US variant COVID-19 cases rise; air travelers to need negative test

Airport travelers
Airport travelers

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new order effective Jan 26: All air travelers arriving in the United States are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of departure. In addition to the negative test, travelers will need to quarantine for 7 days upon arrival, and take a second COVID-19 test within 3 to 5 days of landing in the US.

"Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants," the CDC said in a media statement yesterday. "With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public."

Passengers will have to provide airlines written proof of their negative test results, or provide documents that prove they have recovered from COVID-19.

"Testing does not eliminate all risk," said CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, in the statement. "But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations."

Ohio researchers identify new variant

Variant strains of COVID-19, including the B117 variant that originated in the United Kingdom, are already circulating across the United States. Today researchers based in Ohio said they have spotted a new variant, native to that state, and likely behind rapid spread of the virus in Columbus.

Researchers from The Ohio State University have not yet published their findings, but said the strain first appeared in late December. Like B117, the strain seems to spread more easily than the original virus, SARS-CoV-2, but vaccines should still be able to offer protection.

"This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we've studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution," said study leader Dan Jones, PhD, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology, in a press release. "We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”

Likely delay for Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The emergence of variant strains comes as the nation embarks on a massive vaccine campaign with two COVID-19 vaccines, one made by Pfizer and BioNTech and one from Moderna. A third COVID-19 vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, is expected to come online in March. Today the New York Times reported that phase 3 results from trials with that vaccine are expected in the coming weeks.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been promising as it requires only one dose, and can be stored in refrigeration for months at a time. But the company said earlier this week manufacturing delays will likely make it impossible to deliver the 12 million doses it promised by the end of February. Instead, the company will likely have single-digit million doses ready by the end of next month.

According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, 27,696,150 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in the US since December, and 9,327,138 doses have been administered, including 951,774 in nursing homes. Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina are the states with the lowest vaccination rate.

In related news, the US government has secured an agreement to purchase more 1.25 million more doses of the Regeneron antibody cocktail. The doses will be used to avoid hospitalization for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

CDC: More cases in kids as schools reopened

The United States reported 215,805 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 4,327 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. There are 131,326 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

In total, the nation has reported 22,987,370 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 383,113 deaths.

In the United States, more children have become infected with the virus as schools have reopened, but overall school-based outbreaks have been limited, according to new trend data from the CDC.

During March 1 through Dec 12, 2020, a total of 2,871,828 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in children, adolescents, and young adults aged 0 to 24 years were reported in the United States, the CDC said.

Young adults ages 18 to 24 accounted for the majority of cases; children and adolescents aged 14 to 17 years accounted for 16.3% of cases, those 11 to 13 years for 7.9%, those 5 to 10 years for 10.9%, and those 0 to 4 years for 7.4%.

"Lower incidence among younger children and evidence from available studies suggest that the risk for COVID-19 introduction and transmission among children associated with reopening child care centers and elementary schools might be lower than that for reopening high schools and institutions of higher education," the authors said.

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