US life expectancy drops in the pandemic, AstraZeneca’s contract with the UK. What to know about Covid-19 for Thursday.

The life expectancy for the entire US population fell to 77.8 years, similar to what it was in 2006, Deidre McPhillips reports. Life-expectancy disparities between Black people and White people had been shrinking in recent years, but today’s data reveals a widening of racial and ethnic inequities. Compared to 2019, life expectancy for non-Hispanic Black people in the US fell about three times what it did for non-Hispanic White people, by 2.7 years. It fell by twice as much for Hispanic people, by 1.9 years.

The pandemic has taken a massive toll on the US population. About 490,000 people have lost their lives to the disease, and the CDC estimates excess deaths in 2020 to be even higher. “A year of life expectancy lost doesn’t really give you a true sense of how serious this has been. Millions of life years were actually lost,” Eileen Crimmins, a professor at the University of Southern California who has researched changes in mortality, told CNN. “Covid is on track to cause more deaths than cancer or heart disease, and that’s important.”

It comes as health officials warn of new coronavirus variants dangerously accelerating the pandemic in the US. During a White House briefing on Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said it’s “more important than ever for us to do everything we can to decrease the spread.”

There are powerful tools against this, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN the same day. “The two ways that we can counter that is one, continue to do the kinds of public health interventions that we talk about all the time,” he said. That includes the universal wearing of masks, social distancing, staying away from crowded areas and regular hand washing.

“But also, as the weeks and months go by, as you vaccinate more and more people, you have a vaccine that works against this variant,” Fauci added. “So if we roll out the vaccine … and get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can while we maintain the public health measures, we should be in good stead.”


Q: Are face masks standardized?

A: Americans may soon be able to choose between two clearly labeled levels of face mask protection while browsing store shelves.

The new national mask standard outlines minimum fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and would require user instructions, package labeling and a permanent tag on the product.

ASTM International — an international standards organization — spent seven months conducting expedited testing and published its guidance on Tuesday. Until this point, there were no standards even though masks are highly recommended by US health officials to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

If a mask has ASTM labeling, it means that it meets testing and quality requirements outlined by ASTM. The standard has been created to evaluate only consumer masks. These new standards do not apply to medical masks and respirators used in healthcare settings.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.


AstraZeneca’s contract with UK “essentially the same” as EU’s

AstraZeneca’s contract to supply the UK with 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses commits it to making “best reasonable efforts,” the same language used in its deal with the European Union, which critics blamed for the bloc’s faltering inoculation program, Angela Dewan reports. The details of the contract are contained in a redacted version published online without fanfare months ago, long before the UK and the EU became embroiled in a bitter dispute over vaccine supply.

EU leaders and AstraZeneca engaged in a public war of words in late January after the company advised the 27-country union that it would deliver tens of millions fewer doses than agreed by the end of March. At the same time, it appeared to be making good on its deliveries to the UK, heightening tensions between Westminster and Brussels.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Italy’s La Repubblica that its agreement with the EU was “not a contractual commitment,” adding that his company agreed to supply the UK before other markets. But a comparison between the EU’s and the UK’s redacted contracts show the European contract was signed the day before the UK’s official contract. The UK contract also confirmed the UK could receive vaccines manufactured in the EU, another point of contention between Brussels and AstraZeneca during their spat.

Brazil will vaccinate an entire city’s adult population to test the effect on infection rates

Brazil’s Butantan Institute kicked off a campaign on Wednesday to vaccinate all of the adult population in Serrana, a city in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo, to see if it’s possible to reduce the number of cases. “The idea to vaccinate the largest number of people will allow researchers to “follow the evolution of the epidemic. It has technical aspects that will make it possible to make calculations, make projections and calculate whether the vaccine is capable of reducing the transmission of the virus, ” said Dimas Tadeu Covas, the director of the institute.

Lab studies suggest Pfizer, Moderna vaccines can protect against coronavirus variants

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine can protect people against concerning new coronavirus variants, including one first seen in South Africa called B.1.351.

The study found that while the blood serum samples produced less neutralizing antibody activity against versions of the virus that were genetically engineered to carry some of the mutations found in B.1.351, it was still enough to neutralize the virus, they wrote in a letter to the journal.

Separately, a team at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna published a letter in the same journal outlining findings from an experiment they reported last month. They also reported a reduction in the antibody response to viruses genetically engineered to look like the B.1.351 variant — but not enough of a reduction to make the vaccine work any less.


Up to 90 healthy volunteers in the UK will be deliberately exposed to Covid-19 in the world’s first human challenge study to help increase knowledge on how the virus affects people.
President Joe Biden’s promise to try to open schools has become one of most vexing puzzles facing the new administration, leading to confusion and anger among parents who still aren’t getting clear answers.
Gwyneth Paltrow reveals she had Covid-19 early on in the pandemic, and is still suffering from some lingering effects like “brain fog.”
New York is taking Amazon to court over claims that the company has failed to provide sufficient protections for its workers during the pandemic.


Google Maps can already tell you which train to take or map out an optimal driving route. Now, it’s simplifying travel even more by letting users pay for parking or public transportation right from their phones.

As of Wednesday, users can connect their Google Maps accounts with their Google Pay wallets and make transportation-related payments without ever leaving the app. By bypassing parking meters and train ticket machines, people can save time and also avoid public areas — a plus during the pandemic. Read more.


“There might be some aspect whereby the people for whom we have the least empathy are the people who we’re tolerating dying a little more.” — Azim Shariff, associate professor at the department of psychology in the University of British Columbia

In today’s episode, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to Shariff about the limits of human empathy, and what a computer game might teach us about our response to this pandemic. Listen now.

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