Health Highlights: Feb. 1, 2021
Global Coronavirus Cases Fell for Third Straight Week
The global number of coronavirus cases fell for the third week in a row, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.
However, he warned that it's too soon for countries to ease strict measures being used to control the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.
The decrease in cases is "encouraging news" and shows that COVID-19 can be stopped with currently available tools, Tedros said at a press briefing.
"However, we have been here before," he noted, "... governments opened up too quickly and individuals let down their guard only for the virus to come roaring back."
Even as COVID-19 vaccines are being introduced, Tedros said infection control measures remain critical, especially with new, more contagious variants of the virus, the AP reported.
U.S. Awards Contract for COVID-19 Home Test Kit
The U.S. government has awarded a $231-million contract for production of a recently-approved over-the-counter COVID-19 home test kit.
With the product from Australian company Ellume, users can swab themselves at home and check their status in about 20 minutes. It's one of only three consumer self-use tests, and the only one available without a doctor's prescription, the Associated Press reported.
Ellume said it would use the contract to build a U.S. manufacturing plant and deliver 8.5 million tests for federal use, but didn't give a delivery timeframe.
Health experts have long emphasized the need for fast, widespread home testing, but the vast majority of tests still require a nasal swab to be taken by a health worker and sent to a lab for processing, the AP reported.
WHO Team Probing COVID Origins Visits Wuhan Food Markets
As part of their trip to China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization team on Sunday went to two large food markets in the city of Wuhan.
They spent about an hour at the Huanan Seafood Market, which was the site of an outbreak of the virus in December 2019, the Associated Press reported.
Initially, experts suspected the new coronavirus came from wild animals sold at the market, but the site has been largely ruled out as a source of the virus.
The WHO team also visited the Baishazhou market -- which is one of the largest wet markets in Wuhan and was the food distribution center for the city during its 76-day lockdown last year, the AP reported.
"Very important site visits today -- a wholesale market first & Huanan Seafood Market just now," WHO team member Peter Daszak, a zoologist with the U.S. group EcoHealth Alliance, said in a tweet. "Very informative & critical for our joint teams to understand the epidemiology of COVID as it started to spread at the end of 2019."
The WHO team's visit has quickly become embroiled in politics, as China has sought to cast blame elsewhere for the emergence of COVID-19. For example, the Chinese government has suggested that the outbreak might have started with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, but international scientists and agencies have largely rejected that theory.
Protesters Close Down LA COVID-19 Vaccination Site
A few dozen anti-vaccination protesters closed down a coronavirus vaccination super site at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium for about 55 minutes on Saturday.
Hundreds of cars were backed up during the shutdown, but no appointments were canceled, according to the mayor's office, CBS News reported.
"The LAPD responded and the site resumed operations. No appointments were affected. We remain committed to vaccinating Angelenos as quickly and safely as possible," Andrea Garcia, from Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, said in a statement.
On Saturday afternoon, Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore tweeted that police were "working with our public safety partners to ensure everyone with an appointment gets their vaccine today."
On Saturday night, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted: "we will not be deterred or threatened," CBS News reported.
CDC Makes Masks Mandatory on Planes and Public Transportation
Face masks will be mandatory at transportation hubs, on planes and all forms of public transportation under a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that takes effect on Monday at one minute before midnight.
"People must wear masks that completely cover both the mouth and nose while awaiting, boarding, disembarking, or traveling on airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares as they are traveling into, within, or out of the United States and U.S. territories," stated the CDC order issued Friday, CBS News reported.
Masks are also mandatory at airports, bus and ferry terminals, seaports, and train and subway stations.
While it reserves the right to use criminal penalties to enforce the order, the CDC said it "does not intend" to primarily rely on them, CBS News reported. Instead, the agency said it "encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance as well as support from other federal agencies in implementing additional civil measures enforcing the provisions" of its order.
Exceptions to the order include children under 2 and people who cannot safely wear a mask due to a disability. Face masks can be taken off while eating, drinking or taking medication, and when communicating with a person who is hearing impaired and needs to see a person's mouth to communicate, CBS News reported.