When a Halloween party sparked a COVID-19 outbreak at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, school officials conducted rapid screening on more than 1,000 students in a week, including many who didn’t have symptoms.
Although such asymptomatic screening isn’t approved by regulators and the 15-minute tests aren’t as sensitive as the genetic one that can take days to yield results, the testing director at the historically black college credits the approach with quickly containing the infections and allowing the campus to remain open.
“Within the span of a week, we had crushed the spread. If we had had to stick with the PCR test, we would have been dead in the water,” said Dr. Robert Doolittle, referring to the polymerase chain reaction test that is considered the gold standard by many doctors and Food and Drug Administration regulators.
Kroger to Pay $100 to Workers Who Get Vaccination
Supermarket chain Kroger Co said on Friday it would give $100 to workers who get a COVID-19 vaccination, joining a growing list of U.S. retailers incentivizing employees to get inoculated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus.
Kroger, which also operates Ralphs and Harris Teeter among other banners across 35 states, has hired over 100,000 new workers to cater to a surge in demand amid CCP virus lockdowns.
Iowa Rolls Back Restrictions
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Friday that she would end most restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the CCP virus in Iowa.
Reynolds issued a proclamation that removes a mask requirement for those spending 15 minutes or more in an indoor area within 6 feet of people not in their household. She also ended mask requirements for those in state buildings and some businesses, such as barber shops. The governor’s new order also ends limits on the number of customers in a business or a requirement that they stay socially distant.
Biden Backs Off $15 Minimum Wage As Relief Plan Takes Shape
President Joe Biden is backing away from the push to include a minimum wage hike in the CCP virus relief bill that Democrats are ramming through Congress, after key lawmakers signaled they no longer support it.
Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate on Friday passed a budget resolution that enables them to plug in a relief package that’s expected to hew closely to Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. Biden’s package includes a $15 minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though many states have their own wage floors.
South Korea Eases Curfew on Businesses Outside Seoul
South Korea on Saturday eased curfews on more than half a million restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul, letting them stay open an hour later, amid a public backlash over tight curbs to contain COVID-19.
Businesses outside the capital will now be able to stay open until 10 p.m., but “the 9 p.m. operations restriction remains as is in the metropolitan Seoul area, where more than 70 percent of total infections are concentrated and still faces the risk of virus transmission,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told an intra-agency meeting on Saturday. The businesses include some 580,000 cafes, restaurants, indoor fitness facilities, and karaoke bars.
New Orleans Bars to Shut Down for Mardi Gras
New Orleans bars will be shut down, even for takeout service, throughout next week’s Mardi Gras weekend.
Many bars already were closed to indoor service. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s announcement Friday means they can’t sell drinks to go—a popular option year-round and especially during Mardi Gras. The city is also expanding the closure order to include bars with “conditional” food permits that allowed them to operate as restaurants during various pandemic shutdowns. The bar shutdown begins next Friday and runs through Feb. 16.
Study Finds AstraZeneca Vaccine Mostly Effective Against UK Variant
The AstraZeneca CCP virus vaccine has been found to be mostly effective against the United Kingdom variant, according to preliminary data published on Feb. 4.
“Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus but also protects against the novel variant, B.1.1.7, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK,” Andrew Pollard, professor of pediatric infection and immunity and chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, said in a statement.
Australian Open Concerns Ease as Victoria Records No New Cases
Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria reported no local CCP virus cases on Saturday for the second straight day, tapering down concerns about the Australian Open tennis tournament due to start in Melbourne on Monday.
More than 500 staff and players at the event, the year’s first Grand Slam, tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday in re-testing required after a worker at their quarantine hotel caught the virus. Positive cases could have spurred a lockdown or more limits on spectators attending the tournament.
Meiling Lee, Zachary Stieber, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.