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New variants discovered in U.S. raise fears over COVID mutations

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As new coronavirus cases are on the downward trend, leading public health experts are warning about new variants in the U.S. Carter Evans reports.

Video Transcript

MAJOR GARRETT: Now to the COVID pandemic. As of tonight, nearly 40 million Americans have had at least one COVID shot, and more than 14 million have had both doses. States are now expanding access to shots, but supplies are running short. We get more on this from CBS's Carter Evans.

CARTER EVANS: It may be the lull before the next COVID storm. Nearly every single state is now trending in the right direction. Nationwide, new COVID cases are at their lowest since the end of October. Hospitalizations down 46% in the last month.

But leading public health experts say brace yourselves.

- The next 14 weeks, I think, will be the worst of the pandemic.

CARTER EVANS: Tonight, New York confirms it's treating its first case of a variant likely discovered in South Africa, and it may get much worse.

It turns out we have plenty of our own variants here in the US?

JEREMY KAMIL: - Exactly. I think that was a lot of our concern.

CARTER EVANS: Louisiana State virologist Dr. Jeremy Kamil is one of the scientists who recently found evidence of at least seven homegrown variants.

JEREMY KAMIL: They may have little, subtle effects on how well the virus colonizes a human respiratory tract.

CARTER EVANS: It intensifies the race to vaccinate Americans before the next potential surge. More mega sites are opening, but some, like San Francisco's Moscone Center, have had to shut down. Supplies are running out.

Amid that supply shortage, several states have expanded who's eligible for the vaccine, including those with underlying conditions. 28 states have made educators eligible.

Today, Chicago's school district launched four vaccination sites just for teachers. But the tight supply means difficult choices.

- We just don't have enough vaccine to say to everybody, "Come on, get in line." I would put all my vaccine in 65 years and older. And I know teachers may not want to hear that, but I think that's the right message.

CARTER EVANS: Another potential roadblock for schools, under new CDC guidelines there are limits to reopening if they're in so-called "red zones," communities where viral transmission is highest. It turns out, 91% of all US students live in red zones.

Also, tonight--

ANDREW CUOMO: Not providing the information creates the void.

CARTER EVANS: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defended himself against charges that the state underreported the death toll from nursing homes early in the pandemic, then tried to cover it up.

ANDREW CUOMO: And I want everyone to know everything was done. Everything was done by the best minds, in the best interest.

CARTER EVANS: Now, vaccination sites in the Los Angeles area still don't have enough shots. This location is only able to do second doses. Also today, California hit a grim milestone. COVID has killed more than 47,000 people here-- more than any other state. Major?

MAJOR GARRETT: Carter Evans with comprehensive coverage. Thank you.