Coronavirus updates: CDC director calls Capitol riot a ‘surge event’ for pandemic

‘surge event’ for pandemic

USA TODAY is keeping track of the news surrounding COVID-19 as a pair of vaccines join the U.S. fight against a virus that has killed more than 365,000 Americans since the first reported fatality in February. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates surrounding the coronavirus, including who is getting the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as other top news from across the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates directly to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions for everything you need to know about the coronavirus.

In the headlines:

► Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol will likely be a “surge event” for the coronavirus, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told McClatchy in an interview that he’s worried because thousands of people did not wear masks and have since left Washington for various parts of the country.

► America’s current surge of cases has lead to widespread deaths all across America. Over the last month, 31 states and nearly 1,200 counties have reported their worst weekly death tolls of the entire pandemic.

► The Biden administration on Friday announced plans to release available COVID-19 vaccines instead of holding back for second doses, which the Trump administration has been doing to guarantee that people can get a second shot.

► The nation’s third-largest school district, Chicago Public Schools, will welcome some students to classrooms Monday for the first time since March. But this week, only about half of school staff required to report to buildings actually showed up.

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► A CDC study, published Friday in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found U.S. counties with large colleges or universities that held in-person classes saw a 56% increase in COVID-19 cases. The data supports a USA TODAY analysis that found college students fueled the 19 hottest outbreaks in the U.S. during the fall semester.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 21.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 368,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Almost 90 million cases and 1.9 million deaths.

New COVID-19 strains: Should you be worried?
Two major variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have emerged in recent weeks, but neither is more dangerous than the virus that has circulated for the last year, experts say, and available vaccines should remain effective.

Viral mutations cause concerns because they can make tests, treatments and vaccines ineffective, and change the properties of a disease, making it more or less transmissible and dangerous.

The new variants appear to be pushing out older ones, raising worries about whether the changes will affect the course of disease or efforts to rein it in. So far, though, the new variants do not seem to be a cause for huge concern.

In more than a year of circulation, the virus has mutated many times, but only these most two recent variants — one that appeared first in the United Kingdom and the other in South Africa — seem to make a substantial difference in its function.

Only the U.K. strain, known as B.1.1.7, has been detected in the U.S., currently in eight states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it may spread more easily and quickly than other variants, the agency says there is no evidence it makes people sicker or increases risk of death. Read more here.

– Karen Weintraub

Chicago Public Schools reopens Monday, first time since March
Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, will welcome some students to classrooms Monday for the first time since March. What’s unclear: how many teachers will show up.

The Chicago Teachers Union has said it’s not safe enough to return to work in person. This week, only about half of school staff required to report to buildings actually showed up.

“We must reopen our doors,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Friday morning. “We’ve seen attendance, enrollment and grades drop dramatically during remote learning.”

Jackson said the city addressed the ventilation issues that concerned teachers, and that teachers required to work in-person who don’t show up next week would see their pay docked.

About 6,000 pre-kindergarten students and students with special needs are expected to return Monday. Another 70,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are slated to return Feb. 1.

The rate of positive COVID-19 tests over the past seven days is 10.8%, an increase over the previous week, but a Chicago city health official said the rate of infections is far down from its peak in November.

– Erin Richards

US tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus for first time
America’s COVID-19 epidemic on Thursday reached a rate once unthinkable, with more than 4,000 people reported dead in a single day, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

Deaths in a week hit 20,879, breaking the record set a day earlier. At that rate, an American dies every 29 seconds.

America’s winter surge of cases has lead to widespread deaths all across America. Over the last month, 31 states and nearly 1,200 counties have reported their worst weekly death tolls of the entire pandemic.

Since just Monday, the United States has recorded 13,500 deaths — more than Pearl Harbor, D-Day, 9/11 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake combined.

Overall, the scourge has left more than 368,000 dead in the U.S. and caused nearly 22 million confirmed infections. At least 5.9 million Americans have gotten their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to vaccinate hundreds of millions.

– Mike Stucka

Biden to release all available COVID vaccines instead of holding back for second doses

The incoming Biden administration announced a plan Friday to prioritize the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Federal officials with the Trump administration have been holding back enough vaccine doses to guarantee booster shots to everyone who got the first dose.

But Biden’s transition team said Friday that it doesn’t make sense to hold back vaccine at a time when more American’s are dying than at any point in the pandemic. Instead, they want to get shots into more arms and then follow up with second doses later.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement sent to USA TODAY. Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

T am Michael Sean (Winter). my work news reporter