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US 'actively looking' at requiring COVID testing before domestic flights

gerenme/iStockBy MINA KAJI and CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is "actively looking" at requiring COVID-19 tests before domestic flights, a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said on Tuesday.

"These are conversations that are ongoing," CDC Director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine Marty Cetron told reporters, "and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be. We’re actively looking at it."

This would be an expansion of the administration's mandatory testing requirement for U.S.-bound travelers that took effect on Tuesday. All travelers flying into the U.S. must now provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than three days before their flight, or they will be denied boarding.

The order was initially announced by the CDC on Jan. 12 and formalized in an executive order President Joe Biden signed last week.

"We urge folks to postpone their trips if they're able," acting Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs Ian Brownlee said Tuesday, "and if they absolutely must travel to equip themselves with information."

Brownlee warned travelers will be responsible for covering their own lodging and medical costs if they test positive or cannot get a test while overseas.

"The bottom line message is this is really not a time for people to be engaging in discretionary travel, and that all travel should be postponed until we get a better handle on getting this virus under control and accelerate our vaccination strategies," Cetron said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Coronavirus live updates: Gambia vows to name and shame those flouting COVID-19 rules

Ovidiu Dugulan/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ERIN SCHUMAKER, EMILY SHAPIRO and IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 100.2 million people worldwide and killed over 2.1 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Here's how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Jan 27, 10:12 am
UK vaccine plant evacuated over suspicious package


Welsh authorities said Wednesday they are responding to "an ongoing incident" after a suspicious package was found at a key factory in the United Kingdom's supply chain for COVID-19 vaccines.

The plant, located in the Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wrexham, Wales, is owned by Indian biotechnology company Wockhardt, who have a partnership with British-Swedeish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.K.

"Wockhardt UK in Wrexham this morning received a suspicious package to site," the company said in a statement to ABC News. "All relevant authorities were immediately notified and engaged. Upon expert advice we have partially evacuated the site pending a full investigation. The safety of our employees and business continuity remain of paramount importance."

North Wales Police told ABC News in a statement: "We are currently dealing with an ongoing incident on the Wrexham Industrial Estate. The roads are currently closed and we would ask the public to avoid the area until further notice."

Jan 27, 9:53 am
Monoclonal antibody treatments show promising results

American biotechnology company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals announced Wednesday that its cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies held up in laboratory experiments against new variants of the novel coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic versions of our natural antibody defense to infection. They are being studied as a way to both treat and prevent COVID-19 infection, with promising results. But unlike vaccines, which are thought to offer broader protection, some scientists have been worried that this type of therapy would be less effective against newly emerging variants of the virus.

Wednesday's announcement is good news for Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment, REGEN-COV, though the data is still preliminary and currently under peer review.


Regeneron scientists as well as researchers at Columbia University in New York City have each independently confirmed that the casirivimab and imdevimab antibody cocktail successfully neutralized both the U.K. and South Africa variants when tested against them, according to a company press release.

REGEN-COV has not yet been tested against another variant that was first identified in Brazil. However, Regeneron said the two-antibody cocktail "is expected to remain similarly potent" based on some resemblance which the Brazil variant bears to the South Africa strain. The company said it is pursuing further confirmatory research.

It's the latest piece of promising news about the efficacy of monoclonal antibodies as treatment for COVID-19. On Tuesday, American pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company announced that a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, was found to be effective in COVID-19 patients at high risk of severe infection, reducing the risk of hospitalization and death by 70%, according to the results of a final-stage trial.

That same day, Regeneron announced its antibody cocktail had shown positive initial results in prophylactic use -- that is, helping ward off COVID-19 in those who may have been exposed to the virus. Regeneron’s chief scientific officer, Dr. George Yancopoulos, said he hopes the drug "may be able to help break this chain" of active infection and transmission.

Last Thursday, Eli Lilly released data showing bamlanivimab may help prevent disease and stop outbreaks among residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Jan 27, 7:39 am
January becomes deadliest month for COVID-19 in US

January is now the deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic for the United States.

So far this month, 79,261 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the U.S., surpassing December's record 77,124 deaths, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

December still holds the record for the highest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases.

Jan 27, 7:21 am
Auschwitz survivors mark 76th anniversary online amid pandemic

The official commemoration of the 76th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation will be held online Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Memorial, which is located on the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, is closed for visitors until at least Jan. 31 under COVID-19 restrictions set by the Polish government.

"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the commemoration will exceptionally not be held at the Memorial, but in the virtual space," Auschwitz Memorial spokesperson Pawel Sawicki said in a statement Tuesday evening. "The main theme of the 76th anniversary of the liberation will be the fate of children in Auschwitz."


The online events will include testimony from survivors as well as a guided virtual tour of the Auschwitz Memorial, "aimed at enhancing the educational value for visitors from around the globe," according to Sawicki.

Auschwitz, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, was a complex of over 40 concentration and death camps run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland amid the Holocaust during World War II. It was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. More than 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives there, mainly Jews, according to information on the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum's website.

In January 1945, as Soviet Russia advanced deeper into Nazi-occupied Poland toward the end of the war, Nazi officers organized a forced evacuation of the Auschwitz prisoners. Almost 9,000 prisoners, most of whom were sick or suffering from exhaustion, were deemed unfit to join the death march to Germany. The Nazis intended to kill them all as part of attempts to destroy the evidence of their crimes at Auschwitz, but only managed to murder about 700 Jewish prisoners between the departure of the final evacuation column and the arrival of Soviet forces.

Soviet troops entered Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and liberated more than 7,000 survivors, according to the museum's website.

Jan 27, 5:39 am
Gambia vows to name and shame those flouting COVID-19 rules


Forty people in Gambia who tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week have refused to self-isolate or have escaped treatment centers, according to the country's health ministry, which vowed to reveal the identities of those flouting public health regulations.

Officials are also aware of a "large number of travelers who recently arrived" in the small West African nation from countries considered COVID-19 hotspots and "have refused to abide to official protocols and/or report to the health authorities for the mandatory test upon arrival," said Modou Njai, director of health promotion and education at Gambia's Ministry of Health.

"The Ministry continues to treat these matters with utmost and grave concern and thus, the Ministry is hereby giving an order and ultimatum to all those concerned, that they are required to report themselves to the health authorities with immediate effect and failure of which will lead to serious consequences, including the publication of names and identifying information of all those at large," Njai said in a statement Tuesday.

"The Ministry would like to stress that this serious and ruthless misconduct will no longer be condoned under any circumstances," he added. "Anyone found not willing to cooperate with COVID-19 regulations will have their names and identifying information published on the media and thereafter, drastic measures will be taken against anyone that is non-compliant."

Gambia, home to some 2.3 million people, has confirmed 4,008 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including at least 128 deaths, according to the latest data from the health ministry.

Jan 27, 4:06 am
US reports over 142,000 new cases


There were 142,511 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Tuesday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Tuesday's case count is far less than the country's all-time high of 298,031 newly confirmed infections on Jan. 2, Johns Hopkins data shows.

An additional 3,990 fatalities from COVID-19 were registered nationwide on Tuesday, down from a peak of 4,462 new deaths on Jan. 12, according to Johns Hopkins data.

COVID-19 data may be skewed due to possible lags in reporting over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

A total of 25,443,700 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 425,216 have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country's cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.

The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4, then reaching 200,000 on Nov. 27 before nearing 300,000 on Jan. 2.

So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use -- one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and another developed by American biotechnology company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Third storm in a row slams US causing threats of mudslides, flooding and avalanches

ABC NewsBy MAX GOLEMBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Three storms continue to march across the country with the third storm reaching the West Coast overnight where thousands have been forced to evacuate.

The first storm is leaving the Northeast Wednesday morning and this is the same storm that brought the deadly EF-3 tornado with winds of 150 mph to northern Alabama.

The second storm moved through the Rockies and the Plains overnight and is now expected to bring snow to the Southeast.

On Tuesday, a 17-vehicle pileup shut down I-25 in Colorado due to the slick roads from that second storm with, locally, some areas in the West already getting 3 feet of snow.

On Wednesday, 16 states in the East are under snow and ice alerts for heavy snow and slick roads.

Even Raleigh, North Carolina, is under a winter weather advisory for some slick roads and a winter storm warning has been issued for the North Carolina mountains.

The snowfall totals include a general area of 1 to 3 inches of snow forecast from Missouri to Virginia and North Carolina, but in the southern Appalachians up to a half a foot of snow could accumulate.

In the West, millions are bracing for the third storm to bring mudslides, flash flooding, heavy snow and avalanche danger.

This storm will be fueled by an atmospheric river -- a long plume of moisture moving across the Pacific with the jet stream -- aimed at California over the next few days.

Already, overnight winds gusted in California between 60 to 75 mph bringing down trees into homes north of the San Francisco Bay area.

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, up to 30 inches of snow fell in parts of northern California and more is expected to fall Wednesday.

This atmospheric river will deliver up to 10 inches of rain to parts of California where mudslides are expected in the recent burn areas.

In the Sierra Nevada, up to 100 inches of snow is possible -- more than 8 feet of snow.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Intel report warns officials are 'very likely' to be cyberattack targets amid remote transition

scyther5/iStockBy WILL STEAKIN and JOSH MARGOLIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Working remotely amid a pandemic has been complicated for the average person, but for officials involved in the transition from the administrations of Donald Trump to Joe Biden, it poses a serious national security risk, according to an internal federal intelligence analysis obtained by ABC News.

The report, issued by the Department of Homeland Security's Cyber Mission and Counterintelligence Mission centers in mid-January, warns that based on previous cyberattacks targeting political campaigns between 2018-2020, foreign cyber actors -- specifically American adversaries like Russia -- are "very likely" to target transition officials' "government transition e-mail accounts and associated personal e-mail accounts."

Among the concerns detailed in the report is the risk that nation-state hackers sanctioned by foreign governments will likely look to take advantage of transition officials "conducting a significant portion of the transition remotely rather than in face-to-face interactions as a result of COVID-19 restrictions." The remote environment, the reports says, makes officials more "attractive cyber targets for collection and possibly influence operations" during the sensitive transition period.

While there’s a heightened risk of cyberattacks when working remotely, this report focused on the transition period and details several tactics attackers could employ to compromise transition officials' virtual private networks and other remote work tools in order to "gain initial access or persistence on a victim's network," including targeting official or personal e-mail accounts, posing as trusted associates, and "spoofing domains to increase the appearance that the e-mails are legitimate."

"Beyond serving traditional espionage purposes, these cyber activities could be used by foreign adversaries to enable influence operations, such as the leaking of sensitive or personal information designed to embarrass individuals and organizations -- or affect others' perceptions of those targets -- based on our analysis of prior cyber operations against U.S. Government officials and associated individuals," the intelligence notice says.

The White House and DHS did not respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, told ABC News that while espionage efforts during the transition period have become standard, including during the 2016-2017 transition period, "Operating in a near-virtual environment due to the pandemic creates more vulnerabilities, upon which advanced persistent threat actors may be able to capitalize."

"Basic cyber hygiene and end-user best practices will mitigate many of the attempts these actors undertake," Neumann said.

The report also cited the massive SolarWinds hack, which targeted U.S. government agencies and private corporations and left 18,000 networks compromised. The document noted that the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency "has observed malicious actors using the compromise to access resources in hosted environments, such as email for data exfiltration."

Earlier in January, top national security agencies formally named Russia as the likely source of the SolarWinds hack, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling the hack "a very significant effort" and "pretty clearly" the work of Russians.

Russia has denied responsibility for the hack, which has reportedly affected the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce, and Energy, as well as the National Institutes of Health.

The report also provides transition officials with a number of preventative measures to protect themselves from cyberattacks, including the installation of firewalls and antivirus software, and the use of two-factor authentication.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Lawsuit filed after off-duty officer, 'mob' allegedly tried to force way into Black teen's home

DNY59/iStockBy IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A former North Carolina police officer who was fired and criminally charged last year after he allegedly gathered a group of armed people and tried to enter the home of a Black teen who he thought was a suspect in the case of a missing person, was sued by the victim's family Tuesday.

Attorneys for Monica Shepard and her 18-year-old son Dameon filed the civil suit in North Carolina Tuesday contending that their clients were racially profiled and terrorized by former deputy Jordan Kita, and 14 other white defendants, some of whom were armed, who said they were looking for a missing woman.

Kita was off-duty but in uniform and had his sidearm when he came to the Shepard's Pender County home on May 3, 2020, along with the group, according to the suit.

Kita told Dameon he was looking for a Black suspect with a different name than Dameon's and tried to force himself into the home even though the teen repeatedly identified himself and said the suspect didn't live in the address, the suit said. Monica Shepard eventually forced Kita out of the doorway and the crowd dispersed, according to the suit.

The missing girl was eventually found safe, according to the New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney's office.

"When a dozen or more white men and women with guns invade a Black family’s property, terrorize the people that live there, and refuse to listen or leave, the situation can easily spiral into tragic and deadly racial violence and death," Mark Dorosin, an attorney representing the Shepards, said in a statement to ABC News.

The New Hanover County Sheriff's office fired Kita and prosecutors charged him with "forcible trespass, misdemeanor breaking and entering, and willful failure to discharge duties" for his role in the incident.

At least 13 other white men and women were part of the group, including Kita's father Timothy, but none of those persons have been charged, according to the suit. Timothy Kita and a dozen "John and Jane Does" who were allegedly involved in the incident are also named as defendants in the lawsuit

The defendants are being sued for trespass; assault; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; invasion of privacy; and violations of North Carolina’s civil rights and fair housing statutes, according to the court documents.

The Shepards are seeking relief in excess of $25,000 and punitive damages that will be determined by a jury, the court document said.

An attorney who represents the Kitas did not immediately return messages for comment.

Another person charged following the incident was Robert Austin Wood, who was allegedly standing behind Kita and holding an assault rifle when the off-duty officer confronted Dameon at the door, according to the suit.

Wood, who is also a defendant in the suit, was charged with "going armed to the terror of the people," by the DA's office. Wood pleaded not guilty on Dec. 4, according to his attorney.

Woody White, an attorney representing Wood, said in a statement to ABC News that seeking damages from his client "over this huge misunderstanding is racial extortion."

"Nothing bad befell the Shepard family; no racial slurs were used, no voices were raised, no threats were conveyed. It was a brief and seemingly uneventful misunderstanding that lasted less than 2 minutes last May," White said in the statement.

The criminal cases against Kita and Wood are ongoing.

The suit also contends that the Pender County Sheriff’s Office did not do enough to investigate the mob or the incident.

A captain from the sheriff's office allegedly did not attempt to question the members of the mob while they were outside the Shepard home and told the family the next day, "it was complicated to apprehend or arrest anyone who had been there the previous night," the suit said.

A representative from the Pender County Sheriff's office declined to comment about the suit.

"Experiencing this kind of terror at your home – the one place you should feel safe – is simply unconscionable," Jennifer Nwachukwu, an attorney representing the Shepards, said in a statement. "We filed this lawsuit today to make it clear that Black people should not be subject to living in fear at the hands of an armed white mob without accountability."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Latinos in LA area disproportionately affected by COVID

vlvart/iStockBy ABBY CRUZ, ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) -- With California ending a regional stay-at-home order issued because of strained capacity in the state's intensive care units, current COVID-19 data suggests that the local Latino community has been hit the hardest of all.

The state reported 4,131 ICU-related COVID cases last month, which has since increased to 4,475. California, as of Tuesday, also reported more than 27,000 new cases and at least 328 deaths. When broken down by race, the state's death count was at 1,195 Black people, 3,370 white people and 7,443 Latinos.

In Los Angeles, Martin Luther King Community Hospital CEO Elaine Batchlor said the disparity among races isn't entirely unexpected.

"These conditions exist all the time, but we're seeing it more visible during the COVID pandemic because the pandemic is moving so fast," Batchlor explained. "The low-income population are almost all publicly insured or uninsured. ... So that leaves this population without access to health care, and then it leaves them vulnerable to a pandemic like this."

COVID-19 warning signs have been posted in some of LA's highest-risk neighborhoods, many of them with large Latino populations.

Still, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state may be turning a corner.

"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we've been hoping for," Ghaly said. "Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible, and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Phoenix police release video of officer who took down suspect holding baby hostage

Phoenix Police DepartmentBy HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(PHOENIX) -- The Phoenix Police Department released video taken earlier this month of a fatal shooting between police officers and a man who allegedly took a baby hostage.

The deadly confrontation occurred Jan. 9 after police were called to a motel, where surveillance video recorded the man, identified as 37-year-old Paul Bolden, wrestling with a woman over the baby in the parking lot.

Multiple onlookers called 911, including one who said Bolden was firing a gun at people and holding a baby hostage, the Phoenix Police Department said in a press briefing of the video.

Police said the second call to 911 was from a woman who reported her husband had taken her baby and was shooting a gun. Others said the man had walked out into the street, stopped a car, and held the driver at gunpoint.

Officers arrived within a minute of the 911 calls, and said they saw Bolden shooting a gun while holding the baby. Bolden was shot after refusing the officers’ demands to drop the gun, when an officer saw him point it at the baby and other people nearby, police said.

Bolden was injured from the incident and an officer immediately recovered the baby to safety. The baby was not injured during the incident, according to police.

Following the shooting, Bolden was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Phoenix Fire Department.

Investigators later learned that the woman wrestling with Bolden was his girlfriend and that the baby was his son.

According to the press release, no officers were injured in the shooting and some bystanders suffered only minor injuries.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Acting DC police chief criticizes 'tepid' Army response to Jan. 6 riots

uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, LUKE BARR and JACK DATE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Washington, D.C.'s top cop said the assault on the U.S. Capitol exposed "weaknesses in the security of the most secure city in the country" during a closed-door congressional briefing on Tuesday.

"I was stunned at the tepid response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol," acting Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee told the House Appropriations Committee in written testimony obtained by ABC News. "While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception -- the factors cited by the staff on the call -- these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted."

"I was able to quickly deploy my force and issue directives to them while they were in the field, and I was honestly shocked that the National Guard could not -- or would not -- do the same," he added.

Contee spoke to the deadly toll of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, noting that five people -- including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick -- died as a result of the siege. He also revealed that an MPD officer, whom he identified as Jeffery Smith, died by suicide afterward. He is one of two responding officers to die by suicide following the attack -- the other being Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood, according to Contee.

Among the more than 1,000 MPD officers who responded, 65 were injured during the riot, Contee also noted.

"Other harm from this traumatic day will be widely felt but possibly unacknowledged," Contee’s testimony stated. "Law enforcement training neither anticipates nor prepares for hours of hand-to-hand combat. Even brief physical fights are physically and emotionally draining."

The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police apologized to lawmakers during Tuesday's briefing for not being more prepared for the attack.

"Let me be clear: the Department should have been more prepared for this attack," acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told the House Appropriations Committee, in opening remarks obtained by ABC News. "We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target."

"I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the Department," she said in the remarks.

Pittman confirmed that the panel supervising the department, the Capitol Police Board, rejected a request from then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund two days before the riot for National Guard troops.

The Washington Post previously reported that the Capitol Police request was rejected by congressional security officials because they anticipated House and Senate leaders wouldn't want troops stationed around the Capitol.

Capitol Police activated more officers to work on Jan. 6 in anticipation of violence -- including a SWAT team and civil disturbance units -- but "we did not do enough," Pittman said.

Sund also asked permission to bring in the National Guard on Jan. 6, but was not granted authorization from the board "for over an hour," Pittman told the House committee.

Pittman also called the attack on the Capitol a "terrorist attack by tens of thousands of insurrectionists determined to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, the Department failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours."

"I do believe certain challenges the Department faced the day of the attack could have been overcome with additional preparation," she said.

Pittman also said that once the Capitol was breached their focus turned to the safety of members and leadership.

A source familiar confirmed that the chiefs and assistant chiefs went silent on Jan. 6. Neither took control of the radio, the source said, and when officers were looking for leadership, there was none.

Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou told ABC News that there is currently no vote of no confidence underway against the acting chief and senior department leadership.

"Officers have been calling for a vote of no confidence since Jan. 6," Papathanasiou said. "At this time we have not initiated a vote of no confidence. Doesn't mean we can't think about it. There's a big difference."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Coronavirus updates: Global case count tops 100 million

narvikk/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ERIN SCHUMAKER and EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 99.8 million people worldwide and killed over 2.1 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Here's how the news developed Tuesday. All times Eastern:

Jan 26, 7:59 pm
Hospitalizations down but daily death rate still over 3,000


Coronavirus hospitalizations continue to trend downward, but the number of new deaths reported Tuesday is still above 3,000, The COVID Tracking Project reported.

There are 108,957 people currently hospitalized in the U.S. with COVID-19, which is almost 30,000 fewer cases than a couple of weeks ago, the tracking project said.

There were 3,734 deaths reported Tuesday and the seven-day average was 3,302, according to the health data.

"While cases and hospitalizations are falling, the 7-day average for deaths jumped up today. That's because last Tuesday's data was depressed by the holiday," the tracking project tweeted. "We do expect, however, that deaths could stay elevated for quite a while."

Jan 26, 4:58 pm
White House reaches agreements to buy more vaccines by summer


President Joe Biden's administration said it has secured commitments from vaccine makers to buy another 200 million doses to arrive this summer -- 100 million from Pfizer and 100 million from Moderna.

This raises the total to 600 million and ensures the U.S. will eventually have two shots for nearly every American.
 
"We expect these vaccines to be available in production over the course of the summer," a Biden official said.

Buying more doses had always been an option for the U.S. government as part of the prior contracts.

"We will increase overall weekly vaccination distributions of states, tribes and territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses starting next week," President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

Biden also vowed to increase "transparency with states, cities and tribes and local partners when it comes to the vaccine supply."

"From this week forward … states, tribes and territories will now always have a reliable, three-week forecast with the supply they're going to get," he said.

ABC News’ Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Jan 26, 4:10 pm
Kamala Harris gets 2nd vaccine dose


Vice President Kamala Harris, while wearing two masks, received her second vaccine dose Tuesday at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

She called the shot "relatively painless," adding, "We’re gonna get 100 million vaccinations in 100 days."

"I want to urge everyone to take the vaccine when it is your turn," Harris said.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff also received his second vaccine dose.

Jan 26, 3:01 pm
UK variant gains ground in Netherlands


The Netherlands is battling two COVID-19 epidemics: one against its existing variants, in which cases are declining, and "another epidemic involving the U.K. variant, in which infections are increasing," the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment wrote in a situation report on Tuesday.

The U.K. variant has caused a massive jump in hospitalizations in the U.K. and Ireland.

In the Netherlands, government officials said they were "gravely concerned about the U.K. variant." Over the weekend they introduced a nighttime curfew which has sparked riots.

The Netherlands has reported an 11.7% positivity rate the last two weeks.

ABC News’ Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Jan 26, 2:40 pm
Global case count climbs over 100 million


The number of people worldwide who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 surpassed 100 million on Tuesday, according to real-time data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Over 25 million of those cases are in the U.S.

For perspective, only 14 countries in the world have populations over 100 million, according to the latest data from the World Bank Group.

This milestone comes just over one year since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019.

Jan 26, 1:55 pm
UK tops 100,000 deaths


The United Kingdom has surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday.

"It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic," he said.

More than 35,000 people in the U.K. are hospitalized, which is "substantially" above the peak in April, Johnson said.

The number of people testing positive is still high, but is decreasing slowly, with 20,089 new cases reported Tuesday, he said.

Jan 26, 1:27 pm
Boston Marathon to be held in October if road races are allowed


This year's Boston Marathon will be held on Oct. 11, if road races are allowed in the state's reopening plan at that time, the Boston Athletic Association said.

A virtual race will also be offered as an option to runners.

"While it was of course the right thing to do, canceling the 2020 Boston Marathon for the first time in its 124-year history was one of the hardest announcements to make," Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

"Today, I'm filled with hope, as we set our sights on October for the running of the 125th Boston Marathon," Walsh said. "We have a ways to go before we're out of the woods, but guided by sound judgment and the advice of our public health experts, I am hopeful that we'll get to enjoy the return of one of Boston's most storied traditions this fall."

Jan 26, 1:27 pm
Boston Marathon to be held in October if road races are allowed


This year's Boston Marathon will be held on Oct. 11, if road races are allowed in the state's reopening plan at that time, the Boston Athletic Association said.

A virtual race will also be offered as an option to runners.

"While it was of course the right thing to do, canceling the 2020 Boston Marathon for the first time in its 124-year history was one of the hardest announcements to make," Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

"Today, I'm filled with hope, as we set our sights on October for the running of the 125th Boston Marathon," Walsh said. "We have a ways to go before we're out of the woods, but guided by sound judgment and the advice of our public health experts, I am hopeful that we'll get to enjoy the return of one of Boston's most storied traditions this fall."

Jan 26, 12:28 pm
Several hundred White House staffers have received vaccinations


Several hundred White House staffers already received vaccinations by the White House medical team, White House officials said, confirming a report from Axios.

The White House hopes to vaccinate all in-person staff in the next few weeks, officials said.

Jan 26, 12:15 pm
Hospitalizations at lowest since Dec. 14


The U.S. is seeing improvements in case and hospitalizations. In the last two weeks, the seven-day average of cases has declined by 33.1%, according to ABC News' analysis of data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project,

On Monday, Missouri reported the fewest number of new cases since September, while South Dakota reported the lowest number of new cases since July.

Hospitalizations are also declining nationwide -- the COVID Tracking Project analysis states it is the lowest since Dec. 14.

Hospitalizations are even trending down in California, which has more people in hospitals than any other state.

Jan 26, 11:00 am
Colombian defense minister dies of COVID-19


Colombian President Ivan Duque announced Tuesday that Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujilo died in the early morning hours from COVID-19 complications. He was 69.

"I can't express the pain that I have," Duque said in a statement while conveying his condolences to Trujilo's family.

Colombia has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Americas, behind the United States and Brazil, according to the World Health Organization.

Jan 26, 9:43 am
Europe's longest land border closes over new variant

Europe's longest land border, spanning more than 1,000 miles, has closed for the first time since World War II.

Sweden's temporary ban on entry from neighboring Norway went into effect Monday and will last until at least Feb. 14. The Swedish government has also extended an entry ban from the United Kingdom and Denmark until the same date.


The move comes amid concerns over a new, more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus that was first identified in the U.K. and has since spread to Norway's capital and the surrounding area.

On Saturday, shortly before Sweden announced the new travel ban, the Norwegian government imposed strict new lockdown measures for Oslo and nine neighboring municipalities due to an outbreak of the variant.

Jan 26, 9:07 am
South Africa tells rich countries to stop hoarding COVID-19 vaccines

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has accused wealthy countries of hoarding excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines that they had ordered but did not immediately need.

He said rich countries had "acquired large doses of vaccines" -- some "up to four times what their population needs" -- "to the exclusion of other countries."

"We need those who have hoarded the vaccines to release the vaccines so that other countries can have them," Ramaphosa told a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum on Tuesday. "We are all not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people and other countries are not."

Ramaphosa's comments come as African nations grapple with a rising number of COVID-19 infections. South Africa accounts for nearly half of the continent's confirmed cases and deaths from the disease, according to the latest data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ramaphosa chairs the African Union, which secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from manufacturers last week for its 55 member states across the continent. Ramaphosa said those doses will supplement the 600 million to be acquired from the COVAX Facility, a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organization to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of income.

Jan 26, 8:31 am
Biden is a 'game-changer' for COVID-19 response, New Jersey governor says

Having Joe Biden in the Oval Office versus Donald Trump is a "complete game-changer" for the country's COVID-19 response, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.

"Two ways: obsession with this, knowing that public health creates economic health, and a consistent national strategy as opposed to a patchwork quilt. It's a complete game-changer over the past six days," Murphy, a Democrat, told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Tuesday on Good Morning America.

Murphy said his state, like many others, desperately needs more doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

"We need more doses," he said. "The Biden administration knows that, they've entered into what I think is an empty cupboard and they're frantically, I know, obsessed with building that supply back."

New Jersey has confirmed more than 666,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including at least 20,972 deaths. The Garden State has administered 551,209 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Tuesday morning, according to real-time data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has delivered almost double the amount of vaccine doses to New Jersey than have been administered there. Murphy said part of the issue is that a federally-run long-term care channel is putting aside doses in advance of visits to nursing homes and other care facilities.

"So it looks like they're not getting used. Those are actually earmarked for distribution over the next week or two," he said. "And then on the state side, ... we're not throwing any doses away, I promise you that. ... We are putting as many shots in the arms as possible."

In order for New Jersey to meet the goal of vaccinating 70% of its population within six months, Murphy said the state needs two or three times the weekly dosage of COVID-19 vaccines that they're currently getting.

"I'm confident we'll get there," he said. "It's not going to be as early as we had hoped, but I'm confident we're going to get there and I think by the time we turn to the summer, we're in a whole different place."

Biden aims to reopen all elementary schools and bring students for in-person learning within the first 100 days of his presidency, but Murphy said New Jersey will likely have to do a mix of remote and in-person learning.

"I'm not sure we can do it all in, fully in-person," he said. "I think the game-changer will be whether or not we can get the vaccinations for our educators."

Jan 26, 4:32 am
US reports over 147,000 new cases


There were 147,254 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the United States on Monday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Monday's case count is far less than the country's all-time high of 298,031 newly confirmed infections on Jan. 2, Johns Hopkins data shows.

An additional 1,758 fatalities from COVID-19 were registered nationwide on Monday, down from a peak of 4,462 new deaths on Jan. 12, according to Johns Hopkins data.

COVID-19 data may be skewed due to possible lags in reporting over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

A total of 25,297,072 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 421,129 have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

Much of the country was under lockdown by the end of March as the first wave of the pandemic hit. By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country's cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up over the summer.

The numbers lingered around 40,000 to 50,000 from mid-August through early October before surging again to record levels, crossing 100,000 for the first time on Nov. 4, then reaching 200,000 on Nov. 27 before nearing 300,000 on Jan. 2.

So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use -- one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and another developed by American biotechnology company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pharmacist pleads guilty to federal charges for intentionally sabotaging COVID vaccines

Grafton Police DepartmentBy IVAN PEREIERA, SASHA PEZENIK, and ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC News

(GRAFTON, Wis.) -- A Wisconsin pharmacist pleaded guilty to two federal charges Tuesday and admitted that he tampered with over 500 doses of a coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Justice announced.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, Wisconsin, faces up to 20 years in person on two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Brandenburg admitted to removing 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from cold storage at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, leaving them out to spoil overnight, according to federal prosecutors. The suspect said he was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically, according to the plea agreement.

"Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today," acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice's Civil Division said in a statement.

Brandenburg's attorney declined to comment about the deal.

"The FDA has ensured that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine meets the agency's rigorous standards for quality, safety, and efficacy," FDA Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations Catherine A. Hermsen said in a statement.

About 57 doses from the tampered vials were distributed to patients, according to federal prosecutors.

Brandenburg was arrested on New Year's Eve. He was released conditionally to his home four days later after Wisconsin prosecutors said they needed more time for test results from Moderna to determine the exact damage the pharmacist caused when he tampered with the 57 vials, each of which contained about 100 doses.

Last week, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said tests were still ongoing, but "the best evidence at this point is that the vaccine remains viable."

Brandenburg's sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


All US-bound passengers now need a negative COVID-19 test before boarding

guvendemir/iStockBy MINA KAJI, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- All travelers flying into the U.S. must now provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than three days before their flight, or they will be denied boarding.

The order was initially announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 12 and formalized in an executive order President Joe Biden signed last week.

International travel is still down considerably compared to last year, but there was an uptick in Americans flying to beach locales like Mexico that did not require them to quarantine upon arrival. This order is an attempt to mitigate the risk of travelers spreading COVID-19 as new variants of the virus emerge and the country struggles to roll out the vaccine.

"We urge folks to postpone their trips if they're able," acting Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs Ian Brownlee said Tuesday, "and if they absolutely must travel to equip themselves with information."

Brownlee warned travelers will be responsible for covering their own lodging and medical costs if they test positive or cannot get a test while overseas.

"The bottom line message is this is really not a time for people to be engaging in discretionary travel, and that all travel should be postponed until we get a better handle on getting this virus under control and accelerate our vaccination strategies," CDC Director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine Marty Cetron said.

Here's what you need to know about the new travel rules:

Does the order apply to U.S. citizens?


The order applies to all travelers ages 2 and up, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

What kind of coronavirus test do I need to take?


Travelers can take a rapid, PCR, or an at-home test, as long as the specimen is laboratory tested. Travelers must bring written documentation of the laboratory test result -- paper or electronic.

If I have gotten the vaccine or tested positive for antibodies do I still need to take a test?


All travelers, regardless of vaccination or antibody status, have to provide a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery.

What if I recently had COVID-19?


If you have proof of a positive COVID-19 test within three months and are safe to end isolation you can travel with documentation of the positive test and a letter from a health care provider or public health official that says you are cleared to travel.

What if my trip is shorter than 3 days?


You still need a test, but it can be done in the U.S. -- as long as its within the three-day window before your U.S.-bound flight.

Who checks the tests before boarding my flight to the U.S.?


Airlines are tasked with checking the negative test result or recovery documentation for all passengers before boarding. If the passenger does not have that, the airline is instructed to deny the passenger boarding.

What if I test positive when I'm abroad?


You must self-isolate and delay travel until you have recovered from COVID-19.

Are there any exemptions?


The CDC said exemptions "may be granted on an extremely limited basis when emergency travel (like an emergency medical evacuation) must occur to preserve someone’s life, health against a serious danger, or physical safety and testing cannot be completed before travel."

Do I have to quarantine when I arrive in the U.S.?


There is no mandatory quarantine, but the CDC recommends that travelers get tested three to five days after travel and stay home or self-quarantine for seven days.

"Even if you test negative, stay home for the full 7 days," the CDC said. "If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days."

ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Some nursing homes struggling to find takers for leftover vaccines

kovop56/iStockBy LAURA ROMERO, DR. JAY BHATT, and HALLEY FREGER, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- As officials push to make sure there are enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate the nation's vulnerable long-term care residents, many nursing homes are facing the opposite challenge: how to make sure extra vaccine doses don't go to waste.

That's because a substantial number of nursing homes have fewer residents than estimated, say those involved in the vaccination process.

When the federal government calculated the number of doses that would be needed for nursing homes, they estimated that every facility was at 100% occupancy. But CVS and Walgreens, who are handling vaccinations at the majority of the nation's long-term care facilities, report that they're ending up with a significant number of extra doses left over.

"When we actually came on site, what we've learned is that many of the facilities aren't at 100% occupancy," said Walgreens Group VP of Pharmacy Rina Shah. "The numbers of individuals that are even there are less than what was initially reported."

Many facilities are actually at only 60-70% occupancy, said Shah.

To complicate matters, Shah told ABC News that Walgreens has been trying to contact facilities the day before they arrive to confirm the number of vaccines that will be needed, but that many times, small facilities don't respond when they reach out.

"They don't all respond and so there are times when we've called five to six times with emails and we're not able to get ahold of the facility," said Rina.

A spokesperson for CVS told ABC News that in many cases, both resident and staff projections provided by the facilities to the CDC were inaccurate.

"Allocations were based on long-term care facility bed counts multiplied by two to account for staff, " said T.J. Crawford, a spokesman for CVS. "But at most facilities, occupancy is far less than bed count, and staff uptake remains low."

In response, Crawford said that CVS is proactively asking states to "reclaim" allocations they don't need or defer making more allocations for the time being.

With extra doses available, states are trying to figure out where to allocate the leftover vaccines.

In an interview with ABC's Good Morning America, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said that the federal long-term care (LTC) vaccination program is "literally putting aside doses" because they're not getting used -- but he provided assurances that doses are not being wasted.

"We're not throwing any doses away, I promise you that," said Murphy. "It depends on what day of the week you look at it, whether or not we've just gotten supply, et cetera, but we are putting as much -- as many shots in the arms as possible."

In Michigan, 120,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine that were not used are being sent to providers across the state, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health.

A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health said the state estimates that approximately 30,000 doses are left over from the federal long-term care program. They told ABC News that the extra doses are being sent to Walgreens stores around the state to be given to Arkansans 70 or older and others who are eligible to receive the vaccine under the state's vaccination plan.

In Utah, the department of health's website says that as of Jan. 24, there were about 23,000 unused doses more than seven days old that were still viable and waiting to be administered by CVS and Walgreens. Vaccines can last up to six months if stored in ultra-low-temperature freezers, although common refrigeration units can only store the vaccine for up to five days.

"Some of these doses are likely on-hand in preparation for upcoming clinics this week," the website states. "However, it appears the federal government has allocated too much vaccine to these providers. Any doses above and beyond need to be transferred or diverted to other providers throughout the state that have the capability to get them into arms as quickly as possible."

A spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health told ABC News that the state has 8,775 doses from CVS and Walgreens that were diverted to local health departments for distribution.

In Texas, a spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services told ABC News that the agency has not finalized where doses not used by the federal LTC-pharmacy partnership program will be allocated, but that the CDC will advise the state how many doses are available for relocation, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health told ABC News that the state is anticipating the potential for unused doses as CVS and Walgreens complete their clinics.

"Once the partnership is further along in these visits, we should get a better picture of the volume of unused doses and how we can allocate those back to other priority groups," said Kevin Litten, a Department of Health spokesperson.

Officials with advocacy organizations like the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) say they're concerned that vaccine doses will be wasted.

"These reports about potential vaccines going to waste are not unique to long-term care; they have occurred in hospitals and other settings as well," said a AHCA/NCAL statement provided to ABC News. "We call on governors and state public health officials -- who are in charge of vaccine distribution -- to provide guidance to pharmacies and health care providers about what to do when they have extra vaccine."

Part of the challenge, according to some long-term care advocates, is a lack of transparency about what's happening on the ground.

"The main thing that strikes us here is how little information we really have and how little we actually ... know about what's happening in individual facilities," said Robyn Grant, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care, a group that advocates for nursing home residents.

Although the CDC has a vaccination data tracker, it does not report numbers at the individual facility level. According to Grant, this has kept residents and their family members in the dark about where vaccinations have occurred and where they are needed.

"The information about what's happening would help shape distribution," Grant told ABC News. "Are there areas where they're struggling? Why are they struggling? What's going on, what needs to be done to remedy that? You're blind without data."

Dr. Josh Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told ABC News that the issue of unused doses "adds complexity to the supply chain."

"If the pharmacies can't use all their doses, they should make a plan with public health on what to do with them," Sharfstein said.

Dr. Mandy Cohen of the North Carolina Department of Health is urging long-term care facilities, hospitals and clinics to keep a waitlist from which providers can "call someone last minute" even if they are not in the priority category.

"Find the closest arm of who wants to get vaccinated and get that in because we as a state don't want to waste any vaccine," said Cohen.

"There are vaccines that are being wasted and that is a travesty," said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a private, nonpartisan philanthropy dedicated to improving the care of older adults. "Even one dose wasted is too many."

ABC News' Dr. John Brownstein contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


7,000 National Guardsmen to remain in Washington through mid-March

MivPiv/iStockBy LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Up to 7,000 National Guardsmen will remain in Washington for about seven more weeks to assist federal law enforcement agencies concerned over potential domestic disturbances, the Guard's top general said.

"We're looking at probably mid-March right now," Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters on Saturday.

The size of that force can be adjusted depending on requests from local law enforcement agencies, he added. Whether the remaining guardsmen will continue to be armed will be decided by federal law enforcement.

A U.S. official told ABC News that the agencies were seeing "chatter" among extremist groups discussing potential disturbances in the nation's capital.

As for the troops making up the 7,000, Hokanson added: "Some of them will be the folks that are already here. Some states are actually going to rotate other folks, and we're working very closely with the states to determine that next."

Hokanson made his comments as he carried out his daily visit with the guardsmen who are securing the Capitol. At the spacious Capitol Visitors Center, he also met with guardsmen from Indiana and Virginia, who were taking a short break, and asked them if they were getting everything they needed.

On Friday, guardsmen were once again allowed to use the facility for rest periods after the public outcry generated by photos that showed them resting inside an unheated parking garage. The use of the garage occurred after a request was made to the Guard that they stop using indoor locations on Capitol grounds.

Hokanson also confirmed that fewer than 200 of the 25,000 National Guardsmen who provided security on Inauguration Day had contracted COVID-19, an infection rate lower than 1%.

"We do everything we can, but we do think that number is low," said Hokanson. The infected guardsmen will remain in Washington while sick as some of the 25,000 who were on hand for Inauguration Day began returning to their home states on Saturday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Greater Chicago opens first COVID-19 mass vaccination site

Bill Oxford/iStockBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(CHICAGO) -- Illinois on Tuesday opened its first COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Tinley Park Convention Center in the Chicago suburbs, according to state officials.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the opening at a press conference Monday, during which Preckwinkle received the site's first vaccination. The site will be partially staffed by the National Guard and vaccinations will be by appointment only in order to avoid people showing up for a vaccine when there's not enough supply for everyone.

"While current vaccine supply does not meet the demand, we are standing up large-scale sites now to ensure we are ready as vaccine continues to be distributed to Cook County," Preckwinkle said.

Illinois moved into Phase 1B for vaccination, meaning essential front-line workers and people 65 years old or older are now eligible to get vaccinated, according to the governor.

 

Today, Illinois moves into Phase 1B of vaccine administration, meaning frontline essential workers and people age 65 and over can now get proven protection from COVID-19. To date, we’ve administered nearly 750K vaccine doses in the state of Illinois. https://t.co/WHKsGbAtSu pic.twitter.com/DTeAdA7DDJ

— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) January 25, 2021

 

Once the mass vaccination site is up and running and there's adequate vaccine supply, county officials say it will be able to vaccinate upward of 3,000 people each day, ABC News Chicago affiliate WLS-TV reported. For now, the site is aiming to administer 9,000 vaccine each week.

Cook County plans to open five more sites in the Chicago suburbs as more vaccine supply becomes available.

Twenty-five National Guard teams will be deploying across the state to help ramp up vaccinations in coming weeks, according to Pritzker.

As it stands, the rollout in Illinois has lagged behind other states. Illinois had administered roughly 725,000 doses of the vaccine as of Monday, or 5,707 vaccines per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Virginia, for comparison, which has been widely praised for its rollout, has administered 11,383 vaccines per 100,000 people.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Teachers speak out after voting to teach from home, refusing district's plan for return

FatCamera/iStockBy NICOLE PELLETIERE, ABC News

(CHICAGO) -- Chicago teachers are sounding off after voting to continue virtual teaching despite the district's order to resume in-person classroom instruction amid COVID-19.

The vote was announced on the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) website after Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the nation’s third-largest district serving 341,000 students in 638 schools, wanted 10,000 educators to return to school buildings last Monday in preparation for in-person learning by Feb. 1. CPS has since changed the return from Monday to Wednesday, in accordance with the teachers union, CPS confirmed to Good Morning America.

The union, though, says its still fighting the district's return dates due to health concerns and what its members believe to be an inadequate safety plan. In response, teachers will not comply and said they will engage in the collective action to remain remote, according to the union.

"Until we have a safe return plan that we agree upon, we will continue to teach remotely," said Katie Osgood, a special education teacher at Suder Elementary in Chicago and co-chair of the special education committee of the teachers union.

"Remote learning is not ideal. No one said it was, but it's safest," she added. "It's working so far and my kids are getting services. We are working and I want to continue to do that until the reopening plan is set."

On Jan. 27, kindergarten through eighth grade teachers are expected to return in person, according to CPS. Approximately 70,000 students will return days later for part-time, in-person classes. The learning plan for high schoolers is still being evaluated and families opting for remote learning are still doing so.

 

Only 19% of @ChiPubSchools students return in first wave.
60 schools reporting cases in the first 2 weeks.
84% of @CTULocal1 teachers are opposed.
42 aldermen (also 84%) opposed.
70 LSC’s are opposed.

This just doesn’t add up. #Math #MakeItMakeSense

— Dan Salyers (@dan_salyers) January 23, 2021

 

Regardless of how many students decide to continue remote learning, teachers are being told they must show up to their classrooms, said Adrienne Thomas, who teaches fourth and fifth grades.

"They rolled out hybrid learning. Those who decide to learn [in person] will split into pods, coming in on different days. Those staying home will be learning online," Thomas told GMA. "The literal difference is now I'm wearing a mask and a face shield."

Thomas also teaches at Suder Elementary and is her school's union delegate. She says she will have three students returning in person. The other 25 are choosing to stay virtual.

Returning unvaccinated


Just 19% of eligible students returned to Chicago schools on Jan. 11 after the entire district engaged in online instruction since last March, according to the union. These students included pre-K and special education clusters, whose teachers were expected to return to the building Jan. 4 to set up their classrooms.

In the news release published Sunday, the union argued that CPS failed to arrange for 1,500 CPS health professionals such as school nurses, LPNs, speech pathologists, physical therapists and more to be vaccinated when they were eligible back in December.

"Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s insistence on reopening all elementary school classrooms without vaccinating educators by February 1 regardless of the risk to staff and students from the pandemic comes as thousands of CTU members are struggling to receive accommodations to remain teaching remotely to protect their own health or that of a beloved household member," the teachers union said.

On Jan. 22, CPS and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) publicly announced the plan to vaccinate thousands of eligible staff and educators beginning mid-February, "at which point it will begin a multi-month effort to offer vaccinations to eligible staff," CPS said.

Mayor Lightfoot said in the release that vaccinating frontline essential workers, including CPS educators and staff, is a key goal of Chicago's vaccination strategy.

"Not only will this vaccination plan bolster our safety initiatives as we welcome students and staff back into the classroom, but it will also put our city on the right track to reopening and returning to a sense of normalcy," Lightfoot added. "I am excited for our school staff and educators to get vaccinated and look forward to working closely with CPS and CDPH to make sure it is accessible and distributed equitably."

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois stands at approximately 1,104,763 with a total of at least 20,744 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The union said the district has "refused to allow educators to be vaccinated before they’re forced back into schools that have struggled with basic safety needs, from adequate masks, hand sanitizer" and proper ventilation needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

 

Chicago educators are resisting the push back into classrooms. Some took personal days off January 15 and led a car caravan though the streets of Chicago to City Hall and the homes of members of the Board of Education. Photo: Joe Brusky @CTULocal1 pic.twitter.com/6doHO4yoAK

— Alex Sanchez (@LALiving213) January 22, 2021

 

In its "Shared Vision for a Safe Reopening" guide, CPS published a chart noting all the major health and safety protocols that are in line with the union, as both parties try to reach an agreement.

In response to the request to delay the return until all staff is vaccinated, CPS noted that public health experts say schools can reopen safely at this time, "and they have not recommended delaying reopening until vaccinations are complete."

"Additionally, CPS cannot mandate staff members to take the vaccine," CPS added.

ABC affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago, reported Sunday that Illinois has moved to Phase B of its vaccination plan. Those eligible include people over 65 and essential workers such as first responders, school officers, correction officers, inmates, people in food and agriculture and grocery store workers. Teachers and principals are also eligible for the vaccine under essential workers. This includes an additional 3.2 million people, approximately.

Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department told WLS that there's a larger amount people who are interested in getting the vaccine than the amount of vaccine that is currently available. DuPage is one of the five counties that surround Chicago's metropolitan area.

"I want to reassure people that we anticipate having plenty of vaccines over time to get distributed to people who want the vaccine, but at this moment our interest of people very dramatically outstrips our capacity from a vaccine standpoint," Ayala said.

Negotiations between district leaders and teachers union


CPS said it agrees with the union on social distancing, required face coverings, PPE, health screenings, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes plus equipment for proper ventilation. CPS said its supports staff for contact tracing and assembling a safety committee, though it does not believe that the absence of one should stop school operations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the goal should be "to have students physically present in school," though its critical schools closely follow guidance provided by public health officials.

"Children absolutely need to return to in-school learning for their healthy development and well-being, and so safety in schools and in the community must be a priority," said Dr. Lee Beers, fellow and president of the AAP. "We know that some children are really suffering without the support of in-person classroom experiences or adequate technology at home. We need governments at the state and federal levels to prioritize funding the needed safety accommodations, such as improving ventilation systems and providing personal protective equipment for teachers and staff."

On Sunday, CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and chief education officer LaTanya D. McDade, informed staff and families of the latest negotiations with the teacher union.

In the letter shared by CPS with GMA, it states how its been working with union officials to reach an agreement in regards to in-person learning.

 

While we agree with our labor partners on many aspects of a smooth expansion of in-person learning, our discussions are ongoing. To ensure we reach a resolution without a disruption to student learning, we’ve agreed to push back the return of K-8 teachers, staff to Wed, 1/27. pic.twitter.com/KOOzDLdDq9

— Chicago Public Schools (@ChiPubSchools) January 24, 2021

 

"We now agree on far more than we disagree, but our discussions remain ongoing, and additional time is needed to reach a resolution," the CPS executives wrote in the letter, which was also shared on Twitter. "To ensure we have the time needed to resolve our discussions without risking disruption to student learning, we have agreed to a request from CTU leadership to push back the return of K-8 teachers and staff to Wednesday, Jan. 27."

CPS said only preschool and cluster classroom staff returned to work on Jan. 25.

The scheduled return date remains Monday, Feb. 1 for grades K-8 and CPS said its goal is to reach an agreement with the teacher's union.

"Students in over 130 private and parochial schools and over 2,000 early learning centers across the city have been safely learning in their classrooms since the fall, and we must provide that same option to our families who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to make remote learning work for their children," CPS wrote, adding its seen grades, attendance and enrollment drop significantly for many students in recent months with the impact being felt most by its Black and Latinx students.

Greg Michie, a union member and seventh and eighth grade teacher in the Back of the Yards community of Chicago, said that while he wants to return to face-to-face instruction, he feels it isn't safe at this time.

"Many neighborhoods like the one where I teach -- Black and brown communities -- have been hit hard by COVID," Michie told GMA. "There's been a lot of loss. Many parents I've talked to just don't feel it's safe to send their children back to school yet."

 

71 percent of @CTULocal1 members have spoken in favor of continued remote work tomorrow. 86% of members voted. It's such a horrible situation we've been put into by @chicagosmayor & @ChiPubSchools. We all want to be back in school, but we need a safe plan. That's why I voted yes.

— Greg Michie (@GregoryMichie) January 24, 2021

 

CPS said it's pursuing the return because "local, state and federal health officials have made it clear that schools can operate safely with proper mitigations" and its been working with the Chicago Department of Public Health to develop a comprehensive health and safety plan in which its invested $100 million.

"In addition to providing accommodations for all staff who have high-risk medical conditions, we are working hard to find ways to accommodate teachers with vulnerable family members at home in a way that does not jeopardize student learning," CPS noted.

The potential consequences of refusing to return


In the face of CPS' return plan, a number of charter school networks within the district say they have chosen to remain remote until at least April when there's wider access to vaccines and virus numbers decrease, the union said.

In early January, Jackson told WLS that CPS was aware some staff members would not choose to return.

"Those individuals will be deemed absent without leave and they will not be eligible for pay going forward," Jackson told the station Jan. 8.

In an email shared with GMA that was sent Jan. 21 from CPS to all teachers and staff, CPS said teachers and staff who fail to report to work in person "constitutes an illegal strike."

Thomas disagreed.

"This is an unprecedented time and we are actually looking at something almost completely unrelated," Thomas said. "We are looking at health standards and what's [considered] a healthy environment. We would be withholding our labor due to safety concerns. We wouldn't be withholding our labor due to contractual concerns."

 

We couldn’t agree more. The district has invested >$100M to ensure the health and safety of our community.
COVID testing ✅
Cleaning & sanitizing ✅
Ventilation & air purification ✅
Students/teachers in PreK/cluster programs have back safely for weekspic.twitter.com/HfFCe5E5Va

— Chicago Public Schools (@ChiPubSchools) January 25, 2021

 

Under Illinois labor laws, teachers can only go on strike when there is no contract in place, according to libertarian nonprofit the Illinois Policy (IP). The question is whether refusing to return to in-person work specifically can be deemed an official "strike."

"It’s a gray area that likely could require resolution by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board," the IP reported.

Thomas said a number of her fellow union members who didn't return to school buildings in defiance with CPS were locked out of their emails, telework system and will likely be docked pay.

Since CPS said it's now working with union officials, it's unknown if the vote to defy the return to schools will still result in disciplinary action.

Osgood, Michie and Thomas and the other 71% of the 86% union members who voted to stay remote, said they aren't backing down until a more solid reopening plan is put in place.

 

Hey @ChiPubSchools, however this plays out, please don't forget that we need prep time to get ready for our students!!

(My room is especially bad right now since we couldn't properly pack up last year & then they had to move me to a new room. This is gonna be...hard.) pic.twitter.com/XF4sU1uniz

— #SafeReturnOrNoReturn (@CTUSpecialEd) January 26, 2021

 

Even with only three students returning to her classroom, Thomas said she's standing up for her colleagues who are teaching under riskier circumstances.

"I cannot participate in a system that's going to lead to Black and Brown people dying, so that's why I'm not going in," she said.

Both Michie and Osgood said they'd like to at least see a longer delay in return.

"We are not ready," Osgood said. "Even if it's a couple of weeks, give us time to figure this all out and it'll go so much more smoothly. It'll be an easier transition for our kids if we understand what the safety precautions are [and] place a safety committee within the school."

"Come Feb 1, I will be doing what my union sisters and brothers are doing." Osgood added. "Whatever that is."

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