The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 421,000 on Tuesday, as President Joe Biden prepared to boost his target for daily vaccinations to 1.5 million Americans a day, up from 1 million previously.
Biden has moved quickly to implement his pandemic response plan, and on Monday signed an executive order to increase government purchases of vaccines from U.S. manufacturers.
The new president has signed a flurry of actions in the past week and published a 198-page report detailing his strategy for containing the virus. The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at more that 25 million, or a quarter of the global total of 99 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
Biden urged Congress to pass his proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package, reiterating that the U.S. is in urgent need of relief and dismissing the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster. Among the features of the stimulus plan are a national vaccination program, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of $1,400 to individuals and financial relief for state and local governments.
“Time is of the essence,” Biden said. “I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here.”
There was worrying news from Minnesota, where officials confirmed they have found the first case of the new Brazilian variant of the virus, the Associated Press reported. The Brazil P.1 variant was found in a specimen from a patient who lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who became ill in the first week of January after traveling to Brazil, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement. Epidemiologists are interviewing the person to obtain more details about their travel and contacts. The new variants that have emerged in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, are more infectious than the original virus and carry higher viral loads.
The CDC has reported at least 195 cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S. Those reports have come from at least 22 states, including eight in Minnesota. The South African variant has not been discovered in the United States. Last week, the World Health Organization urged a greater effort to detect new variants.
The WHO on Tuesday cautiously backed delaying second injections of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine in some situations, as they have already done for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, AFP reported. The agency said given the shortage of doses globally, the second injection could be administered after six weeks. The CDC made a similar determination on Monday.
The U.S. added another 154,917 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,792 people died. In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 172,321 cases a day, down 31% from the average two weeks ago.
Hospitalization trends are also improving, according to the COVID Tracking Project. There were 109,936 COVID patients in U.S. hospitals on Monday, down from 110,628 a day earlier and the lowest level since Dec. 13.
But epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory panel, cautioned that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
The new variants pose “a tremendous challenge,” Osterholm told MSNBC in an interview, and said he is “not at all optimistic.’
“We could be experiencing a dip right now before the next case surge ,” he warned.
+In other news
• Eli Lilly & Co.
said combining two of its experimental COVID-19 antibody treatments can reduce hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients by up to 70%, based on findings from a Phase 3 clinical trial, MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. The combination of bamlanivimab, which has received emergency use authorization in the U.S. as a standalone treatment for some COVID-19 patients, and the still-investigational etesevimab is being tested in about 1,000 patients. Lilly said the combo therapy also helped reduce viral load and sped up recovery from symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing an emergency use application for the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab.
• Regeneron Inc.
said its COVID-19 antibody cocktail can prevent people at high risk of a COVID-19 infection from contracting the virus. These are the initial results from an ongoing Phase 3 clinical trial for what Regeneron calls a “passive vaccine.” The trial is evaluating whether the injection can prevent someone from contracting the virus from another member of their household who has tested positive for the virus. About 2,000 people are enrolled in the study, which found that the antibody cocktail can 100% protect against symptomatic infection and 50% against overall infection, which includes symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. The initial results stem from about 400 early enrollees in the study. The injection is also associated with lower viral loads in people who did report asymptomatic infections as well as lower disease burden. Regeneron’s antibody cocktail already received emergency use authorization in the U.S. as a treatment for some COVID-19 patients in November. Regeneron said it plans to release full data from the trial in the first quarter and may seek an expanded EUA for a new indication, depending on the trial’s final findings.
• Moderna Inc.
is on track to deliver 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. government by end-March and to deliver 200 million doses by end-June. The Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech has already delivered more than 30 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S. government. About 10.1 million doses of the vaccine have by now been administered in the U.S., the company said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18, shortly after a separate vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.
and its German partner BioNTech SE
won the same authorization. The U.S. government has an option to purchase up to 300 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. The vaccine has also been authorized for use in Canada, Israel, the European Union, the U.K. and Switzerland.
• The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has reported new COVID outbreaks in more than 26 Michigan schools that has affected a total of 92 students and staff, according to MLive Media Group. Most of the new outbreaks involve college communities, and most occurred outside of classroom settings.
• Indonesia is the latest nation to record more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins data. The nation of almost 300 million reported 13,094 new infections on Tuesday, Reuters reported. The total number of coronavirus cases found in the country was 1,012,350. The task force also reported 336 new related deaths, taking the total to 28,468.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide climbed above 99.8 million on Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll rose to 2.13 million. About 53 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 217,664 and is third by cases at 8.8 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 10.7 million, and third in deaths at 153,587.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 150,273 and 13th highest case tally at 1.8 million.
The U.K. has 3.7 million cases and 98,723 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 99,470 confirmed cases and 4,808 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
Consumer confidence bounced back a bit in January as Americans looked past the high number of coronavirus cases and deaths toward greater availability of vaccines and an improving economy, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The index of consumer confidence rose to 89.3 this month from a revised 87.1 in December, the Conference Board said Tuesday. Last month’s reading was the lowest in five months.
Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a small decline to 88.
Confidence is still far below pre-pandemic levels, however. The index stood at 132.6 before the viral outbreak last February.
Consumers’ appraisal of present-day conditions weakened further in January, with COVID-19 still the major suppressor,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the nonprofit board.
“Consumers’ expectations for the economy and jobs, however, advanced further, suggesting that consumers foresee conditions improving in the not-too-distant future. ”