President Joe Biden will address the American public Tuesday about the omicron variant as COVID-19 cases continue surging to record levels following the holidays.
Nearly 1 in 100 Americans have tested positive for the virus in just the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over 1 million cases were reported in the U.S. on Monday alone, although many of the cases were likely backlogged from the New Year’s weekend.
While the holidays have likely muddled daily COVID-19 case counts, the spike in coronavirus cases nationwide shows a clear trend of yet another wave of the virus – and it’s likely that not all cases are being reported from at-home tests. Just before the new year, Biden put $137 million toward expanding production of at-home tests.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with the White House COVID-19 Response Team. They’ll be briefed on resources being sent to states and local communities to help with staffing needs and hospital capacity, expanding access to COVID-19 treatments and the latest data on the omicron variant.
Also in the news:
► Pandemic-caused shortages of airline workers combined with a winter storm that hit the mid-Atlantic on Monday was again causing thousands of flight delays and cancellations Tuesday, according to FlightAware.
► Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is the latest lawmaker to test positive, posting on Twitter Monday that he is “asymptomatic and feel fine.”
► Access to many indoor public places across Chicago and much of Cook County requires proof of vaccination effective Monday. Some communities say they won’t enforce the mandate. Houses of worship are among exempt locations.
► New infections reported globally are up 83% over the previous week. The world is now reporting more than 11 million cases a week.
► Facebook barred Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from posting or commenting on the social media platform for 24 hours after sharing misinformation about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 56 million confirmed COVID-19 cases – or one for every six people in the country – and more than 827,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 292.6 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 205.8 million Americans – 62% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: In anticipation of steep challenges reopening schools amid an omicron-driven surge of COVID-19 infections, districts plan to ramp up coronavirus testing when classes resume in January. Leaders are still scrambling to work out the details – leaving big questions about safety and logistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated its recommendation for when many people can receive a booster shot, shortening the interval from 6 months to 5 months after the second shot for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the J&J vaccine (2 months) or the Moderna vaccine (6 months), has not changed. The CDC also is now recommending that moderately or severely immunocompromised 5–11-year-olds receive an additional primary dose of vaccine 28 days after their second shot. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized children aged 5-11. The recommendations follow similar decisions announced Monday by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Today’s recommendations allow for more people to get a boost of protection as we face #Omicron & ensure that vulnerable children can get an additional dose for protection against #COVID19,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tweeted.
A federal judge in Texas has issued a preliminary injunction banning the Pentagon from punishing 35 Navy Seals and sailors who refused to get vaccinated saying it violated their religious freedoms. The Pentagon has mandated vaccination for all active-duty troops. Thousands of military members have requested religious exemptions, but none have been granted. Judge Reed O’Connor, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the loss of religious liberties “outweighs any forthcoming harm” to the military.
“Our nation asks the men and women in our military to serve, suffer, and sacrifice,” O’Connor wrote. “But we do not ask them to lay aside their citizenry and give up the very rights they have sworn to protect.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who filed a brief in support of service members, called the decision “a big victory against Biden’s tyrannical COVID mandate that would undermine religious freedom and hurt our national security.”
The United States again has more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data shows. Hospitals on Monday reported 102,486 patients in hospital beds, up about 26% from a week earlier. About as many people are in hospital beds now as when the delta variant peaked in mostly southern states in September. The federal database shows about 142,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospital beds in January 2021.
Hospitals also said in the latest week they had admitted about 152,000 COVID-19 patients, up 46.5% from the previous week. About 19,000 COIVD-19 patients are in intensive-care beds, up 8.6% from the previous week.
Experts say the omicron variant sweeping the nation might be milder than earlier versions of the coronavirus, so a lower percentage of infected people could require hospitalization. But hospital beds are filling up because so many more people are getting infected than ever before.
Vaccination is key. The vaccination rate for adults 18 years and older from September through November was about nine times higher in unvaccinated people than those who were vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
– Mike Stucka
A state-run hospital in Rhode Island has declared a staffing crisis and notified employees with “mild symptoms” of the virus that causes COVID-19 that they can work. A memo obtained on Monday by The Providence Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, advised employees that “we have officially notified [the Rhode Island Department of Health] that we are in such a staffing situation.”
The memo went out on New Year’s Day, at a point when the Department of Health was publicly stating that no hospital in Rhode Island had declared the need to bring back infected employees.
“No, no facility has reported to us yet that they are in a position that requires COVID-19 positive healthcare providers to be working,” Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken told The Journal over the weekend. “If a facility does reach that point, that information would be posted publicly so patients and families would be aware,”
On Monday, Wendelken told The Journal that information was accurate then, but fluid.
Lynn Blais, president of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, representing more than 7,000 nurses and health professionals, said her union “is unequivocally opposed” to the state’s decision to allow COVID-19 positive health care workers to work.
“First and foremost, we believe that it’s critically important to ensure a healthy workforce in which healthcare workers are not spreading the virus to other workers and, more importantly, to at-risk patients who are susceptible to the most harmful effects of the virus,” she said.
– Katherine Gregg, The Providence Journal
A majority of schools opened in-person Monday for their spring semester start, but a growing number have shifted abruptly to remote learning again amid the omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 infections and subsequent staffing shortages.
Public and scientific sentiment is on the side of in-person learning, and parent groups nationwide called Monday for schools to stay open. But districts in and around Detroit, Atlanta, Newark, New Jersey and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as individual schools elsewhere, nonetheless reverted to virtual learning for days or weeks, mostly because of staff shortages due to illness or quarantine.
“We recognize there may be some bumps in the road, especially this upcoming week when superintendents, who are working really hard across the country, are getting calls saying that some of their schools may have 5 to 10% of their staff not available,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Fox News Sunday.
Some districts that aimed to increase rapid testing for COVID-19 as a layered mitigation tactic are also struggling to secure the necessary supplies.
“There definitely is a problem right now with testing supplies, and that certainly does impact mitigation,” Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said Monday. Read more here.
– Erin Richards, USA TODAY
Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in the coming weeks.
There is a difference between isolation and quarantine. Quarantine means keeping someone who was in close contact with someone who has COVID away from others. Isolation means keeping someone who is sick or tested positive for COVID-19 without symptoms away from others, even in their own home, according to the CDC.
If you are fully vaccinated you do not need to quarantine unless you have symptoms. But the CDC says isolating is a necessary step if you test positive whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and whether you have symptoms or feel fine.
The CDC in late December shortened the time it recommends people isolate, saying: “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.”
Contributing: The Associated Press