COVID Live Updates: Some Walgreens and CVS Stores Close as Staff Battle Omicron

Live Updates
  • As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, the Biden administration is enacting new measures to stop the spread of the virus.
  • The seven-day average of new daily cases in the U.S. is 782,766, up 33 percent from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • President Joe Biden announced the White House will obtain 500 million more at-home COVID tests. These tests will add to the previous 500 million the administration ordered. The national website for Americans to obtain the first batch of tests will launch next week.
  • Biden will also send six federal medical teams of over 120 military personnel to help COVID efforts in the six hardest hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and New Mexico.
  • High-quality masks will also soon be widely available to all Americans for free, Biden announced Thursday. He said it is our "patriotic duty" to wear masks.
  • In a blow to Biden, the Supreme Court blocked the administration's vaccine-or-test mandate for large private businesses. Republicans hailed the ruling as a victory while the president said he was "disappointed" but will continue to advocate for businesses to enact vaccine requirements in the workplace.
COVID-19 Testing Miami
Jordane Domain gets a COVID-19 test done by a healthcare worker on January 13, 2022 in North Miami, Florida. During the holiday surge people waited in a long line at the North Miami Senior High School site, but today people are able to walk in with little to no wait. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Walgreens and CVS battle Omicron surge

Two of the nation's largest retail pharmacy stores are closing some of its stores on weekends due to increase in positive COVID-19 cases among their staff.

"A small number of stores may temporarily close on one or both days of the weekend to help address acute staffing issues amidst the Omicron variant surge and a nationwide workforce shortage", a CVS spokesperson said.

A Walgreens spokeswoman said a vast majority of the chain's 9,000 U.S. stores are open their regular hours. "The ongoing labor shortage, combined with the surge of Covid-19 cases, has resulted in isolated instances in which we've had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores," she said.

Cruise ships no longer need to follow CDC guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) COVID-19 guidance will become optional for cruise ships beginning this weekend.

The CDC's extended conditional sail order will expire after Jan. 15 and transition to a voluntary program.

The CDC says it will work in coordination with "cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships."

The conditional sail order was extended in October 2021. The Jan. 15 expiration comes just weeks after outbreaks on dozens of cruise ships amid the Omicron surge.

During a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reported "a thirtyfold increase in cases on ships during this season because of omicron" over the last two weeks. However, she said the order would be allowed to expire.

"I think the conditional sail order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry," Walensky said.

Private insurance to cover cost of at-home test starting tomorrow

Starting Saturday, January 15, private insurance companies will be required to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests.

The Biden administration made the announcement Monday that consumers with private health insurance coverage will be able to get tests for free.

Insurance companies will cover eight at-home tests per person per month.

The White House is "strongly incentivizing" insurers to cover the cost of tests upfront so people can buy them directly at pharmacies or other retailers with no out-of-pocket payment. This eliminates the need for people to submit reimbursement claims.

New California workplace rules take effect

California's COVID-19 workplace rules took effect today with more requirements for employee testing and mask-wearing.

The new rules from Cal-OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health) come as California struggles to respond to a new wave of Omicron variant COVID-19 cases.

One of the biggest changes are with employees who have to get a COVID test after exposure in the workplace.

The Department of Industrial Relations said in a statement that employers are free to offer self-read, self-administered COVID-19 tests in addition to the testing which must be offered under the proposed regulation.

Missouri nursing home staff hit hard with COVID

Missouri nursing home staff are being hit hard with COVID-infections as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1,261 nursing home staff members have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Associated Press reports. The numbers surpass peaks from last Fall, of 981.

About 900 cases have been reported among residents, which is below the peak, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The CDC will update its recommendations for COVID practices in nursing homes in the 'near future,' CDC leaders announced during a Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) call Thursday.

The AP added nursing home staff in Missouri have the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with about two-thirds being vaccinated.

Chicago students stage walkout for better COVID safety measures

Students from throughout the Chicago Public School system staged a walkout Friday to protests the district's handling of COVID-19 safety protocols.

"Students have demanded for the safety of the people in our school communities," a student organizer said outside Percy Julian High School. The Tribe identified her as freshman Catlyn Savado.

"We know that this had not happened, and we know what keeps us safe," she said. "Only communities know what keeps communities safe. Only students know who know what keeps up safe."

This planned walkout comes after the district and the teacher's union agreed to return to in-person learning. Students are frustrated because they feel their voices were not heard during those talks.

Savado later told MSNBC the agreement reached is "the bear minimum."

"The fact that we even had to fight for safety within our schools, that's insane," she said. Student are asking for more testing, better masking and technology for when classes go remote.

After walking out of class, students and other protestors gathered outside the district headquarters in downtown Chicago for a rally.

The crowd chanted "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Lori Lightfoot's got to go!"

Biden Administration outlines detailed plan to begin distributing tests to Americans

The Biden administration plans to prioritize sending free at-home tests to high-risk communities that are being affected by the surge of the Omicron variant.

In addition to those efforts they will be launching a free call line for Americans who need additional assistance and those can't access the internet.

Free at-home tests available to order January 19

The first half of the one billion at-home rapid tests the Biden administration purchased will be available to order on January 19.

Starting next Wednesday, Americans can order free rapid tests online at COVIDtests.gov

The program will limit the number of tests to four per household, in order to ensure "broad access."

According to the White House, test will typically ship within seven to 12 days of ordering.

The Biden administration is partnering with the United States Postal Service to package and deliver the tests. All orders within the continental U.S. will be sent through First Class Package Service.

FDA holds off on recommending throat swabs for rapid tests

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests people continue swabbing their noses when using an at-home COVID-19 tests, despite the suggestion that throat swabs may better detect the Omicron variant.

There is evidence suggesting the Omicron variant appears in the throat before it shows up in the nose, leading some medical experts to argue throat swabs could be more accurate.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said the agency is researching how at-home tests perform with throat swabs. If the data supports the practice, the FDA may issue an authorization.

"We do know the tests are picking up on Omicron, but with less sensitivity," Woodcock said during a Senate Committee hearing Tuesday. "What we need to do is to see whether the throat swab could provide more sensitivity."

Currently, none of the at-home tests offered over the counter are designed for throat swabs.

Additionally, swabbing one's throat is not easy and could lead to more user error than a nasal swab.

"People should not use swabs that are designed as nasal swabs and try to swab their throat," Woodcock said. "They may stab themselves."

Study finds some could be contagious for more than 10 days

A new study from UK scientists suggests some who test positive for COVID-19 could be contagious for longer than 10 days.

Researchers at the University of Exeter conducted the study on a group of 176 people, all tested positive for the virus on standard PCR tests.

The study found 13 percent of patients, or about 1 in 10, had "clinically-relevant levels" of the virus after 10 days, meaning they could still be infectious.

"In some settings, such as people returning to care homes after illness, people continuing to be infectious after ten days could pose a serious public health risk," University of Exeter Medical School lead author Merlin Davies said.

"We may need to ensure people in those setting(s) have a negative active virus test to ensure people are no longer infectious. We now want to conduct larger trials to investigate this further."

The test used in the study only gives a positive result when the virus is active and potentially capable of ''onward transmission.''

In comparison, conventional PCR tests work by testing for the presence of viral fragments. The findings explain these tests can tell if an individual has recently had COVID-19 but cannot determine if the virus is still active or if the person is infectious.

Kansas school districts are increasing closures due to COVID

More Kansas school districts have closed and are warning of more closures due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 amongst school staff. The school district also sent a warning to parents to be ready for what could possibly come.

The Eudora, Desoto and Manhattan-Ogden districts closed Friday.

Eudora Superintendent Stu Moeckel stated, "Our current reality is that we simply do not have enough substitutes to appropriately maintain operations".

Biden to hold press conference next week

President Joe Biden will hold a formal press conference Wednesday, Jan. 19 at the White House, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced Friday.

The press conference is set for 4 p.m., on the eve of Biden's one year in office.

Biden will speak directly to the American people and take questions, Psaki added.

FEMA explains why administration is only sending limited military personnel

During a press briefing Friday, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswel explained why the administration is only sending 120 military personnel.

Criswel stated that regional admins communicate daily with states, and they need additional staffing for shortages.

She also said FEMA only gives resources to states, hospitals, schools, and public agencies. Criswel noted that they "don't participate in resources for the general public".

FEMA announces funding for hospital support staff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is directing funding to use National Guard troops to fill support roles at hospitals amid the Omicron surge.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell made the announcement during a White House press briefing Friday.

Criswell said with President Joe Biden's support, she is directing an expansion of the FEMA policy to, "permit funding to states who elect to use their national guard troops to fill these critical support roles in hospitals."

"As critical as our doctors and nurses are, countless other professionals keep our hospitals running. Patient transporters, food workers and cleaning staff are all at the heart of these health care facilities," Criswell said.

FEMA administrator to join Jen Psaki for press briefing

The White House will hold a press briefing Friday with a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki will be joined by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

The briefing is set to start at 11:45 a.m. ET and will be streamed on the White House website and YouTube channel.

Federal officials set to announce relief efforts for overwhelmed hospitals

During Friday's White House press briefing, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell is set to announce new steps from the Biden administration to help relieve staff shortages across the country.

This comes after President Biden announced on Thursday that his administration will be sending military medical teams to some of those hard-hit hospitals.

Data shows Omicron surge declining in NYC

Updated data shows signs the Omicron wave is starting to decline in New York City.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb shared two graphs Friday morning detailing COVID-19 trends in NYC.

The first shows a drastic drop in reported COVID-19 cases.

The second also shows a dip in daily emergency room visits, at the lowest levels since mid-December, and a significant drop in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul released the state's most updated data Thursday. It shows the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases are about 60,000 and hospitalizations are about 12,400 across New York.

WHO recommends new COVID treatments

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending two new drugs to treat COVID-19.

Baricitinib is an oral drug typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It is now "strongly recommended" for severe or critical COVID patients. WHO recommends that it is given with corticosteroids.

The monoclonal antibody drug sotrovimab is recommended to treat mild or moderate COVID-19 patients at high risk for hospitalizations, including the elderly, those who are immunocompromised or with underlying conditions and the unvaccinated. WHO conditionally recommends this drug after studies found it continues to work against the Omicron variant.

The WHO panel is also considering two other drugs to treat severe or critical COVID: ruxolitinib and tofacitinib.