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Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was updated Jan. 24, 2021, at 11:35 a.m. ET.

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.    

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University of Michigan Pauses Athletics After Finding Variant

Jan. 24, 11:35 a.m. 

The University of Michigan Athletics Department announced Saturday that all sports activities are suspended for up to two weeks after several cases of the more transmissible variant were found.

The announcement includes both games and individual training sessions. All athletes, coaches, and team staff are required to quarantine immediately.

“Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” Warde Manuel, the director of athletics, said in the statement.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services mandated the suspension to prevent additional spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in Britain and is considered to be 50% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus.

University of Michigan athletic facilities will be closed as well. Team members and staff will be under quarantine until further notice, possibly until Feb. 7. The university hasn’t yet determined how the pause will affect scheduled games after Feb. 7, according to the announcement.

The men’s basketball team is ranked seventh nationally, and the women’s team is ranked eleventh. A two-week suspension would require the teams to reschedule or cancel four games, according to The New York Times.

Public health officials at the university, the county health department, and the state health department are deciding on other strategies to prevent the spread of the virus among the university community. 

“The university will be carefully considering additional mitigation measures,” according to the announcement. “There are many unknowns that remain under investigation by U-M, local and state public health officials.”

Also on Saturday, the University of Michigan announced that five people associated with the Ann Arbor campus, located in Washentaw County, had tested positive for the variant. All these individuals are experiencing mild symptoms and are in isolation, and all close contacts have been tested and are in quarantine. University health officials recommended that all undergraduate and graduate students in the Ann Arbor area undergo testing weekly to slow the spread of the variant.

The Washtenaw County Health Department also announced that there’s been a possible public exposure to the variant and recommended testing for anyone who visited the Meijer on Saline Road between 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Jan. 17 or Briarwood Mall between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 17.

“The possibility of additional spread of the variant is a concern,” Juan Luis Marquez, MD, medical director for the county health department, said in the statement.

Brief public exposures are not typically a concern for COVID-19 exposure, but the B.1.1.7 variant is more easily transmitted and could lead to more cases, hospitalizations and deaths, he said.

“We are encouraging extra precautions,” he added. “Seek testing if you have symptoms, have recently been exposed to COVID-19, or have recently traveled to a place where the new variant is circulating.”

The first variant case was identified on Jan. 16 in the University of Michigan community. It’s unclear if the other cases are connected to the first case. County health officials recommended that people limit possible exposure by not gathering with people outside of their households and avoiding situations where social distancing and wearing face masks can’t be done consistently.

“We have been warning people for weeks that this variant would likely be identified in the State of Michigan,” Joneigh Khaldun, MD, chief medical executive of the state health department, said in the statement.

“Now is the time for people to take additional precautions and limit any potential exposures,” he said. “We all have a role to play in ending this pandemic.”

UK Variant May Be More Deadly, PM Johnson Says

Jan 23, 2021, 11 a.. ET

The coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom may also be deadlier than previous strains of the virus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday at a news conference.

“In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first identified in London and the South East – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said.

Evidence shows that vaccines currently being used in the UK “remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant,” he said, adding that the vaccination program will continue “at an unprecedented rate.” 

UK health officials had previously tried to assure the public that a higher mortality rate did not appear to be associated with the variant. That no longer appears to be the case. They have warned it was 30-70% more transmissible.

Speaking at the same news conference, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said more research needs to be done on the variant. 

"I want to stress that there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility,” he said, according to the BBC.

He said the variant does not kill more people who end up in the hospital but does result in more deaths among everybody who tested positive for the virus.

"If you took... a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus,” he said. “With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.”

The possibility that the variant is perhaps 30-40% deadlier cast a cloud over government efforts to battle the pandemic. 

The UK has reported almost 3.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 96,000 deaths -- fifth most in the world in both categories.

Johnson noted on Friday that 1,401 deaths and 40,261 new cases were reported since the day before, and the UK has more than 38,000 people hospitalized with COVID.

He said the vaccination program has inoculated one in 10 adults, 71% of people in their 80s, and two-thirds of people in elderly care homes.

“There is much more to do, and the target remains very stretching indeed, but we remain on track to reach our goal of offering a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by the middle of February,” he said.

The variant is now the dominant strain in England. It has now spread to 50 nations, including the United States.

Public Health England said last month that the variant existed in the U.K. since September and circulated at very low levels until mid-November.

COVID-19 May Hide in Brains and Cause Relapses, Study Says

Jan. 22, 6:38 p.m. 

The coronavirus may remain in people’s brains after infection and trigger relapses in patients who thought they had recovered, according to a new study published in the journal Viruses.

In the study, mice that were infected with the virus through their nasal passages developed severe illnesses due to brain infections, even after the virus left their lungs. In humans, this could explain why patients who appear to be over COVID-19 sometimes relapse and die.

“The brain is one of the regions where virus likes to hide,” Mukesh Kumar, the lead study author and a researcher at Georgia State University, said in a statement.

“That’s why we’re seeing severe disease and all these multiple symptoms like heart disease, stroke and all these long-haulers with loss of smell, loss of taste,” he said. “All of this has to do with the brain rather than with the lungs.”

The research team found that the virus was located in the brains of mice at a level that was 1,000 times higher than in any other part of the body. Viral loads in the lungs began to drop after three days but remained high in the brain on the fifth and sixth days after infection, which is when the disease became more severe.

“Once it infects the brain, it can affect anything because the brain is controlling your lungs, the heart, everything,” he said. “The brain is a very sensitive organ. It’s the central processor for everything.”

COVID-19 survivors whose infections reached their brain could also become susceptible to other serious medical conditions in the future, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cognitive decline and autoimmune diseases, he added.

“It’s scary,” he said. “A lot of people think they got COVID and they recovered and now they’re out of the woods. Now I feel like that’s never going to be true. You may never be out of the woods.”

COVID-19 Vaccines May Not Be ‘As Effective’ Against Variants, Fauci Says

Jan. 22, 6:30 p.m. 

The current COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective against new coronavirus variants, but they should be powerful enough to still be beneficial, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a news briefing on Thursday.

Both vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have such high efficacy rates that it creates a “cushion effect,” he said, meaning that new variants will likely only diminish vaccine efficacy slightly. To slow the spread of the new strains, Fauci said, people should get vaccinated as soon as possible. If viruses can’t spread as far or as quickly, they won’t mutate as much.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it,” he said. “There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine.”

The U.S. has reported 144 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, according to the latest update from the CDC. So far, no cases of the variant strain identified in South Africa have been reported in the U.S., but Fauci said public health officials are looking for it.

“We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless not something that we don’t think we can handle,” he said.

Despite challenges with vaccine distribution and administration, the U.S. “can and should” vaccinate 70% to 85% of adults by the end of the summer, Fauci told CNN on Thursday evening. If that happens, people could begin to return to some sense of normalcy by the fall, he added.

“When you put…the pedal to the floor, you can get it done,” he said.

If the U.S. administered one million shots per day, it would take until the end of 2021 to fully vaccine 75% of adults, according to a CNN analysis. Fauci said he believes the U.S. can give more than one million shots per day. On Friday afternoon, an updated tally from the CDC showed that 1.6 million shots were given in the past 24 hours, which was the largest single-day increase yet reported.

“I’d like it to be a lot more,” Fauci told CNN. “If we can do better than that, which I personally think we likely will, then great.”

7,500 Vaccinated Health Care Workers to Get Free Super Bowl Tickets

Jan. 22, 1:53 p.m.

The NFL is inviting 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to the Super Bowl to say thanks for their service during the coronavirus pandemic.

"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement posted on NFL.com.

"We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."

The Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and most of the invited health care workers will come from the Tampa area, though all 32 NFL teams will select “a handful” of health care workers from their areas for an all-expenses-paid trip to Tampa, the NFL said.

All the invited health care workers will have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses. About 14,500 other fans will attend the game, the NFL said. The stadium can seat 65,000 fans and expand seating to accommodate 75,000.

The NFL said the CDC, Florida health officials, and area hospitals reviewed plans to have fans in the stadium and offered feedback. 

Safety features include mandatory mask wearing; social distancing; podded seating; touchless transactions at concessions, restrooms, and security checkpoints; and controlled entry and exit.

The NFL limited seating at games this season, with 1.2 million fans attending 116 regular season and playoff games, CBS News reported. Several games were postponed because of coronavirus outbreaks on the teams.

Crowds ranged between 3,500 and 16,000 at four NFL playoff games last weekend, NBC Sports reported.

About 3,500 people attended the Buccaneers-Saints game in New Orleans, with 500 of them being vaccinated health care workers who got in free. 

About 6,000 fans watched the Packers beat the Rams in Green Bay, WI; 6,700 watched the Bills beat the Ravens in Buffalo, NY; and 16,000 watched the Chiefs beat the Browns in Kansas City.

NBC Sports said the Bills played home games in an empty stadium all season but for last Saturday's game the State of New York allowed a limited number of fans, all of whom had tested negative.

Florida has been a COVID-19 hotspot throughout the pandemic. The state has recorded 1.6 million confirmed cases -- third most in the nation, behind California and Texas -- and more than 24,000 deaths.

Hillsborough County, where Tampa is, has recorded more than 94,800 cases and 1,215 deaths, according to the state's COVID dashboard.

New CDC Head Discusses Timeline for Vaccine Rollout

Jan. 21, 5:45 p.m. 

The new CDC director gave an overview of the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccination strategy on Thursday.

Speaking on the Today show, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said the administration is determined to meet its promise of 100 vaccinations in 100 million doses in 100 days but probably won't be able to stick to an ambitious vaccine timeline set by the previous administration.

The Biden administration wants to find more locations where people can be vaccinated, such as stadiums and gymnasiums, and more people to administer the vaccine, she said.

“We recognize this as the most immediate emergency to get this country back to health," she said. "We need to make sure ... that we have commissioned health corps, medical military, retirees, medical students and nursing students just about to graduate, dentists and veterinarians in order to be out there to vaccinate the public.”

In most states, the vaccine is now being given to health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, and people over 65, as recommended by the CDC.

Walensky said she does not think the vaccine will be available to the general public by late February or early March, as Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services director in the Trump administration, had predicted last month.

“We are going to, as part of our plan, put the vaccine in pharmacies,” she said. “Will it be in every pharmacy in the country by that timeline? I don't think so. I don't think late February we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.”

"We said 100 million doses in the first 100 days, and we're going to stick to that plan, but also want to be very cognizant of the fact that after 100 days, there are still a lot of Americans who need vaccine, so we have our pedal to the metal to make sure we can get as much vaccine out there," Walensky said.

The CDC website says about 35.9 million doses of vaccine have been delivered and about 16.5 doses administered.

Walensky said the vaccine rollout will aim to overcome “vaccine hesitancy.”

"Some people just really need it to be convenient,” she said. “Some people need to have permission to take the time to get the vaccine or enough leeway to be able to take the day off if they're feeling unwell the next day. Some of it is they just want to see how it's going to go. Some of it is education ... and we need to bring that science to them by their trusted people."

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 98.86 million cases and more than 2.12 million deaths worldwide.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 25 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 417,500 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .  

WebMD Health News

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