Friday’s update by the CDC on mask information was made in response to public health experts calling for cloth-face coverings to be replaced with higher-quality masks, as COVID-19 case numbers rise.

Also, the agency recognized that masks can be difficult to wear regularly and it is crucial to find a mask with good protection and comfort. Concerns about shortages of supply were also addressed.

The CDC stated that “Masking can be a crucial public health tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19.” The CDC recommends that everyone wear a protective mask that is well-fitting and can be worn consistently to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

Loosely woven cloth masks provide less protection than well-fitted disposable surgical masks. And KN95s offer more protection, according to the CDC guidance.

According to the guideline, NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s), offer the greatest level of protection. These face covers are especially important when dealing with COVID patients, flying on a plane, or taking public transport.

Experts recommend increasing protection of masks amid mounting evidence that cloth masks do not protect against new variants.  

Infectious Diseases Association of America supported the update with a Friday statement. They noted that because the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, it makes wearing the correct mask more crucial.

The CDC recommended that surgical N95 respiratoryators be kept in use only for health care facilities. Other uses should look into non-surgical KN95 and N95 masks.

The IDSA acknowledged, however that these masks are now more easily available but more costly.

The IDSA stated that “this cost barrier could exacerbate already substantial health inequities.”

In the news also:

►As some experts say the current COVID-19 wave may be peaking, new coronavirus cases ticked down slightly for the second time this week. USA had 5.51 Million cases during the week that ended on Thursday. That’s down from the 5.53 million reported in Wednesday’s week, according to USA TODAY analysis by Johns Hopkins University.

Roughly one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. A quarter of the hospitals expected to experience critical staff shortages in the coming week. 

►U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office apologized Friday to the royal family for holding a late-night staff party the day before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone and mourned her late Prince Philip in a socially distanced funeral service due to the country’s COVID-19 rules.

►New York’s eviction moratorium, which protected hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were late on payments due to hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic from eviction, expires Saturday.

►More than half-a-million people in Israel have received a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s health ministry said Friday.

►Cruise lines will no longer be obliged to follow COVID-19 guidance on ships as the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire Saturday.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 63.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 846,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 319 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.8% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘This is what we are readingWhat will happen to this COVID increase? For clues, scientists search your sewage.

This page is updated regularly so you don’t miss any new information. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Schools are shifting to remote learning in greater numbers

In response to rising COVID-19 case numbers among teachers, officials of schools in Indiana, Michigan North Carolina, Nevada and Nevada declared this week that they would close temporarily or switch to remote learning due the worsening shortage of teachers.

In Indiana, at least four Marion County school districts have shifted to remote learning. Indianapolis Public Schools said Wednesday the decision “has been made based on the number of staff absences, including COVID-19 isolation and quarantines at the middle and high school levels.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that state employees can use the allotted days of volunteer time to substitute for paid teachers. Roy Cooper declared Wednesday. All schools in Carson City School District, Nevada were closed on Wednesday due to an increase of staff infected by COVID-19.

ABC News reported that Maryland’s largest district school asked for the National Guard’s help to provide bus driver replacements. New Mexico’s governor said Thursday she’s considering seeking help from the National Guard to address COVID-19 staffing shortages at public schools in the state, too.

US insurers paid estimated $100M+ for disproven COVID-19 treatment ivermectin, study finds

According to a new study, U.S. insurance companies paid $129 million annually for the deworming drug ivermectin despite it not being proven that the medication benefits COVID-19 patients.

Ivermectin has been used to combat parasites in sheep, cattle, horses and pigs. It is sometimes given to parasitic worm patients.

It’s been promoted as a COVID-19 cure but there’s little data to suggest it is effective.

About 6% of prescriptions were ruled out by the researchers as parasitic infections.

It was conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan Medical School, Boston University and published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday.

The Food and Drug Administration specifically says ivermectin should not be taken for COVID-19 and cites side effects such as skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, seizures and confusion and liver injury.

However, COVID-19 patients still have millions of prescriptions.

On average, Medicare Advantage patients received $35.75 reimbursement from their private insurers and Medicare Advantage patients $39.13.

– Elizabeth Weise

Biden administration launches site for free kit testing

A senior official in the administration said that Wednesday’s launch of a new website by President Biden will allow Americans to get up to four complimentary COVID-19 test kits.

These tests are part of the 500 million purchased by the Biden Administration last month in an effort to combat a record-breaking rise in infection rates. They will be accessible at The official said that they would then be mailed to their homes in 7-12 days.

In response to a lack of COVID-19 testing, the President Joe Biden said earlier this week that his administration will double its orders and purchase 500 million additional at-home COVID-19. This comes amid long waiting lines at test locations nationwide as well overburdened hospitals. Officials announced that the second batch will be available for free on the federal website. 

— Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY

Students protest COVID safety and call schools a “petri dish”

Teachers unions and schools are fighting over online and in-person education. Students all across America want a place at the table. This week many are organizing walkouts, with Boston being one of them.

We are those who live in such an environment each day. Kayla Quinlan (a 16-year old student activist at Boston Day and Evening Academy), stated, “It’s our bodies that are at risk.” Students should be able to influence the learning environment they choose, but we are never heard.”

The Boston Globe confirmed that students from all schools in the Boston Public Schools system walked out at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

Although specific requirements vary from one district to the next, most students are asking for remote learning alternatives as an option for those who don’t want to travel to school. The student coalitions which advocate for a complete shift to remote education have not called on schools to make stricter COVID-19 compliance, such as more frequent testing and better-quality masks.

“It feels like a breeding ground for COVID, like a COVID petri dish,” Quinlan added. How can one feel safe?

Novak Djokovic is facing deportation once more after the Australian government has revoked his visa for the second time

Novak Djokovic, tennis star, is being deported again by the Australian government after his second visa was revoked.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.

Djokovic traveled to Melbourne last week in order to defend the Australian Open title. The tournament organizer, Tennis Australia and Victoria’s state government approved Djokovic’s exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. He was able to get a visa that allows him to travel.

The Australian Border Force denied the exception and cancelled Djokovic’s visa on his arrival to Melbourne. Djokovic spent four night in an immigration hotel detention facility before Monday’s overturn by a Judge.

— The Associated Press

Center for COVID Control will ‘pause’ nationwide testing sites

A coronavirus testing company under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and which has drawn criticism from customers in several states announced Thursday a “one-week pause on all operations.”

The pause was expected to take effect Friday through Jan. 21 at all Center for COVID Control testing sites. According to the website of the Illinois-based company, it boasts more than 300 sites in several U.S. states. Washington and Massachusetts took this week’s action to close down testing facilities at the company in their respective communities.

USA TODAY was able to obtain an internal memo sent by the Center for COVID Control to all managers and location owners. The Center for COVID Control noted that the Center for COVID Control had received “increased scrutiny from the media over the operations at our collection site” in the week prior. It processes approximately 80,000 tests per day, according to the company.

This, in conjunction with customer complaints, led to various state departments of health and the Department of Justice becoming interested in our company,” said the notice. 

— Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 mandate to test vaccines or administer testing in workplaces

The Supreme Court on Thursday halted enforcement of one of President Joe Biden’s signature efforts to combat COVID-19, ruling that his administration doesn’t have the authority to impose vaccine-or-testing requirements on employers that would have covered tens of millions of Americans.

The unsigned opinion, which came days after the justices heard arguments in the emergency appeal, marked the second time the nation’s highest court unwound a pandemic policy of the Biden administration, again concluding that federal officials exceeded the power given to them by Congress. The court blocked Biden’s eviction moratorium in August, ruling that it also was an overreach.

At issue in the workplace case was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the power to impose the requirements under a 1970 law.  

It was not immediately clear what, if any, options the Biden administration has to respond to the ruling. The president stated that he is “disappointed” and said it was up to the states and employers to decide whether their workplaces are as safe for workers as possible. Find out more about Biden’s next campaign for vaccine.

— John Fritze, USA TODAY

Celina Tebor from USA TODAY and The Associated Press contributed.



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