New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “while the instinct may be to celebrate together, we cannot get cocky.”
“We must continue doing the things we know are effective at taming the virus: wear a mask, adhere to social distancing, and avoid gatherings,” he said. “We can beat this thing, but we must stay smart.”
That’s especially true after a new study found the highly contagious B.1.1.7 strain, first detected in the United Kingdom, is now spreading rapidly in the US.
US labs are still sequencing only a small portion of coronavirus samples, the researchers said, so it’s not clear what variants are circulating in the country.
Last month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected the B.1.1.7 variant could become the predominant strain in the US by March. It estimates the virus is about 50% more transmissible.
Why some Covid-19 numbers are getting better
The US just marked its eighth consecutive day with less than 100,000 people hospitalized for Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
And the seven-day average of new cases has dropped from 220,000 on January 6 to 120,000 on Saturday.
Such good news is probably the result of holiday-related infections tapering off, as well as Americans doing a better job with safety precautions, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“That’s what I think is going on: a combination of the natural peaking, as well as people doubling down on the public health measures,” Fauci told MSNBC on Friday.
Some say safety measures, not vaccinations, are a must for school openings
On Sunday, Fauci and Dr. Scott Gottlieb said while it’s important to vaccinate teachers, it’s not a prerequisite to open schools.
Mitigation measures, however, are a must.
Getting K-8 schools open in 100 days is a priority of the Biden administration, Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, but “they’re going to need some help” so schools can have “the capability with masks, with the ability to get better ventilation, all the things you want to do.”
“It would be great to get all the teachers vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said.
Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that when it comes to opening schools, “I think the prerequisite is putting in place mitigation steps in the schools.”
He noted that research showed that when people wore masks, stayed distanced and took precautions, “there’s very little transmission within the classroom. The schools are not a vector of transmission.”
Gottlieb said while it would be good to vaccinate teachers quickly, “I don’t think it’s necessarily a prerequisite. I think schools have demonstrated that they can open safely if they’ve taken precautions in the classroom.”
Fauci: There’s probably not enough time for certain 1-dose studies
The two vaccines currently administered in the US — from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna — both require two doses, spaced three or four weeks apart.
Fauci said that there may not be enough time to study how much protection is provided by one dose or how long that protection might last.
“By that time, we will already be in the arena of having enough vaccines to go around anyway,” Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“From a theoretical standpoint, it would be nice to know if you just get one dose, how long the durability lasts and what (is) the level of effect,” Fauci said. “So it would be great to have the study, but I don’t think we could do it in time.”
Fauci said he believes “you can get as many people…their first dose at the same time as adhering within reason to the timetable of the second dose.”
Meanwhile, a third vaccine — which requires only one dose — might become available to the public in the coming weeks.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be discussed
Viral neutralization against the B.1.351 variant was “substantially reduced” when compared to the earlier coronavirus strain, according to a news release Sunday from the University of Oxford.
The study, which has not been released, included about 2,000 volunteers who were an average of 31 years old. About half received the vaccine and half received a placebo.
The vaccine’s efficacy against severe Covid-19, hospitalization and death were not assessed.
After the Financial Times reported on the study Saturday, AstraZeneca said it believes the vaccine could protect against severe disease. The company said it has started to adapt the vaccine against the variant “so that it is ready for Autumn delivery should it be needed.”
The World Health Organization’s independent panel on vaccinations will meet Monday to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and studies assessing how effective it is against the the B.1.351 strain, WHO technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.
There are “some preliminary studies suggesting reduced efficacy,” Van Kerkhove told CBS. “But again, those studies aren’t fully published yet.”
Where the US stands on vaccines
In the Houston area, local officials say hospitals that are open to uninsured people are getting a smaller percentage of doses than private hospitals.
“You can have the best healthcare in the world, but if people can’t access it, it’s like you don’t have it at all,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
“If you want to address the disparity, you’ve got to send the doses to the venues that are reaching those regions.”
“New Yorkers with testing or vaccination appointments at these sites will receive notification of these suspensions via text message and telephone,” the governor’s office said. Appointments will be rescheduled for later in the week.
‘The perfect environment’ for viral spread
While many parts of the country have loosened Covid-19 rules amid declines in their numbers, others are standing firm on their mandates.
“The virus is really easily transmitted when you don’t have a face covering on,” she said. “So when you’re indoors to eat or drink and you have to take your face covering off, that’s like the perfect environment for this virus to get transmitted.”
CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht, Naomi Thomas, Elizabeth Joseph, Andy Rose, Kay Jones, Hollie Silverman, Lauren Mascarenhas, Melissa Alonso and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.