COVID Live Updates: Biden Warns of 'Pandemic of the Unvaccinated' As Omicron Chaos Continues

Live Updates
  • Nearly two million new COVID cases have been reported in the U.S. in the past 48 hours
  • Biden said "there's no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated" but told Americans not to panic about Omicron
  • Maryland has declared a 30-day state of emergency as COVID hospitalizations reach record numbers and worker absences rise
  • A teacher in New York has been arrested after allegedly vaccinating one of her students
  • Concerns about major staff shortages in healthcare, travel, and other critical sectors as Omicron sweeps the country
  • Thousands of flights continue to be canceled and delayed due to rising infections among crews

Live updates have now ended...

Macy's cuts U.S. opening hours due to COVID

The department store chain plans to keep to reduced hours until at least the rest of January in anticipation of a mass worker shortage due to rising infections.

Stores will now be open between 11am and 8pm (instead of 10am and 9pm) from Monday to Thursday - but the timings remain unchanged from Friday to Sunday.

Our store colleagues will continue to work their normal allocated hours. We will continue to monitor the situation and follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and jurisdictional guidelines.

It follows other businesses changing their policies due to Omicron, including Walmart, which on Monday said it had temporarily shut almost 60 stores in virus hotspots in December to sanitize the, and Apple, which closed all of it New York City stores to indoor shopping last month.

Liverpool v Arsenal game canceled after COVID outbreak

The first leg of Liverpool's Carabao Cup Semi-Final soccer match with Arsenal has been postponed due to COVID, the English Football League has announced.

Liverpool's training grounds were shut down earlier this morning due to a "growing number of suspected cases" on the team.

Former 'complete anti-vaxxer' tells people to get vaccinated after hospital scare

Saja Ali, from Manchester, England, who said she once described herself being a "complete anti-vaxxer", said in an interview with the Manchester Evening News that her views had changed following her experience with the disease and is now spending time raising awareness of the vaccination campaign.

The mother of three contracted the virus last year and became seriously ill.

I had not been jabbed. I was proper against it back then. For me, it was all because it was new. It was a new vaccine and I was hearing a lot of conspiracy theories. At the time my husband was also really against it. I did not think twice about not having a jab. Then I got COVID really, really bad.

FULL STORY: 'Complete Anti-Vaxxer' Urges People to Get Shots After COVID Left Her Bed-Bound

IN PICTURES: Thousands of cruise passengers stuck in Hong Kong

Around 2,500 passengers were told to stay onboard a cruise ship docked in the region through most of today and underwent testing for COVID, officials have now confirmed.

Health authorities said nine passengers were linked to an outbreak of the Omicron variant on the 'Spectrum of the Seas' ship and ordered it to turn back.

Guests on the "cruise to nowhere," which departed on Sunday, have been told they will receive a 25 percent refund on their fare. The ship's next voyage - scheduled for tomorrow, has been canceled while the crew are tested for the virus as well.

Liverpool's football training grounds closed due to COVID

The football club has been attempting to continue training and playing games despite growing COVID numbers on its team.

But a rising number of "suspected" cases is what has closed its large training facility this morning until further notice.

Novak Djokovic could be 'on the next plane home' over vaccine row - Australian PM

Scott Morrison has told the tennis star that he must provide "acceptable proof" that he is exempt from getting a COVID shot - required to enter Australia for the country's Open tournament.

Djokovic has repeatedly refused to say whether he has had a vaccine, leaving his participation in the event in doubt due to Australia's tough vaccination requirements. It could mean he is unable to defend his championship win last year.

The regional Victoria government has issued a mandate that all players, workers, and fans attending the Open must be fully vaccinated - unless they have a medical exemption as Djokovic claims he does.

Novak Djokovic in COVID vaccination row
Novak Djokovic's participation in the Australian Open in under threat due to a row over his COVID vaccination status Getty Images

Starmer to miss Prime Minister's Questions after positive COVID test

The British opposition leader, who has been forced into isolation for at least a week, will not go head to head with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this afternoon as expected.

It is the sixth time the politician has been made to self-isolate since March 2020. His deputy Angela Rayner - who is known for making fiery and sometimes controversial statements about her opponents - will take the reins instead today.

Starting at 12pm U.K. time (7am ET), Johnson is expected to face questions over the soaring number of Omicron cases in schools and the government's reluctance to introduce new COVID restrictions.

British opposition leader gets COVID twice

Sir Keir Starmer has been forced into isolation for at least a week after testing positive for the second time in just three months - a rare but increasingly common occurrence since Omicron began spreading rapidly around the U.K.

The country reported over 200,000 new infection yesterday alone - the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.

Navajo Nation reports 35 new COVID cases

The Native American territory, spanning nearly 30,000 miles over parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, is experiencing a spike in cases and confirmed yesterday that Omicron had entered its borders.

The reserve's total throughout the pandemic stands at 41,779 cases - including 87 delayed reported cases - and 1,590 deaths.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said the omicron variant was detected in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation this week and urged citizens to wear two masks in public "due to the higher transmissibility" of Omicron.

As reported by many health officials, the omicron variant is more contagious than the original strain of the virus and the delta variant. If you go into public places with large numbers of people, health officials recommend wearing two masks due to the higher transmissibility of the omicron variant. We need everyone's help to inform and protect our elders and those with underlying health conditions.

Navajo Nation reports sees first Omicron cases
A sign displays a message about staying safe from the coronavirus at the entrance to the East To'hajiilee housing community in New Mexico. Sam Wasson/Getty Images

French President wants to 'piss off' unvaccinated people

Emmanuel Macron has insisted that French people who continue to refuse to get COVID-19 vaccines are not acting like citizens and said he hoped to "hassle" those who were "irresponsible" into getting their shots.

A bill that would effectively strip the unvaccinated of the right to participate in most aspects of public life is currently being debated in the French parliament.

In an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper, he said he would like to see the law change so that unvaccinated people "will no longer be able to go to the restaurant" or participate in most day-to-day public activities.

You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema. When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.

Currently, parts of France have some of the strictest rules in Europe but are experiencing a harsh wave of Omicron COVID cases.

Hong Kong bans flights from U.S. and other countries

Fearing a fifth COVID wave in the territory, officials have just announced that incoming flights from the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the U.K. will be banned from Saturday until January 21.

Domestic restrictions have also been announced, with indoor dining banned after 6pm from Friday and swimming pools, sports centers, bars, clubs, museums, and other leisure venues forced to close for at least two weeks.

It comes after Hong Kong reported 38 new cases today - a high number for the region, which kept cases in single numbers for most of 2021.

WATCH: Is it possible to get Flu and COVID at the same time?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes. The illness - which carries mostly mild flu-like symptoms as both viruses are similar in nature - has been dubbed 'Flurona' and has been reported in a small number of people as the flu season picks up around the globe.

It came to light after a pregnant woman was hospitalized with a case in Israel last month. Watch Newsweek's explainer on 'Flurona' below:

'About a million people' isolating in U.K. today - minister

British health minister Gillian Keegan confirmed the staggering number just now, meaning that around one in 67 people are isolating in the country.

Similar to the U.S., Britain has been hit by widespread travel problems and many healthcare facilities have had to begin prioritizing emergency care due to staff shortages.

We don't actually collect that data on a daily basis, but it's obvious if you look at how many people tested positive yesterday, about 215,000, that they'll all be self-isolating and obviously from the previous days. So it's about a million people probably are self-isolating right now.

China confirms major drop in cases in lockdown city Xi'an

The National Health Commission earlier said there were just 35 new cases in the city reported in the past 24 hours - down from 95 the day before.

Xi'an went into lockdown after it saw more than 100 cases per day, which shook officials attempting a zero-COVID approach to the virus. A total of 1,600 cases were reported in the latest local surge but no deaths.

It is part of a strict approach being taken by the Chinese government ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning Feb 4, with officials determined to prevent COVID from disrupting the event.

People are being told to travel in and out of capital Beijing for essential purposes only and hotels have largely stopped taking new reservations. Meanwhile, athletes, officials, and reporters are being asked to enter an "anti-pandemic" bubble as soon as they arrive and stay in it until the games are over.

No fans from outside China are permitted to enter the games and most spectators are expected to be taken from schools, government offices, and the military rather than the general public.

U.S. reports almost 900,000 cases in 24 hours

A total of 885,541 new infections were recorded Tuesday - slightly down from yesterday's record of over one million. It is still extraordinarily high compared to last month, with the rolling seven-day average spiking from 481,000 to 583,000 in just a single day.

Hospitalizations are also spiking, with over 100,000 people now being treated with the virus - higher than the Delta peak seen last summer. Deaths are yet to increase significantly but there is always a delay of about two weeks from the spike in hospital admissions.

New York teacher arrested after allegedly vaccinated her own student

New York teacher arrested after allegedly vaccinated her own student
Police in Nassau County are claiming Laura Russo gave the 17-year-old boy a COVID shot - something which can be dangerous if done incorrectly and is usually administered by a medical professional.

The 54-year-old biology teacher was arrested on New Year's Eve after the student's furious parents called the cops following the incident. Officers said it is still unclear how she got hold of the COVID shot and that Russo could be landed with a four-year jail sentence if found guilty of unauthorized practice of a profession.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The average daily number of new COVID infections is soaring as nearly two million cases are recorded in 48 hours, causing widespread disruption to travel and healthcare as staff are forced to isolate with the virus.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog for all the latest updates...

Mexico tourists spot see rise in COVID cases

Officials in Mexico reported that Covid-19 infections are rapidly spreading throughout the country in high density tourist spots.

The Civil Service Social Security and Services Institute (ISSSTE) issued guidelines to the heads of general and regional hospitals and other medical centers on January 2 urging them to prepare themselves for a surge.

"Stemming from the constant increase in cases with mild and clinical ambulatory cases in the country in recent days, everything indicates that we are facing the fourth wave of Covid-19 in our country."

The CDC issues a travel advisory for people traveling Singapore

On Tuesday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a travel advisory warning against travel to Singapore, urging Americans to avoid travel to the Southeast Asian nation because the level of the disease there is "unknown."

In the advisory the CDC stated, "Because the current situation in Singapore is unknown, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants. If you must travel to Singapore, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel."

Psaki defends changing CDC guidelines

During a White House briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changing guidelines.

When asked if President Joe Biden thinks the CDC has been clear, Psaki said the CDC is giving recommendations "in real time"

"The CDC is offer its updated guidance in real time" in a "fast-moving and changing pandemic environment," Psaki said.

Psaki said the CDC made their latest COVID isolation recommendations "based on science." The decision to cut isolation time down from 10 days to five drew criticism and confusion.

"They [the CDC] are just continuing to asses every day, every week what information they can update on based on the science," Psaki said. "Sometimes that means changing recommendations, that means changing recommendations but that's what happens when you lead with the data and the science and not lead with a clear communications plan."

Psaki added that the White House's job is to provide clarity on CDC guidance whenever they can.

Jen Psaki says testing availability 'depends community to community'

When asked what people can do about long COVID testing lines and test shortages, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "it depends on the person."

She said people with insurance can go to doctors' offices to receive a test and uninsured people can go to community and rural health centers.

Psaki also pointed to the 20,000 free federal testing sites established in many cities and states as well as local community testing centers.

"It really depends community to community," she said, adding the federal government is looking to expand testing options.

Psaki also said she does not have an update on the shipment of 500 million at-home tests the White House promised to send out this month.

Seth Meyers tests positive for COVID, cancels shows

Comedian and talk show host Seth Meyers tested positive for COVID-19.

"The bad news is, I tested positive for COVID (thanks, 2022!) the good news is, I feel fine (thanks vaccines and boosters!)," Meyers announced on Twitter.

Meyers said the rest of the "Late Night with Seth Meyers" shows this week will be canceled.

"Tune in next Monday to see what cool location we will try and pass off as a studio," he said.

Chicago schools battles with teachers union over remote learning

Chicago schools will cancel classes if the teacher's union votes to switch to remote learning amid rising COVID-19 cases.

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership and members are set to end voting on COVID safety measures Tuesday evening. The union argues school safety measures are not strong enough considering the latest surge in cases and hospitalizations.

District officials previously said they will not return to virtual learning because of the devastating impact on children's learning and mental health and because schools are safe enough for in-person instruction. Students returned to class Monday after winter break.

District leaders call the push for remote learning a "walkout."

"If they do take a vote to do a walkout tomorrow, I have to cancel classes," Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said Tuesday. "I'm not closing the schools; the schools will be open. All staff will be welcome to come to school because we are going to have a plan for our families."

Biden administration doubles order for COVID pill treatment

President Joe Biden addressed the country before a briefing from his COVID-19 response team as cases continue to rise due to the "highly transmissible" Omicron variant.

Biden announced that his administration will double its order of Pfizer's COVID treatment pill from 10 million to 20 million treatment courses.

The pill, that was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), reduces the risk of hospitalization and death for high-risk people who contract COVID, Biden said.

The first treatment shipment went out on Christmas Eve, he said, and more are scheduled for this week.

"They are already saving lives," Biden said.

While it takes months to produce a pill, Biden assured the public that production "is in full swing" and will "ramp up" in the coming weeks.

Biden said the impact of the rising cases and Omicron variant depend on one's vaccination status.

He said people who receive a vaccine and booster are "highly protected" from serious affects of COVID. While the number of unvaccinated Americans has decreased, there are still 35 million people who are yet to get a jab, Biden said.

"There is no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated," he said. "This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

Biden also said Omicron is no worse for children than previous variants and he encourages parents to get their kids vaccinated and boosted, if eligible. He believes schools should remain open because "they have what they need" to keep students and staff safe.

President Biden will meet with White House Officials to discuss COVID surge

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team and public health officials at 2 p.m.

Biden is expected to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and getting boosters as the Omicron variant continues to cause a nationwide surge in COVID-19 infections.

Here's how to watch:

New COVID variant detected in France, health researchers say

French researchers in France have detected a new COVID variant named 'IHU'.

The new variant detected by researchers at the Marseille-based Mediterranee Infection University Hospital Institute stated the variant has 46 mutations and 37 deletions and is believed to have infected 12 people in the country.

This new variant comes just as the U.S. faces a surge in cases with the current dominating variant, Omicron.

Johnson says unvaccinated people are 'needlessly dying' as COVID hospitalizations climb

The British government is "confident" it will get through the pandemic as COVID-19 hospitalizations have surged in the United Kingdom.

During a press briefing Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there are 15,000 COVID patients in the hospital in England.

Johnson encourages people to wear masks in public, get vaccinated and boosted and avoid "unnecessary risks" in order to protect the National Health System (NHS).

Up to 90 percent of those in intensive care with COVID have not received a booster shot, Johnson said. Over 60 percent of those patients have not been vaccinated at all.

"People are dying needlessly because they haven't had their jabs and they haven't had that booster," Johnson said. He added that almost nine million eligible for boosters have not yet received one.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the booster provides around 88 percent overall protection against being hospitalized and "it is likely to be even greater than that for severe disease."

Whitty said he is not seeing a surge in mortality that occurred earlier in the pandemic, as the booster provides "very significant protection."

"I'm confident we can get through it," Johnson said.

U.K. will not face a new lockdown amid COVID surge, Boris Johnson says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the pandemic is not over yet.

"Anyone who thinks our battle with COVID is over is profoundly wrong," he said during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

Previous waves of the pandemic did not see a single day with more than 100,000 new COVID cases, Johnson said. But last week, "we had 200,000 people test positive."

Johnson said there will be no new COVID restrictions. He will recommend that his cabinet continues with their "balanced" Plan B approach and avoid another lockdown.

"We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our businesses once again," he said. "We can keep sour schools and businesses open and find a way to live with this virus."

Johnson did announce that 100,000 critical workers will be test daily to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Lateral flow COVID tests will be available in key sectors every day starting Jan. 10.

CDC estimates Omicron accounts for 95% of new COVID cases

The Omicron variant now accounts for 95 percent of new COVID-19 in the U.S., according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In one month, the prevalence of the Omicron variant has grown rapidly:

  • The variant accounted for only 0.6 percent of cases on Dec. 4, 2021
  • Omicron rose up to 8 percent of new cases on Dec. 11, 2021
  • It accounted for 37.9 percent of news cases on Dec. 18, 2021
  • Omicron surged to 77 percent of new cases on Dec. 25, 2021

On Jan. 1, 2022, the CDC estimates Omicron accounted for 95.4 percent of new COVID cases.

Judge rules DOD cannot punish unvaccinated service members

A federal judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) cannot punish a group of Navy SEALS and other special force members sought religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine.

"The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect," U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor wrote in a 26-page decision. "The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms."

O'Connor issued the initial injunction blocking the Navy and the DOD from enforcing the vaccine mandate. The case accused the Navy of having "distain for religious vaccine accommodations" while allowing "certain secular vaccine exemptions."

The Navy did not issue any religious exemptions to the vaccine rule, O'Connor said. The lawsuit alleged the Navy violated the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The service members said they have faced military discipline actions for refusing to get vaccinated. According to the case filing, over 99 percent of active Navy service members are vaccinated.

Maryland under state of emergency after 500% spike in COVID hospitalizations

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency in the state Tuesday after a 500 percent spike in COVID hospitalizations in the last few weeks.

Hogan said the surge in COVID cases is "overwhelming" hospitals operations and creating a "crisis" in the state. The state reached a record-high 3,057 COVID hospitalizations Tuesday. Hogan said COVID hospitalizations could exceed 5,000 in the coming weeks.

A new executive order gave the Maryland Health Department broadened power to regulate hospitals and allow additional medical staff, like nursing students, retired doctors, out-of-state health workers, to work in Maryland without normal state credentials.

Additionally, 1,000 National Guard soldiers were activated to support the state COVID response. They will be deployed to testing sites to help assist with patient transport, Hogan said.

Maryland is opening 20 new hospital-adjacent testing sites across the state to meet increasing demand for testing and prevent people from crowding hospital emergency rooms to get tested.

While the state will not issue a mask mandate, Hogan said he is encouraging businesses to implement their own mask requirements. He said a statewide mask mandate is difficult to enforce and is not effective.

Hogan also said "kids need to be in school" and does not support sending students home for virtual learning.

Biden and Harris to join White House COVID team briefing

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will join the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing Tuesday.

Biden and Harris will join the team to discuss the latest developments related to the Omicron variant.

The briefing is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET and will stream on the White House YouTube page.

CDC updates booster shot guidance

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its recommendation for booster shot timelines.

Following the authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC recommends shortening the interval between the second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from six months to five months.

The interval for the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines remain unchained.

The CDC also recommends immunocompromised children aged 5-to 11-years-olds receive an additional COVID vaccine dose after their seconds shot.

"Following the FDA's authorization, today's recommendations ensure people are able to get a boost of protection in the face of Omicron and increasing cases across the country and ensure that the most vulnerable children can get an additional dose to optimize protection against COVID-19," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

She added that the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will discuss boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds at Wednesday's meeting.

Boris Johnson to lead press conference later today

The British Prime Minister has been under increased pressure to introduce new restrictions as the number of COVID cases in the country soars out of control, leading to widespread disruption to vital services and public transit.

It is not yet known if he will announce new measures, with faith being firmly placed in the booster shot campaign instead of further restrictions - so far.

Maternity unit in Florida closes down due to staff shortages

Expectant mothers have been told by Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale to find another option this morning after a COVID outbreak among maternity unit staff meant there were not enough healthcare workers to safely look after patients.

Holy Cross spokeswoman Christine Walker said in a statement that the decision was "in the best interest of patient safety" and directed people to other nearby hospitals, including Memorial Healthcare System and Broward Health.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Post-Partum units at the hospital remain open, Walker said.

Hospital closes maternity unit due to COVID
Holy Cross Health in Florida has had to close its maternity unit due to staff shortages caused by COVID Jonny Louis/Getty Images

Almost 100 children hospitalized with COVID in Michigan

The record number - 96 - beats even the peak of the Delta wave last year (71) and comes amid an unprecedented number of infections in the state, likely due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the rise in cases coincided with "the beginning of the K-12 school year" followed by cold weather pushing people indoors.

All of that was our Delta wave and now we're being hit with Omicron on top of Delta. So how we got here, I think, was really people not complying with public health guidance. And we now have a more transmissible variant that is coming at a time that really couldn't be worse in Michigan. The weather is still cold, people are still gathering indoors and our hospitals are really struggling.

WATCH: Flu vs. COVID vs. common cold - what is the difference?

The difference in symptoms between the flu, common cold, and COVID can often get confusing, with all three viruses sharing similar attributes.

But how can you tell which is which? This video from Newsweek explains.

NPU slams school closures as Omicron triggers major staff shortages

The National Parents Union (NPU) - a network of parent organizations - and its president Keri Rodrigues have labeled the closure of schools at short notice due to COVID infection an "abomination".

Once again, parents are left scrambling at the last minute and, worse, far too many children are being deprived of an in-person learning experience, which is critical for their academic and social-emotional development.

Some schools have instead opted to extend their holiday break but Rodrigues said in the statement that this "could have and should have been avoided".

FULL STORY: Parents' Union Says School Closures, Return to Virtual Class is an 'Abomination'

Germany relaxes travel restrictions for nine countries

The country has reduced restrictions on travel from the U.K., South Africa, and seven other southern African countries that were imposed following the discovery of the Omicron variant.

The nine nations were removed from the list of 'virus variant areas', which restricts airlines and others from transporting German citizens and residents from countries on that list. Arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status, according to current rules.

Chinese citizens claim there are food shortages during lockdown

The city of Xi'an has been in a strict lockdown, with people unable to leave home for any reason, since December 23, with some questioning the claim by authorities that they can provide food, healthcare, and other necessities for the 13 million residents the restrictions affect.

Some citizens have described being unable to get crucial supplies and buy food online in recent days, reports the Associated Press.

"Can't leave the building and it's getting more and more difficult to buy food online," said one Xi'an resident, who posted on the social media platform Weibo under the name Mu Qingyuani Sayno.

Asked about the strictness of the measures, officials defended them as appropriate and necessary, citing the need to rapidly bring down cases ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics which is just one month away.

'The clock starts now': WHO director shares COVID New Years resolution

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has confirmed the official goal of vaccinating 70 percent of "people in every country" by the middle of this year.

WATCH: Who is now eligible for the Pfizer booster?

The FDA has been rapidly expanding the age range to which Pfizer can be offered, with many schoolchildren now eligible for their booster shot.

First Omicron case reported in Navajo Nation

The Native American reservation - covering over 27,000 square miles in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah - reported 10 new COVID infections yesterday, bringing its total to 41,657 so far.

Based on cases from the last two weeks of December, the Navajo Department of Health also issued an advisory for 42 native communities due to the "uncontrolled" spread of the virus.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said it was "not a time to panic" but said the territory must increase efforts to limit the spread of COVID among the Native American population and the wider U.S.

Health officials recommend wearing two masks in public due to how quickly the omicron variant has spread in other parts of the world. In many parts of the country, more and more health care workers are having to isolate due to the spread of the omicron variant.

Iowa District Doesn't Have Enough Bus Drivers to Take Kids to School

The Davenport Community School District confirmed it did not have enough drivers due to a "large number" reporting COVID-related illnesses and issues.

The state's Trinity Lutheran School and All Saints Catholic Schools also announced that classes were canceled Monday due to the shortage, which is expected to be seen in school districts across the country as the Omicron variant spreads.

The school district wrote in a Facebook post yesterday that it was "too large a number to adjust routes at short notice" meaning some schools would have to close until the issue is resolved.

FULL STORY: Iowa District Doesn't Have Enough Bus Drivers to Take Kids to School, Cancels Classes

COVID conspiracy theories spreading at 'troubling speed' - U.N. boss

Secretary-General António Guterres has urged social media users to "take time to verify" memes, blog posts, and other content about COVID before sharing it.

It is part of the United Nations' #PledgeToPause campaign to get people to stop and think about the content they are sharing and the impact it might have.

Fake news and less serious misleading content, such as memes dismissing COVID measures, have been blamed for a lack of willingness by some to follow public health measures.

Quarter of U.S. hospitals fear critical staff shortages within days

Data has shown that one in four healthcare facilities are expecting Omicron to trigger a wave of staff shortages that could leave patient care compromised, according to government data seen by Newsweek.

Of reporting hospitals, 1,180 out of 4,940 anticipate a critical staffing shortage within a week, out of 4,940 - a figure of 24 percent. Another 1,184 in the data didn't respond.

READ MORE: One in Four Hospitals Anticipating Critical Staff Shortages Within a Week

Over one million COVID cases reported in U.S. yesterday

A staggering 1,003,043 new infections were confirmed across states in the past 24 hours - another new record and nearly four times the previous day.

Omicron - established by scientists as far more contagious than previous variants - is thought to be responsible for the vast majority of new cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The country is following a pattern seen in South Africa, the U.K., and elsewhere, where the variant has taken hold rapidly in recent weeks.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

Workplaces and schools in the U.S. and across the world are struggling to get back to normal due to staff shortages caused by a surge in COVID infections after Christmas and New Year.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Tuesday for all the latest.

COVID cases rise in several states

COVID-19 cases continue to rise and reach record-highs in states across the U.S.

Kansas reported a record seven-day average of 3,134 new COVID cases, according to public health data. That is a 13 percent increase from the previous record the week of Nov. 18 2020.

In Arizona, the seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases has risen over the past two weeks to 5,051 cases per day on Jan. 1. That's up from 2,945 news cases per day on Dec. 18.

Iowa is experiencing a large surge in COVID cases as the new year begins. There were 17,773 confirmed cases in the past seven days, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Starbuck to require employees to get vaccinated or tested weekly

Starbuck workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

The requirement is in accordance with new federal mandates, the company said in an update sent to employees.

John Culver, Starbuck's Chief Operating Officer, told the company's approximately 220,000 U.S. employees that they must disclose their vaccine status by Jan. 10.

"This is an important step we can take to help more partners get vaccinated, limit the spread of Covid-19, and create choices that partners can own based on what's best for them," Culver wrote. "If vaccination rates rise and community spread slows, we will adapt accordingly. But if things get worse, we may have to consider additional measures. For now, my hope is that we will all do our part to protect one another."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently set a new date of Feb. 9 for large employers to require full vaccination of weekly COVID testing for workers.

New Jersey has most school closures in country due to COVID

More than 2,700 schools across the country remain closed after winter break as COVID cases climb.

There are 2,753 K-12 school districts closed the first week of 2022, according to a Burbio tracker, which actively monitors school closures nationally.

Most school closures involve shifting to one or two weeks of virtual learning.

"The closures that are occurring in January are due to COVID cases triggering shortages," Burbio co-founder Dennis Roche told Newsweek. "There is testing going on and as you know, there are very high percentages of COVID in certain parts of the country."

New Jersey has the most closures of any state.

Three school districts in the state—Camden City School District, Newark School District and Linden Public Schools—will move to virtual classes for the first two weeks of January while another six districts in New Jersey will be remote for just the first week.

FULL STORY: More Than 2,700 Schools Remain Closed First Week Back Due to Rising COVID Concerns

ICU beds down to single digits in parts of Illinois

Intensive care unit (ICU) bed availability is down to single digits in parts of Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations are higher now than they were last winter "when vaccines weren't yet widely available."

Coronavirus cases are expected to rise in the coming days after the holidays.

COVID-related hospitalizations reached 6,294 Sunday, the highest since the pandemic began, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. About 90 percent of hospitalized COVID patients are not fully vaccinated, an IDPH spokesperson told Chicago's WGNTV.

The governor said children entering the hospital with COVID has tripled since the beginning of December.

Pritzker said that across the state, there are regions where ICU bed availability, not only for COVID, but beds for car crashes, heart attacks and strokes, is "frighteningly limited" in just the single digits.

Florida schools will stay open, Gov. DeSantis says

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he will keep schools open as COVID cases surge in the state.

"Our schools will be open in the state of Florida," he said during a press briefing Monday. "Kids need to be in school, just let them be kids."

He said that closing schools and other COVID mitigations have not worked in curbing the spread of the virus.

DeSantis added that cities and states with "vaccine passports" and other mandates and restrictions are seeing "massive surges" in COVID cases.

Florida reported a record-breaking 75,900 new COVID cases on Dec. 31, according to Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Critics have attacked DeSantis for being "missing in action" recently as COVID cases climb in Florida.

Florida to 'unwind' COVID 'testing psychology'

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said Monday the state is working to "unwind" the COVID "testing psychology" the federal government has pushed over the last year.

He said the state will stop the idea of "planning one's life around testing."

"It's really time for people to be living to make the decisions they want regarding vaccination to enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity," Ladapo said.

Florida set a record for daily cases after it reported 75,900 new COVID cases on New Year's Eve, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). The state reported over 85,000 new cases over the weekend.

Schools issue safety measures to curb COVID spread

Schools across the U.S. and abroad are taking new measures to ensure students and staff are safe as they return to the classroom amid COVID-19 surges.

Los Angeles County, California

All employees at Los Angeles County public and private schools must wear surgical, KN95 or N95 masks in schools, the county announced.

"Cloth face coverings alone are no longer acceptable, as they do not provide the same level of source control or personal protection as a proper surgical mask or higher-level PPE," the order reads.

Students must wear masks in crowds outdoors. County officials also required COVID testing to return to school for those who were exposed to COVID.

Connecticut

Several school districts in Connecticut have delayed opening after the holiday break due to a surge in COVID cases.

Governor Ned Lamont said he would not support a return to remote learning and will send 500,000 rapid tests to schools over the next few days.

"The state of Connecticut does not consider remote learning as an alternative this year to in-school days, and any remote days for the district would need to be made up," West Hartford Superintendent Tom Moore said in a letter to parents. "We also do not have the staffing necessary to set up a large-scale remote learning school like we did last year."

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee Public Schools will begin virtual learning Tuesday after more staff tested positive for COVID.

"MPS was scheduled to resume in-person learning on January 4, 2022, but due to an influx of reported positive COVID-19 cases among district staff, this emergency safety measure is being implemented," the district said in a statement.

Wisconsin's largest school district plans to return to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 10. Testing will be available for students and staff throughout the district.

Ontario, Canada

Schools across Ontario, Canada will also move to remote learning due to increased COVID cases.

"I know online learning is not ideal," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday. "The fact is omicron spreads like wildfire."

Schools will be closed until at least Jan. 17, the government announced.

United Kingdom

Some secondary schools across the U.K. will require students to wear masks in school after the holiday break.

The British government promised to send ventilation units and COVID testing kits to schools to ensure they can reopen.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was not a fan of the mask mandate, but wants to curb the spread of the virus.

"We don't want to keep them [the mask mandates]. I don't like the idea of having face masks in [the] classroom any more than anybody else does, but we won't keep them on a day more than is necessary," Johnson said.

'Critical' staff shortages expected at 25% of U.S. hospitals

Around a quarter of U.S. hospitals are expecting 'critical' staff shortages as the Omicron variant continues to spread, according to federal data.

Among reporting hospitals, 1,180 out of 4,940 hospitals anticipate a critical staffing shortage within the week, according to data reviewed by Newsweek from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

States reporting the worst figures are: California (41%), West Virginia (47%), New Mexico (51%), Rhode Island (54%), and Vermont (62%).

To ease the burden, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced a new partnership between the New York State Department of Health and New York National Guard to train soldiers to become certified EMTs.

During a news conference Monday, Hochul said the first class has now started and 80 soldiers are set to complete training in one month.

'We're not in a good place,' COVID hospitalizations climb in New York

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul provided an update on COVID-19 efforts across the state following the holiday weekend.

"We're not in a good place," Gov. Hochul said during the press conference Monday. "This is the winter surge we predicted."

Hochul says hospitalization rates are climbing in New York; however, reiterated illness caused by the Omicron variant does not appear to be as severe as previous variants.

"We fully anticipate, on top of this surge that's already been ongoing, that there's going to be another wave that's occurring as a result of these holidays," Hochul cautioned.

Beginning Monday, eligible homeowners can apply for the $539 million Homeowner Assistance Fund. New York was the first state to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury to launch the program.

Testing and vaccination efforts are being expanded across the state, including new testing sites set to open at 10 SUNY campuses.

In addition, 3.78 million test kits arrived Sunday for use in schools. Hochul said keeping students learning in a classroom remains a top priority.

NYC mayor promises to keep schools open

Eric Adams, the newly sworn-in mayor of New York City, says he will keep schools open amid rising COVID-19 cases.

"The safest place for our children is in a school building and we are going to keep our schools open and ensure that our children are safe," Adams said Monday.

New schools chancellor David Banks said the city has a large pool of substitute teachers and administrative staffers ready if teachers call out sick with COVID.

"All indications are that we're in a pretty good place right now," Banks said.

Adams also noted he is a "believer in mandating testing."

"We're going to pivot. We're going to shift. We're going to adjust. We're going to get it done. That's the bottom line," Adams said.

New York City averaged 31,395 total COVID cases over the last seven days, according to city data Jan. 3.

READ MORE: New NYC Mayor Eric Adams Says Kids Safe at School Despite COVID Cases Doubling in 1 Week

FDA clarifies booster shot timeline for each COVID vaccine

During a press call Monday morning, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clarified its recommendation for the timeline of booster shots.

The FDA recommends a booster two months after the first Johnson & Johnson dose, six months after a second dose of the Moderna vaccine and five months after the second Pfizer dose, according to Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

Dr. Peter Marks said the FDA will make a determination on booster doses for children aged 5 to 11 "based on what we're seeing."

He said 25 percent of children in that group have been vaccinated.

"It would be great to get a larger percentage," Marks said.

Defense Secretary Austin tests positive for COVID

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tested positive for COVID-19 Monday morning.

He said he is fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms and is quarantining at home for the next five days, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Austin said he will attend virtually meetings and discussions this week and will ask Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks to represent him when appropriate.

His last interaction with President Joe Biden was on Dec. 21, more than a week before he began experiencing symptoms, Austin said in a tweet.

FDA approves booster for teens

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expands Pfizer's COVID-19 booster shots for children as young as 12 years old.

The agency also changed the booster interval between completion of the two-dose vaccination series.

The FDA now says people aged 12 and older can receive their Pfizer-BioNTech booster five months after their second shot.

A third dose was also authorized for certain immunocompromised children aged 5 to 11 years old. Fully vaccinated children aged 5 to 11 who are not immunocompromised do not need to be boosted at this time, the FDA said.

Peter Marks, the director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the decision came in response to COVID variants.

"Based on the FDA's assessment of currently available data, a booster dose of the currently authorized vaccines may help provide better protection against both the delta and omicron variants," Marks said in a statement. "In particular, the omicron variant appears to be slightly more resistant to the antibody levels produced in response to the primary series doses from the current vaccines."

FULL STORY: FDA Approves Pfizer's COVID Booster for Kids Ages 12 to 15