FS-ISAC Coronavirus Update, March 4, 2021


  • President Joe Biden sharply criticized states lifting Covid-19 restrictions against the pleas from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top public health officials, accusing those in power of “Neanderthal thinking,” and said “I think it’s a big mistake.  Look.  I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference.  We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”
  • The decision by governors of states such as Texas and Mississippi to lift mask mandates and restrictions on large gatherings was “ill-advised,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday, adding that "It is really quite risky to do that, for the simple reason that if you look at the amount of infection that there is in the community right now, even though the slope is coming down sharply, if you look at the last seven-day average, it's (plateaued).”
  • It’s premature for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to lift the state’s mask mandate and end restrictions on businesses, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday, adding that the next month or two will be pivotal for the country, and she hopes people will do whatever they can to decrease the amount of the virus spreading in the community – particularly as the country rolls out more vaccines to protect the public.
  • The use of masks, social distancing, hand washing and avoidance of large gatherings must continue in the US to control the spread of Covid-19, according to a statement from the Infectious Diseases Society of America released Wednesday, with the organization’s President Dr. Barbara Alexander saying “All of these measures together will bring us closer to ending the pandemic,"  and that "Abandoning them now will postpone the day we can put Covid-19 behind us."
  • Researchers from the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published more evidence Wednesday that the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first seen in the United Kingdom is more contagious than older circulating versions of the virus and said it’s likely to drive a large new surge of infections without much faster vaccination and more shutdowns, as well.
  • The coronavirus variant known as P.1, first spotted in Brazil, appears to be more contagious and better equipped to evade immune protection than previous versions of the virus, researchers University of Sao Paulo, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Oxford said in a new study this week, with the scientists estimating the chance of reinfection with the mutation at between 25-60 percent.
  • About 80.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the US, according to data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75% of the 107,028,890 doses delivered and around 1.9 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of more than 2 million shots per day for the first time.
  • Teachers and child care staff are now being offered vaccine appointments at some 9,000 pharmacy locations nationwide, even if their state hasn't declared them eligible yet, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which manages the program, announcing the effort on its website.
  • The Biden administration on Wednesday announced enhanced efforts from the private sector to reach some of the nation’s most vulnerable seniors for vaccinations, part of the administration’s overall goal of distributing vaccines more equitably amid hesitation in some disproportionally-impacted communities, and led by over a dozen of “America's leading health insurance providers,” the “Vaccine Community Connectors Pilot” program aims to get 2 million vulnerable seniors “vaccinated as fast as possible.”
  • A trial in South Africa of an experimental coronavirus vaccine made by US vaccine maker Novavax shows the vaccine is about 50% effective against a variant that’s now the dominant strain in that country, and also shows that the vaccine offers better protection from the new variant than antibodies from people previously infected with coronavirus.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue guidance later this week for people who have been fully vaccinated, with sources saying it won’t advise those Americans that they can go back to life as it was in 2019, with recommendations said to include limiting social interactions to small home gatherings with other fully vaccinated people, continuing to wear masks in public and practicing social distancing, and that the agency will also give guidance for travel.
  • While vaccines will be available for all US adults by the end of May, teenagers will still have to wait until the fall, and doses for children younger than age 13 most likely won’t be available until early next year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday.
  • World Health Organization officials said Wednesday scientists are warning that Covid-19 cases are suddenly ticking up across much of the world after falling rapidly for six consecutive weeks, with the global health agency wanting to better understand what’s causing the reversal in trends in each region and country.
  • More than 168 million children around the world have missed school for nearly a year because of coronavirus restrictions, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Wednesday, describing the impact the shutdowns have had on school-age children as a “catastrophic education emergency” with “devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being.”
  • The Senate’s consideration of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill has been pushed back a day, according to a senior Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity, and while the Senate had been set to take a procedural vote today to begin debate on the legislation, the Senate was still waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation to estimate the total cost of the Senate version of the bill.
  • President Joe Biden signed off on a plan to send direct payments to fewer people as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, and under the changes, individuals who earn up to $75,000, heads of households who make up to $112,500 and couples who take in up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 stimulus checks, with checks to single filers cutting off at $80,000 in income, and for heads of households and couples filing jointly checks would stop for people who make $120,000 and $160,000, respectively.
  • Employees at General Motors, Toyota Motor, Target Corp, and Macy's Inc in Texas will keep face masks on at work, the companies said on Tuesday, even as the US state lifted most of its coronavirus curbs allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity as of next week.
  • When the Super Bowl was held in Tampa, Florida, last month, with tens of thousands of fans in attendance, there was wide concern that the big game and the hoopla surrounding it would result in mass spread of the coronavirus, with experts trying since then to gauge to what extent those fears became reality, but the early signs are that the effect was fairly limited after a public health official said on Wednesday that the state had tracked just 57 cases of Covid-19 to official Super Bowl activities.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci today watched with amusement as country music legend Dolly Parton shared a new version of her song "Jolene" to inspire those who are eligible to get a vaccine, saying "She's giving a good message about people getting vaccinated," and adding "That's just terrific, that's what we need."

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Vaccine Rollout - US

  1. Operation Warp Speed spent $16 million on Tiberius, a high-tech system meant to track shipments of vaccines and guide local decisions of where to send them, allowing “granular planning” all the way down to the doctor’s office, provide “a ZIP code-by-ZIP code view of priority populations” and “ease the burden” on public health officials, but for many states it proved either irrelevant or too complicated, and that has contributed to a patchy vaccine rollout, where access depends mostly on where you live and how Internet savvy you are.
  2. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he expects the state to receive 83,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which will be prioritized for educators to expedite a full return to the classroom, and the rest of the shots will go to adults with developmental disabilities, and parents and caregivers of children with developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions. 
  3. Michigan is expanding vaccine eligibility to people age 50 and older with medical conditions or disabilities and caregiver family members and guardians who care for children with special health care needs starting Monday, according to a release from the state, and starting March 22, vaccine eligibility will then expand even further to include all individuals age 50 and older.
  4. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday afternoon the state is now expanding its eligibility for vaccinations to include those age 50 and older, just a day after lowering eligibility to include those 55 and older.
  5. The Texas Department of State Health Services said Wednesday that school and childcare workers would now be eligible to receive the vaccine, following a directive from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  6. West Virginia teachers and school service personnel aged 40 and above, residents age 50 and older and those with chronic health conditions who are 16 or older are now eligible for vaccinations in the state, Governor Jim Justice announced Wednesday.
  7. Massachusetts has received 2 million vaccine doses and has administered 1.8 million so far, getting six doses out of a vile instead of five doses, Governor Charlie Baker said today, and announced that about 400,000 teachers, childcare workers and school staff in the state will be eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments starting March 11.
  8. New York City could offer vaccines to all residents by late April, the city’s health commissioner said Wednesday.
  9. California Governor Gavin Newsome announced the state has administered nearly 9.5 million vaccine doses to date, boasting that only six other countries in the world have vaccinated more people.
  10. New Mexico received 17,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, but officials said in a briefing today that the state will not receive more doses of this vaccine during the next few weeks, with Health Secretary Tracie Collins crediting the delay to the company working on production, saying that the state expects to get an updated number of incoming Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the end of March.
  11. Oklahoma intends to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for people who might otherwise be hard to track down when it is time for a second dose, like the homeless, Governor Kevin Stitt said Wednesday, adding he expected supply to begin outpacing demand by late March or early April.
  12. California’s Office of Emergency Services is disputing a local television report that some people who were vaccinated on Monday at the Oakland Coliseum received too little of the Pfizer dose.
  13. Telehealth company Ro said on Wednesday it was partnering with New York state's department of health to vaccinate people who can't leave their homes.
  14. NYC Health + Hospitals announced a partnership with the City University of New York that will provide almost 1,000 nursing students to 11 hospitals and clinics to support with the system’s vaccination program, with responsibilities that include vaccine administration, clerical tasks, appointment logistics and monitoring patients who receive an injection.
  15. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said on Wednesday that he did not know in January that President Trump was vaccinated, lamenting the ‘lost opportunity’ to sway more people to get inoculated.

US Outbreak

  1. The country is about to benefit from “historic scientific success” of rapid vaccine development, but people must not give in to pandemic “fatigue” - particularly with recent “troubling signs” of variants emerging, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday, adding “The next three months are pivotal.”
  2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest ensemble forecast published today shows the daily death rate slowing and ow projects there will be 540,000 to 564,000 deaths in the US by March 27, updated from the February 24 projection of up to 548,0000 by March 20.
  3. California Governor Gavin Newsome, citing a case rate “among the lowest in America,” said Wednesday that hospitalization rates, and intensive care admissions in the state have dropped by more than 40% in the past two weeks,
  4. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice reported 232 new cases in the past 24 hours, with 197 hospitalized and the state’s daily percent positivity was 3.13%.
  5. North Dakota has reported its 100,000th case, according to John Hopkins University data, and with just about 762,000 people, more than 1 of every 8 residents in the sparsely populated state has tested positive - that's about 13.1 percent, the worst rate of any state.

US Restrictions & Schools

  1. New York state said starting March 22 the outdoor limit on residential gatherings will increase to 25 from 10, with limits for social events rising from 50 to 100 people indoors and to 200 outdoors, venues that hold fewer than 10,000 people can open at 33% capacity from April 2, with up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors but social distancing and face coverings are  still required for attendance, and domestic travelers will no longer be required to quarantine or test-out within 90 days of full vaccination.
  2. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has issued an executive order that requires schools to offer in-person learning by March 15, or after Spring Break, but that
  3. a parent or guardian may choose to continue virtual learning for their child, and there is an exception for middle and high schools located in counties with “high” transmission, as defined by the CDC.
  4. Grocery chain Kroger announced today it will still require customers to wear masks inside its stores across the country despite the reversal of mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi until all of the company’s frontline associates have received the vaccine.
  5. New Mexico health officials urged residents not to follow neighboring state Texas’ lead in loosening restrictions during an update today, with Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase saying “Please, please don't take your lead from another state,” and adding that they would “certainly consider revisiting” the possibility of implementing travel quarantine restrictions should case numbers worsen in bordering states.
  6. Louisiana's state health officer, Dr. Joseph Kanter, tweeted today that lifting mask mandates in neighboring states of Mississippi and Texas is dangerous, saying “Don’t be fooled,” and that “This is a dangerous and self-defeating move.”
  7. Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the governor’s announcement to end all county mask mandates will “sabotage our efforts” to fight the pandemic.
  8. California now has about a dozen counties, possibly including Los Angeles and Orange counties, that are expected to move out of the state’s most restrictive tier by next week, with 40 of the state’s 58 counties currently remaining under the most stringent restrictions, forcing the closure of indoor dining and other nonessential activities.

Business Related

  1. Companies added just 117,000 positions in February, well below the 225,000 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones, a total that also represented a sharp decline from the upward revised 195,000 jobs in January, a weak ADP report that came despite otherwise encouraging signs of economic growth as the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow tracker says the US is on track for a 10% gain to start 2021.
  2. More than one-third of US nonprofits are in jeopardy of closing within two years because of the financial harm inflicted by the viral pandemic, according to a study being released Wednesday by the philanthropy research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
  3. Dormant offices, malls and restaurants have turned cities around the country into ghost towns, foreshadowing a fiscal time bomb for municipal budgets, which are heavily reliant on property taxes and are facing real-estate revenue losses of as much as 10 percent in 2021, according to government finance officials.
  4. Vice President Kamala Harris sought to highlight the plight of women in the workforce amid the pandemic with a visit to a local small yarn and fiber business, which she called the “fabric of the community,” and pressed the need for Congress to pass the administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package.
  5. American Airlines and United Airlines on Thursday will begin providing workers with Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine at Chicago's O'Hare airport, according to letters sent to Chicago-based employees.
  6. Alamo Drafthouse, the nation's largest privately owned cinema chain known for its comfy seating and restaurant-quality food and beers with 41 locations across California, New York, Texas, Virginia and other states, filed for bankruptcy Wednesday and plans to permanently close three locations. 
  7. Apollo Global Management expects to see a return in business conventions after the pandemic, and that’s one factor behind the firm’s recent deal with Las Vegas Sands, and according to David Sambur, co-lead partner of private equity at Apollo, the rise of remote work could actually be a catalyst for a convention recovery.
  8. United Kingdom Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced the corporation tax will rise to 25% from April 2023 as the British government looks to restore public finances in the wake of the pandemic, as the Office for Budget Responsibility, a public body that provides independent forecasts, expects the economy to return to its pre-Covid level by the middle of 2022, with GDP growing by 4% this year and 7.3% next year.