The end may be in sight for the unforgiving omicron surge.
The University of Washingtonâ€™s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts a peak in daily new infections within a few days, followed by a decline as steep as the ascent over the last six weeks. Daily deaths, now averaging about 1,700, also should decline rapidly under the institute’s model.
Dr. Ali Khan, chief medical officer at Oak Street Health, a national network of primary care centers specializing in vulnerable patients, says the omicron surge is finally leveling off.
“We are seeing plateaus and downturns in the northern markets that were first hit hard by omicron in mid-December â€“ Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York City â€“ so thatâ€™s a somewhat promising sign.”Â
But Khan said other markets, such asÂ Texas and Oklahoma,Â are really “in the thick of things.” A nationwide, sustained decline probably remains a couple of weeks away, he said.
Also in the news:
â–º The pandemic will be among the most pressing topics facing President Joe Biden at hisÂ news conference today, the eve of his one-year anniversary in office.
â–º British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, facing calls for his resignationÂ after a series of lockdown-flouting government parties, announced he was lifting mask mandates and most other coronavirus restrictions.
â–º Louis Thornton III, 63, of St. Petersburg,Â Florida, was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for fraudulently collecting over $800,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. Thornton submitted fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program loans on behalf of several defunct companies.
â–º A California man who punched two medical assistants at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Tustin and later groped a nurse has been charged with misdemeanor battery and resisting arrest, prosecutors in Orange County announced.Â Thomas Apollo, 44, had been asked to leave the Families Together clinic after he refused to wear a mask.
â–º AÂ group of parents in the Chesapeake Public Schools district sued new Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, arguing that his executive order allowing parents to opt their kids out of any school’s mask mandateÂ violates state law.
📈Â Today’s numbers:Â The U.S. has recorded more than 67Â million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 854,000 deaths,Â according toÂ Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 333 million cases and over 5.5Â million deaths. More than 209 million AmericansÂ â€“Â 63% â€“Â are fully vaccinated,Â according toÂ theÂ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘Â What we’re reading:Â The world’s 10 richest men doubled their wealth duringÂ the pandemic while 99% of incomes dropped, a new study says.
Supreme Court Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil GorsuchÂ pushed back Wednesday on reporting that the two are engagedÂ in a dispute over wearing masks in court amid the surging COVID-19 pandemic.Â In a joint statement released by the court, the two said news accounts of the dispute “surprised us” and described them as “false.”
Sotomayor isÂ at high-risk because ofÂ diabetes.Â Chief Justice John Roberts had asked the justices to wear masks in the courtroom, NPR reported. Gorsuch, who sits next to Sotomayor on the bench,Â has broken with the other eight justices in declining to wear a mask during oral arguments. Sotomayor hasÂ been taking part in arguments remotely from her chambers.Â
“While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” the two said in the statement.Â
The CEO of apparel-maker Carhartt is taking heat from conservatives on social media for requiring employees to get vaccinated despite the Supreme Court ruling that blocked the Biden administration’s plan to require companies to ensure their workers. CEO Mark Valade issued a memo to employees saying the company puts employee safety atop its priority list and that the ruling “doesn’t impact that core value.”
“Never ever buyÂ @CarharttÂ products again,” tweeted Sebastian Gorka, host of “The Gorka Reality Check,” to his 1.1 million Twitter followers.
Right-wing author Ashley St. Clair tweeted “Went from â€œBuy Carharttâ€ to â€œBye Carharttâ€ real quick!” and “stop supporting medical tyranny.”
Conservative radio host and former NRA spokeswomanÂ Dana Loesch chimed in: “Even though it doesnâ€™t prevent transmissions, as per the CDC? No recognition of natural immunity? This true,Â @Carhartt?”
But the plan had its supporters, too. Tweeted Georgia Democratic state Rep. Rebecca Mitchell: “Shoutout toÂ @CarharttÂ for prioritizing worker health in this way.”
Your taxpayer dollars are at work today combating the pandemic.Â The Biden administration is shipping 400 million N95 face masks out to pharmacies and other outlets for free distribution to the populace while also unveiling a website allowing every household to sign up for four free coronavirus tests.
The intensified effort to halt the most recent, omicron-fueled surge comes as hospitals struggle with spiking caseloads. And the seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 this week. That’s half the peak of a year ago â€“ but if unchecked would push the U.S. death total toÂ 900,000 just a month from now.
Those much-anticipatedÂ free coronavirus testsÂ are now available on a new federal government website.Â COVIDTests.govÂ has an “Order free at-home tests” button that brings users toÂ usps.com/covidtestsÂ to order four at-home free tests. The Postal Service will only send one set ofÂ four free at-home coronavirus tests to valid residential addresses, the site said.
Americans will be able to pick upÂ their masks at one of “tens of thousands” of pharmacies, thousands of community centers and other locations across the country beginning next week,Â according to a White House official.Â
â€“Â Joey Garrison, Kelly Tyko and Maureen Groppe
Novak Djokovic, barred from the Australian Open because he isn’t vaccinated,Â could find himself out of some other grand slam tournaments â€“ the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open â€“ as well. The French Sports Ministry said this week it would provide no exemptions from France’s new vaccine mandate for the tournament, which starts in May.
“The situation may change between now and then, and we hope that it will be more favorable,” the ministry statement said. “But clearly there’s no exemption.”
Djokovic is seeking his record 21st grand slam victory, and Wimbledon might be his best chance to compete. It starts in June, and Britain has allowed visiting athletes to enter the country unvaccinated. The U.S. Open has said it will follow U.S. government rules, which currently require vaccination to enter the country, although that could change by August.
The number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million â€“ actually marking a slowdown in the surge caused by the omicron variantâ€™s spread, according to the World Health Organization. That’s because confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by about 50% the week before last, and earlier this month, WHO reported the biggest single-week increase in cases of the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says is itÂ â€misleadingâ€ to consider the omicron variantÂ as causing mild disease, although studies have shown omicron is less likely to result in severe illness or hospitalization than its predecessors.
â€œWe are concerned about the impact omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems,â€ Tedros said.
Nearly 500 inmates at aÂ federal prisonÂ in Mississippi have tested positive forÂ COVID-19, currently the highest number of inmate cases among federal prisons nationwide, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The medium-security prison, with a population of 1,425,Â is part of a federal complex that also includes low and maximum-security facilities.Â Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal said as far back as April 2020 that theÂ Yazoo City siteÂ was a hot spot for coronavirus.Â The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the fall of 2020 to learn more about the bureau’s response to COVID-19 in federal jails and prisons, eventually obtaining emails from Yazoo City and other federal prisons.
“My concerns have not been resolved. We are critically understaffed. We are breaking policy to complete our mission. A case could be made that we are violating the constitutional rights of our inmate population,” one Yazoo City federal prison employee wrote, according to the ACLU.Â
Contributing: The Associated Press