New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting December 14th, but it's slated to return with limited capacity on Valentine's Day.
After being shut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th.
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Here's the latest:
5:05 p.m.: South Africa will stop the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after new research showed it does not properly protect against the variant spreading throughout the country, the South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Sunday.
"From next week for the next four weeks we expect that there will be J&J vaccines, there will be Pfizer vaccines. So what will be available to the health workers will be those vaccines," Mkhize said in an online news briefing, as reported by Reuters. "The AstraZeneca vaccine will remain with us ... up until the scientists give us clear indications as to what we need to do."
Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg announced this weekend that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine offers "minimal protection" against mild to moderate COVID-19 from the variant that originated in South Africa late last year.
The new research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, led South African health officials to halt the vaccine candidate's use in the country.
"These findings also force us to recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the aspirational goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at risk individuals in population against severe disease," Shabir Madhi, Director of the Vaccines & Infectious Diseases Analytics (VIDA) Research Unit at the university, said in a statement.
University of Oxford vaccinology professor Sarah Gilbert added: "This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change."
The scientists' study did not evaluate how effective the AstraZeneca vaccine was in protecting against moderate to severe disease, hospitalization, or death. The median age among the some 2,000 volunteers was 31, with mild disease, meaning at least one COVID-19 symptom. Scientists have submitted the paper to be peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.
Fauci Says Two-Dose Vaccine Series Should Not Be Delayed To Give More People First Shots
11:51 a.m.: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, disagrees with some experts' suggestion that the U.S. should delay second vaccine doses in order to inoculate more people now.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on NBC News's Meet The Press that "it would be nice to know" if a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine would protect vaccine takers enough to delay a second dose.
But he does not support delaying a second dose beyond the recommended timeframe, which is 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna, with up to six weeks of wiggle room between the first and second shots, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
"If you want to really study it to see that, the amount of time that it would take, the amount of people you would have to put into the study, by that time, we will already be in the arena of having enough vaccines to go around anyway," Fauci told NBC's Chuck Todd. "So from a theoretical standpoint, it would be nice to know, if you just get one dose, how long the durability lasts and what is the level of effect. But what we have right now and what we must go with is the scientific data that we’ve accumulated and it’s really very solid."
Fauci said there's not enough people in the country that have gotten a first dose but missed their second dose to determine whether protection from the coronavirus would match what was studied in the vaccine trials, which was around a 95% efficacy rate.
A week prior on Meet The Press, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Michael Osterholm, said more people should get the first shot rather than ensuring all those vaccinated get both doses. He warned that the coronavirus variants are like a Category 5 hurricane barreling towards the country.
A new study reported in the NY Times on Sunday says that the more contagious variant from the U.K. is spreading rapidly across the nation, with infections from the variant doubling approximately every 10 days.
Vaccine supplies remain an issue, Fauci added. But he anticipates the shortage of vaccine doses will be alleviated in the coming weeks.
"The demand clearly outstrips the supply right now," Fauci said. "Even though there is a clear, clear discrepancy between the demand and the supply, that will get better as we get through February and into March."
Mayor Bill de Blasio has requested to use a second dose reserve for first shots, with the anticipation enough supplies would arrive to ensure everyone gets their second dose. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has rejected that request.
In New York state, the positivity rate over a seven-day average was 4.5%, the lowest since December 2nd, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo's office.
"While we are encouraged by these declining numbers, we must remain vigilant," Cuomo said in a statement. "Today, I urge New Yorkers to enjoy the Superbowl but be smart and don't do anything to undo our progress: wear a mask, practice social distancing and avoid gatherings."