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Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was updated Feb. 24, 2021, at 5:57 p.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.

What is the latest news?

Nurses Travel Hours to Deliver Vaccines to Native Communities

Feb. 24, 5:57 p.m.

Health care workers in South Dakota are traveling thousands of miles across Native communities to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, according to ABC News.

Molly Longbrake, a nurse, and her team of health care providers have administered 4,000 doses and plan to vaccinate about 12,000 people, often in places where only one hospital or a small clinic is available.

Cherry Creek Clinic in South Dakota, for instance, is usually staffed by one person and is the only place to buy over-the-counter medicines in the area, the news outlet reported. In early February, Longbrake and her team traveled an hour to the clinic to give three shots.

“One person vaccinated is a huge accomplishment for us,” Longbrake told ABC News.

“One death is one too many, and we’ve already lost people from the reservation,” she said. “It’s very difficult and saddening.”

Longbrake’s mother, Donna Rae Peterson, dedicated her life to cultural preservation for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. She died from COVID-19, and Longbrake decided to take up her mother’s cause.

“In a way, it is because experiencing the loss, personally, of somebody so close to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anybody else to experience that.”

So far, South Dakota has vaccinated residents more quickly than most other states. Outside of Native communities, about 22% of people have received their first dose in the two-shot regimen, according to the South Dakota Department of Health, and 11% have received both doses. More than 278,000 doses have been shipped to the state, according to the CDC, and 159,000 residents have received a vaccine.

The state has reported more than 112,000 cases and 1,864 deaths during the pandemic. New cases have been decreasing in recent weeks, and 102 people are currently hospitalized.

“We’re basically giving away everything we get,” Shankar Kurra, MD, the vice president of medical affairs for Monument Health who oversees the vaccine rollout across the western side of the state, told ABC.

Health care workers administered more than 8,400 doses on Friday, marking a daily record for vaccinations in the state, according to KELO. South Dakota is in Phase 1D of its vaccination plan, which will open up to people with underlying health conditions at the beginning of March. After that, teachers and school staff will quality for a vaccine.

“We were ready as soon as we got it and we got shots in arms,” Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the state’s secretary of health, said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

“We could definitely handle more vaccines if we got it,” she said.

Report: FDA to Grant Pfizer Request for Lower Vaccine Storage Temps

Feb. 24, 1:33 p.m. 

U.S. health regulators will soon give Pfizer and its partner BioNTech permission to store their coronavirus vaccine at standard freezer temperatures instead of ultra-cold conditions, The New York Times reported, citing two unnamed people familiar with the companies.

Ultra-cold refrigerators are usually found in hospitals and other large medical facilities. The change would greatly increase the number of places where the vaccine could be stored and administered, such as pharmacies and vaccination centers.

In a Friday news release, Pfizer and BioNTech, its European partner, said they're seeking a modification in the vaccine's emergency use authorization. 

The companies submitted data to the FDA that showed the vaccine could be stored for up to 2 weeks at -25 to -15 degrees Celsius, or -13 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Current labels on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine say it must be stored in ultra-cold freezers at temperatures between -80 C and -60 C (-112 F to ‑76 F). At those temperatures, it could be stored up to 6 months, the news release said.

The vaccines are shipped in special thermal containers that can be used as temporary storage for up to 30 days if the container is refilled with dry ice every 5 days, the news release says.

“We appreciate our ongoing collaboration with the FDA and CDC as we work to ensure our vaccine can be shipped and stored under increasingly flexible conditions,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO, said in the release. “If approved, this new storage option would offer pharmacies and vaccination centers greater flexibility in how they manage their vaccine supply.” 

The FDA could announce new guidance on storage of that vaccine as early as Tuesday, the Times reported.

The FDA granted emergency use authorization in December for Pfizer's two-dose vaccine, making it the first approved for the public in the United States. It's ultra-cold specifications made shipping and storage a challenge in many places.

Moderna's two-dose vaccine was also approved in December. The CDC says the Moderna vaccine may be stored in a freezer at the temperatures Pfizer is seeking -- between -25 C and -15 C (-13 F and 5 F).

New Jersey Woman, 105, Survives Bout With Coronavirus

Feb. 24, 10:45 a.m.  

A 105-year-old New Jersey woman has survived COVID-19 -- as well as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, two world wars, and three husbands.

Lucia DeClerck was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Jan. 25 -- her 105th birthday and the day after she received her second coronavirus vaccination at the Mystic Meadows Rehab and Nursing Center in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

“We were very concerned,” her son, Phillip Laws, 78, told The New York Times. “But she's got a tenacity that is unbelievable. And she's got that rosary -- all the time.”

DeClerck showed few symptoms but was isolated for 2 weeks. Now she's back in her room and taking visits from family and a congratulatory call from N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy. 

When asked about her secret to longevity, DeClerck said, "Pray, pray, pray. And don't eat junk food." 

Also, eat nine gin-soaked raisins every morning.

“Fill a jar,” she said. “Nine raisins a day after it sits for 9 days.”

Her children and grandchildren told the Times about her other daily habits, such as drinking aloe juice straight from the container and brushing her teeth with baking soda. She didn't have a cavity until age 99.

DeClerck was born in Hawaii in 1916 and was 2 years old when the Spanish flu struck. She moved to Wyoming, California, and back to Hawaii before moving to New Jersey to live with one of her sons. 

"She's just been open with everything in life and I think that has really helped her because she hasn't hesitated to do whatever she's wanted to do," DeClerck's son, Henry Laws III, told the TV station CBS Philly.

The oldest known person in the world to survive coronavirus is Sister André, 116, a nun living in a retirement home in Toulon, France. Sister André is believed to be the second-oldest person in the world.

White House Working on Mass Mailing of Masks

Feb. 23, 5:10 p.m.

President Joe Biden says the federal government will “probably” start mailing face masks directly to Americans as a way to hold down coronavirus infections and deaths.

During a Tuesday roundtable event with Black frontline workers, Biden said, "We're probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country very shortly, millions of them,” according to CNN.

"We want to get this back on track,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said in an interview. “We're looking at what can be done to quickly do this with the mask supplies that we have. I hope in the next few days or next week, we can perhaps announce some progress on this.”

Biden said he was upset that face masks had become a political issue. 

"We could have saved literally an awful lot of lives if people had listened,” Biden said. “We turned wearing masks into a political statement. If you were for this thing, you wore it, if we were for somebody else, you didn't wear it, when in fact, it's just plain basic science.”

Former President Trump often derided the idea of face masks even though he was hospitalized after contracting the virus. 

The postal service considered the idea of mailing 650 million masks last April but the Trump White House killed the idea because it might create public panic, the Washington Post reported.

Members of the Biden administration first mentioned the idea of mailing out masks earlier this month, NBC reported.

Vaccines Targeting Variants Won't Need Long Clinical Trials

Feb. 22, 5:30 p.m.

The FDA said Monday that vaccines modified to target fast-changing coronavirus variants will not necessarily need to go through lengthy clinical trials to receive emergency use authorization.

Health experts have expressed concerns that clinical trials involving placebos might be outpaced by the mutating variants. The new FDA guidance says there is “an urgent need to initiate development and evaluation of vaccines against these SARS-CoV-2 variants.”

The new guidance allows scientists to use small trials, similar to what's used in development of flu vaccines, in modifying a vaccine to fight the variants. The scientists would need to submit data demonstrating the modified vaccine works and is safe. 

“The FDA is committed to identifying efficient ways to modify medical products that either are in the pipeline or have been authorized for emergency use to address emerging variants,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, said in a statement.  “By issuing these guidances, we want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts.”

Makers of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines now being used in the United States have already said they plan to modify their vaccines to be more effective against the variants.

The CDC says three coronavirus variants have been found in the United States: 1,661 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K.; 22 cases of the B.1.351 variant from South Africa; and five cases of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil.

“An updated Covid-19 vaccine can skip the monthslong process of a randomized clinical trial that would compare it with a placebo, the agency said,” the New York Times reported. “But a tweaked vaccine will still need to go undergo some testing. In trials proposed by the F.D.A., researchers will draw blood from a relatively small group of volunteers who have been given the adapted vaccine.

“Scientists will then observe what percentage of volunteers' samples produce an immune response to the variants in the lab, and how large that response is. The vaccines will be judged acceptable if they produce an immune response that is relatively close to what is prompted by the original vaccines.”

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

According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 112.24 million cases and more than 2.48 million deaths worldwide.

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

There are more than 28.26 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 502,680 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .  

WebMD Health News

Sources

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