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Covid live updates: Covid variant from South Africa confirmed in U.S.

There have now been 25.7 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S. — but new cases are down 23 percent compared to the same figure two weeks ago.
Image: Members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority wear PPE as they sanitize classrooms in the San Chao Elementary School
Members of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority sanitize a classroom in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday.Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images

Regional health officials have warned that bottlenecks in vaccine distribution are slowing the ambitious national program to provide shots to tens of millions of Americans in the weeks ahead.

Clinics from New York to Texas have complained that they don't know how many doses they will receive each day, with confirmation often coming at the last minute.

The problems mirror those seen across European Union nations, several of which have complained of a restricted number of vaccines compared to the numbers needed.

There have now been 25.7 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S. — but new cases are down 23 percent compared to the same figure two weeks ago.

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West Virginia governor claims nursing homes vaccination victory

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday the state is the nation's first to complete vaccinations at long-term care facilities, which had been an early source of Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths.

He said 17,763 residents and 19,836 staff members at the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities have received second doses of coronavirus vaccines.

"We’re already starting to see some positive impacts,” Justice said at a news conference. “We have cut the number of active outbreaks in nursing homes by 50 percent since the beginning of January."

The largely rural state has become a national leader in getting people inoculated, a crucial step in returning American life and commerce to normal. The state's elementary and middle schools were reopened Jan. 19.

Justice said West Virginia teachers and school staffers 50 and older who have requested the vaccine have received at least a first of two shots. State pandemic czar Dr. Clay Marsh said at the news conference, "We believe that the classroom is actually a safe place to be at this point."

Coachella 2021 canceled by health officials

Health officials in California on Friday  ordered the Coachella music festival and its sister event, the country music Stagecoach festival, canceled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 event had not been canceled by its promoter, Goldenvoice, but the talent lineup was not announced despite a history of rolling out the roster around the first of year. The festivals also didn't take place last year because of the pandemic.

"This order is intended to reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19," the Riverside County health officer said in a public notice to organizers. "If COVID-19 were detected at these festivals, the scope and number of attendees and the nature of the venue would make it infeasible, if not impossible, to track those who may be placed at risk."

The Coachella event, which started as an indie rock and dance music-showcase in 1999 but has morphed into a pop showcase, attracts more than 100,000 people to the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About 12 sailors aboard the USS Chafee have tested positive for Covid-19

About a dozen sailors aboard the USS Chafee have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been removed from the ship, the Navy confirmed Friday.

“Individuals who were in close contact with those sailors are also off the ship and are in quarantine while they monitor for any symptoms,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Third Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement. 

Robertson said the warship, which is docked in San Diego, “remains able to meet its mission.”

“No Chafee sailors have been hospitalized,” the commander said. 

Robertson’s statement came on the heels of a Navy Times report that 41 sailors out of a crew of 350 had either tested positive or had “been in close contact with infected shipmates,” including several of the ship’s cooks.

And because of equipment shortages, some sailors on trip over from Hawaii have had to “wear dirty N95 mask for five days,” Navy Times reported.

Washington hospital apologizes after offering donors vaccine signup

A hospital in Washington apologized after offering 100 donors an invitation to register for a Covid-19 vaccination appointment.

Last Friday, the Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue said in an email to benefactors that the hospital was “pleased to share that we have 500 new open appointments in the Overlake COVID-19 vaccine clinic,” The Seattle Times first reported.

The facility provided donors with an access code to register for appointments “by invite” only, according to the newspaper.

Hospital officials told NBC News in a statement Friday that it did not exclusively offer the vaccine signup to the 100 donors. The hospital also extended an invite to 4,000 other community members, which included board members, volunteers, retired medical personnel, and current employees, the hospital said.

All who registered had to be eligible under the state’s Covid-19 vaccine policy, according to the hospital.

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Cardinal Dolan in quarantine after coming in contact with someone who's tested positive

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the Archdiocese of New York, is now in quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19.

“The Cardinal has not tested positive, feels fine, and has no symptoms,” the diocese said in a a statement.

“He will, however, continue to follow health and safety protocols as instructed by medical professionals, as will others on his staff who also had close contact with this individual.”

That means Dolan will not be celebrating this week's 10:15 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Disney theme parks will continue to require masks, even if vaccinated

Disney World and Disneyland will continue requiring visitors and workers to wear masks in the theme parks – even if they’ve been vaccinated for Covid-19, the company announced Friday.

That’s in line with the current federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which recommend that people keep wearing masks and social distancing even after they’ve gotten their shots.




Cuomo announces indoor dining reopening plans amid criticism over nursing home deaths

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that indoor dining across New York City can reopen on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, at 25 percent capacity.

The governor also laid out guidelines for safe wedding receptions that go into effect March 15, explaining that all guests will need to be tested and venues can open at just 50 percent capacity, up tp 150 people.

He also updated reporters on the latest Covid-19 statistics in the state: 8,357 people currently hospitalized; 12,579 positive test results Thursday; 151 virus deaths the same day.

Cuomo, whose daily briefings brought him greater national attention and praise in the early days of the pandemic, has drawn greater scrutiny in recent months for what critics say are various failures of his administration's response to the virus.

Cuomo's office has been under fire this week after the state attorney general charged that the New York Health Department underreported the Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. 

Fauci says kids could start getting vaccine by late spring

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, said Friday the Biden Administration hopes to start administering Covid-19 vaccines to children by late spring.

“We’ve already started on age de-escalation testing,” Fauci said during the White House Covid Response Team briefing.

That appears to be a slightly faster time table than Dr. Jose Romero, who chairs the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Committee for Immunization Practices, forecast last month. 

Romero said he hoped to see trials testing Covid-19 vaccines in young children starting in the second quarter of this year and that, if the they were proven to be safe and effective, kids under the age of 18 would start getting their shots after that.




3,905 new Covid-19 deaths nationwide Thursday

The United States reported 3,905 new Covid-19 deaths Thursday, according to NBC News' tally.

An additional 153,817 new cases were reported by health agencies across the country.

While the number of new cases continues to decline from its post holiday-high, deaths are on the rise. New cases have decreased 26 percent in the last two weeks, while deaths are up 5 percent in the same period.

Overall, 25.8 million cases and more than 430,000 deaths have been recorded in the United States as of Friday morning.

South Carolina set a record Thursday with 230 deaths.

J&J says vaccine effective against Covid, though weaker against South Africa variant

A single shot of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine is effective in preventing moderate to severe illness, the company reported Friday.

Johnson & Johnson, which made the vaccine in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, is poised to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization as early as next week.

The regulatory agency could authorize the vaccine by the end of February. It would be the third Covid-19 vaccine available in the U.S., along with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Results varied by region, however. In the U.S., the single dose was 72 percent effective at preventing both moderate and severe illness. (Moderate illness included symptoms such as low oxygen levels, shortness of breath or deep vein thrombosis.) In Latin America, the effectiveness was lower, at 66 percent. And in South Africa, where a worrisome variant is the predominant strain, the effectiveness fell to 57 percent.

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