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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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