The Latest: Study: SoCal variant has spread to 19 states

A COVID-19 variant first identified in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states and several other countries, a study published Thursday suggests.

The variant accounted for about 44% of Southern California cases as of late January, nearly double from a month earlier, the study said. It was first identified in a single case in July and reemerged during a holiday surge in cases in the Los Angeles area.

More research is needed to determine if the variant spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants or causes more disease, said study co-author Jasmine Plummer, a Cedars-Sinai researcher.

The paper was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, wrote in an accompanying editorial that said new variants likely will continue to emerge until spread of the virus is reduced.



Germany reinstates some border controls to fight variants. Dr. Fauci expects coronavirus shot categories to open up by April in U.S. California’s virus death toll surpasses New York. African nations still encouraged to use AstraZeneca vaccine. President Joe Biden’s virus-fighting team is on a war strategy to defeat the coronavirus.

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SEATTLE – Washington state health leaders say that as the state closes in on the 1 million vaccination mark, a new report shows disproportionately low percentages of Hispanic, Black and multiracial people have received it.

The report, released Thursday by the Department of Health, shows race and ethnicity data for people who have received at least one dose of vaccine and for people who are fully vaccinated, with breakdowns for all ages.

The percentage of Black and Hispanic people who have received one dose as well as the percentage who are fully vaccinated is lower than their representation in the state population, the report’s findings show.

The percentage of fully vaccinated people who are Hispanic, for example, is currently 5.9%, which is lower than the 13.2% Hispanic representation in the state population, according to the report’s findings.

Black people make up 2.7% of people who are fully vaccinated, which is lower than 3.9% Black representation in population of Washington. Multiracial groups are also underrepresented compared to the overall state’s population, the report said.


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles is temporarily closing five mass vaccination sites including Dodger Stadium for lack of supply as the state faces continuing criticism over the vaccine rollout.

Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city will exhaust its supply of Moderna first doses — two are required for full immunization — forcing it to close drive-through and walk-up vaccination sites Friday and Saturday.

They may not reopen until the city gets more supplies, perhaps next Tuesday or Wednesday. Smaller mobile vaccination clinics will continue operating.

Garcetti says Los Angeles uses about 13,000 doses in a typical day but received only 16,000 this week.

“This is not where I want to be,” Garcetti said. “It’s not where we deserve to be.”

California has now recorded the most confirmed deaths from the coronavirus with 45,496, edging past New York’s toll of 45,312, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Other coronavirus numbers are improving in the state, however.

The seven-day test positivity rate has fallen to 4.8%, and the most recent daily number of confirmed positive cases was 8,390, down from 53,000 in December.


PRAGUE — The lower house of the Czech Parliament has rejected a requested extension of a state of emergency, posing a serious obstacle for the government’s pandemic response in the hard-hit country.

The opposition says the current lockdown isn’t working and accuses the minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis of not doing enough for those hurt by the restrictions.

As a result, the state of emergency will end this week. Bars, restaurants and cafes can reopen Monday, and a nighttime curfew and ban on more than two people gathering in public will be cancelled.

The government can use other legislation to reimpose some but not all measures.


BURLINGTON, Vt. — A more easily transmissible variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom is likely present in Vermont.

The state’s Health Department said Thursday that wastewater testing in Burlington found the presence of two virus mutations associated with the variant.

The department said it will conduct genetic sequencing of samples from people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

The variant first detected in the U.K. has been reported in at least 34 states.

Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state is in “a new stage of the pandemic,” but officials had expected that variants could be circulating there.


NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are now recommending that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus do not have to go into a 14-day quarantine after exposure to an infected person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly posted the updated guidance this week. It says vaccinated people may skip quarantine if they are asymptomatic, and if their contact with an infected person came at least two weeks after receipt of the final dose in the two-shot vaccination series and within three months of receipt of that last dose.

The recommendation is similar to what the CDC has said about people who developed immunity after being infected with COVID.


SAN FRANCISCO — A surge of COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley, has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students in residence halls and bar them from outdoor exercise.

The university says more than 400 mostly undergraduates have tested positive since an outbreak started in mid-January. A weekly breakdown shows about 200 positive tests since the start of February.

A lockdown initially put in place for Feb. 1-8 has been extended through at least mid-month. Among the strict new rules are a ban on outdoor exercise that goes beyond state guidelines encouraging people to get outside to exercise.


BERLIN — Germany will temporarily reinstate border controls after designating the Czech Republic and parts of Austria “mutations areas” because of the high number of coronavirus variant cases.

German news agency dpa reports that the controls and entry restrictions will start Sunday at midnight. Travelers coming from parts of Austria or from the Czech Republic will have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test to enter.

The controls will present a hurdle for thousands of cross-border workers. It’s not clear how long they will last.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to extend the country’s pandemic lockdown until at least March 7, in part due to fears over more contagious variants.


MADRID — Spain is reporting 513 deaths from the coronavirus Thursday, down from 643 the previous day.

The health ministry registered 17,853 new cases, increasing the total to more than 3 million. The confirmed death toll reached more than 64,200.

The percentage of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients dropped by one percentage point to 41%, which virus expert Fernando Simón calls still “extremely high.”

Spain has administered 2.91 million vaccines, with more than 900,000 complete doses. It aims to have 70% of the population vaccinated by September.


PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 200 more coronavirus deaths.

There are 2,507 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds in the state, down from a high of 5,082 on Jan. 11.

The Department of Health Services reported 1,861 new cases, increasing the totals to 791,106 cases and 14,662 confirmed deaths.

The state’s most populous county, Maricopa, is expanding vaccination eligibility at county sites to adults 65 and older.

New cases and deaths in Arizona have been declining.


MILWAUKEE — A former home for retired Catholic nuns in Milwaukee is now a shelter for homeless people who have COVID-19 or are vulnerable to the coronavirus due to their health.

Clare Hall’s nuns moved into new quarters last January and the building was sitting empty just as the pandemic took hold. When Milwaukee County approached the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about space to house the homeless, Clare Hall was the answer.

Almost 60% of the 200 men and women who have stayed there since March had coronavirus. Melvin Anthony, who was homeless for more than 15 years, says Clare Hall saved him during a desperate time.


NEW ORLEANS — Flights to count the only natural flock of whooping cranes have been canceled due to the pandemic.

It’s the first time in 71 years that crews in Texas couldn’t make an aerial survey of the world’s rarest cranes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has records of such surveys for every year starting in 1950. That’s according to Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


MEXICO CITY — Enough active ingredient to produce 2 million doses of the CanSino COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Mexico, the first new vaccine to arrive in weeks.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard thanked the Chinese government and CanSino for the rapid shipment just one day after Mexican regulators approved its emergency use.

The vaccine will be bottled and distributed from a facility in the central state of Queretaro.

Mexico has so far received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which have nearly all been used.

On Wednesday, Mexico announced emergency approval for the Chinese vaccine Sinovac. Officials expect a first AstraZeneca shipment of 500,000 doses on Sunday.

Mexico has registered more than 1.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 170,000 deaths, the third highest in the world behind the United States and Brazil.


PARIS — A French nun believed to be the world’s second-oldest person is celebrating her 117th birthday in style after surviving COVID-19.

There were plans Thursday for Champagne and red wine at the care home in southern France where Sister André lives, a feast with her favorite dessert and other events to toast her longevity.

Some great-nephews and great-great nephews were expected to join a video call for her, and the bishop of Toulon was to celebrate a Mass in her honor.

Sister André’s birth name is Lucile Randon. She tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-January and had so few symptoms she didn’t even realize she was infected.

She’s considered the second-oldest known living person in the world, behind a 118-year-old woman in Japan.


ISTANBUL — Turkey has started administering the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company to health care workers across the country.

Also Thursday, people above 70 qualified to receive their first dose as Turkey expanded its vaccination campaign.

After a promising start of 1.2 million first doses in one week, the pace has slowed down. In all, around 2.8 million people have received their first shots in the country of 83.6 million.

Turkey aims to vaccinate at least 60% of the population, the health minister has said. The country has been trying to procure vaccines from multiple sources.


ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia has announced a slight easing of pandemic restrictions, citing stable recent numbers of new infections.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says starting Feb. 16, restaurants and bars can sell coffee to go and gyms and other fitness venues may reopen, along with foreign language schools, casinos and betting shops.

He also warned Thursday that there can be no major relaxation of rules amid an expected spate of very cold weather and after the British variant of the virus was detected in the country.

Croatia has not had a full lockdown, but it has shut down bars and other social venues. Thousands of small business owners have rallied against restrictions.

Croatia has reported more than 5,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths and over 200,000 cases.


WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is predicting that it will be “open season” for COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States by April, as increased supply allows most people to get shots.

Speaking to NBC’s “Today Show,” the science adviser to President joe Biden says the rate of vaccinations will greatly accelerate in the coming months. He credits forthcoming deliveries of the two approved vaccines, the potential approval of a third and moves by the Biden administration to increase the nation’s capacity to deliver doses.

Fauci says that “by the time we get to April,” it will be “open season, namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated.”

He cautioned it will take “several more months” to deliver injections to adult Americans but predicted herd immunity could be achieved by late summer.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s chief for Europe says it’s launching with the European Union a 40 million euro ($48.5 million) program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines in six countries that were once Soviet republics.

The program will involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Dr. Hans Kluge said from Denmark that vaccines offer a way to emerge more rapidly from the pandemic, “but only if we ensure that all countries, irrespective of income level, have access to them.”

He added that “unfair access to vaccines can backfire. The longer the virus lingers, the greater the risk of dangerous mutations.”


BUDAPEST — Hungary expects to receive 500,000 doses of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine next week and will begin administering them as soon as possible.

Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, says the Sinopharm vaccine will be assessed by the National Public Health Center before being put into circulation.

Hungary, which has been critical of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, also expects 200,000 doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to arrive this month.

Doctors in Budapest were instructed this week to choose patients under 75 and with no chronic health conditions to receive the first round of Sputnik V.

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