As the omicron variant spreads across Japan, the country is implementing new COVID restrictions in an attempt to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed, The Associated Press reported. Eateries that stop serving alcohol can stay open until 9 p.m., while ones that continue to serve alcohol must close by 8 p.m. Some restaurant owners have criticized the restrictions as not making any sense. “We cannot make business without serving alcohol,” Saga said in an interview with Nippon Television. “It seems only eateries are targeted for restraints.” Others have said the restrictions just seem to be ineffective, as infections have not slowed in prefectures where the restrictions have already been implemented.
Over 75% of the total population of the U.S. has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is equal to more than 250 million people. The CDC also said that of the 86 million people eligible to receive a booster, nearly 82.5 million people had received the additional dose of the vaccine. “As the virus spreads, it has more opportunities to change,” the CDC said. “COVID-19 vaccines & boosters reduce the spread of the virus & help prevent new variants from emerging.”
A new study has found no connection between getting a vaccine and developing infertility, CNN reported. In fact, the couples in the study were less likely to be able to conceive if the man in the relationship had been infected with COVID-19, as the illness can cause male fertility in the short term. "This [study] adds to the evidence from animal studies, studies of humans undergoing fertility treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine trials, none of which found an association between COVID-19 vaccination and lower fertility," the researchers wrote. More research is needed to figure out why COVID-19 may cause a decrease in male fertility, but fever can reduce sperm count and is also a common coronavirus symptom.
Countries in Central America are seeing a sharp increase in new coronavirus cases, Bloomberg reported. The three countries reporting the most cases are Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras, according to Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization. The number of positive COVID results in Central America has more than doubled in the past week. “Demand for testing is higher than ever, especially as many countries in our region are also experiencing an active flu season,” Etienne said. “It is critical that countries use tests smartly.”
Nearly all of Ireland’s COVID-19 restrictions may soon be lifted after public health officials gave the country’s ministers the all clear to wind them back, Reuters reported. Ireland reported the second highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in all of Europe last week, but the number of severe cases of the coronavirus have been kept low due to a high uptake of booster shots. "I think it is reasonable to expect that we will be able to exit the regulations on a faster basis than would have looked likely a number of days ago," Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said on Thursday. An 8 p.m. curfew that had been implemented on the hospitality sector is expected to be lifted imminently, as are capacity limits for indoor and outdoor events. Vaccine passes may also be scrapped, though masking on public transportation and in shops is expected to continue.
More than two dozen generic drug makers will produce Merck’s COVID-19 pill and help supply the treatment to 105 developing countries, The Associated Press reported. The drug, molnupiravir, has been shown to help reduce the hospitalization rate by half among patients who take it while they display early signs of COVID-19. “This is a critical step toward ensuring global access to an urgently needed COVID-19 treatment,” said Charles Gore, the executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool. Among the countries that have a facility that will now produce the drug are Vietnam, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Egypt. Antiviral medications are expected to be a groundbreaking tool in the fight against the coronavirus as they can help ease the burden of hospital systems, especially in countries with weak health care systems.
Two studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that a booster shot has a significant effect on reducing the likelihood of being hospitalized with the omicron variant, CNN reported. The studies, which examined cases from December and January when the omicron variant became dominant, found that a booster shot reduced the risk of hospitalization by 90%. In comparison, someone who had received two doses more than six months in the past only saw their risk go down by 57%. "I think we have to redefine fully vaccinated as three doses," said Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime CDC vaccine adviser. "I think it's the third dose that really gives you the solid, the very best protection," Schaffner said.
Another study found that the risks of symptomatic infection were greatly reduced by getting a booster shot. Those with a booster were 66% less likely to experience COVID symptoms than those who had received two doses, according to a study set to be published in the medical journal JAMA. Less than half of people eligible to receive a booster shot have sat down for the jab. Only a quarter of the US population is fully vaccinated and boosted.
Greece has begun fining the unvaccinated over 60 in an effort to boost the vaccination rates among the most vulnerable, Reuters reported. The country is dealing with cases attributed to both the delta variant and the omicron variant, with the more severe delta variant still causing severe illness in those over 60; about nine in 10 coronavirus deaths are in people over the age of 60. The announcement of the fine, which is 100 euros ($113) a month, is credited for helping to boost the vaccination rate among those other the age of 60 to more than 90%. "On one side it's good, because it will keep people from dying. On the other, it is a bit hefty, for pensioners," said 73-year-old Greek citizen Panagiotis Chatzigiannis.
Two years ago today, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States in Washington state, ABC News reported. The infected individual traveled to the United States from Wuhan, China, the site of the original outbreak of the virus. The case was confirmed 20 days after China confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases among people associated with a Wuhan seafood market. On Jan. 7, 2020, China confirmed that the cases were related to a novel coronavirus, and that person-to-person transmission of the virus was occurring, The New England Journal of Medicine reported. Following the report of the first case in the United States, officials told Americans that they believed the risk to the American public was low. To date, more than 69 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 860,000 Americans have died, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.
New Zealand has yet to report an outbreak of COVID-19 cases linked to the omicron variant, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is preparing for the inevitable. Arden said Thursday the country will tighten restrictions as soon as a case was detected, The Associated Press reported. Ardern also emphasized that lockdowns would not be imposed. The country is expected to shift to its “red” setting in the event of an outbreak, which would allow businesses and domestic travel to continue, but crowds would be limited to 100 people and children in schools would be required to wear masks. Currently, New Zealand is under an “orange” level which calls for mask wearing and proof of vaccination but doesn’t impose limits on crowd sizes. “This stage of the pandemic is different to what we have dealt with before. Omicron is more transmissible,” Ardern said. “That is going to make it harder to keep it out, but it will also make it more challenging to control once it arrives. But just like before, when COVID changes, we change.” New Zealand has been able to limit the spread of the delta variant, with only about 20 new cases reported per day on average, the AP said.
U.S. biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a new vaccine plant in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday that promises to produce millions of doses by 2025 and help bring greater health equity to his native country, Reuters reported. Africa has struggled to secure vaccines while wealthy countries were already giving their populations shots. As a result, just about 10% of the African population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. “Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics. Africa should no longer go cap in hand to the Western world, begging and begging for vaccines,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attended the ribbon-cutting for the NantSA vaccine manufacturing campus. In May, Soon-Shiong, who is also a transplant surgeon, said he would give an initial $195 million to South Africa to help with the transfer of new technology from his U.S. factories for COVID-19 vaccines and other therapies, including for cancer and HIV. He has also pledged $6.5 million in scholarships to ensure a pipeline of skilled workers.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has tested positive for the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported. Paxton, who attended one of former President Donald Trump’s rallies over the weekend, has challenged the Biden administration’s efforts to mandate vaccines in many settings, including for health care workers and troops in the Texas National Guard. It is unclear if Paxton himself is vaccinated. Last week, the Supreme Court stopped an effort by the Biden administration to mandate the nation’s largest businesses adopt a vaccine-or-test policy.
Out of concern over the coronavirus and coronavirus-related restrictions, NBC Sports will not send its announcing teams to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Games, USA Today reported. Broadcasters had expected to arrive to cover figure skating, Alpine skiing, and snowboarding, but the announcing teams will now call the events from NBC’s facility in Stamford, Connecticut. ESPN followed suit Thursday night, deciding against sending news personnel to the Games, according to the outlet. "The safety of our employees is of utmost importance to us," said Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president. "With the pandemic continuing to be a global threat, and with the COVID-elated on-site restrictions in place for the Olympics that would make coverage very challenging, we felt that keeping our people home was the best decision for us." ESPN will instead focus on covering the Games remotely "with a robust plan that will roll out prior to the beginning of competition," the outlet said.
NBC had a similar strategy for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, though broadcasting crews were on site for historically popular events like swimming and gymnastics. “With COVID’s changing conditions and China’s zero-tolerance policy, it’s just added a layer of complexity to all of this so we need to make sure we can provide the same quality experience to the American viewers,” said Molly Solomon, president and executive producer, NBC Olympics Production. Todd Richards, a snowboarding analyst for the network, said the concern was over China’s COVID-restrictions. “I think they were a little bit wary that if someone tested positive for COVID, the Chinese government basically takes you and sequesters you,” he said. “NBC has no control, so they wanted to have more control over the situation.”
Austria’s government on Thursday voted in favor of introducing a new vaccine mandate for adults in the country, The Associated Press reported. The mandate will begin Feb. 1 and those who don’t follow the mandate after a series of warnings will be at risk of financial penalty. According to the AP, lawmakers voted 137 to 33 in favor of the mandate, which will apply to all adults 18 or older, with the exception of pregnant women, people with COVID-19 infections over the past six months, or people who have medical reasons for not being vaccinated. Austria’s vaccination rates remain low and officials say the mandate will help ease the burden on the country’s hospital system, according to the AP.
An unvaccinated Czech folk singer died after intentionally infecting herself with the coronavirus, CNN reported. Hana Horká succumbed to the virus after exposing herself to it after her son and husband caught it accidentally. According to her son, Jan Rek, Horká wanted to infect herself so she could get the country’s COVID pass, which grants access to restaurants and entertainment venues. Rek partially blames his mother’s death on people sharing anti-vaccine posts online. "Those people have the power to influence and I don't blame their 'followers' but I mind their status of authority," he said. "I think there is importance of communication even from their side and some sort of self-reflection." Doctors have warned against intentionally trying to catch the omicron variant. "People are talking about omicron like it's a bad cold. It is not a bad cold," said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "It's a life-threatening disease."
If you are worried that COVID has caused you to lose your sense of smell, you might be able to test it by smelling just three household items, Reuters reported. Researchers who were looking for an alternative to the current 40-question ‘scratch-and-sniff’ test have found three smells that, if you cannot smell them, suggest you may be suffering from anosmia. Experts recommend that you test your sense of smell by sniffing meat seasoning, a burnt candle, and cinnamon. “The test can be used as an inexpensive and rapid way to detect and document olfactory dysfunction,” said Dr. Jay Piccirillo of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
As omicron continues to spread rapidly across the United States, the positivity ratio is again on the upswing, with its seven-day moving average shooting above 30%, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. The seven-day moving average number of new cases also rose slightly to more than 754,000 and the average number of daily deaths climbed to 1,768. Despite cases having risen dramatically over the last month, deaths have not risen to record levels in the U.S., something experts attribute to the country’s vaccination campaign. More than 1.1 million vaccines are being administered every day on average, and 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. For more facts and figures on the state of the global pandemic, watch the video below.
Google didn’t hold back on its COVID-19 message when it started featuring an animated doodle of its logo with the letters donning masks and Band-Aids on their “arms” on the search engine’s homepage. The letter “e” was also dressed as a doctor about to administer a vaccine shot to the letter “l.” Google was urging people to “Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Save lives,” it said on Twitter. There was also a sharing button to allow users to share the message via Facebook, Twitter or through email. And clicking on the logo took people to “COVID-19 vaccine” search results on how to obtain the shot.
For the first time over the course of the pandemic, Germany reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Reuters reported. Specifically, 112,323 cases were counted, but Germany’s health minister still cautioned that the peak of the current wave had not been reached yet, Reuters said. The country also reported 239 new deaths. One positive sign that was revealed is the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units is dropping, according to Reuters. “I think we will reach the peak of the wave in mid-February, and then the number of cases could fall again,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told Germany broadcaster RTL.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning travelers to avoid 22 more countries due to their high rate of COVID transmission and cases. The countries include Israel, Australia, Egypt, Albania, Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, Qatar, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Suriname, Saint Lucia and Bolivia, The Guardian reported. The CDC has now given more than 200 countries its highest Level 4 warning -- Canada, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the United Kingdom were earlier placed on the list. The CDC advises that Level 4 countries be avoided at all costs and that a person be fully vaccinated if they must travel to those destinations. The order applies to all travelers, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents or green card holders unless exempted, the CDC said.
A survey of just under 70,000 people identified two genes that are linked to loss of smell or taste after a coronavirus infection, according to a study published in Nature. The study found that 68% infected with the virus reported loss of smell or taste as a symptom, with sensory distortion more common among women than men. The researchers then used the 23andMe profiles of those surveyed and discovered that two genes, UGT2A1 and UGT2A2, that help people smell are linked to the experience of sensory loss. It is unclear how exactly the genes are involved in the impairment, though. Interestingly, the study found that those with a heightened sense of taste or smell may be more prone to losing those senses when infected. Read the full study here.
Starbucks said it would drop its employee vaccine requirement following last week’s Supreme Court ruling against the Biden administration’s mandate for large employers, Reuters reported. Many other large companies have not announced whether they will reverse course on mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for workers. In a memo to employees Tuesday, Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver said: “We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” although the coffee chain noted it strongly encourages vaccinations and booster shots, Reuters said. Starbucks had told its 228,000 workers that they must reveal their vaccination status by Jan. 10 in anticipation of the Biden mandate. The company said 90% reported their status and said the “vast majority” are fully vaccinated.
Dozens of theaters and museums in the Netherlands on Wednesday were transformed into hair salons and gyms to protest continued lockdown restrictions in that country, The Associated Press reported. The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December. Under an easing of restrictions announced Friday, businesses such as hairdressers, barbers, gyms, nonessential stores and even massage parlors, were allowed to reopen while museums, theaters, bars and restaurants had to remain closed. “We do not understand and there is no reasoning for it because we have shown over the last two years that it’s very, very safe to go to a concert or to go to a museum,” Simon Reinink, director of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw concert hall, told the AP. “Actually, it’s our profession — crowd management. We know how to deal with large crowds.” DutchNews.nl reported that museums temporarily became gyms featuring ‘mental booster’ sessions, pilates, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and ’80s bootcamps to press home their demand to reopen, and the Concertgebouw opened its door as a barbershop while the orchestra rehearsed classical compositions in the background.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that due to a decline in infection levels in large parts of the country, face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places and schools in England, The Associated Press reported. COVID-19 passports will also no longer be needed for large events. Johnson said the decision was made after scientists in the U.K. determined the surge of infections driven by the omicron variant “has not peaked nationally.” Johnson said that although hospitals in northern England are still strained by high caseloads, the number of hospital admissions and patients in intensive care units in other parts of the country was stabilizing or falling, the AP reported. Johnson also urged the public to remain cautious and emphasized that the pandemic was “not over.”
First at-home COVID-19 test kits, now the Biden administration will be giving away 400 million non-surgical N95 masks starting next week in the latest effort to tamp down the omicron surge, The Associated Press reported. The high-grade masks, which health experts said offer better protection against omicron, are currently part of the Strategic National Stockpile and will soon be distributed to a number of local pharmacies and health centers nationwide, White House officials told the AP. Officials noted the program will be “fully up and running by early February.”
President Joe Biden had been facing criticism over the cost and supply of N95 masks as the number of coronavirus cases has steadily increased over the last three months, according to the AP. Also, earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its mask guidelines to recommend that people “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.” Health officials said the N95 masks offer greater protection than light paper or cloth ones. Dr. Leana Wen, visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, called cloth coverings “little more than facial decorations. There's no place for them in light of omicron," CNN reported. For more details on N95 masks, watch this video:
After concerns over COVID postponed the event, the Grammy Awards show will return on April 3 but in a new location: Las Vegas, AFP reported. The show was originally scheduled to take place Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. Comedian Trevor Noah will host the 64th annual event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas, the Recording Academy said. It will air live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. ET. Last year, the show was postponed until March due to the pandemic. “We are excited to take the Grammys to Las Vegas for the very first time, and to put on a world-class show,” said academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., as reported by AFP.
India reported 282,970 new infections on Wednesday, the highest 24-hour total in the country over the past eight months, Reuters said. The country’s pandemic total now stands at 37.9 million, and officials warned that it could be weeks until it’s understood how severe the current omicron wave has become. About 90% of India’s adult population, which stands at 939 million, has received at least two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. A booster program is also underway, but millions still remain unvaccinated, according to Reuters.
After surging above the 30% mark in recent days, the seven-day positivity rate in the U.S. stood at 29.22% as of midweek, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. The rate has steadily risen over the last 90 days as the omicron variant has taken hold as the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain in the U.S. Nationwide, daily cases are averaging just shy of 750,000 and the total U.S. caseload has risen to 67,598,609 since the first coronavirus case was officially confirmed in Washington state on Jan. 21, 2020. Over that time, more than 854,000 fatalities have been blamed on the coronavirus nationwide. For a closer look at the data surrounding the spread of the virus around the world and the effort to vaccinate the population, watch the video below.
Americans started ordering their free COVID-19 test kits in droves on Tuesday as soon as the government website went live a day early to iron out any potential glitches. The website, COVIDtests.gov, allows each household to order four rapid antigen test kits that will be delivered via the U.S. Postal Service to their home within two weeks. The White House, which said it has tens of millions of tests ready to be shipped, is scheduled to officially launch the site Wednesday, The Associated Press reported. It is spending $4 billion to deliver the first 500 million tests to homes across the country, all in an effort to stem the rise in omicron cases and address a demand for test kits as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads.
It’s unclear, however, if the kits will be delivered on time since, like many other industries, the Postal Service has been facing manpower shortages due to the coronavirus. That in turn has caused delays in mail delivery. As of Tuesday, more than 19,200 postal workers were either sick with COVID or quarantining, the American Postal Workers Union told CNN. But the Postal Service remained optimistic: “We have been working closely with the administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said. Alex Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, a watchdog group, said the trickiest part will be the physical distribution of kits. “I don’t recall the last time the federal government sent something like this to everyone that wasn’t a tax document,” he said. The Postal Service said any website user needing assistance can file a service request or contact the help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS, the AP reported.
COVID-19 at-home test kits are distributed during an event in Youngstown, Ohio on Dec. 30, 2021. The Biden administration Tuesday quietly launched its website for Americans to request free tests, a day before the site was scheduled to launch. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
After less than a dozen imported hamsters tested positive for the delta variant, Hong Kong plans on culling thousands of the creatures, Bloomberg reported. The hamsters, imported from the Netherlands, may have infected a worker at a pet store. Hong Kong and China, which are still trying to limit cases of COVID-19 to zero, have both blamed international mail and animals as causes of localized outbreaks of the virus. While many different animals have been infected with COVID-19 after human contact, there is little evidence that transmission can go the opposite way, with cases of animal-to-human COVID transmission rare, but not impossible. “In scenarios where you need to keep the virus out of your borders, any introduction, may it be the most unlikely or one that you never thought about, pretty much can thwart your entire operation,” said Klaus Osterrieder, dean of the college of veterinary medicine and chair of virology at City University of Hong Kong.
Prisoners at an Arkansas jail are suing after they were unknowingly treated with ivermectin by the detention center’s doctor, The New York Times reported. According to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the four men, the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas, gave them what he called a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day, which turned out to be ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that health officials say is dangerous and does not prevent users from getting COVID-19. The lawsuit says that prisoners had been given ivermectin since November 2020, leaving some inmates with serious side effects like diarrhea. “This is really beyond the pale that the F.D.A. and C.D.C. would warn against this treatment and that the doctor would prescribe it and administer it anyway — and do it without their knowledge or consent,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.
Japan’s new COVID-19 cases soared to over 27,000 on Tuesday — a new record, according to local media. The number of new cases exceeds even those previously seen in August after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics, broadcaster TBS said. Both Osaka and Tokyo recorded over 5,000 cases, respectively, the highest since Aug. 21. The record comes as 13 prefectures, including Tokyo, push to expand measures to curb the transmission of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Reuters reported. The 13 prefectures have requested COVID-19 prevention measures from the central government, Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa told reporters. These measures would allow governors to order curbs on mobility and businesses such as shortening opening hours for bars and restaurants.
The distorted sense of smell that can be a side effect of COVID-19 may be turning more kids into picky eaters, CNBC reported. The technical term for the distortion of one’s smell is parosmia, and it seems to be relatively common after a coronavirus infection, with 250,000 adults in the United Kingdom alone estimated to have suffered a coronavirus-related loss of smell. “Parosmia is thought to be a product of having less smell receptors working, which leads to only being able to pick up some of the components of a smell mixture,’” said Professor Carl Philpott, a leading smell expert in the United Kingdom. “For some children — and particularly those who already had issues with food, or with other conditions such as autism — it can be really difficult. I expect there are a lot of parents at their wits’ end and really worried,” he said. Parents struggling to feed kids with parosmia should encourage kids to try foods with less strong flavors and consider “smell training,” an attempt to retrain the nose with common odors. “In younger children this might not be helpful, but in teenagers this might be something they can tolerate,” Philpott noted.
Brooklyn Nets Guard Kyrie Irving reiterated Monday that he has not changed his mind about getting a jab of a COVID-19 vaccine, despite the Nets recently losing star forward Kevin Durant to an injury for a significant period of time. Irving, who is unvaccinated, is only eligible to play for the team when its on the road due to New York City’s mandate that all athletes playing in public venues be vaccinated against COVID-19, ESPN reported. Irving scored a team-high 27 points against the Cavaliers on Monday, just the fourth time this season the all-star has played for the Nets. “You bring in teams and you bring in situations. Kev’s going to heal, Kev’s going to be OK, and we’re going to have to deal with that as his teammates,” Irving said, according to ESPN. “But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that’s just what it is.”
The number of COVID-19 deaths has been steadily rising since mid-November and research models are now predicting the U.S. will see a wave of fatalities in the coming weeks, according to a report from The Associated Press. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the current seven-day moving average of new deaths (1,729) has increased 36.8% compared with the previous seven days, though still below the peak of 3,300 seen in January 2021. The CDC said the latest figures signal that community transmission of the less-virulent but highly contagious omicron variant remains high nationwide, although the health agency said the strain is not entirely to blame for the rise in deaths. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week that the increase in COVID deaths is likely a lagging effect of the delta variant, Reuters reported. “We may see deaths from omicron but I suspect that the deaths that we’re seeing now are still from delta,” she said on a media call. But some researchers who have been closely monitoring the data models disagree. This wave “is omicron driven,” said Katriona Shea of Penn State University, who helps lead a team that pulls together several pandemic models for the White House. Current models forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.
Oklahoma City’s four major hospital systems are jointly warning that rising coronavirus hospitalizations are bringing them to “a breaking point,” ABC 8 Tulsa reported. As of Monday night, none of the four hospitals had a signal ICU bed available. More than 1,520 Oklahomans are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, and hospitals this year have fewer beds available as staff members test positive for the virus. "Soon, you or a loved one may need us for life-saving care, whether for a stroke, emergency appendectomy or trauma from a car accident, and we might not be able to help," a letter written jointly by the hospital systems stated. "Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear your mask. Socially distance. Stay home if you’re sick.”
Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, said “nobody warned [him] it was against the rules” to host a party during the U.K.’s first coronavirus lockdown in May 2020, The Guardian reported. Johnson had attended a “bring your own booze” garden party during the pandemic restrictions. Johnson also apologized to the Queen for hosting a separate party the day before the funeral of Prince Philip during which time the Queen was required to sit alone due to COVID restrictions. “I can’t believe we would have gone ahead with an event that people said was against the rules … nobody warned me it was against the rules, I am categorical about that – I would have remembered that,” he told Sky News. Johnson had insisted the event was a work event, and some have accused him of lying to legislators about the party. If an investigation concludes he did mislead people about the party, Johnson has not ruled out resigning from his post. Watch part of his interview below:
An average of 40 people died each day from COVID each day during the past week in Los Angeles County, more than double the number of daily deaths in the previous week, KTLA 5 reported. Last week, 66 deaths were reported on Saturday alone. “As deaths often lag behind surges in cases and hospitalizations, sadly, the increase in deaths does not come as a surprise, and tragically, we are prepared for even higher number of deaths in the coming weeks,” said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. More than 31,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the county on Monday, according to the LA County’s public data portal.
In a meeting of the World Economic Forum, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, says that normalcy is likely coming but that the world needs to work to neutralize new variants. Fauci said that the world does not want to be in the position of making a new booster shot for every variant. Instead, a more universal vaccine would be the ideal. “That’s the reason why one of the things we are really all pushing for is finding out what the mechanisms are that induces a response to a commonality among all the different real and potential variants,” said Fauci. On a return to normalcy, Fauci said that eliminating the disease is impossible, but soon it may not disrupt the world’s normal social or economic life. “A new normal, I believe, will have a much, much greater attention to the capability of respiratory viruses to spread as they do,” Fauci said, adding that he doesn’t think people will be “walking around with masks all the time.” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla also sees a return to normal soon, and he credits vaccines, rapid testing, and new therapeutics, FOX Business reported. To see more of Fauci’s comments, watch the video below.
Greece’s vaccine mandate for residents 60 and older began Monday, with the unvaccinated facing monetary penalties for refusing the jab, Reuters reported. Greece’s vaccination rate remains below the European Union’s average, and rising infections have put pressure on the country’s hospital system. Those who fail to get unvaccinated will face a 50 euro ($57) fine this month, followed by a 100 euro ($114) fine in the following months. Health Minister Thanos Plevris said that the money raised from the fines will go towards funding state hospitals. “The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service,” Plevris said.
Moderna is aiming to launch a booster vaccination that will protect against both COVID-19 and the flu within two years as the “best-case scenario,” the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel said. “Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don’t have compliance issues where people don’t want to get two to three shots a winter,” Bancel said at a panel session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, The Guardian reported. “The best-case scenario would be the fall of 2023.” Earlier in January, Bancel said the efficacy of the boosters against COVID-19 will likely decline over time, as the efficacy of flu shots decline the more time passes after receiving one, so people may need a fourth jab in the fall to increase protection. However, Darius Hughes, U.K. chief executive of Moderna, said that it would be a “stretch” to create a combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine to be available by winter 2023, The Guardian reported.
According to a trial done by Israel's Sheba Medical Center, a second booster shot increased the number of antibodies to those who received the additional dose. While the additional dose gave more antibodies, Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center, said it's probably not enough for the Omicron variant. In the study, 154 people were given an additional Pfizer booster and 120 were given Moderna, according to Reuters. "We know by now that the level of antibodies needed to protect and not to get infected from Omicron is probably too high for the vaccine, even if it's a good vaccine," said Regev-Yochay.
Novak Djokovic looks as his documents after landing in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Djokovic arrived in the Serbian capital following his deportation from Australia on Sunday after losing a bid to stay in the country to defend his Australian Open title despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
In the latest saga of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, Spain’s prime minister has said that the unvaccinated athlete must comply with local health rules in order to compete in the Madrid Open in late April, Reuters reported. And that means showing proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday lauded Australia’s decision to deport Djokovic on Sunday for not being inoculated, saying he has “total respect for the decision of the Australian government. …The rules are there to comply with and no one is above the rules.” Spain currently requires visitors to show proof of full vaccination, a recent PCR negative test within 72 hours before arrival or a certificate of having recovered from COVID, according to the health ministry. The world’s top-ranked tennis player may also be barred from playing in the French Open in May-June, ESPN reported, after the Sports Ministry in France said Monday there would be no exemption from France’s new vaccine law. France’s vaccine pass law, approved by parliament on Sunday, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places such as sports venues, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.
On Sunday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley tested positive for COVID-19 just days after being near President Joe Biden. According to The Associated Press, Milley is fully vaccinated, including a booster shot, and only feels mild symptoms. Despite the infection, he is still working from isolation to continue to perform all of his duties remotely. Milley was with Biden on Wednesday when the two attended the funeral for Gen. Raymond Odierno, who passed away late last year. Milley tested negative in the days leading up to the funeral and in the three days afterward before a positive test result on Sunday. It is unclear if he contracted the virus at the event or from another close contact.
Hawaii is considering changing the definition of fully vaccinated to three doses of a coronavirus vaccine, meaning that booster shots would be required at entry to the islands, CNN reported. If travelers to Hawaii do not have their booster shots, they would need to isolate for five days on their own dime. At the moment, Hawaii is largely limited to just domestic visitors, with very few international travelers allowed to visit the islands. Hawaiian Gov. David Ige says that if the state goes through with changing its definition of fully vaccinated, those who have already booked trips will not be subject to the new rules. "We know that the community needs time to react to that, so we would have to provide at least two weeks for those who may not be up to date to have the opportunity to go and get vaccinated if they need to," Ige said, adding that he is considering making booster shots mandatory for public events and gatherings as well.
Cinemas, zoos, museums, and theaters are among the newly reopened places in Denmark as the country reopens some venues despite the rapid spread of omicron in the country, The Associated Press reported. Visitors to these locations will need to provide proof of vaccination or recent recovery to enter, though, and mask wearing is also required at most places. Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said that the government would not have supported the reopening if experts said it wasn’t safe. Early studies have shown that the omicron variant is less likely to cause severe illness, but that it more easily infects the vaccinated and those who have been previously infected. More restrictions are expected to be relaxed on Jan. 13.
Thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of Amsterdam to protest the government’s coronavirus restrictions, Al Jazeera reported. Infections in the country are currently at a record high. Riot police patrolled neighborhoods across the city in the latest installment of semi-regular protests that are held across the country against the government’s policies. “There’s a wide range of people against government measures and a general distrust of politics,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vassen, who reported from the scene. “A lot of people are now not obeying the rules and are violating many of the rules that are still in place.” Last Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte partially lifted the country’s latest lockdown, reopening stores, hairdressers, and gyms. Bars and restaurants remain closed until at least Jan. 25.
Newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order ending the state’s school mask mandate starting Jan. 24, but some school systems are saying they will continue to have all students mask up in the classroom, The Associated Press reported. Among the districts pushing back are public school systems in Richmond, Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax counties. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Youngkin said he will “consider all options” to preserve a masking opt-out for parents. “In Virginia it is clear under law that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions for their children’s upbringing, their education and their care,” Youngkin said. Youngkin, who is vaccinated and boosted, also issued an executive order lifting a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state workers, saying he opposes mandates.
Foreign spectators had already been banned from watching the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, but now China has announced that nearly all spectators will be banned from watching the Games in person, The New York Times reported. Citing the spread of the omicron variant, which was spotted in Beijing two days ago, the Beijing 2022 organizing committee halted ticket sales to the Olympics, but it will allow some spectators who are sufficiently screened and quarantined to watch the games; spectators could include government workers, sponsors, or government officials. “The organizers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the Covid-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event so as to help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes,” the international committee’s statement said. The Winter Games start on Feb. 4.
According to a study of roughly 70,000 COVID-19 patients in California hospitals, omicron leads to less severe disease than delta, The New York Times reported. The study found that omicron infections were half as likely to lead to hospitalizations, a finding that aligns with studies in other countries. In fact, out of more than 52,000 patients in one hospital system, none were ventilated. “It’s truly a viral factor that accounts for reduced severity,” said Dr. Lewnard, an author of the study and an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Still, he added, omicron's high transmissibility will still lead to many hospitalizations. Additionally, vaccination is still effective against omicron, with the study finding vaccinated Californians were 64 to 73% less likely to be hospitalized than the unvaccinated.
China intends to maintain a strict COVID-prevention protocol for the Beijing Winter Olympics, just as the country announced its first omicron case had been detected over the weekend. Lab testing found “mutations specific to the omicron variant” in a resident, an official at the city’s disease control authority said, as reported by Al Jazeera. China is banking on a zero-COVID tolerance approach to prevent further cases: The policy, among other things, forbids athletes from cheering on teammates (clapping is OK), calls for athletes who test positive to be sent immediately into isolation and requires masks that are N95 or of a similar caliber in indoor and outdoor areas with few exceptions, The Associated Press reported.
Upon arrival at the airport in Beijing, athletes will have their temperatures taken and be tested with throat and nasal swabs. A bus will then take them to their designated lodging, where they will need to wait up to six hours for test results to clear them to move about in approved areas. The AP said that restrictions on movement within that “closed loop” are intended to seal off any potential contact between Olympic participants and the local population. Meanwhile, spectators from overseas are not allowed at the competitions, which run from Feb. 4 through Feb. 20.
Vaccinations keep ticking upward in the United States, with 64% of the population now fully inoculated against COVID-19 as an average of 1.1 million more Americans each day received full doses this past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University researchers. Topping the list in the daily vaccination effort were California with nearly 150,000 more on average fully vaccinated, Texas (78K) and New York (74K). Worldwide, the U.S. was behind India and Bangladesh in making the most progress on the vaccine front. Meanwhile, new infections continue to mount in the U.S., with an average of more than 776,000 cases per day reported over the past week -- the most worldwide, followed by France, India, Italy and Spain, Johns Hopkins figures showed. For a closer look at the data, watch the video below:
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the omicron strain tends to be less severe than other variants of the coronavirus, but it leaves people wondering what a less severe case of COVID-19 means. Megan Ranney from the Brown University School of Public Health recently discussed this topic in a report from Axios. “To a health care professional, ‘mild’ means you’re not getting hospitalized,” Ranney explained. “Omicron symptoms can range from absolutely no symptoms to a really mild cold to something where you are in bed with shakes and chills, and have a horrible cough and are fatigued and headachy for weeks. Those are all ’mild,’” Ranney said. Even people who experience only mild symptoms after being infected with COVID-19 could still be susceptible to long COVID, Axios reported.
People who have come down with the omicron variant are reporting a new and often uncomfortable symptom: night sweats. Night sweats is a symptom that differentiates the omicron variant from previous variants, much like a scratchy, sore throat, reported NJ.com. “People aren’t reporting a loss of taste or smell as much with omicron as they were with previous variants,” Dr. John Torres, a senior medical correspondent for NBC News, told the Today Show. “But people are reporting night sweats, which is a very strange symptom that they say they’re having.” Night sweats are overnight episodes of perspiration that can leave you waking up feeling soaked, according to Healthline. While not a severe symptom, it can make sleeping uncomfortable and difficult.
“Incidental” cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Colorado, making up a majority of those hospitalized with the virus. According to Denver7, around two-thirds of COVID-19 patients were initially admitted to the hospital for reasons other than the coronavirus, but tested positive during routine testing. These cases are called “incidentals” and the patients need to be moved to certain areas of the hospital since they are infectious, even if they are not exhibiting any symptoms. “In many cases, COVID-19 is continuing to complicate their hospitalization, extend their hospitalization, and even for those that may have something else causing their hospitalization and mild COVID-19 infection, that is still complicating their hospitalization because those individuals need to be in isolation,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist in Colorado. More than 95% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units were unvaccinated, according to Denver7.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa released a study on Friday that found that people infected by the omicron variant are less prone to severe illness, including unvaccinated people. The study compared 5,100 people infected with the omicron variant to 11,600 people infected during previous waves of the virus, Reuters reported. “In the omicron-driven wave, severe COVID-19 outcomes were reduced mostly due to protection conferred by prior infection and/or vaccination, but intrinsically reduced virulence may account for an approximately 25% reduced risk of severe hospitalisation or death compared to delta,” the study said.
The results of this study are similar to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that omicron “substantially reduced risk” of severe illness. Both studies have yet to be peer reviewed.
Cuba has vaccinated a greater percentage of its residents than any country other than the United Arab Emirates, leaving some nations to wonder what they can learn from the tiny Communist-run island, CNBC reported. Cuba has developed five vaccines to date, all of which it says provide 90% protection against the virus, and the World Health Organization may soon authorize their doses for use worldwide. “It is an incredible feat,” said Helen Yaffe, a Cuba expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow. “It is the product of a conscious government policy of state investment in the sector, in both public health and in medical science.” Cuba’s vaccines do not use mRNA technology, instead they are subunit protein vaccines, meaning they are cheaper to make and store. “I think it is clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for getting vaccinated by 2025,” Yaffe said.
People looking for a boost in confidence might want to consider wearing a facemask more often after new research discovered that wearing a mask can make a person appear more attractive. The research was conducted by Cardiff University and found that both women and men were perceived as more attractive with a mask than without, The Guardian reported. Dr. Michael Lewis, a reader from Cardiff University, said that this is the opposite of what was observed before the coronavirus pandemic. “The results run counter to the pre-pandemic research where it was thought masks made people think about disease and the person should be avoided,” said Lewis. Some theories to this perception are that wearing a mask draws more attention to the eyes of the person wearing a mask. Additionally, the brain may fill in the facial expressions that are covered by the mask, the Guardian reported.
The Biden administration criticized China for canceling flights from the United States after a number of passengers tested positive for COVID-19, Reuters reported. The U.S. government warned that it could take action against the nation in response. “China’s actions are inconsistent with its obligations under the U.S.-China Air Transport Agreement. We are engaging with the (Chinese government) on this and we retain the right to take regulatory measures as appropriate,” a U.S. Transportation Department (USDOT) spokesperson said. China has largely shut its borders to international travel, allowing just 200 flights into the country a day, about 2% of its pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the omicron variant driving a spike in new cases in countries across the world, most countries are not seeing a subsequent rise in hospitalizations. However, the United States is seeing a record number of hospitalizations, so what is driving the difference? According to the BBC, the U.S. population might simply be a lot less healthy than Europe’s, with its residents having higher rates of hypertension and obesity. Professor David Larsen, an epidemiologist at Syracuse University, also added that unlike South Africa, which did not see a rise in hospitalizations, the U.S. is seeing its omicron wave during the winter. “Omicron’s surge through South Africa was during their summer, and it’s hitting us in winter when we know more people gather indoors and there’s more transmission…it’s going to be bad,” Larsen said. Other doctors attributed the difference to a greater hostility to vaccines and masks as well as uneven access to healthcare. “When all of that 'perfect storm' nature of vulnerabilities that are unique to the US combine, you’ve got an outbreak of the virus that can quickly lead from increased cases to increased hospitalizations, which tax the local hospitals and health community,” said Dr. Mark Cameron, an associate professor in the department of population and quantitative health sciences at Case Western University in Ohio.
A new study published in the journal Nature found that more than 1-in-3 white-tailed deer across Ohio have contracted COVID-19, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Researchers tested 360 deer in northeast Ohio during the first three months of 2021 and were able to identify three different variants of the virus. It is unclear how the virus was introduced to the deer population and how it is spreading throughout the population, according to researchers. “This really is the first study to come up with a significant proportion of a wildlife species where we’re actually finding the virus in them,” said Andrew Bowman, who was the senior author of the study. It is possible for humans to contract COVID-19 from an infected deer, so Bowman recommends that hunters take precautions when dressing a deer.
Scientists in Poland have discovered a gene that more than double’s the risk of a severe case of COVID-19, Bloomberg reported. The research, which was conducted by the Medical University of Bialystok, estimates the prevalence of the gene at 14% in Poland, compared to 9% in Europe and 27% in India. The research may partially explain higher death rates in Poland than in other European countries. The Health Ministry in Warsaw says it plans to use genetic tests in the future when it screens patients for COVID-19 infections. A genetic test “may help to better identify people who, in the event of an infection, may be at risk of an acute disease, even before the infection develops,” said Marcin Moniuszko, a professor who helped to lead the study.
Popular conservative radio host Glenn Beck has caught COVID-19 for the second time, and he says the virus is making its way into his lungs, The Hill reported. Beck said that he has had the virus for about a week and is generally feeling good, but that he is disturbed that his lungs are being impacted. “I’m on all the medications and treatments and everything else, so we’ll see,” Beck said. Earlier in the year, he had said he wouldn’t get vaccinated as he caught COVID-19 in April. Beck is taking treatments that are unapproved for treating COVID-19, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have recovered from a previous infection. “Those who do not get vaccinated after their recovery are more than 2 times as likely to get COVID-19 again than those who get fully vaccinated after their recovery,” the CDC said.
Google Trends, Schema Design and Axios worked together to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products that Americans are searching and shopping for since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic enters the third year, American shopping habits have included a high demand for tequila and sweatpants. Trends are broken into three different categories — Normal, Unusual and New Normal. New Normal indicates the search interest increased during the pandemic and still remains high, while unusual indicates the search interest increased during the pandemic but has since returned to normal. Searches for toilet paper, have been unusual since it spiked during the beginning of the pandemic, but has since cooled down. Americans were forced to find new activities to stay entertained while paying heed to CDC recommendations, which has landed ‘roller skates’ or ‘cocktail making’ into the ‘new normal’ category.
When parts of the Chinese city of Zhengzhou were abruptly placed under lockdown last Wednesday due to multiple local outbreaks of the coronavirus, one woman found herself stuck at her blind date’s house. The woman, identified by her surname Wang, told Shanghai-based outlet The Paper that the lockdown had commenced just after she had arrived in Zhengzou, as there had been an outbreak in her date’s community, and she couldn’t leave. She had prepared for a week-long trip to meet potential suitors. “I’m getting old now, my family introduced me to ten matches … The fifth date wanted to show off his cooking skills and invited me over to his house for dinner,” Wang said. However, Wang is likely to move on after the extended date, saying she’s looking for a more talkative partner, CBS News reported.
Active-duty law enforcement members died at the highest rates in nearly a century in 2021, with COVID-19 responsible for more than 65% of deaths recorded, NPR reported. Of the 458 officers who died last year, 301 fatalities were COVID-19-related, up from 182 COVID-19-related fatalities last year. “This year’s statistics demonstrate that America’s front-line law enforcement officers continue to battle the deadly effects of the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide,” the report, published by the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum (NLEOMF), reads. “Preliminary data shows that some 301 officer fatalities have been identified as caused by Covid this year, and this number appears to increase almost daily.” Despite COVID-19 being the greatest killer of law enforcement members, police departments and unions in many cities nationwide have pushed back against vaccine mandates.
The number of COVID-19 cases among immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers has sharply risen, up 520% since the start of the year, CBS News reported. There were just 285 active cases of COVID-19 among detainees on Jan. 3, a number that has risen to 1,766 immigrants with COVID-19 on Thursday. The increase in cases has prompted concerns over ICE’s efforts to vaccinate detainees. According to ICE data obtained by CBS News, more than 48,000 detainees have received at least one vaccine dose, but just 671 have received a booster shot despite the doses being available since late November. "Making vaccines available to detainees is essential but it must be coupled with effective education and counseling to overcome skepticism and confusion regarding COVID and vaccinations," Scott Allen, a specialist in the medical treatment of migrants in U.S. custody, told CBS News. About 5,000 detainees have health issues that place them at risk of severe illness or death if they catch COVID-19, according to government records.
Hundreds of thousands of Indians gathered for a holy bathe on the banks of the Ganges River despite a 30-fold increase in COVID-19 cases during the past month, Reuters reported. The Hindu worshippers believe that bathing in the river during the Jan. 14 Makarsankranti festival can wash away sins. Few who entered the rivers banks were wearing masks. "I can't breathe with a mask," said Ram Phal Tripathi, who plunged into the river with his family members. A group of doctors had asked the state high court to ban the festival, fearing that it would become a superspreader event, but their appeal was denied. On Friday, India reported more than 260,000 new COVID-19 cases.
The CDC late on Friday afternoon issued some updated guidance on its website surrounding the types of face masks Americans should wear to help keep the coronavirus at bay, NBC News reported. According to the newly updated guidance, the CDC suggested Americans "can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s," and added that previous concerns about supply shortages surrounding N95 masks are no longer an issue. The CDC does not recommend one type of mask over another, but acknowledged that "some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection than others, and some may be harder to tolerate or wear consistently than others." The agency also noted that choosing a respirator mask might make the most sense for some people in high-risk situations or those at an increased risk of suffering a severe case of COVID-19. "If they fit closely to the face, they can also provide you some protection from particles spread by others, including the virus that causes COVID-19," the new guidance says.
Treasury Department officials have told Arizona officials that it could withdraw some pandemic aid and withhold future payments if the state continues to use the money to undermine mask requirements in schools, The New York Times reported. The state was awarded $4.2 billion as part of a relief package last year, of which $2.1 billion has been received thus far. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced two programs last year that would undercut masking guidance, such as a $163 million dollar program giving grants to schools that follow Arizona state law, which prohibits masking. In a letter to the state, the Treasury Department warns that if the programs are not ceased or altered in 60 days, the government may work to recoup the money and delay a second installment of aid.
The Vietnamese are preparing for celebrations for the Lunar New Year, but COVID-19 rules are having an impact on the celebrations, AFP reported. At Vietnam’s “incense village,” strict coronavirus rules have hit local businesses hard. “The COVID preventative policy means trucks could not be moved so our products move slower,” said Nguyen Thi Luyen, an incense stick maker. Incense makers have seen their sales drop 30% from last year. “We hope things will return to normal soon,” Luyen said, adding that the people there have received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. For more on the incense village, watch the video below.
A pedestrian walks over Westminster Bridge in London, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. U.K. government advisers have recommended against giving a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to nursing home residents and people over 80 because data shows that a third shot offers lasting protection against admission to the hospital.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Nearly 100,000 new infections of COVID-19 were confirmed on Friday, sending the U.K.’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic over 15 million, the BBC reported. Daily cases are still well above the level experienced before the omicron variant was dominant, but down dramatically from earlier in January when the U.K. tallied over 200,000 cases in one day. As the number of daily infections trends downward, hospitalizations continue to tick upward. According to BBC figures, nearly 20,000 people are hospitalized due to the virus, just below the peak of the initial wave of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Current hospitalizations are also significantly lower than during the winter of 2021, when nearly 40,000 people were hospitalized.
The Australian government revoked the tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa for the second time, the latest challenge in the unvaccinated player’s bid to play in the Australian Open, The Associated Press reported. A judge had blocked the government’s previous attempt to cancel the player’s veto, but Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his ministerial discretion to cancel it again on public interest grounds. Djokovic lied on his immigration forms to get into the country, and broke isolation rules after testing positive in December. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to challenge the decision, but if their appeal fails, Djokovic will likely be banned from Australia for three years. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed Hawke’s decision publicly. “This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. ... Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said.
On Friday, Israel’s health ministry announced that over half a million people have received a fourth dose of a coronavirus vaccine, The Associated Press reported. Residents over 60 began receiving their fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine last month, becoming one of the first countries to administer a supplemental booster. There are currently 260,000 active cases of COVID-19 across Israel, but fewer than 300 people are hospitalized with serious complications, the AP said. “Thank you to the half a million Israelis who got the fourth dose of the COVID vaccine and in so doing, help to keep us all safer,” Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
The highly-contagious omicron variant continues to fuel near-record infections rates across the U.S. with another 786,468 cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University. This is above the seven-day average of around 783,000 cases, according to the latest data from the CDC. The record for the most cases reported one day stands just shy of 1.4 million, which was set earlier this week on Jan. 10. Despite the significant surge in cases, the daily virus-related death toll has remained steady with 1,673 fatalities reported on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. Watch the video below for more data on the coronavirus:
Active-duty law enforcement members died at the highest rates in nearly a century in 2021, with COVID-19 responsible for more than 65% of deaths recorded, NPR reported. Of the 458 officers who died last year, 301 fatalities were COVID-19-related, up from 182 COVID-19-related fatalities last year. “This year’s statistics demonstrate that America’s front-line law enforcement officers continue to battle the deadly effects of the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide,” the report, published by the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum (NLEOMF), reads. “Preliminary data shows that some 301 officer fatalities have been identified as caused by Covid this year, and this number appears to increase almost daily.” Despite COVID-19 being the greatest killer of law enforcement members, police departments and unions in many cities nationwide have pushed back against vaccine mandates.
Hungarians who want a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose will be able to get one after consulting with their doctor, Reuters reported. The country is expecting to see a rise in cases as the omicron variant continues to spread. "Anyone can get a fourth COVID-19 shot based on a consultation with a doctor, the (government) decree about this will be published this week," said Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas. The European Union’s drug regulator has not yet said a fourth dose is needed and has been publicly skeptical of that approach, though countries like Chile and Israel have started rolling them out. Hungary’s vaccination rate is behind most western European nations.
Starting next week, Britons who test positive for COVID-19 will only need to isolate for five days instead of seven, The Associated Press reported. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that the data shows two-thirds of those infected are no longer infectious after five days, meaning that they should be allowed to leave isolation on day six if they test negative twice. Javid also says that the data suggests that the rising number of hospitalizations in the country is starting to slow, with “encouraging signs” that cases were following in London and eastern areas of the country. Hospitals in the United Kingdom have not seen a rise in intensive care patients during the current wave of the pandemic.
The Netherlands, which has been largely locked down since mid-December, is set to ease its coronavirus restrictions on Friday despite an expected rise in cases driven by the omicron variant, Reuters reported. Non-essential stores, gyms and hairdressers, which have been closed since the lockdown began, will be allowed to reopen with capacity limits. In addition, students will be allowed to return to their colleges and universities. However, bars, restaurants, museums, and theaters will remain closed. Hospital admissions have improved across the country, but cases are expected to rise again once the lockdown is lifted. The government will formally announce the new rules on Friday.
Dr. Alexander-Scott has served as the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health since April 2015, but on Thursday, it was announced that she was stepping away from her role, The Associated Press reported. It is unclear why Alexander-Scott is resigning. “Dr. Alexander-Scott has been a steady, calm presence for Rhode Island as we’ve worked together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee after announcing that Alexander-Scott was resigning. “Her leadership has been crucial to our whole of government response.” According to the report from the AP, Alexander-Scott will continue to serve as the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health for two more weeks as officials search for a new person to fill the position.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing rules for large employers but did allow the federal government to mandate vaccines for more the 10 million health care workers, The Washington Post reported. The latter mandate only affects those medical staffers who work at hospitals and other facilities that received Medicare and Medicaid funding. The other mandate that was rejected would have impacted businesses with 100 or more employees and would have affected an estimated 84 million workers. The court’s conservative majority, in an unsigned opinion, said the administration likely didn’t have the unilateral power to impose a mandate that employers ensure their workers were vaccinated or tested every week for COVID-19. Three liberal justices dissented. “Today’s ruling protects our individual rights and states’ rights to pursue the solutions that work best for their citizens,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who led a coalition of Republican-leaning states that challenged the business rule.
After substantial pressure from the trucking lobby, Canada has reversed a requirement that all Canadian truckers entering the country be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, Reuters reported. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also faced pressure from the opposition party, which said the mandate could cause shortages, disrupt trade, and cause inflation to rise. With the new rules, Canadian truck drivers will be exempt from testing and quarantine procedures upon entering the country, though truckers from the United States will need to be vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance believed that the government mandate would have restricted travel for more than 10% of Canada’s truckers.
About 1,000 military medical personnel will be deployed to hospitals nationwide starting next week as hospitals face continued staffing shortages attributed to a massive influx of coronavirus cases, The Associated Press reported. The move is part of a new round of efforts by President Joe Biden's administration to ease disruptions nationwide, from staffing shortages at hospitals to grocery shortages to frequent impacts on air travel. “I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?” said Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.” More than 800 military personnel have been deployed since Thanksgiving, and more than 14,000 National Guard members have already been in the field assisting with vaccinations, testing, and patient care.
Of Delta’s 75,000 employees, 8,000 tested positive for COVID-19 over the past four weeks, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC. All the employees who tested positive had “no significant health issues,” Bastian said. A combination of winter storms and crews being out sick with COVID-19 led to more than 20,000 flights being cancelled industry-wide from Christmas Eve through the first week of January. Delta gives its staff five days of paid sick-leave if they test positive for COVID, with another two added on if they test positive on the fifth day of leave. However, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, tweeted that Delta is “is telling workers across work groups that they should come to work [with] symptoms even if someone in the household tested positive,” adding that workers were told to come in after five days, even if they are still testing positive. In response, Delta issued a cease-and-desist letter to the union.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' leading infectious disease expert, shared that he believes eradicating the virus that causes COVID-19 is impossible, meaning that the United States will need to learn to live with the virus, Bloomberg reported. Fauci said that elimination is only possible with “massive” vaccination drives such as the one that eliminated the measles virus, something that will not work with COVID-19. "Sooner or later, virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected,” Fauci said, adding that those fully vaccinated and boosted are very unlikely to fall severely ill. For more of Fauci’s statement, watch the video below.
A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks in front of a public awareness notice on the omicron coronavirus variant Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States will buy an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests and that the administration will provide high-quality masks free to all Americans, CNN reported. The purchase of more tests is in addition to another order, meaning that the government is now working to procure 1 billion COVID-19 tests. "I know we're all frustrated as we enter this new year -- the omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalizations," Biden said. "Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different.” Biden said that his administration will announce next week how the government will make high-quality masks available for free. “I know we all wish could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it, but they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmissible omicron variant."
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of a study comparing the delta variant to the omicron variant, and the results are promising. While omicron is more transmissible, it had a 53% lower risk of hospitalization and a 91% lower risk of death than the delta variant. The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, concluded that omicron infections had “substantially reduced risk of severe clinical endpoints and shorter durations of hospital stay.” However, health officials are still imploring people to get vaccinated and wear a face mask. “While less severe, #Omicron is much more transmissible & we are seeing the unprecedented impact,” said Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC. Walensky added that 99% of counties across the country are experiencing high community transmission due to omicron, which is straining healthcare systems.
Around 3 million people across the U.S. were tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday with 1-in-4 tests returning a positive result, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Another 786,000 infections and 1,777 virus-related fatalities were also reported across the country. With daily cases remaining near the pandemic high, the Centers for Disease Control predicts hospitalizations will continue to rise into early February due to the virus. Watch the video below for more information on the spread of the virus and vaccination efforts around the globe:
A study published in the Journal of Nature Products found that two compounds common in cannabis prevent the virus that causes the coronavirus from infecting human cells, Bloomberg reported. The chemicals bound to spike proteins on the virus, blocking a step key to the infection process. “These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” said Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, which conducted the study. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” he said in a statement. The study did not analyze the effects of cannabis on either the delta or omicron variants, though.
In an interview this week, former President Donald Trump criticized politicians who refuse to say if they have received a booster shot, NBC News reported. Trump, who has told his supporters to get vaccinated and who has said vaccines largely prevent hospitalization and death, has received a booster shot himself. “They don’t want to say it because they’re gutless,” Trump said. “You gotta say it, whether you had it or not. Say it. But the fact is that I think the vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world. I’ve had absolutely no side effects.” In a separate interview with NPR, Trump said that he did not support vaccine mandates, but that he strongly recommended people get vaccinated. About 75% of Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with 63% having received two doses. About 37% of Americans have received a booster shot.
Students walked out of several New York City schools on Tuesday protesting what some students called inadequate protections against COVID, The New York Times reported. The students who walked out also demanded a remote learning option until conditions in New York City’s schools improve testing and adopt better health-screening measures. Both Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have defended in-person education, arguing remote learning hurts students’ development. The head of New York City’s Department of Education, Chancellor David Banks, said on Twitter he would meet with the students who led the walkout. “The best decisions are made when everyone has a seat at the table—I’m inviting student leaders to meet with me so we can work together for safe and open schools,” Banks tweeted, though student leaders say they have not yet been reached out to.
Singapore has released new data suggesting that shots produced by Moderna and Pfizer are more effective at preventing deaths than the Chinese-developed vaccines, The Washington Post reported. Of the 802 people who died from COVID-19 in 2021 in Singapore, 555 were not fully vaccinated. When analyzing deaths per 100,000 people, the rate was 11 for those immunized with Sinovac and 7.8 for the Sinopharm vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines saw a death rate of 6.2 and 1 per 100,000, respectively. “These rates are only indicative since they do not account for other factors which can affect mortality, such as the age and timing of vaccination,” said Singapore’s Health Minister, Ong Ye Kung. Nearly half of the vaccines delivered worldwide are made in China.
One of Rhode Island’s largest teachers unions is advocating for districts to move online for at least a week, The Associated Press reported. According to National Education Association Rhode Island President Larry Purtill, the spread of omicron has made a return to classrooms “not healthy or safe.” Many schools nationwide are understaffed as the virus spreads. Still, the Rhode Island Department of Education is urging districts to keep educating students in-person. “The disruption to learning caused by the pandemic had a significant impact on student achievement and growth, and in-person learning provides access to critical academic and social-emotional supports,” the department said in a statement.
In the first six months of 2021, vaccines saved nearly 241,000 lives and prevented more than 1 million hospitalizations, NBC News reported. New research published in the journal JAMA Network Open found that the impact of the vaccines could have been even higher if high rates of vaccinations continued over the summer. “The messaging that we as a health care system provided to the public has been that this vaccine will be helpful to prevent you from getting sick and prevent you from dying,” said Dr. Sudhakar Venkata Nuti, an internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital “Looking back, what we said was true and we saved lives, reduced suffering and prevented another wave of COVID.” Nearly 208 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and experts say vaccination is even more important with omicron. “With omicron, the likelihood of you being exposed is higher than ever. Getting a vaccine and a booster shot would be the best thing you can do to prevent you and your loved ones from getting really sick,” Nuti said. To date, COVID has killed more than 835,000 Americans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising against travel to Canada due to a rise in the number of coronavirus cases there, as the seven-day average of new cases in the United States exceeds 700,000, Reuters reported. The CDC and State Department both elevated their travel risks in Canada to the highest possible level, strongly advising Americans to not travel there. About 80 countries are listed as “Do Not Travel” destinations by the CDC. Canada has seen its daily hospital admissions hit its highest levels since the start of the pandemic. In November, the U.S. lifted coronavirus-related restrictions on travel between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that had been imposed since March 2020.
In an Instagram post, tennis star Novak Djokovic admitted he had made mistakes on his immigration forms to Australia and admitted to meeting with a journalist while COVID-positive, the BBC reported. Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, has been in hot water following a long controversy of whether he should be allowed to play in the Australian Open. A judge has reinstated his visa, however, Australia’s immigration minister is reportedly mulling cancelling the star’s visa again. Australia's Border Force, the nation's immigration officials, also said they were investigating whether Djokovic had made a "false declaration" – which would mean his visa could be canceled.
Djokovic admitted to attending an interview with the French newspaper L’Equipe after testing positive, though he did socially distance and wear a mask for the entire time, according to the newspaper. In a statement to CNN, the International Tennis Writers Association said Djokovic’s actions were concerning. "As journalists, we take great care to adhere to all Covid-19 rules in place and we expect all players to do the same," said Simon Chambers, co-president of the group. Djokovic also said on his travel forms that he had not traveled in the two weeks prior to his arrival, but he in fact traveled to both Serbia and Spain before his flight to Australia. "My agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box," Djokovic wrote. "This was a human error and certainly not deliberate."
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has tested positive for the coronavirus for the second time, Al Jazeera reported. Obrador, who tested positive for the first time in early 2021, says he is currently experiencing only mild symptoms. “I inform you that I am infected with COVID-19 and although the symptoms are mild, I will remain in isolation and will only do office work and communicate virtually until I get through it,” he tweeted. The positive test result came just hours after an unmasked Obrador spoke to journalists without a mask while complaining about experiencing flu-like symptoms. The 68-year-old Mexican president had previously called the omicron variant “a little COVID,” citing lower hospital admissions and deaths in the country despite cases spiking.
As public schools struggle to keep their doors open with major staff shortages, some students are being kept home by anxious parents or are out sick themselves, The Wall Street Journal reported. A growing number of absent students complicates the situation for teachers, who risk leaving absent students behind if they continue with their lessons. “There’s never been anything like this,” said Arthur Goldstein, a teacher of 37 years at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, referring to low attendance at school. Less than 70% of students returned to school in New York City following winter break, with about 70% returning in Boston. “As a teacher, it really makes it hard because you’ve got to think about who has what content, who needs what content, what you need to do to make sure kids catch up,” said Heather Hill, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. In Rochester, New York, just 44% of students showed up to one high school the day after winter break, with schools in the city shifting to online learning three days later.
Canada’s second most populous province, Quebec is planning on forcing adults who refuse get the COVID-19 vaccine to pay a “health contribution,” Reuters reports. This move comes to spur a debate about individual rights and social responsibility. Premier Francois Legault told reporters those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons will be excluded and the details of the proposal are still being finalized. The provincial finance ministry is determining a “significant” amount of residents would be required to pay. While this tax could be justified in the context of a health emergency, McGill University medicine and health sciences professor Carolyn Ells said it would depend on the details included on whether it will survive a court challenge. Health experts are stressing the importance of getting the vaccine as well as the booster as the highly contagious omicron variant leads to an exponential rise in cases in Canada. About 50% of people in intensive care units for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Legault shared, “The vaccine is the key to fight the virus.”
After West Virginia Gov., Jim Justice, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, he described feeling “extremely unwell” while he is isolating at home, CNN reports. Justice, 70, is fully vaccinated and boosted and is experiencing moderate symptoms. Justice shares in a statement that he “woke up with congestion and a cough.” By Tuesday afternoon, he developed a high fever and his blood pressure and heart rate were “extremely elevated.” Everyone that the governor was in close contact with over the past few days is being notified. West Virginia First Lady, Cathy Justice, tested negative Tuesday evening, CNN reported.
Scientists in Britain are seeing signals that COVID-19’s omicron wave many have peaked in Britain and will soon peak in the United States, at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically, The Associated Press reports. After only a month and a half after the widely contagious omicron variant was first detected, it may be running out of people to infect. “It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle said. The University of Washington’s own highly influential model projects that the number of daily cases in the U.S. will fall sharply after reaching the crest of 1.2 million by Jan. 19, the AP reports. “There are still a lot people who will get infected as we descend the slope on the backside,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said. Experts warn that there is still a lot of uncertainty about the next phase of the pandemic because not every country will experience the same circumstances at the same time or pace.
Germany reported more than 80,000 infections on Wednesday, the most it has reported in a single day at any point during the pandemic, Reuters reported. Like other countries in Europe and around the world, Germany is battling a renewed surge of the virus attributed largely to the omicron variant. However, Germany has a lower vaccination rate than some other European nations, with just under 75% of the population having received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. More than 7.6 million Germans have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began and more than 110,000 have died.
President Joe Biden defended the government’s response to the pandemic on Tuesday when he told reporters that he was “confident we’re on the right track” to fight the pandemic, Reuters reported. According to a Reuters tally, the United States reported more than 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, which is the highest daily total for any country in the world since the start of the pandemic. The highly contagious omicron variant is estimated to account for 98.3% of total new cases circulating within the country as of Jan. 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This surge in cases has halted the return to school and offices, and has forced many Americans to cancel travel plans. “Most people are going to get COVID,” the Food and Drug Administration’s acting commissioner, Janet Woodcock, told a Senate committee hearing. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.” The first batch of the 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests ordered by Biden will go out later this month and Democratic and Republican senators at the hearing vowed to support the agencies and the fight ahead, according to a report from Reuters. “We might be cresting over that peak,” New York Gov., Kathy Hochul said Tuesday, sharing that the downward trajectory offered a “glimmer of hope.” Chicago’s seven-day average of cases showed indications of a decrease as well, dropping 8% since the week prior, Reuters reported.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted Wednesday to attending a “bring your own booze” lockdown party in the garden of his Downing Street residence during the height of the pandemic, as some critics call for his resignation, The Associated Press reported. In his speech in the House of Commons, Johnson apologized and said he thought the May 2020 gathering of staffers was a work event, a statement that was met with jeers from opposition lawmakers. At the time, all of Britain was under a strict lockdown imposed by Johnson to curb the spread of COVID-19. “I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility,” Johnson said. “With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.” Johnson dismissed demands that he resign but said he understood the rage people feel toward him and the government he leads “when they think the rules are not being properly followed.” They “have made extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months,” the prime minister said. He has ordered an investigation into allegations surrounding not only this party but other alleged gatherings of government officials while the country was under lockdown.
Some immunocompromised Americans will be eligible for a fourth dose of a coronavirus vaccine next week, The New York Times reported. Current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize a fourth dose for the immunocompromised six months after their third dose, and moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals were eligible to receive their third dose as early as Aug. 13. According to reporting from The New York Times, some immunocompromised people have already sought out fourth or even fifth doses of a coronavirus vaccine as omicron spreads rapidly across the nation. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said that the government is not yet focusing on the possibility of a fourth shot for the general public, but that it will examine data out of Israel where a fourth dose is being offered to high-risk groups. “We will be following our own data carefully as well, to see how these boosters are working in terms of waning effectiveness, not just for infection but, importantly, for severe disease,” she said.
Officials in Russia are warning of a new surge driven by the omicron variant, but no new restrictions have been announced thus far, The Associated Press reported. Russia has seen Europe’s highest death toll by far, and experts are warning that the country may soon see six-figure numbers of daily infections; infection numbers are currently below 20,000. Only 305 cases of omicron have been confirmed in Russia thus far, but Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has said that the country has seen cases of community spread, including in the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. “Within 7-10 days, I believe, we will be seeing a significant surge in infections,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. More than 10.6 million Russians have been infected with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, with 625,000 virus-linked deaths reported.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot disclosed Tuesday that she has tested positive for COVID-19, less than 24 hours after city leaders and teachers union officials reached a deal on new coronavirus rules for public schools, The Hill reported. Lightfoot said she is experiencing cold-like symptoms “but otherwise feel fine which I credit to being vaccinated and boosted.” She added that she would continue to work from home while following CDC isolation guidelines. Chicago has reported a slight drop in average daily cases, although hospitalizations are averaging 187 per day, an increase of 37% in the last week, according to health officials. The school agreement, which brings students and teachers back to the classrooms Wednesday, allows for remote learning if certain metrics are reached, including if 40% of students are quarantined or if 30% of staff members are absent due to COVID.
United Airlines’ CEO said about 3,000 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but noted that none of the infected workers who are vaccinated have been hospitalized. “In one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick,” CEO Scott Kirby wrote in a memo to employees, The Washington Post reported. Kirby emphasized that the airline’s vaccine mandate for staff is working despite the high rate of COVID among employees. He also revealed in Tuesday’s memo that prior to the mandate, which took effect in September, more than one United employee was dying from COVID-19 every week, on average, the Post said. In recent weeks, staffing shortages due to increasing omicron cases and bad winter weather have forced U.S. airlines to cancel thousands of flights, much to the frustration of many travelers.
While some scientists have expressed skepticism over the identification of a variant that has been dubbed “deltacron,” the development of hybrid strains is a real possibility, France 24 reported. Scientists on the island of Cyprus claimed to identify a new strain of the virus with omicron-like genetic signatures in a delta variant genome. But initial reactions from the international community have largely been skeptical, suggesting that the variant appears more like a “scariant,” or an unconfirmed variant causing panic worldwide. "The Cypriot 'deltacron' sequences reported by several large media outlets look to be quite clearly contamination," tweeted Tom Peacock, a virologist with the infectious diseases department at Imperial College London, arguing that the identification of the strain appears to be the result of lab error. Still, scientists like Christian Bréchot, the head of the Global Virus Network, are saying a recombination of different variants is a real possibility. “Once you have a high level of circulation of two variants, the likelihood of them recombining is significantly augmented,” Bréchot said. “So long as variants continue to thrive around the world, we will be at the mercy of this type of development.”
As labor shortages rise in the healthcare industry due to an increased number of infections, some health authorities are allowing some infected healthcare workers to stay on the job, The Associated Press reported. Hospitals in California, Rhode Island and Arizona have permitted symptom-free healthcare workers to work through their infections, while the latter two states are allowing workers to stay on the job if they are only mildly symptomatic. The United States is reporting more than 700,000 cases a day, on average. The United States is reporting more than 700,000 cases a day, on average, and is not the only country allowing infected workers to stay on the job: Last week, France announced healthcare workers with mild or no COVID symptoms can keep treating patients.
More Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point of the pandemic, The Guardian reported. More than 145,900 Americans were hospitalized with the virus on Monday; the previous high was 132,051, set in January 2021 as the country entered its first pandemic winter. The highly contagious omicron variant has spread rapidly across the country, with the seven-day average number of new cases skyrocketing to more than 700,000 a day, a figure which largely does not include results from at-home tests, of which there are shortages of around the country.
Students and teachers returned to the classroom in Chicago after city officials and teachers union leaders came to an agreement on how to run in-person instruction safely, U.S. News reported. The deal allows schools to flip to remote learning if 40% of students are quarantined, if 30% of staff members are absent due to COVID-19 or if substitute teacher usage does not reduce the absent staff rate below 25%. Additionally, 10% of students and staff will be randomly tested, if they opt into the testing program. “I’m glad that we’re hopefully putting this behind us and looking forward, but there does come a point where enough is enough – three work stoppages in three years?” Lightfoot said. “Of course people are frustrated. Why wouldn’t they be? I’m hopeful that this is the end, at least for this school year.” On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told the gathered reporters that the president wants to see schools open in Chicago and nationwide. “The mental health impacts on kids of not having schools open is very harsh and hard, and he does not want to see schools closed across the country,” she said. “There is no secret about that. That continues to be what he states.”
Tougher coronavirus restrictions are being imposed in cities across China as the country tries to control outbreaks of the omicron variant before the start of the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics, Reuters reported. In the city of Tianjin, 49 locally transmitted cases have been detected, leading the city of 14 million people to implement tough new controls, such as limiting who can leave the city. In the city of Anyang, 84 people have come down with the virus since Saturday, leading the government there to order the city’s 5.5 million residents to not leave home unless they are leaving to get a test or go to an essential job. "Facing omicron directly, we found the speed of transmission was really quite fast," said Zhang Ying, an official with Tianjin's disease control center. "Whether it is in terms of virus origin tracing or epidemiological investigations, the omicron variant has brought along unprecedentedly massive challenges and difficulties," she said.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday that his company is aiming to have a vaccine that targets the omicron variant, as well as other variants, ready by March. “We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk,”Bourla said on CNBC’s Squawk Box. However, while Bourla said that Pfizer will be producing the doses in case countries want them, he noted it was unclear if the vaccine targeting the variants was necessary or how exactly it would be used. The Hill highlighted that White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he did not see a need for an omicron-specific vaccine as the booster vaccine regimens work against omicron.
More than 7 million new cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 were reported in Europe over the weekend, The Associated Press reported. The rapid increase in omicron cases has led the World Health Organization to warn that there is a “closing window of opportunity” to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed. “Omicron moves faster and wider than any (previous) variant we have seen,” said WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge, urging countries to mandate indoor masking and to distribute booster doses to vulnerable populations. Kluge cited estimates from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics, which project that half of Western Europe will become infected with the coronavirus in the next within the two months.
Beginning Saturday, private health insurance providers in the United States will be required to cover the cost of eight at-home COVID-19 tests a month, The Associated Press reported. The policy provides for everyone in the household; for example, a family of four can get 32 at-home tests covered by their insurance. PCR tests and rapid tests administered by health providers will continue to be entirely covered by insurance. The government has faced criticism for a shortage of tests driven by the highly contagious and vaccine-resistant omicron variant. In response, the Biden administration has launched this policy and plans to launch a website later in the month to make 500 million at-home tests available by mail. “This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them.”
The CDC is set to recommend upgrades in its masking guidance for Americans, according to a report by The Washington Post. The agency is likely to soon begin recommending Americans mask up using either N95 masks or KN95 masks, which are much more protective than cloth masks and even standard surgical masks, the Post reported, citing an unnamed CDC official. “The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” the official said. “We know these masks provide better filtration.” According to ABC News, studies conducted prior to the emergence of the omicron variant show N95 and KN95 masks provide vastly increased protection over other types of masks provide. Cloth masks provide about 27 minutes of protection against coronavirus spread, while the aqua-colored surgical masks give about one hour of protection when two wearers both wore the same type of masks, studies have shown. N95 masks can provide up to 25 hours of protection, according to ABC News, which cited data from ACGIH.
Wendy Gould, R.N., inspects N95 masks that have been sanitized in a special trailer at Saint Louis University Hospital in St. Louis on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (Bill Greenblatt / UPI)
The vaccination effort in the U.S. continues full steam ahead, with an average of almost 1.8 million Americans receiving a shot each day and just shy of 208 million Americans now fully vaccinated, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections across the nation are piling up at a record pace, with new coronavirus cases soaring to an average of more than 750,000 per day over the last week, Johns Hopkins University statistics show. The spread of omicron is fueling a surge of cases around the world, with several other countries besides the U.S. reporting daily caseloads in the hundreds of thousands. For a closer look at the data, watch the video below.
Pope Francis strongly encouraged people to get vaccinated on Monday, calling it a “moral obligation,” NBC 5 Chicago reported. Francis had previously called getting vaccinated “an act of love,” calling it “suicidal” to refuse to get the jab. In his speech on Monday, Francis also denounced the use of “baseless information” to sway people not to get the jab. “Vaccines are not a magical means of healing, yet surely they represent, in addition to other treatments that need to be developed, the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease,” he added. Some Catholics, including some U.S. bishops and cardinals, say the use of vaccines is immoral due to research that used cells from aborted fetuses. However, the Vatican disagrees, and Francis has been vaccinated with a full course of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
Employees from Portland Pie Co. in Portland, Maine walked off the job Sunday in a protest steaming from the restaurants relaxed coronavirus safety protocols, the Washington Post reported. Workers accused the company for ignoring their request for improved health measures. “The company does not take Covid seriously,” one former worker wrote on Instagram, adding that the company failed to properly inform employees when at least five co-workers tested positive for the virus. Other concerns raised by employees were ignored by the company. Portland Pie Co. CEO Jeff Perkins said in an email that the company complies with state and federal health recommendations for restaurants and reinstated its requirement for all employees to be masked. Perkins said that if an employee tested positive, the restaurant conducts contract tracing and in September 2020 the Bangor location closed following a positive case, Bangor Daily News reported.
A small-scale study found that the body’s immune response against the common cold could offer some protection against COVID-19, the BBC reported. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that those who recently suffered from a cold, some of which are also coronaviruses, maintain some T-cells that help protect against COVID-19. Dr. Simon Clarke, a researcher at the University of Reading, cautioned that the study data should not be over-interpreted. “It seems unlikely that everyone who has died or had a more serious infection, has never had a cold caused by a coronavirus,” Clarke said, adding that “it could be a grave mistake to think that anyone who has recently had a cold is protected against Covid-19, as coronaviruses only account for 10-15% of colds." (edited)
Kids who have recovered from the coronavirus may have a vastly increased risk of developing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, The New York Times reported. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the finding, which found diabetes more likely to occur in kids following an infection, but the two data sets they examined showed vastly different results. In one data set, diabetes diagnoses increased 2.6-fold, in another, it was a comparatively smaller 30% increase. “Even a 30% increase is a big increase in risk,” said Dr. Sharon Saydah, a CDC researcher and lead author of the study, who believes that the differences are a result of how kids are classified as having COVID. “It’s really important for clinicians, pediatricians and parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, so they can get their kids diagnosed,” Dr. Saydah said. Common symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, unintentional weight loss and fatigue. Separate studies have found adults are at a heightened risk for diabetes after they have recovered from the virus.
European Union member states dropped their ban on flights to southern Africa, DW reported. Flights had been suspended in an attempt to prevent the spread of the omicron variant, which has spread globally despite many countries instituting flight bans. Flights had been banned from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe since Nov. 26. European citizens and residents were allowed to return to their home countries by plane during the flight ban.
With coronavirus cases skyrocketing in Chile, some residents in the country will soon be receiving a fourth vaccine injection. Two immunocompromised adults were the first to receive a fourth jab, ABC News reported. The program to give a fourth vaccine shot will run through Feb. 7 and is available for people over the age of 55 who had a third dose at least six months ago.
The country initially planned to start administering fourth shots in February, but climbing case totals in the neighboring countries of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru pushed nation officials to advance the timeline. Weeks ago, Israel became the first country in the world to approve a fourth vaccine dose for vulnerable citizens.
Hong Kong announced over the weekend that the city would be banning flights from eight countries for 12 days this month. According to Bloomberg, the city has been widely virus-free for the past seven months, but with the spread of omicron, has issued new protective guidances to keep out travelers from specific countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Individuals flying into the city who are infected will be quickly relocated to a hospital facility, which is already reaching capacity, Australian visitor Garry said. Staffing is also an issue, he added. For more of his experience, watch the video below.
United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tested positive for COVID-19, her office said on Sunday. “She is experiencing symptoms and recovering at home,” the statement, posted on Twitter, read. “The Congresswoman received her booster shot this Fall, and encourages everyone to get their booster and follow all CDC guidance.” According to the New York Post, Ocasio-Cortez was spotted in Florida without a mask last week while on vacation.
The popular congresswoman is the latest public figure to test positive, as popular television personalities Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, hosts of Today, tested positive in recent days as well. Kotb, however, returned to NBC’s studio on Monday following a pair of negative test results, UPI reported.
Elsewhere, U.S. representatives Sean Casten from Illinois and Michael McCaul from Texas tested positive over the weekend, while athletes such as tennis star Nick Kyrgios and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy both tested positive ahead of important competitions.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is moving forward with a vaccine mandate for international truckers, despite increasing pressure from critics who say the move will exacerbate driver shortages and drive up the price of goods imported from the U.S., Reuters reported. Canada will require all truckers entering the nation from the U.S. to show proof of vaccination, starting Saturday, Jan. 15. Canada’s border agency told Reuters that unvaccinated truck drivers who are not Canadian would be turned back at the border, and unvaccinated Canadian drivers would be required to quarantine for 14 days.
One of the main imports of concern are fruits and vegetables along with other fresh food that could expire rapidly, hence driving up their price. The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates the mandate could lead to 16,000, or 10%, of cross-border drivers to quit, and the government estimates 5% of drivers will be impacted, according to Reuters. Industry groups and opposition parties have largely protested to the vaccine mandate. Trucks had previously crossed the border freely when the border had been closed for 20 months since they had been considered essential to keep the supply chains moving.
A COVID-19 mutation appearing to be a combination of both the delta and omicron variants emerged at the University of Cyprus this past weekend. The mutations was dubbed ‘deltacron’ by biological sciences professor Leondios Kostrikis who said his team found 25 cases of the mutation earlier this month, CNBC reported.
However, global health experts are casting doubts over the variant validity. World Health Organization expert Dr. Krutika Kuppalli said on Twitter that deltacron was just a “lab contamination of omicron fragments in a delta specimen.”
“Okay people let’s make this a teachable moment, there is no such thing as #Deltacron (Just like there is no such thing as #Flurona),” Kuppalli tweeted. “#Omicron and #Delta did NOT form a super variant.”
Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic has won a legal battle that sets him up to play in the Australian Open, but the government is still threatening to cancel his veto and deport him, The Associated Press reported. Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly, who ordered Djokovic released from a Melbourne quarantine hotel, said that the tennis star, who believed he had been cleared by Australian officials to enter the country, had not been given enough time to speak to his legal team before he was forced into quarantine. Djokovic’s lawyers argued that since he has recently recovered from COVID-19, he did not need to be fully vaccinated against the virus; a full course of inoculation against the virus is a requirement to travel to Australia.
Still, the Australian government is not backing down from its threat to deport Djokovic. Australia’s immigration minister “will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation,” said government lawyer Christopher Tran. If the minister decides to cancel Djokovic’s veto, he would again face deportation and miss the tournament. Djokovic could also be barred from entering Australia for three years. Critics of the Australian government, including his family members, some fellow tennis players and his fans, have said the government has scapegoated Djokovic.
Data from Johns Hopkins University on Sunday showed that the United States recorded over 4.9 million cases in a seven-day stretch, the largest weekly spike ever recorded in the pandemic. The spread of the omicron variant has continued to run rampant in not just the U.S., but also the entire world, as nearly 17 million global cases were recorded in the past week. The rise in new cases also continues pushing the U.S. positivity ratio higher and higher, as it now sits above 28 percent. For more data on cases from around the world, watch the video below.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are rising across Alabama as the omicron strain spreads throughout the state. According to The Associated Press, 41% of tests conducted in the past week were positive for COVID-19, with around 1 in every 104 residents contracting the virus. Hospitals across Alabama are starting to see an influx of patients with statewide hospitalizations reaching 1,250 this week. Hospitalizations are higher than before the holidays but below the pandemic high of 3,355 set in September during a wave fueled by the delta variant. Health officials at UAB Health in Birmingham issued a statement earlier this week telling people to go elsewhere to receive a COVID-19 test and stay at home unless there is a true emergency, the AP reported.
A policy that will go into effect Feb. 14, 2022 states that people in Singapore will lose their fully vaccinated status after 270 days if they do not take the booster shot, CNBC reports. This comes after Singapore’s health ministry said in a press release that protection from the primary vaccinations wanes over time and becomes “substantially reduced six months after the last dose.” While about 87% of the population in Singapore has received two does, only 42% of the population has received a booster shot. The Ministry said that boosters increase protection against infection and severe illness from the omicron variant. People who opted for the non-mRNA vaccines will need to receive an mRNA shot as a booster to maintain a fully vaccinated status since there is currently no non-mRNA booster available to the public, CNBC reports.
Thailand’s government is instituting new restrictions following a jump in COVID-19 cases linked to the omicron variant, Reuters reported. The government will extend a suspension of its quarantine waiver program, which allows visitors to enter the country without quarantining as long as they stay in one location for seven days. “We can still make changes if the situation improves, but for now we have to learn more about omicron,” said Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the country’s COVID-19 task force. Officials are also limiting alcohol consumption in restaurants, Reuters reported. After 9 p.m. restaurants will no longer be able to serve alcoholic beverages in eight provinces. This includes around the Bangkok area. “Social drinking is the cause of the virus spread. Measures to restrict this will help curb the spread,” Taweesin said. More than 7,500 new cases were reported on Friday in Thailand.
With millions of people across Europe searching for coronavirus testing, the companies which make the tests are working at a rapid pace to meet the rising demand, The Associated Press reported. At NG Biotech, freshly packaged tests are produced about every second; the company’s workforce has expanded six-fold since the start of the pandemic. “It has been like a hurricane,” says Milovan Stankov-Pugès, the co-founder and CEO of the test-kit manufacturer. In France, children are being sent home from school with test kits, and long lines for tests are growing at the country’s supermarkets. “Under the legislation in France three or four years ago, it would have been inconceivable to distribute home tests to detect a virus,” said Stankov-Pugès. “In the face of necessity, everyone broke down the barriers and was pragmatic and arranged things so the easiest tools to use could also be used at home.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, Reuters reported. Nehammer is self-isolating and currently is asymptomatic. “There is no need to worry, I am fine and doing well,” Nehammer said. His infection likely occurred on Wednesday evening after he met with a member of his security team who later tested positive on Thursday. On Thursday, Nehammer announced new pandemic measures, pressing forward with plans to make vaccines mandatory in February.
British comedian James Corden, the host of CBS' The Late Late Show, announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19, UPI reported. “I’m fully vaccinated, boosted and because of this am fortunate enough to say I feel completely fine,” Corden wrote Thursday on Instagram. “Stay safe everyone.” His show will be off the air for “the next few days” as a result, he said. Corden is the latest in a string of talk-show hosts who have been recently diagnosed with the disease. On Tuesday, Seth Meyers, the host of NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, also revealed that he became infected with COVID-19 and was forced to cancel his show for the rest of the week, while The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon said he was recovering from the coronavirus this week as were Fallon’s two young daughters, according to The Washington Post.
To enter bars or restaurants in Germany, you now need more than just proof of being fully vaccinated, The Associated Press reported. On Friday, the German government announced tough new restrictions to battle the omicron variant, including requiring proof of having received a booster shoot or a negative test result to enter bars and restaurants. “Half the population will be boosted ... in a few days” said Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey, adding the new rules provide “an extra incentive to get boosters.” In Germany, proof of vaccination is needed to enter many nonessential shops, theaters and cinemas. As part of new measures introduced Friday, the government also shortened quarantine and isolation periods from 14 days to 10, something that can be reduced further to seven days provided one tests negative. The omicron variant is not yet dominant in Germany, accounting for 44.3% of cases in the nation; that figure is up from 15.8% last week.
Thousands of fruit trucks have been stranded at the Vietnam-China border for months after China tightened its rules on imported goods, AFP reported. Some truck drivers have been stuck at the border for more than a month, leaving their products to spoil. “I have been here for 40 days. My fruits are going to be rotten. I am so tired of this,” said a driver who identified himself only as Hai. Another food truck driver, Nguyen Van Nen, is carrying 32 tons of watermelon, but he is concerned that his food will soon spoil. “If I am lucky, I think I can get through after 10 days,” Nen said. The border between the two countries is not fully closed, but only about 100 trucks are passing through a border checkpoint each day. According to several local governments in China, traces of the coronavirus have been identified on fruits important from Vietnam.
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, one of many head coaches to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols since the start of the season, ESPN reported. Kidd tested positive Thursday night after the team traveled to Houston for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets. Kidd is the thirteenth head coach to test positive for COVID-19 since the season began; there are 30 teams in the NBA. The Mavericks have had 11 players enter the league’s health and safety protocols since the season began. Currently, just two players on the Mavericks are out with COVID-19.
State-run COVID-19 testing sites in Utah are adopting new guidelines this weekend due to the rising demand for tests. People that need to be tested at one of these sites will have to schedule an appointment ahead of time and may still have to wait up to four hours, the Utah Department of Health announced. The department is also changing the policy of who can get tested. “We can’t provide testing for people who need a test to attend events, or for people who need regular testing for their work,” the department of health said on Twitter. People that need proof of a negative test for these purposes will have to go to a non-state sponsored testing location. The state-run sites will also provide home testing kits if they are available.
Want to let your anger out on COVID? Well a Dutch project called “CarSmash” is letting locked-down residents of the Netherlands vent their pandemic frustrations by smashing a Peugeot 106 spray-painted with the words “F*** COVID” or another car, Reuters reported. Dutch bars, restaurants and most stores have been closed since mid-December to contain the coronavirus. Merlijn Boshuizen, who runs “CarSmash” near Amsterdam, told Reuters that clients begin by spray-painting “what’s present in their lives” onto their chosen vehicle. “The minute that they start wrecking the car, we ask them to close their eyes, to feel their feet on the floor, feel the power, every vein in your body, feel what you are doing, and in that way to try to get it out of your life.”
The White House is wrapping up plans with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 500 million free COVID-19 test kits to homes, The Hill reported. The Biden administration has reportedly signed at least one contract to purchase test kits and plans to launch a website where people can request the rapid-test kits, the first of which are expected to be shipped by mid-January. A formal announcement is expected to be made next week. Testing sites have been overwhelmed nationwide in recent weeks and rapid test kits have quickly sold out at retailers and online.
Hospitals are seeing a new type of disarray as the omicron variant surges across the United States, The Associated Press reported. Hospitals are seeing major staff shortages as healthcare workers members test positive and as patients arriving at the hospital for non-COVID reasons test positive for the virus. Hospitals have also been forced to deal with people showing up in hopes of getting tested for the virus. Still, patients are not as sick as in previous surges, with ICUs less full of coronavirus patients than in previous surges. Nevertheless, hospitals have been forced to scale back nonessential surgeries while National Guard troops have been called in to man testing sites in many states. “This is getting very tiring, and I’m being very polite in saying that,” said Dr. Robert Glasgow of University of Utah Health, where hundreds of workers have tested positive for the disease. In California, 36% of hospitals have reported major staffing shortages, with such shortages common across the country, leaving healthcare workers overburdened and stressed. “In the past, we didn’t have the vaccine, so it was us all hands together, all the support. But that support has kind of dwindled from the community, and people seem to be moving on without us,” said Rachel Chamberlin, a nurse at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
As rapid nasal test usage grows, some experts are concerned that the tests may have significant limitations on their usefulness, Axios reported. A study released Wednesday revealed that among 30 people who took a rapid nasal test and then a PCR test, four of them transmitted COVID-19 following a false negative result from the rapid test. “Based on viral load and transmissions confirmed through epidemiological investigation, most omicron cases were infectious for several days before being detectable by rapid antigen tests,” the study authors concluded. Anecdotally, several hospitals have seen similar results. “We have seen far too many people who are clinically ill who are in their third and fourth day of negative antigen tests but test positive by PCR,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the state will provide 1 million at-home coronavirus tests to Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, The Associated Press reported. Locations will be able to request additional kits as needed. “Our view on testing is if you are just young and healthy, you don’t need to be running out and getting tested every day,” DeSantis said, later adding that very few people are ending up on ventilators with the omicron variant. In fact, DeSantis says that most severely ill coronavirus patients in Florida hospitals have the delta variant. More than 60,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida on Wednesday.
Cases of what’s being called “flurona” are surfacing throughout the world as some people are testing positive for not just COVID-19 but the old-fashioned flu. In the U.S., Los Angeles reported its first case this week and cases have popped up in Houston and New York, according to media outlets. Doctors have been concerned about the potential impact of a “twindemic.” Flu and COVID-19 symptoms, particularly the omicron variant, overlap in many ways with respiratory difficulties, weakness, sniffles, so it’s hard to tell what you really have, according to Steven Berzan, the operations chief of 911 COVID Testing, which runs testing centers in the Los Angeles area. Health officials said the first known cases of flurona may have been in Israel, where two young pregnant women reportedly tested positive for both the coronavirus and flu, The Washington Post reported.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called out those spreading anti-vaccine information online, saying they are speaking “mumbo jumbo,” the BBC reported. More than 90% of U.K. citizens over the age of 12 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine despite the proliferation of anti-vaccine materials online. “What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing, and we've got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination,” Johnson said. “I think it’s time that I, the government, call them out on what they’re doing. It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.” Of the 17,000 patients in the hospital in the United Kingdom, about 30-40% have not received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Nursing homes are once again reporting widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 despite a majority of residents being vaccinated. According to The Associated Press, 192 of the 211 nursing homes in Mississippi are experiencing outbreaks. “The majority of the cases we’re seeing are brought in by the staff — the infected staff who may become infected outside of the setting and then bring it back to residents,” said Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist. Around 75% of staff and 88% of residents in nursing homes across the state are vaccinated, the AP said. While vaccinated seniors are still contracting COVID-19, Byers said that there has not been a significant increase in virus-related deaths compared to previous waves. “Any death is one too many, but we are encouraged by the fact that the residents are being protected by the vaccination and the boosters,” Byers said.
In an appearance on the Today show, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky predicted that the omicron wave has not yet reached its peak in the United States, Today reported. The country is already seeing a massive spike in new cases, with cases rising by 98% this week and hospitalizations rising by 68%. “We are still seeing those numbers rising and as you know the number of cases are rising faster than the number of hospitalizations and deaths, although we are not starting to see the numbers of hospitalizations rise as well,” Walensky said, adding that the hospitalizations are largely unvaccinated members of the community. While Walensky believes that the U.S. has not yet seen the peak of its latest surge, she noted that country’s like South Africa have seen sharp decrease in cases following the crest of their waves, which is something that could also happen in the U.S.