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Concerns about spread of South African variant

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There is some hope though as the average number of daily cases of COVID has plunged 74% since January. The average number of deaths is also down 38% in the last five days.

Video Transcript

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Going now to the sobering milestone in this pandemic-- 500,000 American lives lost to the coronavirus. President Biden honoring those victims in a ceremony last night. This highlighting the importance of getting Americans vaccinated. ABC's Ike Ejiochi live in Washington with the very latest. Good morning to you, Ike.

IKE EJIOCHI: Good morning, Shirleen. President Biden and Vice President Harris recognizing those half million lives lost, at the White House last night, was a stark visual reminder of just how much work still needs to be done.

[CHURCH BELLS RINGING]

This morning, a solemn signal-- the National Cathedral rang its bell 500 times Monday, once for every 1,000 deaths. Fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters-- like Ashley Bennett, who had just given birth and met her daughter, Eliza, just once.

- That's the only time she ever got to see her in person, which breaks my heart.

IKE EJIOCHI: President Biden commemorating the grim milestone at the White House.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to lips before a tear to your eye. And for me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose.

IKE EJIOCHI: As the nation grieves this morning, there appears to be hope. The average number of daily cases has plunged 74% since January. The average number of deaths also down 38% in the last five days. There's progress on the vaccine front as well. Johnson & Johnson now saying they'll deliver 20 million single shot doses by the end of March if the FDA grants emergency authorization, which could happen as early as this weekend.

Also, health experts are stressing the need to vaccinate quickly as the more contagious South African variant has now been confirmed in 12 states. And in the fight to reopen schools, a new report from the CDC suggests its teachers-- not students-- who play a central role in spreading COVID in the classroom.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: COVID-19 spread often occurred during in-person meetings or lunches, and then subsequent spread in classrooms.

IKE EJIOCHI: And in Missouri, a hospital unit cheers as they celebrate a nearly empty COVID unit. And researchers in a lab in Alabama are developing a COVID vaccine in the form of a nasal spray. Human trials begin next week.