Don’t throw away your masks yet


AM: What we are projecting right now, if mobility continues to stay level or come down and if mask wearing stays very high and goes up, then cases will keep declining with immunization all the way until next winter.

We predicted a bump in this month and in April simply because of the new variant, B.1.1.7. We knew that it would come in. We also predicted a bump because many Americans told us in surveys — 25% of Americans — said once they get the vaccine, they’re not going to be wearing the mask.

So we are taking into account that mask wearing will come down and we’ve seen it come down slowly in the United States. So that’s very important to keep in mind.

What does it mean for Americans? We’re heading into summer. The vaccines are doing a great job. They’re effective and they’re preventing infections. The warm weather and the vaccines are helping us. Our behavior is hurting us. That balance will dictate what happens in the future.

Conditionally, right now, if Americans keep up wearing the mask and keep limiting the mobility, we should see a decline all the way to the next winter. Why next winter? It’s a seasonal virus. Next winter, we’re going to have a surge. There is no way to avoid it. Like the flu, it’s going to come up again.

It’s going to come up again. But what will determine how big that spike is, is what number we start from. So if we control it in summer, we will have a mild winter. We have to increase the mask wearing in winter. It’s very important. You may have to beef it up to 95% and the vaccines will help us to reduce mortality and admissions to the hospital because they’re very effective.

One thing that will slow again with conditional projection, one thing that will slow everything out is having a new variant that would make the vaccines less effect. So we start all over again.

CNN: How much of a role have the vaccines played in getting us to this point?

AM: We started in December 14 vaccinating and we didn’t have enough vaccines. I mean, it takes some time to show it, but right now we are seeing a huge impact of the vaccine among people who have been vaccinated, especially fully immunized.

We’re seeing a decline in the severe cases, mild or severe. We’re seeing a decline in hospitalization and of course, a decline in mortality. So the high risk group, we’re seeing a decline.

CNN: I’m curious if vaccine hesitancy is built into your model and how that it might affect US life if we get to a point where supply far outstrips demand?

AM: Yes. So we are building into our models vaccine hesitancy. And we do it by state, of course.

Vaccine hesitancy right now is about about 25% of Americans. It varies by state. And yes, we are having a steady supply of vaccines. And we are expecting — based on the data we have — that we should receive about 5 million doses a day in the second part of April. So we should have plenty of vaccines. Sometime by the end of April, we will have more vaccines than we have takers. And that’s what we are very much concerned about.

So in one way, we’re afraid that we will have more supply than demand. And we’ve seen it in some states by the way. We’ve seen it in some states, and I’ll be frank, we’ve seen it right now in some red states.

So yes, we have to deal with it. And I’m very much concerned about vaccine hesitancy in the US. The positive news is these vaccines are highly effective. The ones we have in US, we haven’t seen any side effect of significance to scare us.

I mean, AstraZeneca is a totally different story. We don’t have AstraZeneca. And I’m looking right now at the numbers. I’m assuming in April, by the end of April, each one of us — you and I — will know somebody who has been vaccinated and they’re still around and nothing happened to them and their DNA was not changed. So people would be more encouraged. And it’s on us in the scientific community to get that information as fast as possible.

We are seeing a decline in hospitalization among the elderly. We’re seeing an increase among the young. I mean, it’s clear. The data is telling us these vaccines are working. They’re effective, they’re safe. So I’m hoping people will change their mind. But we are a divided country, unfortunately.

CNN: What if vaccine hesitancy is higher — 30%, 35% or higher — how does that change the picture going into the summer?

AM: Big problem. Remember, we need herd immunity. So we need at least 75%, 80% of Americans to get vaccinated right now, simply because the vaccines are authorized for adults 16 and above or 18 and above.

We have already 25% of our population not eligible for the vaccine. I mean, we’re already starting without hands tied. Our hands are tied already. So we want people who are eligible for the vaccine, all of them, to take it.

We can’t afford to have, you know, 45% of them saying no. What’s it mean? It means the virus is circulating. It means the mutations are happening. It means we may see a mutation that will make the vaccines less effective.

CNN: You bring up a sort of nightmare scenario where not enough people get vaccinated, the virus continues to wash through parts of the population, and the virus mutates to a point where our vaccines are less effective and we are back to square one. How likely is something like that?

AM: It’s possible. I mean, I don’t want to scare the public, but look at it. When the Brazilian and South African (variants) emerged we were worried and we lost sleep. And we’re still losing sleep.

We’ve seen it with AstraZeneca in South Africa, 10% effectiveness. So we are very much concerned about it. We’re seeing already signs of it, lucky for us in the US, that mRNA vaccines are much better and they’re doing a much better job.

So to plan for the worst case scenario, we need a booster. We know Moderna and Pfizer are already modifying the vaccine. So somebody like me who got two shots a while back, I need to take the booster before winter. For you, who didn’t get the vaccine because of your age, when you get the vaccine, you get the new one before winter. So we have to stay ahead of it. In order to stay ahead of it, we need to know what’s circulating at home and what’s circulating elsewhere.

CNN: And that could be something we do indefinitely?

AM: Yes. Until we have a handle. Right now, remember why we are concerned. We don’t have an effective medication for Covid-19. We don’t.

The only thing we have in our hands right now is vaccine. And yes, our physicians have much more experience now dealing with Covid-19. They know the science, they know what oxygen. We are able to get more oxygen right now without putting a tube. We are able to anticipate blood clots, we’re able to use a lot of things right now. We know the disease, but we don’t have medication for it yet.

CNN: I want to ask about some states like Texas that have rolled back mitigation measures essentially at the first hints of good news. How is that affecting our country’s progress?

AM: Again, the country is divided and that’s a political decision and not a scientific decision. I mean, let’s be quite honest about it. We have to speak up. I think we have to speak up even more than ever before.

I don’t need a mask mandate to wear a mask. Many people don’t need a mask mandate to wear a mask. We know that’s the right thing we need to do. We want the mask mandates for the people who don’t want to wear a mask. That’s the biggest, important point. And what’s really frustrating, quite honestly, is the same people making the same mistake again and again.

CNN: So regardless of what state you’re in, what should people be doing as they wait to get vaccinated?

AM: We should wear a mask, definitely wear a mask to protect ourselves and others. If you are wearing a mask already today, please upgrade your mask. Whatever mask you are wearing, upgrade it. I double mask when I go out.

I keep a safe distance from everybody. Even when I’m in stores — someone’s ahead of me? I stay away from them. And that’s what the public has to do. Let’s wear a mask, watch our distance, wash our hands.

Now, it takes two. Government also has to be responsible. If I decide in my state to do it the right way and live healthy and protect myself and protect my family and protect people who may come in contact with me, the laws and the city have to help me to do so.

CNN: Some people are going to hear what you just said about continuing to wear a mask, continuing these best practices, and say: ‘Why are we even bothering with this? These vaccines are extremely effective.’ What do you say to someone who thinks that?

AM: No. Because not everybody has been vaccinated, right? We have a long way to go. We’re not vaccinating our children. This is our future. How can we protect our children until they are allowed to take a vaccine? We have to live with this virus and we have to contain our urge to go back to normal.

People have lost their lives, people have died, people are still suffering from Covid-19, even after they left the hospitals, we owe it to them to do it right.

We have to do it. We’re not out of danger. And yes, when everybody is vaccinated, that’s totally different story, but we are not there yet.

CNN: What level would you like to see vaccinated before you can responsibly begin to peel back some of these public health measures?

AM: In winter, we need 80% of the people to be vaccinated. In summer, we may get away with like 60% or 70%, because, simply, we are doing our activities outdoors.

CNN: I have to imagine this is going to be a pretty heavy lift from a public health messaging perspective. If people can safely take off their masks this summer and go outside and do things, and then they’re told to put it back on in the winter, that’s going to be really challenging for a lot of people.

AM: In all my interviews I’m saying masks will be with us seasonally. So yes, until we get rid of Covid-19 totally — it’s not circulating elsewhere — we may have to wear a masks seasonally.

CNN: You’ve obviously been tracking this since the start, I’m curious what your mindset is overall about where we’re headed?

AM: You know, I’m by nature optimistic, but I’m really concerned.

What I see right now — I’m concerned about the political decisions being made prematurely. I’m afraid of setbacks. I’m really concerned.

I’m optimistic at the end of the day, we will get there, but there are mistakes that are being made right now. And I’m really concerned.

US Coronavirus: Some experts are split on whether US could see another Covid-19 surge


On Friday alone, the country saw more than 1.4 million passengers in airports nationwide — which is a pandemic-era record.

“What we’re doing is essentially spreading the B.1.1.7 variant across the nation,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Sunday.

That’s because the number of prior infections and now vaccinations in the US have begun to form “enough of a backstop” to prevent another spike, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“I think what you could see is a plateauing for a period of time before we continue on a downward decline — in large part because B.1.1.7 is becoming more prevalent, in large part because we’re pulling back too quickly, with respect to taking off our masks and lifting the mitigation,” he said.

Spring breakers flock to South Florida while some residents worry about another Covid-19 surge
Other experts have said that plateauing of cases the US is reporting could serve as a predictor for another surge. Emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN last week she believes the US could be on the cusp of another surge.

Others say it’s hard to predict what will happen.

“It’s very hard to say,” Hotez told CNN. “We’re in a race, that’s what it comes down to. We’ve gotten a single dose (of Covid-19 vaccine) into about a quarter of the US population … and it could go either way right now.”

“This is why it’s really important for the governors to stay the course and to implement masks and social distancing,” he added.

You asked, we answered: Your top questions about Covid-19 and vaccines

Spring breakers worry officials

Some travelers have landed in popular spring break destinations like Florida, where local officials say the vacationers have been more than they can handle.
On Saturday, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber declared a state of emergency and set a curfew, telling CNN too many people were coming “without the intention of following the rules, and the result has been a level of chaos and disorder that is just something more than we can endure.”
Miami Beach officers shoot pepper balls into spring break crowds to enforce emergency curfew
Florida has so far reported the highest number of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant — which experts say is highly contagious and potentially more deadly — in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I wish that folks would at least mask up,” emergency physician Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN Sunday, referring to the spring break crowds. “I expect that very few of those young adults have been vaccinated and watching them gather together in those crowds, even outside, gives me fear that they’re going to bring that B.1.1.7 variant back to their home state and spread it.”

Other experts have voiced the same concern, warning all the returning vacationers could help fuel Covid-19 surges in other parts of the country, especially now that vaccination numbers are still so low.

The CDC currently continues to recommend that Americans delay travel. And earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that every time travel escalates, a spike in infections tend to follow, citing July 4, Labor Day and the winter holiday season.

“We are very worried about transmissible variants. A lot of them have come through our travel corridors, so we’re being extra cautious right now with travel,” Walensky had told CNN.

Travelers wait in line at ticketing in Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 11.

Vaccine hesitancy is ‘worrisome,’ governor says

So far, more than 81.4 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. That’s roughly 24.5% of the US population.

More than 44 million — about 13.3% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, the data shows.

While the number continues to climb and leaders across the country employ more methods to get shots into arms faster — like opening more mass vaccination sites and expanding eligibility requirements — challenges still lie in the way of getting the country to herd immunity.

Those challenges include vaccine hesitancy and political divisions. A recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS shows that while 92% of Democrats say they have gotten a dose of the vaccine or plan to get one, that falls to 50% among Republicans.

Los Angeles teachers union approves plan to reopen public schools in April

When asked why he believed there is skepticism among Republicans, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told CNN he thought it is a “natural resistance to government and skepticism of it.”

“The hesitancy is worrisome not just here, but all across the country, and I expect as a country we’ll get to 50% vaccination rate of the population. But we’re going to have a harder time getting from 50% to 70%. And it’s about overcoming the skepticism, it is about education … but it’s also confidence,” he said.

As more Americans see others get the vaccine, the governor said he expects the acceptance rate of vaccines to go up.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said late last week that while he encourages everyone to get vaccinated, “there’s still going to be a certain amount of people that’s not going to take the vaccine and they have every right to do that.”

“We got to do a better job of making sure everybody understands the importance of the vaccine, and yet maintain the respect of people that don’t want to take a vaccine, and it is going to be a challenge to see how many people we can get done, but we’re going to do everything we can.”

New data on AstraZeneca vaccine

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca is expected to apply in the next few weeks for emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine in the US.
AstraZeneca vaccine is 79% effective against symptomatic Covid-19, company says

The vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization in a new, US-based clinical trial, the company said Monday.

The findings from the new Phase 3 trial, which included more than 32,000 participants, could boost confidence in the vaccine, which was originally developed by the University of Oxford.

Many European countries paused their rollout over a small number of blood clot concerns — going against the advice of international medical agencies as the continent confronts a third wave of infections fueled by variants of the virus.

The trial showed that the vaccine was well-tolerated and identified no safety concerns, the company said. An independent committee “found no increased risk of thrombosis or events characterised by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine,” according to AstraZeneca.

The new data came from a Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the US, Chile and Peru. AstraZeneca says it plans to submit the findings to a scientific journal for peer review.

CNN’s Chuck Johnston, Niamh Kennedy, Carma Hassan, Deanna Hackney and Lauren Mascarenhas contributed to this report.

Atlanta shootings: In about an hour, 8 people were killed at three massage parlors. One person is in custody


The bloody attacks — which happened within the space of about an hour — occurred at two parlors in northeast Atlanta and one about 30 miles northwest of the city in Cherokee County. Four of the victims were described as of Korean ethnicity by South Korean officials.

Police believe a 21-year-old suspect taken into custody Tuesday night was likely responsible for the three attacks.

Authorities haven’t identified the victims as they work to notify next of kin.

But the South Korean foreign ministry statement Wednesday described four of the victims as of Korean ethnicity and said that it is working to confirm their nationality and to provide the necessary support.

Earlier, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said the four victims within the city were female and appeared to be Asian.

Among the many questions remaining in the case, authorities are still investigating the motive behind the shootings. But the details of how the horror unfolded are becoming clearer.

How the shootings unfolded

Though spread across 30 miles, the attacks took place in quick succession.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, deputies were called to Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, Georgia, for reports of a shooting, Cherokee County Sheriff’s spokesperson Jay Baker said.

Responding deputies found five people with gunshot wounds. Two people were pronounced dead at the scene and three were transported to a hospital, where two died, Baker said.

8 killed in shootings at 3 metro Atlanta spas. Police have 1 suspect in custody

About an hour later and 30 miles away, Atlanta police responded to what was described as a robbery at the Gold Massage Spa on Piedmont Road in Atlanta. Police say they found three people dead.

While there, police received another call of shots-fired across the street at the Aroma Therapy Spa, where they found one person dead, Bryant said.

Authorities in the area, known as Atlanta’s Zone 2, said they are increasing patrols around similar businesses, and FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson said the agency is assisting with the investigations.

The suspect

Around 8:30 p.m., the highway patrol about 150 miles south of the city was alerted that a suspect in the Cherokee County shooting was heading its way, Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a video on the Crisp County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page.

After the suspect’s vehicle was spotted, a chase ensued on Interstate 75 and a state trooper performed a maneuver that sent the SUV out of control.

“The suspect was taken into custody without incident … and transported to the Crisp County jail,” the official said.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office identified him as Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock.

Police believe Long is also responsible for the shootings in Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department said in a news release.

“Video footage from our Video Integration Center places the Cherokee County suspect’s vehicle in the area, around the time of our Piedmont Road shootings,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a news release. “That, along with video evidence viewed by investigators, suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County’s, who is in custody. Because of this, an investigator from APD is in Cherokee County and we are working closely with them to confirm with certainty our cases are related.”

This booking photo released by the Crisp County Sheriff's Office on March 16, 2021 shows 21-year-old shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long.

A community shaken

Asian Americans reported being targeted at least 500 times in the last two months

Police have not provided any motive for the shootings.

But in a statement Tuesday, the Stop AAPI Hate organization said the incident shows that more needs to be done to protect Asian Americans.

“The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women today in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year,” it said. “This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure.”

In Seattle, officials increased outreach to community-based organizations and added an increased presence of police patrols, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz said in a statement.

In New York, the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau said on Twitter it will also deploy additional officers to protect Asian communities in the city “out of an abundance of caution.”

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson condemned the shooting “in the strongest possible terms.”

CNN’s Nicole Chavez, Raja Razek, Jamiel Lynch and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

7 takeaways from Joe Biden’s prime-time Covid-19 speech


My takeaways from Biden’s speech, which ran just over 20 minutes, are below. They’re in no other order than the order that I jotted them down while watching the speech.

1. Donald Trump dug the hole: Biden didn’t mention his predecessor by name, but especially in the early moments of his speech, it was very clear that the current President lays much of the blame for the country’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic at the feet of the last President. “A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months,” Biden said at one point. “That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness.” At another point, Biden pulled out his mask and expressed amazement that it had been turned into some sort of political statement.

2. The return of empathy: Biden made a single gesture in the speech that demonstrated the empathy he operates with vis a vis the lives lost to this pandemic. He pulled a card out of his jacket pocket — which he said he keeps with him wherever he goes — and read off the exact, up-to-date number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus. (That number is more than 527,000.) Yes, of course, Biden did that for dramatic effect. But it worked. And it drove home the idea that this is a leader who keeps those who have died from the pandemic close to his heart — literally. It also provided a not-so-subtle contrast with Trump’s overt politicization of the virus and those who succumbed to it.

3. At war with the virus: In the language he chose — and the comparisons he made — Biden clearly wanted to make Americans understand that we are at war with Covid-19. He said the country was on “war footing.” He noted that Covid-19 had now killed more Americans than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. Even in quoting “Farewell to Arms” — “many are strong in the broken places” — Biden was invoking Ernest Hemingway’s novel about World War I. The message was clear: This isn’t an enemy like the United States is used to battling. But it is an enemy nonetheless, and the need for sacrifice and unity is as great as it was when America was fighting the Axis powers.

4. Truth matters: Again, per No. 1, Trump wasn’t mentioned by name in this speech, but he was all over it. “We know what we need to do to beat this virus; tell the truth, follow the science, work together,” Biden said at one point, a direct rebuke to Trump’s rejection of facts and science about the coronavirus during the course of the 2020 campaign. “You’re owed nothing less than the truth,” Biden said at another point. And even while sounding a mostly optimistic note about a return to normal — more on that below — Biden was open and transparent that things could go sideways, that variants of the virus are out there, and that if proper mitigation practices were not followed we could be in for another surge.

5. U-N-I-T-Y: In the most remarkable moment of the night, the President of the United States stared into the camera lens and told the American people, “I need you.” Then he said it again: “I need you.” (The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson called it the “most memorable and unusual appeal in prime-time presidential speech making.”) Time and again in the speech, Biden talked about the power of the “we” in overcoming Covid-19. He talked about the need to find a “common purpose.” He said that “beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity.” And that “I need every American to do their part.” The idea of America coming together to do this stood in stark contrast to the Trump presidency, in which the 45th President sought — on the coronavirus to immigration to race — to emphasize what divides us rather than our common humanity. “This is the United States of America and there’s nothing we can’t do when we do it together,” Biden said in the closing moments of his speech.
6. Circle July 4: Biden said that by Independence Day, “there’s a good chance … you’ll be able to get together and have a cookout or a BBQ in your backyard.” Never did hanging out in my backyard with a few friends on a likely sweltering summer day in DC sound better! As NBC’s Craig Melvin noted: “Well it seems July 4th, Independence Day, takes on new meaning. It’s a marker now.” That’s exactly right. July 4 is now the day — or around the day — when the country will begin to return to some semblance of normal, at least according to Biden. Now he needs to make good on that pledge or have the date hung around his neck like a political anchor — a la Trump’s ridiculous pledge that we would start to return to normal on Easter Sunday 2020.
7. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things”: That line — spoken by Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) to Red (Morgan Freeman) in “The Shawshank Redemption” kept popping into my head throughout Biden’s speech. (Maybe it’s because “Shawshank” was trending on Twitter around the same time Biden spoke!) Biden used his speech, yes, to detail the losses we have suffered — singularly and collectively — from Covid-19. But he also pointed toward a hopeful future that was within our grasp as long as we continued to work together. “There is hope and light and better days ahead,” Biden said near the end of the address — and the image that popped into my mind was Red walking on that beach in Zihuatanejo as Andy works on his boat. What a beautiful moment.