COVID Live Updates: How Does Omicron React to Vaccines, Monoclonal Antibodies?

Live Updates
  • President Joe Biden provided an update on the nation's COVID-19 response Thursday, including the deployment of six additional medical teams to six of the hardest hit states, purchasing an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests and a new website where Americans can order free COVID-19 tests
  • The U.S. will soon make high quality masks available to Americans for free, an announcement is expected next week
  • The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large workplaces Thursday
  • CDC predicts over 60,000 COVID deaths in the next few weeks
  • Hospitalizations reach record high and continue to soar as Oregon becomes the latest state to deploy national guard to assist hospitals
  • Vermont snaps 614 rapid at-home tests every minute as Biden administration begins rollout of free scheme
  • Elsewhere, tennis champion Novak Djokovic set to play at Australian Open but continues to wait for a COVID deportation decision from minister
SCOTUS, Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal of a woman who left the U.S. to join the Islamic State and tried to come back. Above, a view of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill on Jan. 7 in Washington, DC. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The live updates for this blog have ended.

How does Omicron react to vaccines, monoclonal antibodies?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided health care professionals an update on the latest data available on the Omicron variant during its Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) call Thursday.

Lauri Hicks, medical epidemiologist for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said the current authorized vaccines offer less protection against infection due to Omicron than previous variants, but still provide benefit.

The susceptibility to monoclonal antibodies appears to be lower for Omicron compared to Delta, with the exception of Sotrovimab, Hicks added.

She said data shows people who receive a booster have a much lower chance of reinfection from either Delta or Omicron.

Finally, the most updated data maintains the Omicron variant is more transmissible but causes less severe disease than previous strains.

The CDC will update its recommendations for COVID practices in nursing homes and general recommendations for healthcare personnel in the 'near future.'

The 7-day average of daily new cases across the U.S. is up 33% this week compared to last, at more than 782,000 cases per day, the CDC reported Thursday.

Health workers with COVID can work when 'absolutely necessary'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed its reduced COVID-19 quarantine and isolation recommendations for health care workers during a Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) call Thursday, which allows COVID-positive workers to return to their jobs in 'crisis' circumstances.

The latest CDC guidance released Dec. 23 allows health workers with COVID-19 to return to work after seven days with a negative test, if asymptomatic or with mild to moderate symptoms (with improving symptoms).

However, at the ''crisis'' level, the CDC does not recommend work restrictions for staff with COVID-19, meaning they can return to work while still infected.

Alexander Kallen, medical epidemiologist and outbreak response coordinator in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the CDC, explained the crisis level is intended for periods where critical shortages exist.

"These are definitely not routine strategies, and should be used when absolutely necessary," Kallen said during Thursday's call.

He added in those circumstances, workers should be willing and well enough to work.

The CDC shortened times in late Dec. to retain staffing levels ahead of an anticipated surge in cases.

During the call, CDC leaders explained the period of infectiousness, severity of illness caused by Omicron and vaccine effectiveness were also considered.

White House obtains more than half of 500 million COVID tests

The White House has obtained more than half of the 500 million COVID-19 tests it ordered.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said about 380 million tests have been procured,

The is no timeline yet for the distribution of the second 500 million tests President Biden announced will be purchased today.

Psaki said the current plan is to finish the first phase of the free testing rollout and then begin awarding contracts for the tests that will be ordered.

During the press briefing Thursday, Psaki said there are 300 million COVID tests happening across the country each month. Despite reports that testing is scarce, Psaki said recent polls show less than 10 percent of the public cannot find tests.

White House will continue to advocate for vaccine, testing mandates

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House will still advocate for vaccine and testing mandates in the workplace.

Psaki said Biden will continue to work with employers across the country to convey "very clearly" the benefit of vaccine or testing requirements. She said these mandates will incentivize employees to return to the workplace and ease concerns about safety during the pandemic.

She said Biden will continue to call on business leaders to join one third of Fortune 500 companies in enacting vaccine requirements "to protect their workers, customers, and communities."

Former President Donald Trump responds to Supreme Court's ruling Thursday

Former President Donald Trump issued a statement in response to the Supreme Court decision to block President Biden's vaccine mandate for businesses.

Trump stated, "The Supreme Court has spoken, confirming what we all knew: Biden's disastrous mandates are unconstitutional. Biden promised to shut down the virus, not the economy but he has failed miserably on both, and mandates would have further destroyed the economy. We are proud of the Supreme Court for not backing down. No mandates"!

Biden 'disappointed' in Supreme Court ruling

President Joe Biden said he is disappointment that the Supreme Court blocked his administration's vaccine-or-testing mandate.

"I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law," Biden said in a statement.

It is now up to states and individuals employers to make workplaces and business safe for employees and consumers during the pandemic, Biden said.

"The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans' health and economy," he said.

Biden did acknowledge the Court's decision to uphold vaccine requirements for healthcare workers "will save lives."

He said that the country would be experiencing more COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations had the administration not put vaccine requirements in place.

Republicans celebrate Supreme Court mandate ruling

Republicans are celebrating online after the Supreme court struck down the Biden administration's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large private companies.

The house Republicans Twitter account called this decision a "massive win for the American people."

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said this decision brought "sanity" back to the Supreme court.

"Maybe Biden admin will reconsider their harmful and pointless healthcare mandate in light of increasing breakthrough cases and severe worker shortages," he said in a tweet.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said this ruling is a victory for "the rule of law, federalism and the Constitution."

"South Carolina employers can breathe a little easier today knowing that President Biden and the Democrat's radical agenda and illegal OSHA mandate has been exposed and disposed," he said in a tweet.

Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert called the ruling a loss for the "Biden regime."

The Supreme Courts blocks Biden's vaccine mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large workplaces Thursday.

The mandate required that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees must get vaccinated or submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace. It also required unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors at work.

However, the court did allow the vaccine mandate for workers at federally funded health care facilities to take effect nationwide.

COVID treatments in short supply as demand surges

Coronavirus treatments are in short supply due to long manufacturing times.

Pfizer's Paxlovid pill and Merck's molnupiravir pill can help reduce hospitalizations and death in high-risk COVID patients. However, the drugs take months to produce.

Paxlovid takes six to eight months to manufacture and Pfizer said it can only supply 250,000 treatment courses by the end of January, according to the Associated Press. Half of the 20 million treatments the U.S. ordered won't be ready until June.

Molnupiravir, which health experts say is less effective than Paxlovid, takes six months to manufacture. Merck said 900,000 courses have been delivered and the rest of the 3 million U.S. orders will be shipped by the end of the month, AP reported.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden administration is working with Pfizer to help ramp up production in the coming weeks.

The surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations across the country put these treatments in high demand. The supply shortage is forcing some doctors to ration treatments for the highest-risk patients.

"January is going to be a terrible month with a million cases a day," University of North Carolina virologist Dr. Myron Cohen told the Associated Press. "Most people will do perfectly well, but we have to select out the people who won't and give them the drugs we have available."

Kentucky reports pandemic-high COVID numbers

Kentucky has hit some of its highest COVID numbers, since the pandemic began according to Governor Andy Beshear.

The state reported 11,232 new cases and a record-high 27.39 percent positivity rate on Wednesday.

"Our hospitals are becoming strained and we're seeing impacts in our schools and communities," Beshear said.

COVID patients account for 20 percent of inpatients beds in reporting hospitals in Kentucky, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Intensive care units are over 90 percent full, according to state data, with COVID patients taking up about about 31 percent of ICU beds.

Minneapolis schools shift to online learning amid staff shortages

Minneapolis Public Schools will move to remote learning for two weeks amid significant staffing shortages due to COVID-19.

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff announced the decision Wednesday, after roughly 400 teachers called out on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We were only able to fill about 45% of those absences," Graff said during a press conference Wednesday, adding about 200 absences are typical this time of year.

He said many were out sick or caring for a sick family member.

"This has made it extremely, extremely difficult for us to keep up with the staffing needs and it really has severely compromised our ability to provide high quality in-person instruction to our students," Graff said.

Online learning will begin Friday, Jan. 14, with in-person learning set to resume on Monday, Jan 31.

Thousands of Delta employees test positive for COVID causing many cancellations

Delta Air Lines had roughly 8,000 employees test positive for COVID-19 during the past four weeks, leading to thousands of canceled flights throughout the holiday season until now.

Delta's CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview, "I don't think we're going to see a pickup in bookings or travel during January and probably the first part of February, it's always the weakest part of the year, and it's going to be that much weaker because of omicron. We need confidence in travel returning once the virus recedes."

Governors respond to more federal medical help on the way

President Joe Biden spoke about federal efforts to help short-staffed hospitals across the country amid the latest surge of COVID-19 Thursday, including the deployment of an additional six teams to six states.

"Like all healthcare workers, they are heroes and I'm grateful for what they do," Biden said during his remarks Thursday.

The six hard-hit states include Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said the support will ''alleviate pressure on staff.''

"Thank you, @POTUS for recognizing the crucial need in Rhode Island and stepping up to ensure we were included as 1 of 6 states receiving this vital medical staffing support," McKee tweeted Thursday.

Teams will also deploy to New Mexico. Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state hit another record high number of cases.

These six additional teams are the latest deployment to aid health care workers.

"Since Thanksgiving, over 800 military and other federal emergency personnel have been deployed to 24 states, tribes and territories, including over 350 military doctors, nurses and medics," Biden said Thursday.

"This is on top of more than 14,000 national guard members that are activated in 49 states."

Biden encourages Americans to get vaccinated

In a press briefing Thursday, President Biden gave an update on COVID-19 in the U.S.

Biden stated that unvaccinated people are 17 times more likely to get hospitalized compared to those who are vaccinated.

He also noted that those who are unvaccinated and vaccinated are testing positive, "but what happens after that could not be more different", Biden said.

The president also encouraged people to get vaccinated. "To determine your outcome in this pandemic, get vaccinated". "If you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it, personal choice impacts us all", Biden stated.

Biden makes plea to end misinformation about COVID

President Biden said he made a "special appeal" to social media companies and media outlets to curb misinformation circulating about COVID-19.

"Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that's on your shows," he said. "It has to stop."

He said Americans have to work together, "not against each other," to combat COVID.

"We're America, we can do this," Biden added.

High quality masks available for free soon

Next week, the federal government will announce its plans to make high quality masks available to the American people for free, President Joe Biden said during Thursday's remarks.

Biden urged everyone to continue wearing a mask indoors and in public places, acknowledging it's a "pain in the neck."

"Please wear a mask," Biden said. "I think it's part of your patriotic duty."

He added about one third of Americans report they do not wear a mask at all. He reiterated the latest suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that any well-fitting mask is better than no mask at all.

"I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it. But they're a really important tool to stop the spread," Biden said.

Biden to send six medical teams to hardest hit states

In addition to purchasing 500 million more COVID tests, the Biden administration will send federal medical personnel to help manage the virus surge across the U.S.

President Biden announced he will send six additional teams of over 120 military medical personnel to the hardest hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and New Mexico.

New national website to launch next week

President Joe Biden outlined the next steps the U.S. is taking to fight the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday.

Next week, the federal government will roll out a new website where Americans can order free COVID-19 tests to be shipped directly to homes.

Biden is directing his team Thursday to secure an additional 500 million more tests, which will also be distributed for free.

Biden said national testing efforts have drastically improved in recent months, saying this month, the U.S. is on track to test about 15 million Americans per day.

Biden to announce purchase of additional 500 million COVID tests

President Biden is expected to announce that the administration will acquire an additional 500 million COVID-19 test.

These tests will be purchased to meet future demand as COVID cases surge, according to a White House official. The new tests will add to the previously announced 500 million tests the Biden administration bought.

How to watch Biden's COVID update

President Joe Biden is set to deliver an update on his administration's efforts to combat the latest COVID-19 surge.

The remarks will be live stream on the White House website and YouTube page at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Biden expected to send federal troops to several states in COVID address this morning

The President will be joined by FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at around 10.30am ET.

He is expected to announce that a number of FEMA staff and National Guard troops will be deployed to six states including Michigan, New York, and Ohio, to assist at hospitals overwhelmed by COVID patients.

The National Guard has been deployed in several states already as many districts struggle to cope with record demand for emergency healthcare.

French teachers go on strike over pandemic treatment

Less than two weeks after the winter term started, French teachers are out on strike over working conditions and widespread disruption to classes affected by virus outbreaks.

Thousands walked out today after new infections topped over 350,000 a day and changes to the virus rules, they claim, are unclear.

The education ministry in the country counted 50,000 new COVID cases among students in "recent days" and over 10,000 classes shut down, with the situation only expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

Since January 6, authorities have already imposed two changes to the rules on testing schoolchildren, prompting around half of French schools to close today and around 75 percent of teachers marching on the streets.

Vaccination in pregnant people 'extraordinarily low' despite CDC push

The U.S. saw an alarming rise in the number of unvaccinated expectant mothers hospitalized with COVID last month, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month to push for all pregnant people to get vaccinated.

But almost two months later, vaccination rates in pregnant people remain "extraordinarily low," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has told reporters.

Only around 32 percent of pregnant people are fully vaccinated, with Black pregnant people having the lowest vaccination rate - around 16 percent.

The figures have now prompted an urgent advisory from the CDC for pregnant people and those who have recently given birth to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

FULL STORY: Majority of Pregnant People Refuse to Get Vaccinated, Despite CDC Guidance

COVID isolation cut to five days as 17,000 COVID patients in U.K. hospitals

British health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed just now that the period people with COVID are expected to isolate will be cut from seven days to five in a bid to reduce widespread staff shortages.

He also said that around 17,000 people are currently in hospital with the virus and that the most recent figures show the current Omicron wave is beginning to slow down.

Javid claims Britain is "leading the world in learning to live with COVID".

Unvaccinated mother dies with COVID days after giving birth

Adrienne Chandler from Wisconsin passed away at the end of November just a few days after giving birth to her fourth child.

When the 38-year-old got ill with the virus, doctors decided she needed to be intubated and performed a C-section to save the baby, later giving birth to a healthy infant named Roman.

But three days on, Chandler died from kidney failure related to the COVID infection, David Henderson, her ex-husband, wrote in a Facebook post.

Family and friends are remembering Chandler as "a beautiful human being" known for "her contagious laugh, being a friend who would be there for you no matter what," according to a GoFundMe account set up for her family last week.

People have raised more than $21,000 as of Tuesday morning.

FULL STORY: Unvaccinated Mother Dies From COVID After Giving Birth to Fourth Child

Boris Johnson survives bruising party revelations (for now) as top COVID adviser quits

The British Prime Minister thanked Jonathan Van-Tam - who held a similar role as Dr. Anthony Fauci in the U.S. - as he steps down from his role.

It comes as a minor blow to Johnson, who is dealing with the fallout of the revelations about a party in Downing Street during the first lockdown.

Many - including some of his own MPs - have called on him to resign, but he remains determined to ride it out.

Ann Coulter latest Republican figure to drop support for Donald Trump

Right-wing commentators are hitting out at the former president for his attack on politicians being vague about their support for the COVID vaccine.

In an interview earlier this week, Trump labeled politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis "gutless" for not getting fully behind the booster campaign, prompting Conservative pastor Greg Locke to drop his support and commentator Ann Coulter to blast Trump as a "liar and con man".

FULL STORY: Ann Coulter Blasts 'Liar and Con Man' Donald Trump Over Ron DeSantis Booster Criticism

WATCH: Stores begin to run out of basic supplies amid COVID demand

Store supplies across the U.S. are being stretched as people bulk buy goods amid a wave of the Omicron COVID variant.

Geoff Freeman, CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, blames "incredible consumer demand has not waned since the start of COVID" on the shortages.

CDC projects grim COVID deaths numbers in the next month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying that up to 62,000 people could die with the virus in the next four weeks.

Half of them (31,000) could be in the first week of February, according to the agency. The forecast means that despite Omicron's effects being reported as "milder" due to the vaccine, such an overwhelming number of people are catching the virus and developing serious disease that it is causing a spike in deaths regardless.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is predicting up to 62,000 COVID deaths in the next few weeks as a growing number of states call in the national guards to assist overwhelmed hospitals.

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

CDC predicts up to 62,000 deaths over the next few weeks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths will increase over the next few weeks in the U.S., with as many as 62,000 deaths in the next four weeks.

In the latest model released Wednesday, the CDC forecasts 10,400 to 31,000 new deaths will likely be reported in the week ending February 5.

Another forecast shows between 17,900 and 48,000 new reports of COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected on Feb. 4.

Globally, more than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) last week, the WHO Director-General said during a briefing Wednesday.

"By far the most cases reported in a single week – and we know this is an underestimate," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Ghebreyesus said the spike is due to the Omicron variant; however, the number of weekly reported deaths "has remained stable since October last year."

Ghebreyesus said the spike in cases is straining overburdened health care workers, adding a majority of those admitted to hospitals are unvaccinated.

"Data from several countries show that many health workers have considered leaving or have left their jobs because of poor working conditions, insufficient staffing, and the distress of making life and death decisions every day under intense pressure," Ghebreyesus said.

Biden to give COVID update on future efforts

President Joe Biden is set to give an update on the White House's plans on future covid efforts.

Biden will also address the strain on hospitals, PPE, vaccines, and testing.

The president is set to give the update Thursday, January 12.

Doctors urge pregnant women to get vaccinated

Doctors are urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

According to a release from the American Heart Association, the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that only one-third of all pregnant women in the U.S. are fully vaccinated. The group is considered among the most vulnerable who are likely to experience severe complications from the virus.

Dr. Danielle Tate who practices maternal fetal medicine at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital stated, "The best thing to do is to get the vaccination, regardless of your job, health status. You have to make sure you're protecting your baby, and right now, it's getting the vaccination."

Graphic depicts when people should get their booster dose

The Louisiana Department of Health shared a graphic to help people know when to get their COVID-19 booster shot.

Anyone who received their first two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccine any time between January to August 2021 should get their third dose now.

Those who got their Johnson & Johnson shot from January to November 2021 can also get their booster now. Those who got their shot in December 2021 should wait until February 2022 to get boosted.

Mulnupiravir may have negative impacts on pregnant women

Molnupiravir was authorized for emergency use by the FDA in December. It is authorized for mild to moderate COVID who are at high-risk. It may be used regardless of COVID vaccination status, FDA Senior Medical Officer Dr. Aimee Hodowanec said.

It is not authorized for anyone under 18 years old, for initiation treatment in patients who require hospitalization due to COVID or for use for longer than five consecutive days.

The treatment is also not recommended for use during pregnancy or breast feeding. Molnupiravir may cause fetal harm when given to pregnant individuals, studies found.

However, if a healthcare provider determined the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks, the FDA said there are "unique requirements" if prescribed to pregnant women. Patients must be counseled on the potential risks and benefits of the drug.

The FDA also said healthcare provider must provide a fact sheet of information when prescribing the treatment. The FDA has not identified any drug interactions at this time.

In a clinical study, Molnupiravir reduces the risk of COVID hospitalization and death by 33 percent.

According to the FDA, Molnupiravir will only be recommended for non-hospitalized patients when the other three treatments, Paxlovid, Sotrovimab and Remdesivr, are not available. This was determined based on clinical efficacy, convenience, availability to the general public and drug interaction potential.

FDA provides summary on Paxlovid drug

During a press call Wednesday, the CDC's Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) discussed the COVID therapeutics available to treat the Omicron variant.

Dr. Stephanie Troy, Senior Medical Officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provided a summary on Pfizer's oral treatment pill Paxlovid.

Paxlovid was authorized for emergency use by the FDA in late December to treat adults and children over the age of 12 who have mild to moderate COVID. The drug is to be given as soon as possible after diagnosis and within five days of symptom onset.

It is not authorized to treat patients with severe or critical COVID who require hospitalization. It is also not authorized to be used for longer than five consecutive days. The FDA does not recommend Paxlovid for severe hepatic impairment or renal impairment.

According to clinical trials, the drug is 88 percent effective in reducing the risk of COVID hospitalization and death.

There is no clinical data available for the effect of Paxlovid for use during pregnancy or when breast feeding or in children.

Healthcare provides are advised to inform patients that Paxlovid may interact with some drugs and is contraindicated for use with some drugs, according to the FDA.

Kids ages 5 to 11 only 17 percent are fully vaccinated

17 percent of U.S. kids ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated after COVID vaccines were approved more than two months ago.

Executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Robert Murphy said the low rates are "very disturbing."

Murphy told the Associated Press "It's just amazing, parents who hesitate are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic."

New Orleans reissues indoor mask mandate ahead of Mardi Gras

The city of New Orleans will reissue an indoor mask mandate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 ahead of Mardi Gras crowds.

The mandate goes into effect Wednesday at 6 a.m. and will apply to people taking part in Mardi Gras balls later in February, health director Dr. Jennifer Avengo said. The Carnival season began last Thursday after a hiatus in 2021.

COVID hospitalizations in Louisiana have increased "by a factor of seven" in three weeks and hospitals are strained, Avengo said. But she hopes the number of COVID cases will decrease in the coming weeks.

Florida to send out expired COVID tests after usage date is extended

One million expired COVID-19 tests will be used in Florida after their usage date is extended, Governor Ron DeSantis said during a news conference Wednesday.

DeSantis said the tests, which expired in December, are "going out" to testing sites after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended the usage date to March 2022.

He said the tests are now available and will be sourced "just like they would have been" if they were authorized earlier.

These are not at-home tests that can be sent to people's homes, DeSantis said. The Abbott tests come in a pack of 40 for use at authorized testing sites.

While he can't ensure the test will be used by the new expiration date, DeSantis believes there is a high demand for tests.

"There wasn't a lot of them being gotten out because people weren't asking for them before, so I can't say that there's a guarantee, but I think that you have a lot higher demand for testing right now," DeSantis said. "My sense is that there's going to be enough requests to at least get a lot of those out the door very very quickly."

LA County asks residents to limit large social gatherings

Los Angeles County health officials urges residents to postpone nonessential gatherings

County health officials are urging residents to postpone nonessential gatherings and avoid some activities particularly those with people who are unvaccinated, unmasked or at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

During the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she hopes limiting large social events outside work or school-related activities will slow the spread of the virus.

"We don't have capacity for everyone to be testing every day right now," Ferrer said. "The safest thing to do right now is curtail some of those nonessential party activities, where we're having too much spread, and wait while we build up that testing capacity."

California loosens rules to hire substitute teachers amid staff shortages

California is providing more staffing flexibility to school districts, making it easier to hire substitute teachers, amid staffing shortages due to the Omicron variant.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order, with the goal of continuing in-person learning.

The order allows school districts to give additional hours to substitute teachers and rehire recent retirees.

"We're working closely with local education officials to cut red tape to allow qualified substitute teachers to help maintain safe learning environments," Gov. Newsom said in a statement.

"We are grateful for the thousands of dedicated teachers, classified staff and administrators who have worked tirelessly to provide safe learning environments for all of California's students."

The order expires on Mar. 31.

Biden administration orders half miilion more of COVID treatment courses

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, stated that the White House is now in the process of ordering another half million doses of astrazenca's preventive therapy pills for immunocompromised individuals.

"The federal government was instrumental in the research and development of this product — and our latest order will also bring us to over one million doses available through end of March," Zients said.

Zients also said the previously announced purchase of 20 million courses of Pfizer's antiviral pill, with the first 10 million courses expected to be delivered by the end of June 2022, as part of the administration's "diverse portfolio" of Covid-19 treatments.

CDC to provide updated mask recommendation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing to update its mask recommendation, Director Rochelle Walensky said.

During the White House COVID Response Team briefing Wednesday, Walensky said the best mask is "one you will wear" and "can tolerate." She added that the CDC will provide information on improved filtration that occurs with other masks like N95s.

"The CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask," Walensky said in a tweet.

White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said the team "strongly considering" making higher-quality masks more widely available to all Americans.

The Biden Administration welcomes new health expert to their team

The Biden Administration welcomes medical doctor and longtime health preparedness expert, Tom Inglesby.

Inglesby has begun his temporary assignment as a testing coordinator on the Biden Administration's COVID-19 response team.

Inglesby told Bloomberg that the testing shortage will ease, and that there won't be another production slowdown this summer.

Omicron is less severe than Delta variant, study shows

The Omicron variant is less severe than the Delta variant, according to a new study from Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky shared the data from the study during the White House COVID team briefing.

When compared to the Delta variant, the study showed patients with the Omicron variant experience a 53 percent reduction in the risk of hospitalization, a 74 percent reduction in the risk of admission to the Intensive Care Unit and a 91 percent reduction in the risk of death.

Walensky notes that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta and the surge in cases has led to more hospitalizations.

"The sudden and steep rise in cases due to Omicron is resulting in unprecedented daily case counts, sickness, absenteeism and strains on our healthcare system," she said.

Omicron accounts for 98 percent of U.S. COVID cases

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the Omicron variant is responsible for 98 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the country.

The seven-day average for new COVID cases hit 751,000 cases per day, a 47 percent increase.

Hospitalizations are up 33 percent over the last seven day, reaching 19,800 admissions per day.

COVID deaths are at 1,600 per day, a 40 percent increase.

White House sending more COVID tests to schools to help keep them open

The White House COVID Response team confirmed they will send 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests to help keep them open. The test will be sent on a monthly basis, starting this month.

More than $10 billion school-based tests were also authorized in COVID relief law and about $130 billion also in that law to keep kids in school.

States that want the tests for its school districts must apply through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

White House COVID briefing to begin soon

The White House COVID-19 Response Team is set to begin its weekly press briefing shortly.

The briefing will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Jeff Zients, the White House COVID Response Coordinator.

The briefing will stream live on the White House YouTube page.

Las Vegas-area school district 'pauses' classes amid staff shortage

The nation's fifth-largest school district will "pause" classes due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The Clark County School District in Nevada will go on a break Friday through the three-day weekend in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The school is set to reopen on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

The Las Vegas-area district cited "extreme staffing shortages" due to COVID and hopes the break will help stop the spread of the virus "in order to continue face-to-face instruction."

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said he is "absolutely committed" to keeping schools open for in-person learning and will support to the district "whenever necessary."

"Sadly, we are still dealing with the realities of a global pandemic," he said in a statement. "But 2022 will not be 2020. We now have the tools, the knowledge, and the resources to keep schools open safely and effectively. There is no going back."

According to state data, the 14-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Nevada hit 3,659 as of January 11,

Olympians come together to push for global vaccine equity

Olympians and Paralympians from around the world came together to advocate for global COVID-19 vaccine equity.

"As athletes, we can bring the world together through the power of sport," the athletes said in a video. "Now, more than ever, we stand united to use that power of sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Movement to help win the battle against COVID because we go faster, we aim higher, we are stronger when we stand together."

They called on governments, foundations, health organizations and businesses to commit to the International Olympic Committee's pledge of "collective responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable" by providing free and equal access to the COVID vaccine.

"Everyone on this planet has a right to live a healthy life," the athletes said. "We are stronger together when we stand in solidarity and care for each other."

White House doubles school COVID testing

A statement this morning said the tests would "help schools safely remain open" as Omicron continues to cause widespread staff shortages and outbreaks in many school districts.

With the additional ten million tests per month, we will make available to schools more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November 2021. We know how to keep students and staff safely in school—including through vaccinations and boosters, implementing universal indoor masking, maintaining physical distancing, improving ventilation, and performing COVID-19 screening testing.

The plan is to connect schools with nearby testing facilities, where both students and staff can be referred if they have symptoms.

WATCH: FDA boss says 'most people are going to get COVID'

Acting commissioner Janet Woodcock has told a Senate panel that "what we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function" as Omicron sweeps through the U.S., admitting that most people likely to become infected at some point.

WHO records over 15 million COVID cases 'adequate access'

The World Health Organization's COVID technical lead, Maria Van Kerkoeve, said that 15 million was almost certainly an "underestimate" due to a lack of access to tests and other diagnostic tools for some countries.

In a press briefing just now, she added it was "not the time to give up" on fighting COVID and pushed back against claims that Omicron is a "milder" variant of the virus.

Germany reports highest ever daily COVID infections

The country recorded 80,430 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday - the highest recorded in a single day since the pandemic began and one of the highest in Europe.

The Omicron variant has been ripping through the country, with just under 75 percent of the population having had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

Germany and its new chancellor Olaf Sholz have been considering the idea of vaccine mandates, with a crunch vote on new laws to make shots compulsory for all adults expected next Monday.

Boris Johnson admits attending Downing Street party

The British Prime Minister has just apologized for "misjudgments" on the evening of May 20, 2020, when he admitted going outside to "thank" staff who were having a "bring your own booze" party.

With hindsight I should've sent everybody inside ... and recognized that, though technically it could be said to be within the guidance, there would be millions of people who simply wouldn't see it that way.

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer slammed the apology, saying it was "a pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road".

Starmer called on Johnson to resign, stating that the "party is over".

'He's doing this for political reasons': Fauci lashes out at Senator Rand Paul

Tensions boiled over between the pair during a Senate Health Committee hearing about the federal response to the pandemic, when Fauci accused Paul of making false attacks on him for political gain.

He lashed out at the Kentucky Republican for "distorting everything about me" after the senator accused Fauci of using his office to attack scientists who don't agree with him, questioned his role in the federal response to the pandemic.

You personally attack me and with absolutely not a shred of evidence of anything you say. So I would like to make something clear to the committee, he's doing this for political reasons. What happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue, it's that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there, and I have had threats upon my life, harassment of my family, and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me.

Djokovic's COVID deportation deadline looms

The tennis star has admitted that knew he had a positive COVID test when he attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot at his tennis center in Serbia last month, calling it an "error of judgement", following his court saga this week.

He is seeking to clear up any confusion about his activities following a positive test on December 16 ahead of a decision by the Australian government about whether to deport him, expected today.

The nine-time and defending Australian Open champion is in limbo before the year's first tennis major starts next Monday, despite a judge ruling that he was allowed to stay in the country. Under Australian law, ministers can overrule the decisions by a judge, hence the prospect of deportation for Djokovic because he still refuses to get a COVID jab.

UN chief tells world leaders to focus on young people in pandemic recovery

Antonio Guterres has been heavily critical of presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors throughout the COVID crisis, keen to stress his belief that richer countries have failed to look after following the development of vaccines.

Now his focus has turned to recovery and he is pleading with world leaders to focus on young people, saying the effect on them has been "especially heartbreaking" and stating that "their needs must come first".

Boris Johnson's leadership hangs in the balance amid COVID party allegations

A number of senior politicians have call for the British Prime Minister to resign this morning amid the scandal about a large party in the Downing Street garden during the country's first lockdown in May 2020.

The deputy leader of opposition party Labour, Angela Rayner, has said Johnson's position as Prime Minister is "completely untenable", while third-largest party the Liberal Democrats have called for his resignation, labelling him "a threat to the health of the nation".

FULL STORY: Boris Johnson Accused of Holding Garden Party While U.K. in Lockdown, Angering Supporters

WATCH: How do I get at-home COVID tests covered by insurance

The Biden administration announced this week that it will be forcing health insurance firms to cover the 500 million at-home COVID tests being sent out by the federal government in the coming weeks.

This is how to ensure you get the proper insurance cover.

Model predicts sharp fall in COVID cases from next week

Researchers from the University of Washington predict the number of daily reported cases in the U.S. will peak at 1.2 million by January 19 and will fall sharply afterward.

Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said it is likely "because everybody who could be infected will be infected", suggesting that Omicron is "going to come down as fast as it went up".

The projections have raised hopes that the two countries are about to undergo something similar to what happened in South Africa, where the wave peaked after around a month then fell significantly.

FULL STORY: Model Predicts U.S. Omicron Wave Will Crest by Next Week as U.K. Sees Case Decline