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Jan. 28 Coronavirus updates: Miami Heat welcomes back fans with virus-sniffing dogs

As calls for schools to reopen grow louder across the country, many teachers are saying: vaccinate us first.
Image: Health workers in protective suits are seen in the Huangpu district on Jan. 28, 2021 in Shanghai, China.
Health workers in protective suits are seen in the Huangpu district on Thursday in Shanghai, China. Hu Chengwei / Getty Images

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

As calls for schools to reopen grow louder across the country, many teachers are saying: vaccinate us first.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended reopening schools as soon as possible with mask-wearing and other safeguards in place, but teachers in cities such as Chicago remain resistant to returning.

As of Wednesday, about a third of all students in the United States have not had any in-person education since March, a situation repeated across the world.

Meanwhile, there have now been 25.5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S., a quarter of the world's total.

First U.S. cases of South African Covid-19 variant found in South Carolina

South Carolina health officials announced on Thursday the detection of two cases associated with the Covid-19 variant discovered in South Africa — the first recorded cases of this variant in the United States.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said experts agreed that existing vaccines would work against this variant. While this variant does appear to spread easier and quicker, the department said there was "no evidence to suggest that the B.1.351 variant causes more severe illness."

The DHEC added that there was no known travel history or connection between the two adults who tested positive for the variant — one was from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and the other from the Pee Dee region. 

Late Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified state health officials that one sample contained the Covid-19 variant first found in South Africa, according to NBC affiliate WIS. The other case was discovered at the DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory, the station reported.

The variant has been detected in 30 other countries, according to the station.

The CDC said in a statement on Thursday that the agency would continue to monitor the Covid-19 variant and recommended that people avoid travel at this time.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC's interim public health director, said in a statement that the variant was an "important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over."

“While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together,” she said.

Can the U.S. keep Covid variants in check? Here's what it takes.

The Covid-19 variants that have emerged in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and now Southern California are eliciting two notably distinct responses from U.S. public health officials.

First, broad concern. A variant that wreaked havoc in the U.K., leading to a spike in case numbers and hospitalizations, is surfacing in more places in the U.S. This week, another worrisome variant seen in Brazil surfaced in Minnesota. If these or other strains significantly change the way the virus transmits and attacks the body, as scientists fear they might, they could cause yet another prolonged surge in illnesses and deaths in the U.S., even as case numbers have begun to plateau and vaccines are rolling out.

On the other hand, variants aren't novel or even uncommon in viral illnesses. The viruses that trigger common colds and flus regularly evolve. Even if a mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, makes it more contagious or makes people sicker, the basic public health response stays the same: monitor the virus and any mutations as they move across communities. Use masking, testing, physical distancing and quarantine to contain the spread.

Click here to read the full story.

2 children die at Texas hospital in the same week

Covid-19 claimed the lives of two children at a pediatric hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, this week.

Cook Children's Medical Center, a leading pediatric hospital, said in a statement that a 9-year-old and a child under the age of 1 who both had the virus died this week. The baby's death was announced Monday, and local media reports suggested the 9-year-old passed away sometime Tuesday.

The hospital did not release other information about the children due to HIPAA rules.

University of Michigan students told to stay home due to Covid-19 variant

University of Michigan students were told to stay home by county authorities Wednesday, in hopes of curbing the spread of a contagious coronavirus variant.

The Washtenaw County Health Department's recommendation means nearly all classes at the Ann Arbor campus will be likely be remote until at least Feb. 7.

"Students are being asked to remain at their campus-area addresses and to not gather with others outside of their household members," according to a health department statement.

"Students are permitted to leave their residence only to participate in limited activities, including in-person classes, work or research that cannot be completed remotely, obtaining food and medical care and other approved activities."

Click here to read the full story.

WHO team in Wuhan for Covid origins study leaves quarantine

WUHAN, China — A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday, to begin field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the Covid-19 virus.

The researchers, who were required to complete 14 days in quarantine after arriving in China, left their hotel and boarded a bus in the midafternoon.

The mission has become politically charged as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak.

A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they will be able to talk to.

Yellow barriers blocked the entrance to the hotel, keeping the media at a distance. Before the researchers boarded, workers in full protective gear could be seen loading their luggage onto the bus. The driver wore a full-body white protective suit and the researchers wore masks.

Click here to read the full story. 

U.S. is in a 'race against time' with new coronavirus variants, scientists warn

The United States is in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible before other potentially more worrisome variants of the coronavirus emerge, according to experts.

Vaccination efforts in the U.S. have been hamstrung by delivery issues, insufficient supply and hesitancy to get the shots. But to avert another surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, scientists say it may be necessary to rethink how the vaccines are rolled out to ramp up the number of shots administered and to protect against new strains of the virus.

"We really are in a race against new variants," said Wan Yang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "We need to prepare as much as possible before things increase to a level that puts more strain on our health care systems."

Click here to read the full story.

South Dakota has successful vaccination program but high infection rate

South Dakota has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the country, but it’s also got one of the most successful vaccination programs in the land.

So far, health workers have been able to administer 82,823 doses, a rate of 9,362 per 100,000 people, that is seventh best in the country, according to the latest federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

And the reason it’s been so successful is because South Dakota already has a well-established vaccination program in place, said Victor Huber, a biomedical sciences professor at the University of South Dakota.

“Since South Dakota has an excellent infrastructure in place for delivering vaccines, this is an example of our state benefitting from those efforts being applied to the delivery of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines,” Huber said in an email to NBC News. “This is a good sign for our state moving forward.”

South Dakota, which has a population of just 885,000, has a Covid-19 infection rate of 27.18 percent, which is the sixth worst in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University. The state has recorded 107,608 cases and 1,739 deaths due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to NBC News data

Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican and ardent Trump supporter, has been harshly criticized for her hands-off approach to the pandemic by the public health establishment but remains popular with voters in the conservative state.

Miami Heat to welcome back fans with help of Covid-sniffing dogs

The Miami Heat will have fans in the stands Thursday night for the first time in months with the help of some particularly fast and accurate Covid-19 detectors — virus-sniffing dogs.

Ticket holders will be screened by Covid-19 detection dogs when they arrive at America Airlines Arena for the 8 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Clippers, officials said on the team's website.

The dogs will walk past each fan upon arrival, according to a video posted to the site. If a dog sits down, the dog is indicating that it has detected the virus, and the person and their party will not be allowed in the arena.

The Heat website specifies that the Covid-sniffing dogs have been specifically trained to identify the virus and won't sit down in the presence of someone who has simply been vaccinated.

Click here to read the full story.

Lebanon's coronavirus lockdown stokes hunger, fear among desperate families

Shadia has run out of rice for her family of nine.

The Syrian mother had hoped the 5 kilos she bought last week would be enough to feed them for the duration of the draconian national lockdown that Lebanon imposed Jan. 14 in response to surging coronavirus case numbers.

More than a week later, however, little food is left in the family's single-room bungalow. A 24-hour curfew is in place, with residents allowed outside only for what are officially deemed "emergencies." Supermarkets across the country are closed.

The lockdown, which initially had been scheduled to last 11 days, has now been extended until Feb. 8, leaving Shadia, 33, and her husband frantic about how their family will survive. In addition to the lack of food, the terra cotta roof of their home has collapsed, leaving the family to huddle together on the floor under blankets to stay warm.

Click here to read the full story. 

Fauci: Covid-19 vaccine rollout must prioritize people of color

The U.S. Covid-19 vaccine rollout must account for the virus' disproportionate impact on people of color, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of," Fauci, who is the president's chief medical advisor as well as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. "We don't want in the beginning that most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."

Fauci's comments come amid a reported distrust in the medical community among racial minorities in the U.S. Triggered by a dark history of medical experimentation and less access to care, people in Black and Latino communities struggling with high Covid-19 rates are among those least likely to get vaccinated, according to health advocates.

"You absolutely have to respect the hesitancy of the minority population. They keep coming back and saying the history of Tuskegee," Fauci added, referring to the infamous 1932 experiment, in which the U.S. government denied African-American men treatment for syphilis and documented how the disease destroyed their bodies for nearly four decades in Alabama.

Michael Strahan tests positive for Covid-19, but 'feeling well'

ABC News' "Good Morning America" host Michael Strahan tested positive for Covid-19, the show said in an announcement on Thursday.

Strahan's co-hosts explained his absence this week at the top of the show, saying he contracted the coronavirus, but was "feeling well."

"He wanted us to let you know that he has tested positive for Covid. He's at home quarantining right now," co-host Robin Roberts said.

Coanchor George Stephanopoulos added that the former professional football player sent his gratitude for the well wishes and clarified that all staff and crew members were cleared to be on the show. Last April, Stephanopoulos and his wife were diagnosed with Covid-19.

U.S. counts fewer than 200,000 daily cases for 10th day in a row

Wednesday the U.S. counted 3,846 reported deaths and 153,439 new Covid-19 cases, according to NBC News' tally.

This was the 10th day in a row that case counts have numbered less than 200,000.

In the last week, the U.S. averaged 3,336 deaths and 166,045 cases per day. Four weeks ago the U.S. averaged 2,653 deaths and 229,991 cases per day. 

As of Thursday morning, the country registered 25.7 million cases and 430,759 deaths total.

These states set single-day records Wednesday:

  • Alabama, 276 dead
  • Oklahoma, 65 dead

Pfizer vaccine works against new variants of Covid-19, study finds

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine against Covid-19 is successful in treating new variants of the disease, including those first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, a study commissioned by Pfizer has found.

The study, the results of which were released Wednesday and have not been peer-reviewed, said the new variants only had a "small effect" on the vaccine's ability to neutralize the virus. Those effects would be "unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine," the companies said.

The emergence of the new variants has caused concern among some public health experts after appearing across the U.S.

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.