South Africa variant found in 2nd state; WHO reverses vaccine guidelines for pregnant women — 8 COVID-19 updates

The U.S. reported nearly 20,000 more COVID-19 deaths in January than December, the highest number of known virus deaths since the pandemic began, according to data by The COVID Tracking Project. 

On average, more Americans were hospitalized in January than any other month. However, as of Jan. 31, 95,013 Americans are currently hospitalized, the lowest number since Nov. 29, according to The COVID Tracking Project.  

Seven more updates:

1. The World Health Organization reversed its stance on COVID-19 vaccinations for pregnant women, recommending Jan. 29 that most pregnant women should get vaccinated, reports The New York Times. The organization had previously said most pregnant women shouldn't get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, a suggestion that was inconsistent with CDC guidance. "We don't have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women," the new guidance reads, now aligning more closely with CDC recommendations. 

2. The CDC issued a public health order Jan. 29 requiring masks on all forms of public transit. "All passengers on public conveyances" traveling into or within the U.S. must wear face coverings, effective Feb. 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The guidelines exclude children under age 2 and anyone with a disability who cannot safely wear a mask. The CDC also formally extended a federal moratorium on evictions — set to expire Jan. 31 — through March 31.  

3. COVID-19 variants will likely persist and eventually outnumber earlier strains, Anthony Fauci, MD, said during a Jan. 29 news briefing. New variants of the coronavirus initially identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have all since been detected in the U.S. "We will continue to see the evolution of mutants," said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and coronavirus adviser to President Joe Biden. 

4. Maryland is now the second state to detect the South Africa variant, Gov. Larry Hogan said Jan. 30. An adult living in the Baltimore area who had not traveled internationally tested positive for the variant, known as B.1.351. The new case comes two days after South Carolina officials reported the nation's first two known cases of the variant. 

5. White people are being vaccinated against COVID-19 at up to four times the rate of Black people in 23 states that provide vaccination data by race, according to a new Kaiser Health News analysis. This disparity was highest in Pennsylvania, where the state's Black vaccination rate was 0.6 percent, compared to 2.6 percent for White residents, according to state health department data collected between Jan. 26- 28.

6. The Biden administration hopes to start administering COVID-19 vaccines to children by late spring or summer, Dr. Fauci said during a Jan. 29 White House news briefing.

7. Opening vaccine eligibility to those 65 and up has pushed front-line essential workers in some states further back in line, reports The Washington Post. These workers, many of whom are people of color, are at higher risk of contracting the virus but will have to wait longer to get vaccinated, the Post said.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 26,188,409

Deaths: 441,336

Counts reflect data available as of 9 a.m. CST Feb. 1.

More articles on public health:
COVID-19 may produce 'autoantibodies' that mistakenly attack tissues, study suggests
COVID-19 hospitalizations by state: Feb. 1
1st swine flu case reported this season — 7 CDC FluView takeaways


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