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Most Americans probably won't be able to get a Covid-19 vaccine until mid-2021, CDC director says
AP

Most Americans probably won't be able to get a Covid-19 vaccine until mid-2021, CDC director says

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Anyone thinking a vaccine will quickly end the coronavirus pandemic shouldn't get their hopes up. Instead, they should wear a mask -- which is probably even more effective, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

While a "very limited supply" of a Covid-19 vaccine might be ready in November or December, it "will have to be prioritized," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a Senate appropriations subcommittee Wednesday.

"It will be those first responders and those at greatest risk for death, and then eventually that will expand," he said.

"If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021."

On top of that, "in order to have enough of us immunized so we have immunity, I think it's going to take us six to nine months," he said.

But he said Americans already have a weapon he believes could be more effective against Covid-19: face masks.

"These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have," Redfield said, holding up a blue face mask.

"If we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control," he said.

"I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70%. And if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me. This face mask will."

Yet time and again, people gather and socialize without wearing face masks -- sometimes leading to tragic results.

More than 6.6 million people have been infected with Covid-19 in the US, and more than 196,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

7 coronavirus deaths are linked to 1 wedding

A wedding in Maine is linked to 176 Covid-19 cases and the deaths of seven people who didn't attend the celebration -- showing just how easily and quickly coronavirus can spread at social gatherings, public health experts say.

For months, doctors have stressed the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.

But outbreaks have stemmed from Memorial Day events, Fourth of July celebrations and a massive motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

The wedding in Millinocket on August 7 had about 65 guests, a violation of the state's 50-person limit for indoor events, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The event is linked to outbreaks that have unfolded at a nursing home and a jail, both more than 100 miles away from the wedding venue, among people who had only secondary or tertiary contact with an attendee.

Residents at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center accounted for 39 cases tied to the wedding and six of the seven deaths thus far, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah said.

"The virus favors gatherings," Shah added. "It does not distinguish between happy events like a wedding celebration, or sad farewells, like a funeral."

Despite such somber warnings, about 1,500 people descended on a New Jersey boardwalk house featured in MTV's "Jersey Shore" on Monday night, ending in eight arrests, Seaside Heights police said.

The event was organized by a group of YouTube pranksters, according to Seaside Heights Police Detective Steve Korman, and officials say they are now worried about how they will track possible infections among more than a thousand people.

Universities try to get ahead of outbreaks

Outbreaks keep cropping up at colleges and universities, prompting some to go to virtual learning again.

More than 50,000 coronavirus cases have been reported at colleges and universities in all 50 states.

Citing a significant rise in cases among students, the University of Colorado Boulder announced a 14-day quarantine period for students living within the city.

The University of Arizona is taking a similar approach, urging students to shelter in place until the end of the month after a large number of positive cases. The university reported 261 positive cases on Monday, according to the school's coronavirus dashboard.

At the University of Missouri, two students were expelled and three were suspended for violating rules that require students who test positive to isolate and comply with social distancing.

"These students willfully put others at risk, and that is never acceptable. We will not let the actions of a few take away the opportunity for in-person learning that more than 8,000 faculty and staff have worked so hard to accomplish for the more than 30,000 MU students," the university said in a statement Tuesday.

Covid-19 could have been in the US as early as December

Though outbreaks attributed to coronavirus were not widely documented until the spring, the virus may have circulated in the United States as early as December -- about a month earlier than believed by the CDC, according to UCLA researchers.

A study, published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found a statistically significant increase in clinic and hospital visits by patients who reported respiratory illnesses as early as the week of December 22.

The first known case of Covid-19 in the US was thought to be a patient in Washington state who had visited Wuhan, China, according to the CDC. That case was reported in January.

But the number of patient visits to the ER for respiratory complaints, as well as the number of people hospitalized with acute respiratory failure between December 2019 and February 2020, were all higher compared to records from the past five years. Though the cases could have been from the flu, the numbers are notable, Dr. Joann Elmore told CNN.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center who did not work on the study, said she believes it's possible Covid-19 may have been in the US much earlier than first realized.

But Kristian Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, disagreed.

"We know from the SARS-CoV-2 genetic data that the pandemic started in late November / early December in China so there's absolutely no way the virus could have been spreading widely in December 2019. From the same genetic data we know that widespread transmission didn't start in the United States until (around) February 2020," Andersen said in an email.

"The paper is picking up spurious signals and the hospitalizations are more likely from flu or other respiratory diseases," Andersen wrote.

Returning to normal is a long way off

Officials are trying to prepare the public for a pandemic-altered life for a few more months -- if not years.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief science officer at the World Health Organization in Geneva, said the world might not be able to return to "pre-Covid" life until 2022.

Swaminathan said 60% to 70% of the global population would need to have immunity before there is a dramatic reduction in transmission of the virus.

"We're looking at 2022 at least before enough people start getting the vaccine to build immunity," she told journalists during a virtual meeting hosted by the United Nations Foundation.

"So for a long time to come, we have to maintain the same kind of measures that are currently being put in place with physical distancing, the masking and respiratory hygiene."

CNN's Anna Sturla, Naomi Thomas, Maggie Fox, Elizabeth Hartfield, Jennifer Feldman, Jaqueline Howard, Nakia McNabb and Gisela Crespo contributed to this report.

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