As of Tuesday, just over 17% U.S. children aged 5-11 were fully vaccinated. This is more than two years after the first shots became available.

Mississippi stands at only 5%, while Vermont sits at 48%. Vaccinations among elementary school kids surged after the shots were introduced in the fall, but the numbers have crept up slowly since as omicron’s explosive spread appears to have had little effect.

The low rates are “very disturbing,’’ said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. In the last few weeks, hospitalizations for children younger than 18 years have reached their highest level ever.

Parents who hesitate “are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic,’’ Murphy said.

In the news also: 

►Unvaccinated Virginians became infected at four times the rate of fully vaccinated state residents over the two-week period that ended Jan. 1, state health officials said. The rates of hospitalizations and deaths were also four times greater.

►The consumer price index jumped 7% last year, the fastest pace since 1982, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The COVID-driven shortages of workers and supply-chain disruptions are to blame.

►West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID-19 and is “experiencing moderate symptoms,” the governor Twittered Tuesday night. Gov. The Justice Department is 100% vaccinated. 

►Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain. The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect.

►The United States is facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, largely as a result of a drop in blood drives because of the pandemic, the American Red Cross said.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 62 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 842,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 314.2 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 207 million Americans – 62.6% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘This is what we are reading Omicron hit the U.S. hard and fast in the past month, but modeling by several universities shows the wave of infections may have crested — and hospitalizations and deaths should follow.

For the most recent news, keep checking this page. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Is the omicron surge now ‘turning a corner?

The number of Americans with new cases fell for the first-time since Christmas according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

The country reported 5.23 million cases in the week ending Tuesday, down from 5.28 million cases in the seven-day period ending Monday. This was likely due to tests that had been delayed by a holiday weekend. 

U.S. cases are up 34% compared with a previous week. Tuesday saw 47 states report higher U.S. numbers than they did a week prior. Twenty-one states have set their own records for the number of cases within a given week. There were 48 more COVID-19 hospital patients reported by states, and 42 states reporting more patients receiving intensive-care unit care. Johns Hopkins and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data show that 41 states received more COVID-19 patients.

There are still encouraging signs. Boston is a popular city, and Dr. Mark Siedner from Massachusetts General Hospital said that there were early indications the city had “turned a corner.” One of those signs is a wastewater tracking system – virus particles found in wastewater are no longer infectious but can still be measured and can reflect trends among people contributing to the wastewater.

“The wastewater data are in, and the news is good,” tweeted Bill Hanage, associate professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Data is “providing strong evidence that can’t possibly be explained by exhausted testing capabilities or other factors.”

Mike Stucka

Chicago students return to classrooms after teachers vote for agreement

Students in the nation’s third-largest school district returned to classrooms Wednesday after missing five days of instruction amid a standoff between city leaders and the Chicago Teachers Union over COVID-19 safety protocols. KN95 masks were provided to students and staff by the district. They also agreed on a temporary transition that could allow schools to be taught remotely if there are enough staff or students in quarantine. Also, the district promised that at least 10% students would be tested at every school weekly. Students are selected randomly from those who have opted to take part in testing.

Teachers approved last week that they would shift their learning to virtual education amid the omicron spike. However, the district decided to cancel classes. The union’s governing body voted to end the remote labor action Monday night, and teachers returned Tuesday to prepare for classes. The tentative agreement was being voted on by teachers.

A student group announced that a walkout was planned for Friday at 12:30 pm. The Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance tweeted that students “have established a coalition that will organize, execute, and define the reimagination of our education.”

Grace Hauck

California study shows that symptoms of omicron are not as severe as those in delta

A study of data from 70,000 COVID patients in Southern California revealed that omicron resulted in less severe disease than other variants, a finding that supports similar research from South Africa and Britain.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House COVID response briefing Wednesday that Kaiser Permanente of Southern California studied the patients, all of whom tested positive in December. She said that the majority of positives were of the omicron variety, which led to a reduction in hospitalizations by about half the rate for delta infections. The variant also drastically cut hospital stays to an an average of less than two days.

Walensky, along with other officials in public health, has repeatedly stated that high patient numbers are putting strain on hospitals due to the large number of Americans who have been infected.

The cloth mask might not suffice, but the CDC is not changing its guidance

 As new variants continue to emerge, including the incredibly contagious omicron variant, experts are calling for upgraded protective options such as N95 and KN95 masks. CDC chief Rochelle Walensky, however, said Wednesday that the CDC does not plan to recommend Americans toss out their cloth masks in favor of the superior-filtration masks. 

She stated, “The most effective mask is the one that you’ll wear.” 

Still, finding and purchasing superior quality masks on the consumer market at a fair price is possible now – and it might be the next, best purchase you can make to protect yourself and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. The N95 and KN95 masks both are rated with 95% filtration efficiency. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has certified N95 masks. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available mask – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. More information is available here.

Shortages grow more widespread – but the next one is anybody’s guess

In recent weeks, grocery store shortages across the nation have become more severe as the spread of omicron and the impact of winter storms on the supply chain and labor shortfalls. These shortages are common across the nation and affect both meat and packaged goods, such as cereal. USA TODAY was told by Curt Covington (senior director of institution credit, AgAmerica) that specific food shortages tend to be intermittent and variable.

“Shortages depend on the item, store and region of the country,” Covington said. “Shortages can be driven by supply chain issues, consumer behavior or environmental factors, so it’s hard to pinpoint what will be affected next.”

Researchers in Texas, Washington state also see decline in latest surge

Wastewater followers aren’t alone in forecasting a decline in the omicron surge. Modeling by several universities also shows the wave of infections may have crested – and hospitalizations and deaths should follow. COVID-19 infections peaked Jan. 6, according to researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. That’s close to estimates by the University of Texas, Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which puts the peak somewhere from Jan. 9-13.

“That’s a range between the most pessimistic and optimistic scenarios,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the consortium.

Hospitalizations can take two weeks to catch up with infections. The University of Washington team has estimated that by January 25, the U.S. hospital census including incidental admissions using COVID-19 will be at its highest. You can read more about it here.

Elizabeth Weise

Schools to receive millions of more testing from the White House

In response to the record-breaking rise in COVID-19 infectivity, Wednesday’s White House announcement made clear that 5 million more rapid testing will be sent to schools every month at no charge. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and states will be able to make requests for additional rapid test districts. The White House has provided a factsheet explaining that once the initial requests have been received, the first shipping will take place later in this month.

In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services is increasing lab capacities to accommodate up to 5,000,000 additional PCR test per month. Schools can gain access to the additional PCR tests by submitting requests to three federally funded regional providers that offer testing materials, supplies and lab results through four regional hubs.

Oregon DOJ and Better Business Bureau investigate Center for COVID Control

Oregon Department of Justice, and Better Business Bureau launched an investigation into the Illinois-based company running COVID-19 test sites throughout the country.

The Oregon Department of Justice opened a civil investigation into the Center for COVID Control this week for Unfair Trade Practices Act violations, spokesperson Kristina Edmunson said.

The company operates testing sites across the nation – some as “pop-ups” run out of sheds and mobile storage units. Since the rise in COVID-19-related cases, and due to a shortage of test kits nationwide, many Americans have been rushing to the testing sites. However, USA TODAY has received numerous complaints from people across the country.

Many users claimed they came across the sites while searching on Google for local testing options. They were pleasantly surprised by the way the sites ran. Many people reported not receiving their test results on time or at all.

At least two people filed complaints about the Center for COVID Control testing sites to the Oregon Department of Justice in October, USA TODAY reported last week. They expressed concern about their safety and legality, claiming that the websites offer fake testing. One person claimed that they received a test that was supposed to have expired June 2021.

– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

FDA extends Florida’s COVID-19 test expiration by three months

Federal regulators have approved a three-month extension on COVID-19 testing kits that technically expired months ago. 

This means nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests that the federal government considered expired will now be made available to Floridians who have been struggling to find tests.

Nikki Fried, Florida Commissioner for Agriculture and Candidate for Governor of Florida Late December – alleged that Gov. Ron DeSantis stockpiled COVID-19 tests that were “set to expire imminently,” despite the high demand for such tests as omicron surged.

During a news conference with DeSantis on Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, Kevin Guthrie, the director of the state Division of Emergency Management, confirmed that Florida had 800,000 to 1 million COVID-19 tests that expired Dec. 26-30.

Guthrie stated that they were originally due to expire in September. However, the federal regulators and the manufacturer extended the three-month deadline for the states to use the test kits.

– Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

Contributing: – Felicity Warner, Reviewed; The Associated Press



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