Late yesterday the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed the nation's first case of COVID-19 caused by a variant strain, known as the Brazil P.1 variant, in a person who had recently travelled to Brazil.
The person is a resident of the Twin Cities who became ill the first week of January. He or she provided a specimen for testing on Jan 9, and MDH detected the variant strain through a surveillance program that performs whole-genome sequencing on 50 COVID-19 specimens each week.
MDH has interviewed the patient and is advising quarantine, as well as follow-up with the person's contacts. In addition to the P.1 variant, MDH sequencing also revealed two more cases of B117, known as the UK variant, in two patients who had recently traveled to California and the Dominican Republic, respectively. The patients experienced symptom onset on Jan 3 and Jan 10.
Taking travel precautions
"These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible," said State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield, MD, in a press release. "If you must travel, it is important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, follow public health guidance on getting tested prior to travel, use careful protective measures during travel, and quarantine and get tested after travel."
As of yesterday, the United States is requiring all non-citizens arriving by air to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 3 days before departure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests a 7-day quarantine upon arrival, during which testing is encouraged.
Both the B117 and P.1 variants are more contagious than the original SARS-CoV2 strain, and B117 shows early signs of causing more severe illness. It is now yet known if P.1 causes more severe symptoms.
The latest CDC data show that a total of 293 B117 variant cases have been identified in the United States.
New goal: 1.5 million vaccine doses a day
Expanding on his Inauguration Day promise of 100 million vaccines administered in 100 days, President Joe Biden has now moved the goalpost to 1.5 million doses per day, a move experts say is needed to beat back the virus before variant strains cause further surges.
Biden told reporters yesterday he had faith in the goal, and said that, by the end of spring, every American who wants a vaccine should be able to get one.
"It's going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we've ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that," he said. "I feel confident that by summer we're going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity. I feel good about where we're going, and I think we can get it done."
According to data from the Washington Post, Biden's original goal of 1 million doses per day was met on Friday.
The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 41,418,325 COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in the country, and 22,734,243 have been administered, including 2,714,487 in long-term care facilities.
At least 40% and as much as 80% of the US population will need to be vaccinated against the virus before herd immunity is achieved.
New York, California lift some restrictions
Governors in both New York and California announced they were lifting some restrictions after receiving positive signals that case rates are abating.
In California, stay-at-home orders were lifted across the state, with officials citing a projected drop in intensive care unit admissions. California is one of the worst-hit states in the country, with more than 3.1 million cases and 37,000 deaths.
Areas of New York, which was one of the country's first hot spot last spring, will see elective surgeries resume as rates of positive tests decline, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said indoor dining is still off the table.
Across the country, the post-holiday surge in cases seems to be declining, with 147,254 new COVID-19 cases recorded yesterday, and 1,758 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the United States has 25,386,596 cases, including 423,653 deaths.
Antibody cocktail for preventing infections
Regeneron released promising data today showing its monoclonal antibody cocktail prevented COVID-19 in a phase 3 trial involving volunteers who were at high risk of infection due to household exposure to a COVID-19 patient. The cocktail was given as an injection, not an infusion.
Data from the trial showed 100% prevention of symptomatic infection compared with volunteers who received a placebo, and a 50% lower overall rate of infection.
"Even with the emerging availability of active vaccines, we continue to see hundreds of thousands of people infected daily, actively spreading the virus to their close contacts," said David Weinreich, MD, the executive vice president at Regeneron. "The REGEN-COV antibody cocktail may be able to help break this chain by providing immediate passive immunity to those at high risk of infection, in contrast to active vaccines, which take weeks to provide protection."