According to an Associated Press report, just over 17% U.S. kids aged 5-11 were completely vaccinated on Tuesday. This was more than two years after the shots became available for this age group.

Mississippi only has 5% while Vermont stands 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. The number of hospitalizations for children aged less than 18 has risen to its highest ever levels in recent weeks.

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

In the news also: 

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced calls to resign from senior members of his own Conservative Party after he apologized for attending a cocktail party while the UK was in a COVID-19 induced lockdown in 2020.

►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 Tweeted Tuesday Night. Justice has had all vaccinations and is being boosted. 

►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 U.S. 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 62.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 843,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 315 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘We’re looking at: 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.

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.

Fauci: The U.S. is nearing a point in which it can live with COVID

Although Dr. Anthony Fauci recently stated that the Omicron variant of the virus “will eventually find just about everyone,” it was headline-grabbing, the chief medical advisor to President Barack Obama pointed out that this means that almost everybody will be exposed and not get infected.

There was something else Fauci said in Tuesday’s “fireside chat” with Dr. J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies that bears highlighting, and it provides a measure of hope as the pandemic heads toward its second anniversary.

Fauci is not convinced COVID can be eradicated, but he believes that it will be managed in a similar way as measles or polio were. It would take a certain amount of community immunity and medication access to the most susceptible people to make this happen.

Fauci described that state as, “getting the level of infection that causes severe disease low enough that we can incorporate this infection – some people have said learning to live with it. … We may soon be there, I believe.

Saturday’s optional CDC cruise guidance 

By this weekend, cruise lines can choose to disregard CDC recommendations on ships.

The CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire Saturday. At that point the health agency’s COVID guidance for cruise ships will become voluntary, the CDC confirmed to USA TODAY Wednesday.

The CDC “is transitioning to a voluntary COVID-19 risk mitigation program” the agency said in a statement shared by spokesperson David Daigle. This program provides guidance and suggestions for safe cruise trips.

The omicron variant is responsible for the U.S. registering more than 750,000 new coronavirus infection per day. At a Senate hearing Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said confirmed COVID cases in cruise ships have risen 30-fold in the last two weeks.

— Morgan Hines

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

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

She said, “The best face is the one you 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. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certifies N95 masks. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available masks – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. More information is available here.

The CDC states that higher efficiency masks can be used multiple times, despite being designed to only be used once. Find out here how many times can you reuse your mask and how to best store and clean it.

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.

There were 5.23 million reported infections nationally in the week ending Tuesday, down from 5.28 million in the seven-day period ending Monday. Most likely, the earlier count included test results that were deferred to this week due to a long 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. Data from Johns Hopkins and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that 48 states reported more patients receiving COVID-19 treatment in hospitals. In intensive care units, 41 states recorded more patients receiving COVID-19 treatment.

There are still encouraging signs. Boston is a popular city, and Dr. Mark Siedner from Massachusetts General Hospital said that there were early signs the city had “turned a corner.” One such indicator is a wastewater monitoring 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. This data “proves solid evidence” that cannot be attributed to exhausting testing capacities or any other factors.

Mike Stucka

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. According to her, the vast majority of patients with positive results were the Omicron variant. This resulted in about half of all delta infection hospitalizations. The variant also drastically cut hospital stays to an an average of less than two days.

Walensky and others in the public health field have warned repeatedly that hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by large numbers of sick patients, despite having a high volume of Americans with illness.

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

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

She said, “The best face is the one you 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. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certifies N95 masks. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available masks – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. More information is available here.

White House will provide schools with millions more test results

As some schools struggle to get back to learning in person amid record COVID-19 infection rates, the White House announced Wednesday that it will send 5 million additional rapid tests each month to schools at no cost. The CDC is willing to work with the states in order to provide additional rapid testing for schools. The White House has provided a factsheet explaining that once the initial requests are received, the first shipping will take place later in the month.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to increase lab capabilities to handle up to five million more PCR tests each 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.

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

As omicron spreads and winter storms add to supply chain challenges and labor shortages, the nation has seen a sharp increase in grocery store shortfalls. The scarcity of some goods being reported nationwide is widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereal. USA TODAY spoke with Curt Coopington, AgAmerica’s senior director for institutional credit. He said that trends in specific food shortages can be unpredictable and varied.

“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 eventually 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

Oregon DOJ investigates testing company

Oregon Department of Justice, Better Business Bureau launched an investigation into an Illinois-based company which runs COVID-19 test sites throughout the country. Oregon’s DOJ opened a civil investigation into the Center for COVID Control this week for violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act, spokesperson Kristina Edmunson said.

The company operates testing sites across the nation – some as “pop-ups” run out of sheds and mobile storage units. Many Americans have been flocking to these sites due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and the national shortage of testing. 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 at the way the sites ran. Many users reported that they did not receive their results as promised, or received them late.

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 claimed they were provided with a test that was supposed to have expired in 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 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, is a candidate for gubernatorial office. In late December, allegedly 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



Source: USAToday.com

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