FS-ISAC Coronavirus Update, March 5, 2021


  • There’s more evidence the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first noticed in the United Kingdom poses little threat to the efficacy of vaccines, with research from Duke University published Thursday showing while that variant can hide a little bit from the immune system, it’s not enough to decrease the value of vaccines significantly - and it doesn’t threaten to re-infect people who have recovered from the previous dominant variant of the virus.
  • Five states - Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, Montana and North Dakota -  have ended, or soon will end, statewide mask mandates, despite the looming threat of COVID-19 and highly transmissible variants, joining 11 other states - Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee - that never required face coverings statewide.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that the US should pull back on coronavirus restrictions gradually, after a substantial portion of the population gets vaccinated and the number of new infections has fallen under 10,000 and “maybe even considerably less than that.”
  • Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said he is concerned about the spread of Covid-19 variants, especially as states ease restrictions, explaining that “Expect in the next two to three weeks we're going to see a number of areas in this country, I think, that will follow exactly what we've seen in Europe and the Middle East” with a surge in cases, and “everything that the governors are doing right now to relax all the public health recommendations that we've made are only going to be a major invitation of this virus to spread faster and farther.”
  • State officials must continue to emphasize the importance of wearing masks for the foreseeable future, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who added that even though case counts have lowered from record highs this winter, don't risk it by taking any trips out of the country.
  • The average number of vaccine doses being administered across the US per day topped two million for the first time on Wednesday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from an average of about 1.3 million a month ago.
  • The average number of tests being conducted every day in America has plummeted by 33.6 percent since January, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a statistic has many experts deeply concerned because it comes just as America’s recent decrease in infections and deaths is stalling at a worrisome high level.
  • A global study has found a “dramatic” link between obesity and Covid-19 deaths, with coronavirus fatality rates found to be 10 times higher in nations where 50% or more of the adult population is overweight, with findings from data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and obesity statistics from the World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory hoped to help identify important comorbidity risk factors.
  • A coronavirus resurgence across Europe has ended a six-week decline in new cases on the continent, the World Health Organization said Thursday, reflecting a broader global trend that has seen infections on the rise again, with new covid-19 cases in the European region rising by 9 percent over the past week, and more than half of the region is seeing an increase in new infections, including a particularly worrying surge in the east of the region.
  • Italy has blocked the export of Covid-19 vaccine, in the first case of European Union powers being used in a long-simmering dispute between the European Union and vaccine makers, preventing AstraZeneca from exporting 250,000 doses to Australia, a spokesperson for Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Thursday.
  • Senate Democrats have moved closer to passing their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after the chamber voted by a 51-50 margin Thursday to start debate on the pandemic aid bill, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie in the evenly split Senate and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aiming to approve the legislation by this weekend, followed by the House hoping to pass the bill by the middle of next week before President Joe Biden wants to sign it into law before unemployment assistance expires on March 14.
  • Another 745,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, number that were what economists polled by Dow Jones expected to come in at 750,000, with initial weekly jobless claims having plateaued to a degree in recent months, after waging a partial comeback from staggering, record unemployment last year when coronavirus shutdowns spurred widespread layoffs.
  • Stock futures fell in overnight trading Thursday following a tech-led rout on Wall Street amid a surge in bond yields, with the Dow dipping 200 points, while S&P 500 futures slid 0.8%, and the Nasdaq 100 futures fell 1%, as all eyes will be on February jobs report, which is set to be released Friday morning.
  • Target, Starbucks, CVS and Kroger are among the retailers - some of the largest in the nation - that will continue to require that customers in Texas wear masks inside stores, while others, such as Albertsons, will drop the requirement but continue to encourage people to wear facial coverings.
  • Marriott International announced today that it will give employees four hours’ worth of pay to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, and while the hospitality company said it will not require to get a shot, it is strongly encouraging it and will be providing education on the benefits of vaccination and will allow flexible scheduling for employees to make appointments.
  • Traffic deaths in the US increased for the first time in four years in 2020, as coronavirus-induced lockdowns opened roads and led to more reckless driving, with the nonprofit National Safety Council estimating in a report issued Thursday that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019, and in addition the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.
  • An international team of researchers from institutions including Boston Children's Hospital, Northeastern University and the University of Oxford has partnered with Google.org, Google's nonprofit subsidiary, to release Global.health, a platform that contains information about almost 10 million COVID-19 cases from over 100 countries with a goal of helping scientists across the globe answer a wide range of questions, from measuring the impact of newly emerged virus variants on different age groups, including children, to understanding how likely a public response is to help curb spread in certain areas.
  • Sellers on 15 different "dark web" marketplaces have dispersed hundreds of doses of what they allege are COVID-19 vaccines, according to a new study by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, and what's more, the company’s researchers believe a significant portion of those sales - as much as 30% - could be of actual vaccines, with doses available for as much as $1,200 a pop and some vaccine hawkers having completed as many as 500 transactions.

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Vaccine Rollout - US

  1. About 82.6 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the US, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75% of the 109,905,530 doses delivered and around 2 million more administered doses reported since yesterday.
  2. About half of seniors have yet to receive a single shot of a vaccine, with the still-unvaccinated population including 36 percent of people older than 75 and 54 percent of people ages 65 to 75, according to data shared Wednesday by President Biden’s coronavirus task force.
  3. California will begin sending 40% of all vaccine doses to the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the state to try to inoculate people most at risk  and get the state’s economy open more quickly, Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday in the latest shake-up to the state's rules.
  4. New York City has received 16,300 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, its first delivery of the one-shot vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, and will use the shots to begin vaccinating home-bound seniors.
  5. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that the state anticipates administering 250,000 doses of vaccine next week, which would be consistent with the current week’s projections, and that 300,000 to 400,000 new residents will become eligible, including those over 65 and with two or more high-risk medical conditions.
  6. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy Thursday said he’s “highly confident” that most adults who want the vaccine will be able to get it by the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the traditional start of the summer tourist season, and that he’s expected a “much more normal summer” than last year.
  7. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan released further plans Thursday to distribute vaccines more equitably to underserved parts of the state, after leaders of its largest Black populations criticized major disparities in the rollout of vaccinations to minorities.
  8. Virginia, Maryland and the District continued to adjust their methods and practices Wednesday for distributing vaccines as they prepare to receive tens of thousands of doses of the new Johnson & Johnson shot, and the District next week said it will scrap its problem-riddled vaccine sign-up website in favor of a preregistration system similar to those in Virginia and parts of Maryland, but until then the website and phone line will be open only to DC residents.

US Outbreak

  1. California’s 14-day positivity rate fell Thursday to 2.5%, tying with an all-time-low rate last October.
  2. New York’s total hospitalizations for Covid-19 have dropped by more than a third in a month, but its current rate of hospitalizations for the virus per 100,000 residents is 27, the highest in the US, according to Covid Tracking Project data.
  3. The US Naval Academy moved nearly 200 midshipmen to hotels in downtown Annapolis this week following an uptick of cases, with officials saying the students were relocated off campus to create more quarantine and isolation space in Bancroft Hall, the academy’s dormitory complex.

US Restrictions & Schools

  1. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced today a number of businesses will be allowed to reopen at full capacity beginning March 19, though patrons will still be required to wear face coverings and maintain social distance, with the state lifting all capacity restrictions for restaurants, non-theater indoor recreation businesses, gyms and fitness centers, retailers and offices; personal care services, like spas and nail salons, and houses of worship.
  2. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that she will lift a statewide order requiring people to wear masks beginning April 9, giving businesses enough time to create their own policies if necessary, saying “While I’m convinced a mask mandate has been the right thing to do, I also respect those who object and believe this was a step too far in government overreach.”
  3. While tens of thousands of Americans are infected each day and more research suggests variants threaten another surge, some US state leaders are loosening restrictions against the recommendations of health experts, with the decision to rollback measures "inexplicable," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  4. While Texas and other states have recently dropped mask mandates, Governor Gavin Newsom urged Californians on Thursday to wear two masks to reduce spread of coronavirus, saying residents should “consider using an additional mask and double masking” while in public, particularly “in light of all of what I would argue is bad information coming from at least four states in this country."
  5. Teachers and school administrators should understand how to take proper measures to open schools, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, explaining “Opening schools is going to be hard especially if they've been closed for a year,” and adding “So the real question is take a look at the operational guidance that we've put out.”
  6. California’s legislature on Thursday approved a $6.6 billion plan that attempts to convince school districts to bring students back for classroom instruction before the end of the school year and dangled $2 billion in incentives to reopen by April 1.
  7. Southern New Hampshire University has agreed to pay $1.25 million to resolve a class action in federal court by students demanding refunds after the school canceled in-person classes last spring because of the pandemic, a deal that appears to be among the first to be reached in a sea of hundreds of lawsuits filed by students against colleges and universities in federal court.

Economy and Business Related

  1. Applying to college has always been harder for first-generation and low-income students than for peers with greater access to support at every step of the process, but this year data shows that gulf has widened with the pandemic a likely culprit, as overall completion of the federal financial aid form, a harbinger of college-going intent, is 9.2% behind the prior year as of February 19.
  2. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said Thursday he expects grocery prices to be volatile at times this year, but stressed he does not see problematic food inflation on the horizon, adding “For the whole year, we expect inflation to be at 1% to 2%, which is a pretty normal number.”
  3. Delta Air Lines will start recalling some 1,300 pilots on Friday who haven’t been flying during the pandemic so they can begin training, as after a brutal year consumers are warming to the idea of traveling again as bookings pick up steam.
  4. Disney has announced that, due to the pandemic, it will be shuttering 60 of its brick-and-mortar stores in North America, out of 300 worldwide, to concentrate on e-commerce, with the company seeking to provide “a more seamless, personalized and franchise-focused ecommerce experience” through its online platform.
  5. Manhattan brokers are saying that apartment discounts could end soon after sales soared 73% in February with more than 1,110 sales contracts signed, marking the third straight month of year-over-year gains according to a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel.
  6. US shopping mall owner Washington Prime Group is reportedly readying to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after the company missed a $23 million interest payment last month, as the company’s roughly 100 shopping malls have been shuttered or seen significantly reduced traffic during the pandemic.