vaccine is given in two doses, and some may have received their second shot.

China, which largely stopped the spread of the virus last spring, has seen fresh outbreaks this winter in four northern provinces. About 1,800 new cases have been reported since mid-December, including two deaths.

Authorities are strongly discouraging people from traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when Chinese traditionally return to their hometowns for family gatherings.

Poorer countries will lag 6 to 8 months behind richer nations in vaccine rollout


Poorer countries face a best-case scenario of a 6 to 8 month lag behind richer nations in getting access to Covid-19 vaccines to protect their populations against the pandemic disease, the philanthropist Bill Gates said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Gates called the rollout of the first Covid-19 shots a "super hard allocation problem" that was putting pressure on global institutions, governments and drugmakers.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far committed some $1.75 billion to the global response to the pandemic, including via funds for the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by the World Health Organization, and via direct support for some vaccine makers. It hopes to start some deliveries next month.

"The total number of doses that GAVI (and COVAX) will have in the first half of the year is still very modest," he said. "Yes, they will get some doses out, but if you compare when they will reach the same percentage of coverage as the rich countries — that's where I'd say it's six to eight months, best case."

Covid-19 home test vending machine unveiled in New York City

900 Holocaust survivors have died of Covid-19, Israel says

Paul Goldman

Yasmine Salam and Paul Goldman

Around 900 people who survived the Holocaust died from Covid-19 in Israel during the pandemic, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

The figures were released Tuesday, a day ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance to honor the millions of European Jews and other groups killed during the Holocaust between 1941 and 1945.

Some 5,300 Holocaust survivors contracted the virus last year, Israel reported. All Holocaust survivors are over the age of 75 — World War II ended 75 years ago — and approximately 17 percent are over 90. There are around 179,600 survivors living in Israel.

Japan prepares for vaccine drive

Image: Participants take part in a mock inoculation exercise on Wednesday in Kawasaki, Japan as the country prepares for a Covid-19 vaccination drive. It's the last major industrial country to start vaccinations.
Participants take part in a mock inoculation exercise on Wednesday in Kawasaki, Japan as the country prepares for a Covid-19 vaccination drive. It's the last major industrial country to start vaccinations.Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters