COVID-19 hospitalizations drop 3,000 in 1 day; South Africa variant likely already spreading in US, CDC says — 6 updates

The U.S. identified its first two known cases of the South Africa variant of the novel coronavirus in South Carolina, public health officials said Jan. 28. 

The infected individuals live in different counties and neither had a recent history of travel, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Given the lack of travel history, community spread of the strain — known as B.1.351 — is likely, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, told NBC News' TODAY Jan. 29. For more about the South Africa variant in the U.S., click here.

Five more updates: 

1. U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by more than 3,000 in one day, according to Jan. 28 data from The COVID Tracking Project. The drop in hospitalizations is driven by falling virus cases nationwide, reports the Tracking Project. However, COVID-19 deaths remain very high across the country, driven by record numbers of deaths in the South and West.

2. Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine is 89.3 percent effective, but less effective against the South Africa variant, the drugmaker said Jan. 28. The vaccine candidate differs from Pfizer and Moderna's in that it is protein-based instead of mRNA-based. The trial, which included more than 15,000 people, showed significant clinical efficacy against the U.K. virus variant B.1.1.7. A separate study conducted in South Africa found the shot to be about 49.4 percent effective. Novavax plans to begin developing a vaccine specifically targeted to the South Africa variant. 

3. Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 72 percent effective in the U.S., the drugmaker said Jan. 29. This efficacy dropped to 57 percent in South Africa, where a more contagious strain is widely circulating. J&J said it plans to file for emergency use authorization as early as next week. 

4. U.S. health officials overseeing nearly 200 Americans' evacuation from Wuhan, China, last year took inadequate infection control precautions, according to two federal reports obtained by The Washington Post. A whistleblower complaint spurred HHS and the Office of Special Counsel to investigate the evacuation, which occurred Jan. 29, 2020. Health officials with no infection control training met evacuees upon their arrival to the U.S. and were later told to remove their personal protective equipment when greeting the returning Americans to avoid bad optics, the reports found.

5. A team of scientists launched their investigation into the pandemic's origins Jan. 29 after completing a two-week quarantine in Wuhan, the World Health Organization said in a Jan. 28 tweet. The team will conduct field visits to hospitals, laboratories and markets in the city. The team will also speak to early responders and some of the world's first COVID-19 patients.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 25,769,183

Deaths: 433,223

Counts reflect data available as of 9 a.m. CST Jan. 29.

More articles on public health:
US smoking habits pick back up amid pandemic, data shows
16 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Jan. 28
COVID-19 test positivity falls in every region, age group: 4 CDC findings


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