States have $160M worth of unused rapid tests; winter storms disrupt vaccination efforts — 5 COVID-19 updates

Feb. 15 marked the nation's lowest COVID-19 case count since Oct. 18, along with the lowest daily death count since Nov. 30, reports The COVID Tracking Project. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued declining as well, dropping by about half since peaking Jan. 12 at 131,326 hospitalizations.  

These figures do not include updated data from five states, and several other states provided partial data due to President's Day. The COVID Tracking Project said these lags may affect COVID-19 data later this week.

Four more updates: 

1. The World Health Organization formally authorized the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Feb. 15 for emergency use. The authorization applies to the vaccine's two manufacturers, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India. The vaccines will be sent to low-income countries worldwide via Covax, the international effort to ensure equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

2. Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine cut symptomatic infections by 94 percent among 600,000 fully vaccinated people in Israel, according to research cited by The Wall Street Journal. The study — conducted by Israel's largest healthcare provider, Clalit Health Services, and researchers at Boston-based Harvard University — offers real-world evidence to support clinical trial research showing the vaccine is about 95 percent effective.

3. At least 32 million rapid COVID-19 tests distributed by the government have gone unused by states as of early February, according to The Wall Street Journal's analysis of inventory in 32 states. The U.S. purchased 142 million BinaxNOW tests and started shipping them to states last fall, but concerns about their accuracy and how to use them have spurred low utilization rates, according to WSJ. The cost of the unused tests is about $160 million, according to the publication's analysis. 

4. The winter storm affecting much of the country this week is forcing vaccination clinics to close and delaying vaccine shipments, reports The New York Times. These disruptions are especially prevalent in the South, with states like Texas, Alabama and Kentucky having to reschedule or cancel vaccine appointments. 

Snapshot of COVID-19 in U.S.

Cases: 27,695,381

Deaths: 486,336

Americans receiving at least one vaccine dose: 38,292,270

Counts reflect Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and the CDC.

More articles on public health:
Rush wins $3.5M contract from Chicago health department to detect new coronavirus strains
1st South Africa variant reinfection case confirmed; UK variant likely deadlier, scientists say — 6 COVID-19 updates
States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered 


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