Covid Live Updates: Cases Surge in Hawaii Amid Holiday Travel

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The Biden administration announced a new plan to combat COVID-19 as the Omicron variant spreads. Above, Merline Jimenez (L) administers a COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab to a person at a testing site located in the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid a surge in omicron variant cases on December 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cases surge in Hawaii amid holiday travel

Holiday travelers head to Hawaii, as COVID-19 infections climb across the state.

The Hawaii Department of Health reported about 1,500 new COVID-19 cases Thursday.

Cases have been steadily rising over the past week. One week ago, the state was reporting an average of 400 cases per day.

Travel requirements remain in place to visit Hawaii. Travelers must be fully vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before arrival, or face a 10-day quarantine.

Alaska airports to stop offering Covid tests

Alaska airports will no longer offer COVID-19 tests beginning in February 2022.

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the state is not renewing its contract for the tests, which ends January 31.

"After that time, all airport testing will be transitioning to other testing resources within each community," Alaska Health and Social Services wrote in a Facebook post.

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

The state ended its requirement for out-of-state travelers to take a COVID-19 test in April of 2021. The state health department still offers free COVID-19 vaccinations at participating airports.

18 workers fired in North Carolina under state mandate

Eighteen North Carolina state workers have been fired for refusing to comply with a state COVID-19 mandate.

This summer, Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order requiring state employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing, beginning December 17.

Among the 18 employees who lost their jobs, six worked in the Department of Health and Human Services, five in the Department of Public Safety, three in the Department of Transportation and four others worked in other cabinet-level agencies, AP reports.

"The vast, vast majority of them are in compliance with the executive order, and that means either being vaccinated or tested," Governor Cooper said during a news conference this week.

Times Square New Year's celebrations scaled back

New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square will be scaled back to ring in 2022, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

Viewing areas typically host about 58,000 people, only about 15,000 will be allowed this year for social distancing.

Attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. The event will be fully outdoors and entry will be pushed back to 3:00 PM.

"The City, in partnership with Times Square Alliance will continue to monitor the situation and take additional precautions and measures in the coming days if needed," the Mayor's office said in a statement.

Nearly 300 U.S. schools to resume 2022 with distance learning

Nearly 300 schools across the United States will stay closed and once again resume distance learning after the holiday break.

It includes at least four school districts in Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

The move comes as the Omicron variant quickly spreads and has been detected in all 50 states.

Districts hope it will be a temporary move.

Nearly 100 schools across more than a dozen states moved to remote learning for the remainder of 2021, according to an analysis by Newsweek.

20,000 new Covid cases reported in Florida

Days ahead of Christmas, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 20,194 new cases on Tuesday alone, the most since the beginning of September.

Tuesday's figures are also up 56% from the day prior, around 12,900 new cases were reported Monday.

According to the CDC, about 63 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated.

Masks again required at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando will once again require masks starting Christmas Eve.

The rule applies to all guests and team members, regardless of vaccination status, at every indoor public location.

On its website, Universal Orlando explains masks will be required inside "restaurants, shops, and indoor hotel public areas. Face coverings are also required at all attractions from the moment guests enter the queue to when they exit the experience."

The requirements take effect Friday, December 24. Proof of vaccination is not required.

Yale University to begin semester online

Yale University will delay the start of its spring semester amid a COVID-19 surge.

The spring semester will begin remotely a week later than previously scheduled on Jan. 25. In-person classes will start Feb. 7, officials said.

"A recent, worldwide surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the highly infectious omicron strain, has prompted us to raise alert levels on campus and adjust our plans to best protect our community," University President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel wrote in an email Wednesday.

Yale's spring break will also be shortened from two week to one. Spring break will now run from March 19 to March 28.

"Of course, the past months have been difficult for many of us, but we also displayed unmatched strength, kindness and ingenuity," Salovey and Strobel wrote. "We are grateful for your tremendous efforts. Together, we will continue to navigate through this extraordinary moment in history."

Makeup exams from the fall semester will be administered online the week of Jan. 18 for students who were not able to complete finals in December. Yale cancelled in-person exams on Dec. 18.

55 test positive on cruise ship, island stops cancelled

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship will not visit two islands, amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

55 crew members and guests on board the Odyssey of the Seas have tested positive for the virus, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson tells Newsweek.

"All of whom tested positive are fully vaccinated and mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic," Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

The ship departed December 18 on an 8-night cruise and will no longer visit Curacao or Aruba as planned.

Royal Caribbean requires pre-cruise testing for all guests and weekly testing of all crew members. In addition, all crew members and guests 12 and older must be vaccinated.

Britain officials say Omicron variant is less likely to cause hospitalization

According to the Associated Press, a public health agency in Britain stated preliminary data suggest that people with the omicron variant are between 50% and 70% less likely to need hospitalization than those with the delta strain of the coronavirus.

UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries said the analysis "shows an encouraging early signal that people who contract the omicron variant may be at a relatively lower risk of hospitalization than those who contract other variants."

"Cases are currently very high in the U.K., and even a relatively low proportion requiring hospitalization could result in a significant number of people becoming seriously ill", Harries added.

350 million doses shipped globally, at-home tests expected in January

The United States has shipped more than 350 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 110 countries around the world.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki shared the news during a press conference Thursday.

In addition, the Biden Administration has ordered 500 million at-home testing kits, that will be made available for free to Americans.

"We expect to get the first set of the 500 million (tests) in early January," Psaki said. "We expect that the rest will come in the weeks to follow."

She added the White House has been ''massively increasing'' its testing capacity and also has an "abundance" of masks at its disposal.

FDA says the benefits of antiviral pills outweigh potential risks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the benefits of the newly approved COVID-19 antiviral oral treatments outweigh any potential risks.

The FDA approved Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's molnupiravir for emergency use authorization this week.

Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said each pill is effective against the Omicron variant but comes with its own health risks.

"The known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks," Dr. Cavazzoni said during a press call Thursday.

Dr. John Farley, director of the Office of Infectious Diseases, said Paxlovid could interfere with other medications and should not be used if a patient has severe kidney or liver issues.

He added, however, that prescribing either drug also depends on availability of other COVID-19 treatments.

FDA says both COVID treatment pills are effective against Omicron

During a press briefing, U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated both approved at-home COVID treatment pills Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are effective against the Omicron variant.

The FDA also revealed that Pfizer's Paxlovid can interfere with taking other medications.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said, "As new variants of the virus continue to emerge, it is crucial to expand the country's arsenal of COVID-19 therapies using emergency use authorization, while continuing to generate additional data on their safety and effectiveness."

Air travel surpasses pre-pandemic levels Wednesday

The holiday travel rush continues across the country, despite the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 2 million travelers on Wednesday, compared to 1.9 million in 2019, pre-pandemic.

AAA predicts holiday travel will increase over 30% this holiday season, compared to 2020. More than 109 people are expected to travel 50 miles or more between December 23 and January 2, according to AAA.

Boris Johnson boasts about U.K. COVID testing capacity

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson boasted about the U.K.'s COVID-19 testing ability ahead of Christmas.

"We have the largest testing capacity in Europe, as you know, 400 million tests," he said. "We've done twice as many as France, four times as many as Germany."

He thanked the Royal Mail for sending out 70 million lateral flow tests last week, three times more boxes sent out than a month ago.

"You're going to distribute up to 200 million lateral flow tests in the next month, and that's the equivalent to three for every person," he said.

Johnson noted the "oncoming tidal wave of Omicron" is going to put even more pressure on testing capacity but assured that the U.K. will continue to help those who need it most.

Because of the testing, Johnson said the U.K. is able to keep track COVID-19 infections and "understand the disease as it develops to keep it under control."

FDA approves second at-home pill to help battle COVID

On Thursday U.S. Health officials authorized Merck's COVID-19 pill, known as Molnupiravir. It makes the second medication approved for at-home use to combat the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

According to the Associated Press, Merck's pill is for adults with early symptoms of COVID-19 who face the highest risks of hospitalization, including older people and those with conditions like obesity and heart disease.

Patients will be required to take four pills twice a day for five days.

The FDA stated, Molnupiravir, will have a warning against use during pregnancy. Women of childbearing age should use birth control during treatment and for a few days after while men should use birth control for at least three months after their final dose.

U.S. officials have made an agreement to purchase enough doses to treat up to 3.1 million people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval comes a day after the agency approved the first pill, called Paxlovid.

New York opened federal COVID testing sites in lieu of the Omicron surge

President Joe Biden stated he will add federal emergency testing sites around the country in announcement Tuesday.

"Before Christmas, the first several of these federal testing sites will be up and running in New York City".

The White House announced Wednesday in a tweet that the first of these sites opened in NYC, with more to open in the next week.

It's been one year since the first COVID vaccine was administered in the U.S.

Wednesday marks one year since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky credits the success of the vaccination program to "collaboration across government and with partners across medicine and public health."

Cleveland area hospitalized overwhelmed after recent Omicron surge

Cleveland area hospitals battling the recent surge in Covid patients placed a "Help" ad in the local newspaper.

According to CNN reports, the ad stated, "We need your help," read the bottom of the ad. "We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before.

"And the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated."

White House purchases 10 million treatments of antiviral pill

The Biden administration pre-purchased 10 million treatment courses of the Pfizer antiviral pill after it gained emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

About 265,000 treatment courses will be available in January, Jeff Zients said during Wednesday's White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.

He added that production takes about six to eight months and expects production to "ramp-up in the coming months." All 10 million treatment courses will be delivered by late summer, he said.

Zients said the pill treatment will reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

"We will be working with states to ensure those are being distributed equitably and fairly and that our hardest-hit communities are reached," the White House said in a statement.

READ MORE: White House Prepares to Distribute Millions of COVID Pills After FDA Gives Green Light

Covid cases up 25% across U.S. as Omicron spreads

The White House COVID-19 Response Team released new data Wednesday as the Omicron variant quickly spreads across the United States.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reported the 7-day average of daily new cases is up 25% from last week across the U.S., with nearly 149,300 new cases per day.

The 7-day average of new hospitalizations is about 7,800 per day. The 7-day average of daily new deaths has increased 3.5% from last week, currently about 1,200 per day.

The Omicron variant represents about 73% of cases in the U.S., but has dramatically increased in certain regions.

"In some areas of the country, Omicron has increased even further, accounting for an estimated 90% of cases in the Eastern Atlantic states, parts of Midwest, South and Northern Pacific states," Dr. Walensky said.

"This increase in Omicron proportion is what we anticipated and what we have been preparing for."

Health officials are concerned with people gathering during holidays amid Omicron surge

During a press briefing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated officials are not concerned with holiday travel, but the concern is what people gathering from seperate households do.

Walensky also encouraged getting a Covid test before gathering during the holidays.

"Consider gathering with family and friends who are also practicing similar, proper prevention measures."

World Health Organization says the Covid pandemic is coming to an end

The World Health Organization is concerned that Omicron won't be the last variant of the world pandemic.

Wednesday WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "2022 must be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

When Newsweek asked if the Omicron outbreak could be the start of the COVID-19 endemic, Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead, said we're still in the "middle of a pandemic."

FULL STORY: Omicron Likely Won't Be Last Variant of Concern, WHO Sees 'Long Transition' to Pandemic End

NFL considered canceling games due to COVID outbreaks

That National Football League discussed canceling games amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.

According to the Associated Press, the NFL considered canceling Washington, Cleveland and Los Angeles games because of COVID outbreaks on each team. Instead, the games were moved from the weekend to Monday and Tuesday.

The NFL Players Association is opposed to any cancellations. If the games were canceled, players would not have been paid based on the leagues COVID-19 protocols, NFLPA President JC Tretter said.

"Over 18 percent of our player population was at risk of not getting paid last week," Tretter said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "Our position was we need to make sure all games are played in order for our guys to get paid."

Tretter said the NFL's position last week was to cancel the games, but two player representatives told the AP that cancelation "was never the number one plan."

"Our goal has been to play the season as scheduled in a safe, responsible way," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the AP.

Biden tests negative for Covid, following possible exposure

President Joe Biden again tested negative for COVID-19 Wednesday morning, days after coming into contact with a staffer who later tested positive for the virus.

Friday, a staff member had spent about 30 minutes in proximity to the President on Air Force One.

"This staff member is fully vaccinated and boosted and tested negative prior to boarding as is required for everyone traveling with the President," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

That staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

President Biden received a PCR test on Monday and Wednesday, both results were negative.

The President is tested on a regular basis.

Omicron detected in all 50 U.S. states

The COVID Omicron variant has now been detected in all 50 states.

The variant was just reported for the first time in South Dakota Wednesday, according to a statement from the state. South Dakota is the final state in the U.S. to confirm a case of Omicron.

One case of the variant was identified in Minnehaha County in a male in his 20s, the state confirmed from the Public Health Laboratory in Pierre.

"The best way to protect yourself from severe disease with this variant is to get vaccinated," State Epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said. "We urge South Dakotans to monitor for symptoms and get tested as soon as they experience symptoms."

Biden extends pause on student loan payments

President Joe Biden announced he is extending the pause on federal student loan payments until May 1.

The President made the announcement Wednesday, citing the ongoing pandemic and subsequent economic impacts. Payments were set to resume February 1, 2022.

"We know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments," President Biden said in a statement.

"Meanwhile, the Department of Education will continue working with borrowers to ensure they have the support they need to transition smoothly back into repayment."

FULL STORY: Federal Student Loan Borrowers Get Another Payment Pause as Omicron Wallops U.S.

China placed 13 million residents on lock down restrictions after Omicron was detected

The northern Chinese city of Xi'an issued a strict stay home lockdown Wednesday for the city's 13 million residents.

Under the new lockdown rules imposed today only one household member will be allowed to go out of the house to purchase essential necessities. The authorities have also put restrictions on residents leaving the city.

This comes after the Omicron variant spread rapidly throughout much of the world.

China's National Health Commission (NHC) official Lei Zhenglong had initially warned that the country cannot "let its guard down" with the Omicron cases being detected.

FULL STORY: China Puts Entire City of 13 Million Under Lockdown Amid COVID Surge

D.C. announces indoor vaccine mandate

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a vaccine mandate for indoor spaces Wednesday.

The mandate goes into effect on January 15, 2022, for bars, nightclubs, restaurants, gyms and indoor entertainment venues.

By January 15, people aged 12 and older must have at least one does of the COVID-19 vaccine. Two doses are required by February 15.

FDA approves first antiviral pill to combat Covid

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the first antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The treatment, made by Pfizer, eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk patients infected with the coronavirus.

The antiviral Paxlovid includes 30 pills taken at home over five days, but it has to be started within a few days of symptoms.

Paxlovid has proven to cut the risk of hospital and death by 89 percent for adults at high risk of developing severe disease when it was given within three days of symptoms appearing.

FULL STORY: FDA Authorizes COVID-19 Treatment Pill From Pfizer Amid Omicron Surges

NBA postpones Brooklyn-Portland game due to COVID

The National Basketball League (NBA) postponed the Brooklyn-Portland game scheduled for Thursday due to COVID-19.

The league announced Wednesday that the Nets-Trail Blazers game would be pushed back because the Nets do not have the minimum eight players available to play. There are 10 Nets players in health and safety protocols, including Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

This is the eighth coronavirus postponement of the season and the third consecutive Nets game to be pushed back. Brooklyn's next possible game would be Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week the NBA has no plans to pause the season.

CDC urged to cut COVID positive isolation time in half

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being urged to reduce isolation time for someone who tests positive for Covid from ten days to five days.

President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday health officials are considering changes to the 10-day guidelines, according to reports.

FULL STORY: CDC Urged to Cut COVID Isolation Time in Half From 10 Days to Just Five Amid Omicron Surge

Amazon, pharmacies limit at-home test purchases

Amazon and pharmacies are limiting the number of at-home COVID-19 tests customers can buy as demand surges before the holidays.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC the company is experiencing inventory shortages on some tests due to increased demand. The company is working to secure additional tests from its selling partners, the spokesperson said.

Only 10 Amazon at-home PCR test kits are allowed per shopper. Tests from third-party vendors are also capped. Other vendors are responsible for setting their own purchase limits, the Amazon spokesperson said.

Walgreens and CVS Health said Tuesday they are also limiting the number of at-home tests customers can purchase both instore and online.

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