Across the country, some state leaders are having to impose stricter health orders as communities deal with the latest surge in coronavirus cases.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced statewide restrictions on capacity for businesses and lowered limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Beginning Saturday, businesses in “most industries” will need to limit their capacity to 25%, Baker said, calling the decision to institute the measures “enormously difficult.”
Additionally, indoor gatherings are now limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25, Baker said.
Baker announced that the state had 3,760 new cases and 1,991 people were hospitalized, putting facilities “under significant pressure.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order extending rules on face coverings. With the addition on 17 counties, all but four of 82 counties are under the directive, which expires January 15.
“We all need to be extra aware,” Reeves said in a news release. “You know what to do! Protect yourself and your family.”
California, which divides the state into five regions, will likely extend its stay-at-home orders that are set to expire in two regions next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
Officials announced Tuesday more than 32,000 Californians have been newly diagnosed, bringing the state’s total to more than 1.9 million. Fatalities continue to climb, as the state added 247 deaths on Tuesday for a total of 22,923.
The lack of ICU beds in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley continues to plague both regions as capacity remains at 0%. Almost 19,000 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized in California, with 3,861 in intensive care units.
“California is in a crisis mode in its health systems,” Thomas McGinn, Executive Vice President of Dignity Health, said in a joint news conference. “We’re breaking records that we do not want to break. Number of admissions for COVID, number of patients on ventilators, number of patients in our ICUs and sadly, the number of mortality that we’re witnessing.”
But cases are dropping in many states. On Monday the governor of North Dakota announced the relaxing of orders for the hours of operation of restaurants and bars. Starting Tuesday, places that had been closed to in-person service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. were allowed to return to normal hours, Gov. Doug Burgum said.
“These businesses are an important part of our economy, and we’re deeply grateful for their efforts and sacrifices to help slow the spread of Covid-19 and reduce actives cases and hospitalizations,” he said.
Pfizer and Moderna testing vaccines against coronavirus variant
The variant has not been identified in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Tuesday brief, but “given the small fraction of US infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”
Travel between the US and UK, along with the high prevalence of the variant in UK infections, increases “the likelihood of importation,” the CDC said.
“We expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK; we will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks,” Moderna said.
Pfizer is “generating data,” it said, on how well blood samples from immunized people “may be able to neutralize the new strain.”
US has not restricted UK travelers
The novel coronavirus has mutated before, and both companies’ vaccines worked against variations of the virus.
The importance of this mutation is uncertain, experts say, yet dozens of countries, including Canada, have imposed restrictions on UK travelers. The United States has not, but the White House is considering requiring travelers from the UK to present a negative coronavirus test before entering the US, two administration officials told CNN.
The UK variant “doesn’t change what we need to do” to stay protected, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said: “We need to wear masks, wash hands, watch our distances and wait on gatherings, and we need to get vaccines.”
The US has failed to limit Covid-19’s spread as is. On Monday, the country reported about 191,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths, as more than 115,000 people were hospitalized — a record. The US has had more than 18 million cases and 320,551 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The outbreaks are not confined to one region. As of Monday evening, the states with the most new cases over the past week, adjusted for population, are Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, California and Rhode Island, according to CDC data.
More than 614,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered, the CDC says. Tens of millions more are expected in coming months.
However, vaccine distribution should not cause Americans to drop their guards. Everyone should take precautions to limit exposure, as research published Tuesday in the journal, Physics of Fluid, warns mask-wearing without social distancing may not suffice.
Researchers ran tests on snug-fitting N95 masks, surgical masks, two-layer cloth masks, regular cloth and wet two-layer cloth masks, and only the N95 stopped the droplets from escaping, the journal reported.
Dr. Fauci says variant is probably in US
The UK variant probably is already in the US, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We’re going to be looking for it right now, and I’m sure sooner or later we’re going to run into it,” he said.
Mutations are common, and most have no real impact, Fauci said. Researchers are trying to determine if the UK variant is more transmissible, but Fauci said it doesn’t appear more deadly.
Some researchers examining the UK variant have concerns the mutations might diminish the vaccines’ effectiveness.
“You could imagine some modest hit in vaccine efficacy, which wouldn’t be good, but I don’t think it would break the vaccine,” said Trevor Bedford, associate professor in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s vaccine and infectious disease division.
Other experts are skeptical vaccines will be impacted.
“It doesn’t make people more sick, and it doesn’t seem to have any impact on the protective nature of the vaccine,” Fauci said.
While “there is clear evidence that there is more of it in the population,” there is no real evidence the variant is more transmissible, said Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed.
Top health officials vaccinated
The CEO of BioNTech, which collaborated with Pfizer on its vaccine, has “scientific confidence” the companies’ vaccine will work against the variant, but full data won’t be available for two weeks.
“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant, but scientifically it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant,” Ugur Sahin said Tuesday.
The variant has nine mutations but shares all but nine of 1,270 amino acids with the previous version, so the protein remains effectively the same and BioNTech could develop a vaccine against a new variant in six weeks thanks to technology that allows researchers to “engineer vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation,” Sahin said.
Fauci — along with National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — were among those who received the Moderna vaccine Tuesday.
“We need 75-80 percent of Americans to receive vaccines in order to attain the so-called ‘herd immunity’ needed to drive SARS-CoV-2 away and allow us all to get back to a semblance of normal life,” Collins wrote in a Tuesday blog post. “When your chance for immunization comes, please roll up your sleeve.”