Omicron cases appear to peak in US, but deaths continue to rise

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Omicron cases appear to peak in US, but deaths continue to rise
© Karen Ducey Nurse Elisa Gilbert checked on a patient in the acute care COVID-19 unit at the Harborview Medical Center on Jan. 21, 2022 in Seattle, Washington.

COVID-19 cases have sharply risen again across the US and around the world, with the new Omicron variant accounting for most new cases. The winter surge has prompted many experts and officials to reemphasize the importance of masking indoors and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated, including booster shots.

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Below, we’re gathering all the latest news and updates on coronavirus in New England and beyond.

      Jan. 23, 2022  

    Global Tech News Daily

    Ardern cancels her wedding as New Zealand tightens curbs — 3:49 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Global Tech News Daily

    The South Pacific nation will tighten restrictions, moving to a “red” setting at 11:59 p.m. today, Ardern said at a news conference Sunday in Wellington. That will mean more mask wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets. Businesses will be able to remain open and people allowed to travel freely. No regional lockdowns are being considered, Ardern said.

    A gathering limit of 100 people at sporting or private events means weddings and funerals need to be re-assessed, she said. “As for mine, my wedding will not be going ahead but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” Ardern said, without elaborating when her nuptials were planned for. “Such is life.”

    Western Australia minister says Omicron can’t be eliminated — 2:51 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Western Australia reported 24 new community cases Sunday, prompting the state’s Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson to say that omicron can’t be eliminated, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

    “I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage omicron,” Sanderson told reporters Sunday in Perth, according to the ABC. The state now has 90 active cases, the Department of Health said in an emailed statement.

    France cases slow ahead of vaccine pass — 1:50 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    French daily infections fell below 400,000 as the country braces for the implementation of a vaccine pass on Monday.

    The country recorded 389,320 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, according to data from the country’s public health office. That’s 16% less than the 464,769 cases reported on Tuesday.

    The French government is set to relax some health restrictions, betting the current wave of infections is peaking. The implementation of the vaccine pass will effectively shut people out of most social activities if they’re unvaccinated.

    India extends campaign restrictions — 12:54 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Restrictions on election campaigns across five poll-bound Indian states will stay in place till the end of this month as daily infections have crossed the 300,000 mark, the federal election commission said.

    No road show, rallies and procession shall be allowed till Jan. 31, according to a statement issued by the commission on Saturday. The commission has also raised the limit on door-to-door campaign to 10 people from 5, excluding security personnel.

      Jan. 22, 2022  

    Japanese less concerned about Omicron than Delta — 11:51 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    A poll by Japanese newspaper Mainichi on Saturday showed 46% of those surveyed said they were fearful about the spread of omicron coronavirus variant but not as concerned as they were with the delta strain, while 34% of respondents said they were very fearful.

    Tokyo found 11,227 infections on Saturday. Authorities have placed curbs on 13 prefectures, including Tokyo and its surrounding areas, from Friday to Feb. 13.

    Of those surveyed, 31% said they approved of the government’s coronavirus measures, a decline of 15 percentage points from the previous poll by the paper. Those who did not approve of the government’s actions rose 13 percentage points to 39%, according to the Mainichi.

    More coronavirus cases reported in Beijing — 10:40 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    A Covid-19 cluster in China’s capital continues to grow and shows early signs of spreading to neighboring provinces. Beijing reported nine new local infections on Saturday. Two were workers in a cold storage in southwestern Fengtai district.

    The neighboring Shanxi province said a resident who tested positive for the virus was a cold storage worker in Fengtai, as was another case in Shandong province. Two other cases in Shandong were cargo drivers who are linked to a Fengtai cold storage facility.

    Different masks for different exercises as workouts evolve with the pandemic — 9:37 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    With the rapid spread of the omicron variant, mask mandates have once again returned to many gyms, along with this dilemma: Should gym goers wear a N95 or KN95 mask, which offer more protection than a cloth mask but can be uncomfortable?

    Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe N95s and KN95s as offering the most protection – as long as they are not counterfeit – but stop short of suggesting people abandon fabric masks entirely, believing that wearing any mask is better than not wearing any one at all.

    L.A. schools prohibit cloth masks — 8:50 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will no longer be allowed to wear cloth masks, the district announced on Saturday.

    The new rule requires “well-fitted, non-cloth masks with a nose wire.” The masks must be worn “at all times, indoor and outdoors.” The higher-grade masks will be given to students who request them.

    U.S. health officials have urged people to wear more protective masks, particularly as the highly-transmissible omicron variant has spread. Cloth provides less protection than respirators or surgical-grade masks, they say.

    Passenger refusing to wear a mask exposed himself, threw can during flight, prosecutors say — 7:45 p.m.

    By New York Times

    A passenger who refused to wear a mask on a flight from Dublin to New York City pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks, threw a can at a passenger and put his cap on the captain’s head and told him, “Don’t touch me,” prosecutors said in a case unsealed Friday.

    After the Delta Air Lines flight from Dublin to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 7, the passenger, Shane McInerney, 29, of Galway, Ireland, was charged with intentionally assaulting and intimidating a crew member, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.

    Omicron cases appear to peak in US, but deaths continue to rise — 7:34 p.m.

    By New York Times

    New coronavirus cases have started to fall nationally, signaling that the omicron-fueled spike that has infected tens of millions of Americans, packed hospitals and shattered records has finally begun to relent.

    More and more states have passed a peak in new cases in recent days, as glimmers of progress have spread from a handful of eastern cities to much of the country. Through Friday, the country was averaging about 720,000 new cases a day, down from about 807,000 last week. New coronavirus hospital admissions have leveled off.

    Even as hopeful data points emerge, the threat has by no means passed. The United States continues to identify far more infections a day than in any prior surge, and some states in the West, South and Great Plains are still seeing sharp increases. Many hospitals are full. And deaths continue to mount, with more than 2,100 announced most days.

    New Zealand to move to tighter COVID settings as Omicron arrives — 6:23 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    New Zealand will move to tighter Covid-19 restrictions at the end of the day after evidence shows that omicron is circulating in the community.

    The move to the “red” settings will include more mask wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference Sunday in Wellington. Businesses will remain open and people can travel. Red isn’t a lockdown, she said.

    “The goal at red is to slow the spread of the virus,” she said. “We have significant capacity in the system to attempt to stamp out outbreaks.”

    Nine Covid cases reported previously in the South Island city of Nelson have been confirmed as omicron, which has triggered the response, Ardern explained. The cases in a single family had attended a wedding in Auckland where one guest has also tested positive, and an Air New Zealand worker on their flight is also infected.

    For students in surge, a ‘new normal’ and plenty of worries — 5:04 p.m.

    By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff

    Massachusetts — still faced with record-setting COVID-19 caseloads, nearly two years into the pandemic — the 17-year-old begins each day with a high-stakes calculation: How to get to her first class on time, alongside 1,500 other students, while limiting her risk of exposure to the virus?

    If she enters Worcester Technical High School too early, she will have to wait in the cafeteria with hundreds of other students, some unmasked as they eat breakfast, until the 7:10 a.m. bell that releases the crowd into the hallways. But if she waits too long to avoid the rush, she risks being tardy to class, even if she sprints upstairs to her fourth-floor classroom.

    It is the first of dozens of decisions she must make as she navigates a pandemic-era school day during the Omicron surge, a routine she agreed to document this month for the Globe to help shed light on the experience of thousands of Massachusetts students. Since December, more than 100,000 positive cases of the virus have been reported among the state’s 911,000 students.

    Omicron spreads to rural Alabama — 4:24 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    New infections are climbing steeply in rural Alabama, even though the omicron surge appears to have leveled off in urban areas like Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, al.com reported.

    Alabama is the second-least vaccinated state in the U.S., with less than 48% of people fully vaccinated, compared with the U.S. average of almost 63%. Hardest hit in the omicron wave are counties with the lowest vaccination rates, al.com reported. The state hit a record on Thursday of 46% of tests positive for Covid-19.

    Tom Cruise’s next ‘Mission: Impossible’ films are delayed over COVID — 2:32 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    One of the biggest movies slated for 2022 — “Mission: Impossible 7″ starring Tom Cruise — is being pushed into next year in the latest blow to struggling cinemas.

    The film, which had already been postponed before, will shift from September to July 2023, according to a statement from ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount Pictures. Although filming wrapped last year, editing and other post-production chores have been delayed by the surge of the omicron variant.

    The next picture in the series, “Mission: Impossible 8,” is also moving, from July 2023 to June 2024.

    What to know about cruise travel while Omicron spreads — 2:08 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    It’s not the most carefree time to go on a cruise.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently warned all travelers, even those who are vaccinated, to avoid cruise ships. Infections are soaring during the omicron surge, with ships reporting 14,803 coronavirus cases onboard between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. That number was below 200 in early December. Passengers and crew have told horror stories about being stuck in isolation for days, with only lukewarm room service and in-room TV to pass the time.

    There is a fresh level of uncertainty to sailing now: Several cruise lines have canceled trips in the near future and longer term, and ports have been turning ships away.

    Despite the CDC’s advice, travelers will still book cruises as long as they’re allowed. Here are answers to 10 common questions they may be asking at this stage of the omicron wave.

    Omicron wave leaves US food banks scrambling for volunteers — 1:46 p.m.

    By Associated Press

    Food banks across the country are experiencing a critical shortage of volunteers as the omicron variant frightens people away from their usual shifts, and companies and schools that regularly supply large groups of volunteers are canceling their participation over virus fears.

    The end result in many cases has been a serious increase in spending by the food banks at a time when they are already dealing with higher food costs due to inflation and supply chain issues.

    Vaccine passport protests in Europe draw thousands of people — 12:39 p.m.

    Associated Press

    Thousands of people gathered in European capitals Saturday to protest vaccine passports and other requirements governments have imposed in hopes of ending the coronavirus pandemic.

    Demonstrations took place in Athens, Helsinki, London, Paris and Stockholm.

    Marches in Paris drew hundreds of demonstrators protesting the introduction from Monday of a new COVID-19 pass. It will severely restrict the lives of those who refuse to get vaccinated by banning them from domestic flights, sports events, bars, cinemas and other leisure venues. French media reported that demonstrators also marched by the hundreds in other cities.

    In Sweden, where vaccine certificates are required to attend indoor events with more than 50 people, some 3,000 demonstrators marched though central Stockholm and assembled in a main square for a protest organized by the Frihetsrorelsen – or Freedom Movement.

    Omicron nears US peak even as some regions still face struggle — 11:30 a.m.

    Bloomberg

    The omicron variant is starting to loosen its grip on the U.S. Northeast, but experts warn that it will take more time for the latest wave of Covid-19 to recede nationwide.

    The strain’s fast surge and swift descent in one of the most populous parts of the U.S. echoes its trajectory in areas of Europe and South Africa, where infections skyrocketed only to come back down nearly as quickly. That’s raised hopes that while omicron has at times seemed like a replay of the worst days of the early pandemic, it will soon ebb.

    However, the shape of the omicron wave may look different in various parts of the U.S., depending on vaccination rates and hospital capacity in those areas. While omicron has been milder than other variants, it has strained health-care providers across the country, and infections in children have been higher this time around.

    Little evidence that COVID spreads by contact with overseas mail, China says — 9:18 a.m.

    Bloomberg

    Chinese officials say experts have seen little to suggest that Covid-19 is spreading via non-frozen goods after a recent infection of the omicron variant in Beijing was said to be traced to overseas mail.

    Experts have insufficient evidence so far on non-frozen imported goods transmitting Covid-19 to people in China, according to He Qinghua, an official with the National Health Commission, at a press conference on Saturday. Earlier this week, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission said a positive case sometimes handled international mail at work and authorities couldn’t rule out the possibility of the person getting infected through such an instance.

    Further studies need to be carried out, He said. Global studies and virus control practices show the coronavirus mainly spreads through close human-to-human contact, he said.

    “Humans contracting the virus via tainted goods is not the main spreading channel, but we cannot rule out such a possibility,” he added.

    In the Beijing instance, samples taken from a package and some documents inside international mail received by the person tested positive for the virus.

    Airlines in Europe say they are flying near-empty planes as Omicron derails travel. They say EU rules mean they can’t stop. — 8:11 a.m.

    By The Washington Post

    As the Omicron variant derails travel plans around the world, airlines say strict European Union regulations are forcing them to fly near-empty flights — unnecessary and environmentally harmful flights that they argue they need to fly to save their long-term takeoff and landing slots at European airports.

    Airlines must use a certain percentage of their designated slots at airports to hold on to them. But low demand during the pandemic has led airlines to fly near empty flights, often known as ghost flights, to meet the requirements. Lufthansa, a large German airline, has said it canceled 33,000 trips, or 10 percent of its winter flights, because of low demand but still anticipates needing to fly 18,000 “poorly booked” flights to secure its slots.

    China’s success taming virus could make exit strategy harder — 5:44 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The sweeping “zero-tolerance” strategy that China has used to keep COVID-19 case numbers low and its economy functioning may, paradoxically, make it harder for the country to exit the pandemic.

    Most experts say the coronavirus around the world isn’t going away and believe it could eventually become, like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat if enough people gain immunity through infections and vaccines.

    The Fugees are the latest artists to cancel shows over the pandemic — 2:51 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    Pandemic woes continue to disrupt the attempts of artists to resume live performances. Months after delaying their 25th anniversary reunion tour to early this year, The Fugees announced Friday that the tour would be canceled altogether, saying the pandemic made performing safely too difficult. On Thursday, Adele postponed her Las Vegas residency only a day before its debut.

    In a post on Instagram, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michel, who were promoting the anniversary of their Grammy Award-winning album “The Score,” said they were putting safety first.

    “We want to make sure we keep our fans and ourselves healthy and safe,” the post read.

    The group said that “now it may not currently be our time for revisiting this past work,” adding that it remained hopeful that “if opportunity, public safety and scheduling allow,” a future reunion tour might be possible.

      Jan. 21, 2022  

    Passenger from Ireland charged with assault on Delta flight to New York — 11:10 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    A belligerent Delta Air Lines passenger who refused to wear a mask during a recent eight-hour flight from Dublin to New York has been charged with assaulting and intimidating a member of the crew — one of several who tried to get him under control — as he terrorized everyone aboard throughout the trip.

    Shane McInerney, 29, a Galway, Ireland, resident, threw tantrums and stubbornly went maskless on the Jan. 7 international flight despite being asked “dozens of times” by crew members to put one on, court documents say.

    He also created chaos in other ways throughout the trip — including mooning people as he was escorted back to his seat, throwing a drink can at the head of another passenger, and kicking the seat of the person in front of him, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn.

    Two hours into the flight, the captain, on a break, spoke to McInerney, who took off his cap twice, put it on the captain’s head, then allegedly held his fist to the captain’s face and said: “Don’t touch me.”

    As the plane was landing, when passengers and crew members were seated and wearing seat belts, McInerney defiantly stood in the aisle and refused to sit, officials said.

    McInerney was charged with assaulting and intimidating a crew member on Delta Flight 45. He was released on a $20,000 bond when he appeared before a judge a week ago. His case was unsealed on Friday.

    NFL ends daily COVID-19 testing for all players — 11:10 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The NFL is curtailing daily testing of all players, vaccinated or unvaccinated, for COVID-19.

    In a memo sent to the 32 clubs and obtained by The Associated Press, the league said Friday that medical experts from the NFL and the players’ union agreed to the change. Those doctors have seen enough evidence of a decrease in positive tests in the last month to feel comfortable with dropping daily tests.

    Last month, weekly testing for vaccinated players and personnel was stopped, but anyone who reported symptoms of COVID-19 or was part of targeted surveillance still was subjected to testing.

    “Following consultation with our jointly retained infectious disease experts, the NFL and NFL Players Association have updated the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols to eliminate the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated players to determine testing cadence,” the memo said. “Effective immediately, all players and tiered staff will be subject to strategic and targeted testing.”

    The league will continue symptom-based testing and screening for symptoms.

    White House official says US is moving toward a time when ‘COVID won’t be a constant crisis’ — 11:08 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    The official in charge of President Biden’s coronavirus response team expressed optimism Friday about the future of the pandemic, saying the nation is “moving toward a time when COVID won’t disrupt our daily lives, where COVID won’t be a constant crisis but something we protect against and treat.”

    The official, Jeff Zients, made the remark at a White House news conference as the national coronavirus caseload was on a slight downward trajectory, largely because of declines in major cities in the hard-hit Northeast. That trend also prompted Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to sound an upbeat note.

    Latin America, Asia latest to get hit with Omicron surge — 10:24 p.m.

    By Associated Press

    In Costa Rica, officials are encouraging those infected with the coronavirus to skip voting in upcoming national elections. On the other side of the world, Beijing is locking down residential communities as the country anxiously awaits the start of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.

    In Latin America and Asia, where the omicron variant is making its latest appearance, some countries are imposing such restrictions while others are loath to place new limits on populations already exhausted by previous constraints.

    Omicron quickly swept through the places it first hit, such as South Africa, the U.K. and the United States, pushing daily cases far higher than at any time during the pandemic.

    The Americas reported nearly 7.2 million new COVID infections and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths over the past week, the Pan American Health Organization said Wednesday. Coronavirus infections across the Americas almost doubled between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, from 3.4 million cases to 6.1 million, PAHO said.

    Infections are accelerating in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, and hospitalizations are rising in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne. The Caribbean islands are experiencing their steepest increase in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, Etienne noted.

    Mass. Nurses Association calls on Baker to declare state of emergency — 9:54 p.m.

    By Jeremy C. Fox, Globe Correspondent

    The Massachusetts Nurses Association has called for Governor Charlie Baker to declare a state of emergency through the end of March and establish new protections for health care workers who are exhausted by the crushing demands of the pandemic, according to a letter from the group.

    Union President Katie Murphy, a registered nurse, warned in the letter Thursday that the state’s health care system is nearing a breaking point and said Baker should reinstate the provisions of his March 10, 2020, emergency declaration, made one day before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

    COVID hospitalizations plateau in some parts of the US, while a crisis remains in others — 9:28 p.m.

    By New York Times

    Fewer people in the United States are being admitted to hospitals with the coronavirus than a week ago, suggesting that the record-breaking surge in hospitalizations driven by the omicron variant could soon decline, following recent case trends. But the country remains far from the end of the omicron wave, and in many areas it could be weeks before the strain on hospitals subsides.

    The number of people hospitalized with the virus nationwide and those sick enough to require intensive care remain at or near record levels. In much of the West, in parts of the Midwest and in more rural areas of the country, where omicron surges have hit later, cases and hospitalizations are still growing significantly.

    FDA authorizes antiviral drug remdesivir as an outpatient therapy for people with COVID-19 — 8:08 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    Federal regulators Friday authorized the antiviral drug remdesivir for covid-19 outpatients at high risk of being hospitalized, providing a new treatment option for doctors struggling with shortages of effective drugs to counter the coronavirus.

    The Food and Drug Administration said the intravenous treatment, which had been limited to patients in the hospital, could be administered to outpatients with mild-to-moderate illness.

    Remdesivir, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was among the first coronavirus treatments authorized in 2020. The drug received full agency approval later that year for people 12 and older. Treatment of younger children is permitted under an emergency use authorization, but Friday’s expansion to outpatients includes both age groups.

    Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules — 8:03 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sued the Biden administration on Friday over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

    The lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix comes a week after the U.S. Treasury Department demanded that Ducey either restructure the $163 million program to eliminate restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a repayment demand. The Treasury Department also wants changes to a $10 million program Ducey created that gives private school tuition money to parents if their children’s schools have mask mandates.

    Rio de Janeiro delays Carnival parades as Omicron spreads — 7:40 p.m.

    By Associated Press

    The world-famous Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro will be held in late April rather than the final weekend of February, as the number of coronavirus cases in Brazil spikes and the omicron variant spreads across the country.

    “The decision was made respecting for the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil and the need, at this time, to preserve lives and join forces to drive vaccination throughout the country,” said a statement issued Friday jointly by the cities of Rio and Sao Paulo, which also delayed the start of its Carnival parades until April 21.

    Earlier in the afternoon, Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes and his Sao Paulo counterpart Ricardo Nunes held a video call along with their respective health secretaries and each city’s league of samba schools that put on the parade, according to the statement.

    Mass. reports 86,450 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, raising total to 6.8 percent of fully vaccinated people — 5:55 p.m.

    By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

    Massachusetts on Friday reported 86,450 more COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people since last week, bringing the total since the beginning of the vaccination campaign to 348,510 cases, or 6.8 percent of all fully vaccinated people.

    The data, which is typically released on Tuesdays, was reported on Friday after delays due to network connectivity issues, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said.

    Preteens may be vaccinated without parents under California bill — 5:22 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    California would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent under a proposal introduced Friday by a state senator who said youngsters “deserve the right to protect themselves” against infectious disease.

    Currently in California, minors ages 12 to 17 cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardians, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. Parental consent laws for vaccinations vary by state and region and a few places such as Philadelphia, San Francisco allow minors to consent to their own COVID-19 vaccines.

    Wiener’s bill would lift the parental requirement for that age group for any vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the bill passes, California would allow the youngest age of any state to be vaccinated without parental permission.

    That includes immunizations against the coronavirus, but Wiener said vaccine hesitancy and misinformation has also deterred vaccinations against measles and other contagious diseases that can then spread among youths whose parents won’t agree to have them vaccinated.

    “You have parents who are blocking their kids from getting the vaccines or … they may not be anti-vaccine but they just aren’t prioritizing it,” Wiener told reporters at a news conference at San Francisco’s Everett Middle School. “Those kids deserve the right to protect themselves.”

    Mass. reports 13,935 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 102 deaths — 5:13 p.m.

    By Globe Staff

    Massachusetts on Friday reported 13,935 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 29,322 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 102 new confirmed deaths.

    Why you should take COVID-19 precautions even as Omicron declines — 4:51 p.m.

    By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

    Recent news on the Omicron-fueled coronavirus surge has been encouraging. Massachusetts cases are dropping from stratospheric heights. Coronavirus traces in Boston-area waste water, considered a harbinger of future cases, are plummeting. And some experts are predicting a lull ahead — or even the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

    But don’t get too excited, experts say, emphasizing that it’s crucial for people to take precautions even as cases fall, both to protect themselves and to ensure that the steep case declines continue.

    US judge blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers — 4:12 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction Friday blocking the White House from requiring federal workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, although the ruling came months after the White House said that 95% of federal workers were already in compliance.

    The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.

    What can Google search trends for COVID-19 symptoms tell us about the direction of the pandemic? — 3:19 p.m.

    By Amanda Kaufman and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

    In what may be another encouraging sign that the surge of the Omicron variant is subsiding in Massachusetts and around the country, the volume of Google search trends for COVID-19 symptoms is declining.

    Data provided by Google on trends in searches for COVID-19 symptoms showed that after rising through most of December, the number of searches for symptoms like fever, chills, and cough began to drop in the last days of 2021 in the United States and Massachusetts.

    The decline in search volume for certain COVID symptoms appears to align with data from the state’s Department of Public Health that show COVID-19 cases are declining in the state. According to state data, the seven-day average of new cases is 30 percent lower than when it peaked last week. And in the United States, the seven-day average of daily cases is beginning to tick downwards after appearing to reach a peak a few days ago, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Having trouble ordering free COVID-19 rapid tests? Here’s what to do. — 2:25 p.m.

    By Emily Sweeney, Globe Staff

    The government website where you can order free COVID-19 tests is up and running, and every American home is eligible to receive four at-home tests. It’s a very simple process — except when it’s not.

    If you haven’t ordered your free rapid tests, visit www.covidtests.gov, click on the blue “Order Free At-Home Tests” button, and it will take you to a page on the US Postal Service’s website where you fill out your name and address. No payment is necessary, so you don’t need a credit card or health insurance information. Tests are supposed to start being mailed out the week of Jan. 24, and orders should ship within 7-12 days of placing the order, according to the website.

    Changing Course: American Air tweaks meals to boost masking — 2:07 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    American Airlines and its flight attendants agreed to change the carrier’s onboard food service to maximize the amount of time that passengers keep their face masks on.

    Effective Jan. 26, the first three courses of meals in first class will be served at once, rather than separately, on some cross-country flights and routes to Europe, Asia and South America. In coach on those flights, beverages will be offered only with meal service, according to a memo sent to flight attendants Friday.

    On domestic trips of 1,500 miles or more, a second beverage service will be made on-request.

    The Association of Professional Flight Attendants proposed the new standards, which are temporary, to help reduce contact between flight attendants and passengers while travelers face coverings are off. Federal rules meant to limit spread of the new coronavirus require passengers to wear masks during flights unless they are eating or drinking.

    Mass. employers added 222,000 jobs last year — 1:20 p.m.

    By Larry Edelman, Globe Columnist

    Massachusetts employers added 20,100 jobs in December, according to data released on Friday, wrapping up a year in which they struggled to fill open positions.

    Employment in the state increased by more than 222,000 jobs in 2021 but remains about 155,000 below the pre-pandemic level of February 2020. Hiring has been restrained by COVID-19 disruptions and the reluctance of many residents to jump back into the labor force.

    Somerville health panel rejects indoor business vaccine mandate — 12:56 p.m.

    By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

    Somerville’s Board of Health on Thursday voted 2-1 to reject a proposed COVID-19 vaccination requirement for indoor businesses such as restaurants, gyms, clubs, and theaters.

    “I don’t feel like I’m ready to sign on to this mandate for this virus at this time,” said Dr. Brian Green, chair of the health board, during the panel’s meeting prior to the vote. “Because what we know about Omicron is that this is not going to have any effect of decreasing transmissibility in the restaurants and gyms.”

    Green, however, suggested he could support such a mandate under different circumstances.

    Almost a quarter of Bulgarians testing positive for COVID, country responds — 12:29 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Health authorities stepped up anti-infection measures in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, and other major cities in response to a surge in new coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

    Schools are limiting in-person classes, requiring students in all grades except first through fourth to switch to distance learning. The precautions also ban mass events and require restaurants and bars to operate at half of their customer capacity. All catering and entertainment establishments have to close no later than 10 p.m., and visitors need valid health certificates to be admitted.

    Bulgaria, which has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the European Union and a population of 6.5 million, reported on Friday 8,932 new virus cases and 87 deaths. The country’s test positivity rate for the virus increased to about 24 percent.

    Booster shots improve protection against Omicron, CDC studies show — 11:37 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Three studies released Friday offered more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the Omicron variant, at least among people who received booster shots.

    They are the first large US studies to look at vaccine protection against Omicron, health officials said.

    The papers echo previous research — including studies in Germany, South Africa and the UK — indicating available vaccines are less effective against Omicron than earlier versions of the coronavirus, but also that boosters significantly improve protection.

    Firefighters union pushes back against vaccination mandate for Boston’s workforce — 10:53 a.m.

    By Danny McDonald and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

    In the latest instance of resistance to Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its city workforce, the influential firefighters union is pushing back against the new requirement with a planned news conference that will detail its objections at Florian Hall on Friday.

    The Boston Firefighters Local 718 has invited its members “to stand in opposition to Mayor [Michelle] Wu’s anti-labor actions.”

    “Her blatant disregard for the collective bargaining process by unilaterally revising a memorandum of agreement with an effective testing option cannot go unchecked,” read a message from the union to its members.

    COVID boosters should start with most vulnerable, says WHO — 9:51 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The World Health Organization says that coronavirus vaccine boosters should now now be offered to people, starting with the most vulnerable, in a move away from its previous insistence that boosters were unnecessary for healthy adults and an acknowledgment that the vaccine supply is improving globally.

    At a press briefing on Friday, the U.N. health agency said it was now recommending booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, beginning in the highest-priority groups, about four to six months after receiving the first two doses, in line with guidance from dozens of countries that embarked upon booster programs months ago.

    6 Czech players test positive before Olympic training camp — 9:40 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Six players on the Czech Republic’s Olympic hockey team have tested positive for the coronavirus, national team coach Filip Pešán said Friday.

    The six players, all unnamed, are among a group of 12 that came from the Russia-based KHL.

    “It’s a complicated situation and it’s changing every hour,” Pešán said, adding none of the positive players had any symptoms.

    Those who tested negative will stay in a bubble in a hotel near the team’s training facility in Prague while the positive individuals will isolate at home and join the team later, depending on negative tests.

    The Czechs have named a preliminary 24-man squad for the Beijing Olympics. Anticipating possible positive coronavirus tests, Pešán has 30 substitutes available to step in.

    Former Boston Bruins center David Krejci will lead the hockey team in Beijing, where the NHL won’t participate. The 35-year-old Krejci left Boston in July after 14 NHL seasons to continue his career at home in the Czech Republic.

    The first part of the team is set to fly to Beijing on Thursday.

    Adele postpones Las Vegas residency, citing pandemic impact — 6:43 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Adele has postponed a 24-date Las Vegas residency hours before it was to start, citing delivery delays and coronavirus illness in her crew.

    The chart-topping British singer said she was “gutted” and promised to reschedule the shows.

    In a video message posted on social media, a tearful Adele said: “I’m so sorry but my show ain’t ready.”

    “We’ve tried absolutely everything that we can to pull it together in time and for it to be good enough for you but we’ve been absolutely destroyed by delivery delays and COVID,” she said, adding that “half my team are down with” the virus.

    Adele had been due to perform 24 shows at Caesars Palace Hotel starting Friday following the release of her fourth album, “30.”

    In a tweet, Caesars Palace said it understood fans’ disappointment but added: “Creating a show of this magnitude is incredibly complex. We fully support Adele and are confident the show she unveils at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace will be extraordinary.”

    Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths — 6:42 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Australia on Friday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic with 80 coronavirus fatalities, as an outbreak of the Omicron variant continued to take a toll.

    But Dominic Perrottet, premier of the most populous state, New South Wales, said a slight decrease in hospitalizations gave him some hope about the strain the outbreak is putting on the health system.

    The previous record of 78 deaths was set on Tuesday. There have been just under 3,000 coronavirus deaths in Australia since the pandemic began.

    New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported a record 46 deaths. They included a baby who died from COVID-19 in December, one of several historical cases that were investigated.

    China mandates 3-day Olympic torch relay amid virus concerns — 3:34 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    China is limiting the torch relay for the Winter Olympic Games to just three days amid coronavirus worries, organizers said Friday.

    The flame will be displayed only in enclosed venues that are deemed “safe and controllable,” according to officials speaking at a news conference.

    No public transit routes would be disturbed and normal life would continue for the 20 million residents of the capital, where a handful of new COVID-19 cases have been recorded over recent days.

    Beijing’s Deputy Sports Director Yang Haibin said safety was the “top priority,” with the pandemic, venue preparations and the possibility of forest fires in Beijing’s cold, dry climate all factored in.

    The relay will run Feb. 2-4, taking in the three competition areas of downtown Beijing, the suburb of Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou in the neighboring province of Hebei.

    The Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics.

    Preteens may be vaxed without parents under California bill — 12:47 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    California would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent, the youngest age of any state, under a proposal late Thursday by a state senator.

    Alabama allows such decisions at age 14, Oregon at 15, Rhode Island, and South Carolina at 16, according to Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who is proposing the change. Only Washington, D.C., has a lower limit, at age 11.

    Wiener argued that California already allows those 12 and up to consent to the Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, and to treatment for sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.

    “Giving young people the autonomy to receive life-saving vaccines, regardless of their parents’ beliefs or work schedules, is essential for their physical and mental health,” he said. “It’s unconscionable for teens to be blocked from the vaccine because a parent either refuses or cannot take their child to a vaccination site.”

    Currently in California, minors ages 12 to 17 cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardian, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a sexually transmitted disease.

    Wiener’s bill would lift the parental requirement for that age group for any vaccine that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    That includes immunizations against the coronavirus, but Wiener said vaccine hesitancy and misinformation has also deterred vaccinations against measles and other contagious diseases that can then spread among youths whose parents won’t agree to have them vaccinated.

    Austria takes big step toward COVID vaccine mandate for adults — 12:46 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    Austria’s lower house of Parliament voted Thursday to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for almost everyone 18 and older, putting the nation on the path to be the first in Europe with such a wide-reaching mandate.

    The law would take effect Feb. 1. The bill must still pass in the upper house and be signed by the president, Alexander Van der Bellen, but both are considered formalities at this point.

    While Austria’s bill is the first of its kind, other European nations are pushing large segments of their populations to get vaccinated. Italy has made vaccines mandatory for those older than 50, with fines for those who do not comply, and Greece has mandated vaccines for those 60 and older. Other European countries have made vaccine passports compulsory for certain activities.

    Under the Austrian law, people who are pregnant or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 will be exempt.

    Once the law goes into effect, all households will be notified. The government said it would begin routine checks of vaccination status in mid-March, including during traffic checks.

    Once the vaccine checks begin, people who can’t immediately produce proof of vaccination will be reported to authorities and can be fined up to 600 euros ($685). If people contest their fine, it can increase to 3,600 euros (about $4,000).

    The law is set to last until 2024. Austria’s current rate of vaccination is 75%, similar to that of France and of Italy, and new cases are averaging 17,846 a day, according to a New York Times database.

    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, opponent of vaccine and mask mandates, tests positive for coronavirus — 12:45 a.m.

    By The Washington Post

    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, R, who has challenged the Biden administration’s efforts to mandate vaccines, reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus, his office confirmed.

    “He remains working diligently for the people of Texas from home,” spokesman Alejandro Garcia said in a statement.

    Paxton’s office did not answer questions about whether he was vaccinated or when he was infected.

    Social media posts showed him attending a rally for former president Donald Trump over the weekend.

    The attorney general, whom Trump endorsed, filed a lawsuit this month to challenge the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate efforts.

    Paxton has staunchly opposed attempts by President Biden to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory for health-care workers in facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds, for troops in the Texas National Guard, and for staff members at Head Start programs. He has also fought requirements for parents, teachers, and children to wear masks at schools.

      Jan. 20, 2022  

    About 1.5 percent of Beijing Olympics arrivals have COVID — 10:30 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    About 1.5% of athletes and others entering Beijing for the Winter Olympics are testing positive for Covid, with all of the infections caught within five days of arrival, according to the International Olympics Committee’s Covid-19 support team. There have been no signs of transmission within the closed-loop bubble established by the organizers, and just 0.02% of those screened inside the area have tested positive.

    The results show that early identification of infections and mitigation measures designed to stop their transmission is an effective alternative to quarantine requirements, the organizers said.

    Japan eyes more quasi-emergency measures, Yomiuri says — 9:29 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Japan’s government may expand a state of quasi-emergency to eight more prefectures, covering 24 of the country’s 47 regions in total, the Yomiuri newspaper reported without attribution. The expansion would include Osaka and its vicinity.

    An official decision on the measure, which allows local governments to place restrictions on businesses, will be made as early as Jan. 25, the newspaper said. It also reported that the government is looking to extend existing measures in three prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi — by two weeks.

    San Francisco coronavirus cases fall rapidly — 8:34 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    San Francisco’s infections are falling rapidly from a peak a week and half ago, the city’s department of health said Thursday. The seven-day average of cases dropped to about 1,705 per day as of Jan. 12 from 2,164 on Jan. 9, while hospitalizations are also expected to peak in the next few days at a level that’s within the health system’s capacity.

    Mayor London Breed said the city’s response to the omicron-fueled surge demonstrates it can handle large outbreaks while keeping schools and the economy open.

    “We know that this virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, but we have the tools in place and the experience managing Covid to not let it completely upend our lives,” she said in a statement.

    Mass. reports dip in new public school coronavirus cases with 28,151 among students and 4,758 among staff — 6:06 p.m.

    By Colleen Cronin, Globe Correspondent

    For the first time since early December, coronavirus cases among both students and staff in Massachusetts public school have decreased, according to data released Thursday.

    State education leaders reported 28,151 new cases among public school students and 4,758 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

    The 32,909 total cases were 15,505 fewer, or about 32 percent less, than those reported last week. The decrease in school cases comes as data shows that cases statewide have peaked after an Omicron-fueled surge.

    14,384 confirmed cases and 86 deaths. See today’s COVID-19 data from Mass. — 5:15 p.m.

    By Peter Bailey-Wells, Ryan Huddle, Daigo Fujiwara and Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

    Massachusetts on Thursday reported 14,384 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 31,190 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 86 new confirmed deaths.

    The state also reported that 3,144 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 15.03 percent.

    Nearly half of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Massachusetts are ‘incidental’ cases, new state data show — 5:13 p.m.

    By Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

    New state data show 51 percent of COVID hospitalizations in Massachusetts on Tuesday were patients who were seriously ill from the virus, while 49 percent of patients were admitted for other reasons but happened to test positive upon admission.

    The state launched its new method of reporting primary vs. incidental COVID-19 hospitalizations on Thursday, reporting that on Jan. 18, 1,624 people were in the hospital primarily because they were seriously sick with the virus while 1,563 patients had tested positive for COVID-19 while being hospitalized for other reasons.

    Some experts predict a lull but say COVID could have more tricks up its sleeve — 5:12 p.m.

    By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

    The surge fueled by the Omicron variant will likely fade in the weeks ahead in the United States, experts say, and encouraging case declines have already emerged in Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast.

    But what comes after that? Some experts are expecting a lull in the pandemic followed by a decline in the severity of future waves. But many also warn that it’s hard to predict where the pandemic will go next — and a new variant could throw everything into doubt.

    COVID-19 cases have peaked in Massachusetts — 5:10 p.m.

    By Felice J. Freyer and Kay Lazar, Globe Staff

    The latest wave of COVID-19 in Massachusetts has crested, with the number of new cases dropping precipitously since last week, prompting even the most wary prognosticators to see a flicker at the end of the tunnel.

    The data indicate Massachusetts is headed toward a respite, and the United States also will see cases decline, said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. But he cautioned that “every expectation with this virus comes with a caveat because it’s always making us look silly.”

    Biden’s team says it’s on alert for Omicron disruptions in China — 3:26 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    The Biden administration is monitoring real-time data obtained from businesses operating in China to determine whether outbreaks of the Omicron variant of coronavirus pose a risk to US supply chains, an administration official said.

    It’s too early to tell whether there will be any impact on the American economy from the variant’s spread in China or from aggressive efforts by officials there to stamp it out, the official said.

    The official asked not to be identified discussing the administration’s efforts because the data is not public.

    Free rapid tests are about to roll out in the US. In other countries, they’re already part of daily life. — 2:18 p.m.

    The US government is just beginning to roll out free antigen home tests. A website for ordering launched this week, with the first batches – four per household – scheduled for delivery later this month. But while up to now home tests have been expensive and hard to find in much of America, in other countries – Britain, Singapore and India among them – rapid self-tests have been widely accessible for some time. And people have incorporated them into their everyday lives.

    Whereas the Biden administration announced it is buying 1 billion rapid tests, Britain’s National Health Service has already distributed 1.7 billion free home tests (in a country of 67 million) over the past nine months. With packs of seven available by home delivery and at pharmacies, people have boxes in their kitchen, next to the daily bread, ready to go.

    Coronavirus levels in Boston-area waste water continue to plunge — 12:48 p.m.

    By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

    In another encouraging sign that Omicron may be loosening its grip on the state, the amount of coronavirus detected in Eastern Massachusetts waste water has continued its dizzying decline in recent days, according to data released Thursday by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

    The numbers have dropped to less than a quarter of their Omicron-fueled peaks early this month, though they are remain higher than they were during last winter’s surge.

    Plane heading to London returns to Miami over maskless passenger — 11:32 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    An American Airlines flight to London returned to Miami after a passenger refused to follow the federal requirement to wear a face mask, according to the airline.

    The airline called Miami police, and officers escorted a woman off the plane at Miami International Airport Wednesday evening without incident. A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department said American Airlines staff dealt “administratively” with the passenger.

    The Cambridge startup tracking COVID in America’s wastewater — 11:11 a.m.

    By Pranshu Verma, Globe Staff

    When talking with Mariana Matus and Newsha Ghaeli about poop, it can veer into the philosophical.

    “The behavior of a city is imprinted in its sewage,” Ghaeli said. “It’s like the fingerprints of our health.”

    Their company, Biobot Analytics, has met the pandemic moment. What started as a research idea at MIT, focusing on how wastewater data can help mitigate the spread of disease, has turned into something bigger. Now, it’s a fast-growing startup — with over 65 employees and millions in funding — that has contracted with over 700 towns, across every state in the country, to study their sewage and help policy makers predict how bad the coronavirus could get in their communities.

    NBC will not send announcers to Beijing for Winter Olympics — 10:45 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    NBC will not be sending its announcers and most hosts to the Beijing Olympics due to continued concerns about rising COVID-19 cases worldwide and China’s strict policy about those who test positive.

    It will be the second straight Games for which the broadcast teams will work mostly out of NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, rather than the host city.

    MBTA patron refuses to wear mask, hits Transit police officer in face, officials say — 10:17 a.m.

    By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

    A 29-year-old Sturbridge man was arrested Tuesday for allegedly striking a Transit police officer after refusing to don a mask to ride the T at North Station, officials said.

    In a statement, MBTA Transit Police identified the man as Rutul Jaiswal.

    Police were called to the North Station Commuter Rail around 9:45 a.m. because Jaiswal had allegedly refused “to wear a mask while attempting to travel on the MBTA,” the release said.

    36 percent lower risk of hospitalization from Omicron found in Denmark — 10:05 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    The risk of ending up hospitalized after a COVID-19 infection is 36 percent lower for people who were exposed to the Omicron than the Delta variant, according to a new study from health authorities in Denmark.

    The study in the Nordic nation, which has one of the world’s most ambitious programs for testing and variant screening, showed that 0.6 percent of those infected with the new variant were admitted to hospital, compared with 1.5 percent of those who tested positive for Delta.

    US jobless claims rise to 286,000, highest since October — 9:43 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in three months as the fast-spreading Omicron variant disrupted the job market.

    Jobless claims rose for the third straight week — by 55,000 to 286,000, highest since mid-October, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly volatility, rose by 20,000 to 231,000, highest since late November.

    A surge in COVID-19 cases has set back what had been a strong comeback from last year’s short but devastating coronavirus recession. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, had fallen mostly steadily for about a year and late last year dipped below the pre-pandemic average of around 220,000 a week.

    ‘It’s been a desperate call’: Substitute teachers in high demand as districts grapple with teaching shortages — 9:35 p.m.

    By Dana Gerber, Globe Correspondent

    With Massachusetts school districts facing debilitating teacher shortages due to COVID-19, substitutes are among the staff members sorely needed but in scant supply. In an attempt to keep classrooms covered, school systems across the region are desperately trying to find anyone to fill in as the most recent surge of the virus pummels the teaching population.

    As incentives, districts like Woburn and Brockton recently announced pay hikes to recruit more substitutes. Since the onset of the pandemic, both Boston and Cambridge have waived the requirement for substitute teachers to have a bachelor’s degree; Cambridge now requires at least one year of professional experience working with students, said spokesperson Sujata Wycoff, and Boston requires unlicensed candidates to pass an online course, according to the current job listing.

    New Mexico is short on substitute teachers. The governor asked the National Guard and state employees for help. — 5:22 a.m.

    By The Washington Post

    As school districts across the country scramble to find substitute teachers to fill in for instructors out sick with COVID, New Mexico is tapping into unconventional resources for help: the National Guard and state employees.


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    The initiative, which Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, D, said is the first in the nation, encourages government workers and National Guard members to volunteer to become licensed substitute teachers, Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday.

    “Our schools are a critical source of stability for kids — we know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. ” . . . The state stands ready to help keep kids in the classroom, parents able to go to work, and teachers able to fully focus on the critical work they do every single day.”

    Government employees and National Guard members who volunteer will be placed on administrative leave or active duty status and receive their normal salaries.

    Employers across various industries are reeling from staff shortages as the Omicron variant spreads throughout the country. Hospitals, grocery stores, and airlines are all struggling to keep up with demands as employees call out because they are sick or need to quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

    Staff shortages at schools have been a primary concern for government officials, who worry about how a third year of instability will impact students. Some school districts have taken creative steps to keep students in classrooms and operations running. Superintendents in Texas and Michigan have asked parents to volunteer as substitutes. In Vermont, school board members have filled in as custodial workers, and in Georgia, a school principal has been helping out in the cafeteria. In Delaware, a charter school offered to pay parents $700 to take their children to school and pick them up at the end of the day.

    Dutch artists protest COVID lockdown of cultural venues by hosting approved haircuts at shut-down museums — 5:19 a.m.

    By The Washington Post

    Some of the Netherlands’ most celebrated museums, concert halls, and art centers opened their doors Wednesday to host hairdressers, nail artists, and fitness instructors, in playful protest against what they see as inconsistencies in the country’s coronavirus protocols.

    Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week that businesses such as beauty salons and fitness centers would be allowed to resume operations after a strict lockdown that was imposed in mid-December. But cultural venues such as theaters and galleries would remain shut for at least another week, he said.

    That proved a step too far for performance artists Sanne Wallis de Vries and Diederik Ebbinge, who organized the Hair Salon Theater initiative to bring hairdressers and nail artists to still-shuttered cultural venues on Wednesday.

    The Dutch cultural sector has been flexible and adaptive, the organizers said in a statement, but believed that the “dire situation” facing the arts should be highlighted. They asked for a plan for reopening the sector and noted that few infections had been linked to arts groups over the pandemic, suggesting that it was possible to resume cultural life carefully.

    The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was among the several dozen cultural venues that partnered with the Hair Salon Theater initiative. Customers who reserved seats ahead of time were able to get $38 haircuts or $34 Van Gogh-themed manicures while sitting amid the impressionist master’s portraits. (Masking and social distancing were mandatory.)

    New Zealand says it won’t use lockdowns when Omicron spreads — 2:23 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    New Zealand is among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of the Omicron variant — but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday an outbreak was inevitable and the nation would tighten restrictions as soon as one was detected.

    But she also said that New Zealand would not impose the lockdowns that it has used previously, including for the Delta variant.

    “This stage of the pandemic is different to what we have dealt with before. Omicron is more transmissible,” Ardern said. “That is going to make it harder to keep it out, but it will also make it more challenging to control once it arrives. But just like before, when COVID changes, we change.”

    Ardern said that within 24 to 48 hours of Omicron being detected in the community, the nation would move into its “red” setting. That would allow businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but would require schoolchildren to wear masks and limit crowds to 100 people.

    Why are men more likely to die of COVID? It’s complicated. — 12:08 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    It’s one of the most well-known takeaways of the pandemic: Men die of COVID-19 more often than women do.

    Early on, some scientists suspected the reason was primarily biological, and that sex-based treatments for men — like estrogen injections or androgen blockers — could help reduce their risk of dying.

    But a new study analyzing sex differences in COVID-19 deaths over time in the United States suggests that the picture is much more complicated.

    While men overall died at a higher rate than women, the trends varied widely over time and by state, the study found. That suggests that social factors — like job types, behavioral patterns, and underlying health issues — played a big role in the apparent sex differences, researchers said.

    NBC will not send announcers to Beijing for Winter Games — 12:03 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    NBC will not be sending its announcers and most hosts to the Beijing Olympics due to continued concerns about rising COVID-19 cases worldwide and China’s strict policy about those who test positive.

    It will be the second straight Games for which the broadcast teams will work mostly out of NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, rather than the host city.

    “Something significant has changed virtually every day for the last three months, forcing us to adjust our plan numerous times. And I expect that to continue as well as the challenge of doing the Olympics,” said Molly Solomon, the head of NBC’s Olympics production unit.

    “With COVID’s changing conditions and China’s zero-tolerance policy, it’s just added a layer of complexity to all of this, so we need to make sure we can provide the same quality experience to the American viewers. That’s why we are split between the two cities.”

    NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes said in a phone interview the network no longer plans to send announcing teams for Alpine skiing, figure skating, and snowboarding to China. Those had been among the handful of announcers expected to travel, but NBC’s plans changed over the past couple of weeks.

    “Our plans will continue to evolve based on the conditions, and we’re going to stay flexible as we move through this,” Hughes said.

    NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel is one of 250 people the network already has in Beijing. Most of those are technical staff.

    US hospitals brace as deadlines loom from a vaccine mandate — 12:02 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    Health care workers in two dozen states must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by March 15 after a Supreme Court decision last week, a ruling that has left some already understaffed hospital systems bracing to possibly lose workers just as the highly contagious Omicron variant is inundating them with patients.

    The new guidance was issued Friday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services after the court upheld President Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. It will affect about 10 million people at about 76,000 health care facilities participating in the Medicaid and Medicare program, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

    Experts say mandates are effective in persuading more people to become vaccinated, which they say is essential to helping prevent the spread of the virus. And Biden has continued to push for more vaccinations and testing, reiterating that schools should remain open and the time for lockdowns was over.

    “We’re moving toward a time when COVID-19 won’t disrupt our daily lives,” Biden said at a news conference Wednesday. He called a recent Supreme Court decision to block a vaccination-or-testing mandate for large private employers “a mistake.”

    The CDC’s guidance Friday meant that health care workers in 24 states where vaccine mandates were not yet in effect must receive at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine within 30 days and must be fully vaccinated by March 15, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said.

    The states affected are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. For these states, the federal vaccine requirement had been blocked by a lower court.

    The guidance does not yet apply to Texas, where a preliminary injunction still prevents such requirements.

    The Supreme Court’s decision does not affect timelines already in place for the other 25 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories, where health care workers must by fully vaccinated by Feb. 28, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

    New Jersey mandates booster shots for hospital, nursing home, and prison employees — 12:01 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    Employees of New Jersey hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and jails will be required to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — with a booster — or risk losing their jobs, Governor Philip D. Murphy announced on Wednesday.

    Workers at most medical facilities in the state were already required to be vaccinated by Feb. 28 under President Biden’s mandate for health care workers at entities receiving federal money, which recently withstood a Supreme Court challenge.

    But Murphy’s requirement goes further, mandating health care workers to get booster shots as well, and it represents a significant shift for the state’s prison and jail system, where staffing levels are already strained and vaccination is well below the statewide rate.

    Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn in to a second term on Tuesday, had given workers the option to satisfy the state’s earlier vaccination requirement by getting regularly tested for the coronavirus.

    “Testing out will no longer be an option,” Murphy said outside a testing site in South Jersey. “We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues, and, perhaps, I think, even more importantly, those who are their responsibility, in danger of COVID. That has to stop.”

    The governor said that there were no plans to expand the new rule, issued by executive order, to the state’s teachers.

    New Jersey’s requirement comes two weeks after New York state said it would require health care workers to get booster shots within two weeks of becoming eligible for one. California has a similar requirement that will go into effect on Feb. 1.

    Arizona threatens to sue Biden administration if it withholds pandemic aid — 12:01 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    Arizona officials on Wednesday threatened to take legal action against the Biden administration if the Treasury Department follows through on a warning that it could withhold future pandemic aid payments to the state, which has been using the money to undercut mask requirements in schools.

    The response was the latest escalation in a wide-ranging battle between the Biden administration and some Republican-led states, whose officials have argued that the federal government should not control how they spend their share of the $1.9 trillion stimulus funds that Congress approved last year.

    In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday, Arizona’s attorney general said that a Treasury Department warning about the funds last week was “blatant federal encroachment” and that the state was prepared to take the matter to court.

    “We will not be intimidated by the heavy-hand of the Biden Administration forcing Arizona to comply with ambiguous and unrealistic national standards created and ‘enforced’ by federal bureaucrats,” Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, wrote to Yellen.

    Arizona was awarded $4.2 billion of pandemic relief money last year and has received about half of that so far. States, cities, and tribal governments were allocated $350 billion out of the $1.9 trillion relief package.

    Many Republican-led states have attempted to use the money in ways that the Biden administration says are at odds with the intent of the law, such as cutting taxes or undercutting initiatives that are intended to promote public health.

    In sewage, clues to Omicron’s surge — 12:00 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    As the highly contagious Omicron variant pushes national coronavirus case numbers to record highs and sends hospitals across the country into crisis mode, public health officials are eagerly searching for an indication of how long this surge might last.

    The clues are emerging from an unlikely source: sewage.

    People who contract the coronavirus shed the virus in their stool, and the virus levels in local wastewater provide a strong, independent signal of how much is circulating in a given community.

    According to Biobot Analytics, a company tracking the coronavirus in wastewater in 183 communities across 25 states, viral levels have already begun to decline in many big cities but are still rising in smaller communities.

    In the Boston area, for instance, Biobot’s data suggests that the wastewater viral load has been falling since early January, consistent with other data suggesting that the virus may have peaked there. The virus appears to be waning in New York City wastewater, too, according to data shared by scientists in the region.

    A variety of wastewater surveillance efforts in the United States show that viral loads have also started to decline in Denver; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and elsewhere.

    The most recent data suggest that the virus may not have peaked yet in parts of Ohio, Utah, Florida and wide swaths of rural Missouri.

      Jan. 19, 2022  

    Biden will provide 400 million N95 masks for free starting next week — 9:20 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans who have had a hard time getting their hands on masks and at-home tests are suddenly being showered with offers of freebies — courtesy of taxpayers and the Biden administration, which had come under sharp criticism for not acting sooner.

    On Wednesday, the administration announced that it would make 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks available free of charge at community health centers and retail pharmacies across the United States. The White House said that to “ensure broad access for all Americans,” there would be a limit of three masks per person.

    The news came a day after the administration rolled out covidtests.gov, its new website where Americans can order at-home coronavirus tests at no cost.

    Taken together, the moves represent a stepped-up effort by the White House to combat Omicron, the fast-moving coronavirus variant that first appeared in November and has fueled a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the country. But some public health experts said that while the efforts were welcome, they were too late.

    Yes, that’s a primal scream you hear from mothers of young kids — 8:35 p.m.

    Beth Teitell, Globe Staff

    On a cold night on a desolate field in Charlestown last week, 20 moms gathered to treat themselves to one of the only pleasures still left — a long, deep, primal scream.

    AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!

    Word of the scream had spread in local mothers’ groups and online, and at the appointed time the moms started arriving. They were fleeing footed pajamas and bedtime stories, and, in the case of one mom, a 6-year-old who was so unhappy her mother was leaving that she herself started to scream (albeit not as part of a Facebook group).

    US is weary of COVID but has made progress, Biden says — 6:13 p.m.

    Associated Press

    President Joe Biden acknowledged Wednesday that the pandemic has left Americans exhausted and demoralized but insisted at a news conference marking his first year in office that he has “outperformed” expectations. He said he would likely have to settle for “big chunks” of his signature economic package to break an impasse in Congress.

    He said he believes important parts will be passed before the 2022 midterm elections and voters will back Democrats if they are fully informed — an assignment he said he will pursue by traveling the country.

    The president began the news conference by reeling off early successes on coronavirus relief and a bipartisan infrastructure deal. But his economic, voting rights, police reform and immigration agenda have all been thwarted in a Democratic-controlled Senate, while inflation has emerged in the past year as an economic threat to the nation and a political risk for Biden.

    Mass. reports 14,647 confirmed COVID-19 cases; 199 confirmed deaths reported over four days — 5:58 p.m.

    Globe Staff

    Massachusetts on Wednesday reported 14,647 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 36,886 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 199 new confirmed deaths were reported on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

    The state also reported that 3,187 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. On Wednesday, the seven-day percent positivity was 16.70 percent.

    Starbucks nixes vaccine mandate after Supreme Court ruling — 4:43 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a plan it announced earlier this month.

    In a memo sent Tuesday to employees, the Seattle coffee giant said it was responding to last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the Biden administration’s plan to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.

    “We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in the memo.

    Starbucks’ reversal is among the most high-profile corporate actions in response to the Supreme Court ruling. The company employs 228,000 people in the U.S.

    Boston-based General Electric Co. also suspended its vaccine mandate last week, according to IUE-CWA Local 201, a union that represents machinists, electricians and other GE employees. GE, which employs 56,000 people in the U.S., had initially called for employees to get fully vaccinated no later than Feb. 11.

    But other companies have kept their mandates in place. Citigroup Inc., one of the largest U.S. banks, announced in October that employees needed to be vaccinated or receive an accommodation by Jan. 14. New York-based Citi said Wednesday that 99% of its employees have complied so far.

    Work clothing maker Carhartt also stuck to its vaccine mandate. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company, which has 3,000 U.S. workers, told employees in an email last Friday that the Supreme Court decision wouldn’t impact its own mandate, which went into effect this month.

    Florida public health official put on leave after urging vaccination — 4:06 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    Florida’s top public health official in Orlando has been placed on administrative leave after sending an email to his employees noting their lackluster coronavirus vaccination rates and urging them to get the shots.

    The official — Dr. Raul Pino, the administrator for the Florida Department of Health’s office in Orange County — sent the email Jan. 4, in the thick of a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant.

    In the email, Pino said that he had asked a staff member to pull out the vaccination rates for the office and that the figures were alarming: Of the office’s 568 employees, only 219 — fewer than half — had completed a full vaccination series, and just 77 of them had received a booster shot, a number he called “SUPER LOW.”

    “I am sorry, but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons, it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” Pino wrote in the email, which was first reported by WFTV, the local ABC News affiliate. He called the office’s vaccination rate “pathetic.”

    “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it,” he added.

    Jeremy T. Redfern, the press secretary for the Department of Health, confirmed in a statement that Pino was on administrative leave and that the department was “conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case.”

    The decision to get vaccinated “is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers,” Redfern wrote.

    Florida has enacted a law banning coronavirus vaccine mandates, including for government employees. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has raised his national political profile by curtailing virus restrictions of all kinds in the state.

    It is unclear whether Pino was placed on leave for urging employees to get vaccinated, for compiling their vaccination status, or for both. The Department of Health did not respond to specific questions about the matter, including whether Pino’s leave is paid or unpaid. Pino did not respond to calls seeking comment.

    NHL sets new dates for Bruins games postponed because of the pandemic — 3:57 p.m.

    By Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff

    The Bruins on Wednesday learned the makeup dates for their recent postponed games, including the three dates at TD Garden that were called off in December due to COVID-19 concerns. The first of the Causeway Street makeups will be Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. vs the Penguins, who were originally slated to play here on Dec. 27.

    New Mexico asks National Guard troops and state bureaucrats to sub for sick teachers — 3:40 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    New Mexico is asking National Guard troops and state bureaucrats to volunteer to serve as substitute teachers as preschools and K-12 public schools struggle to keep classrooms open amid surging COVID-19 infections.

    Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday the unprecedented effort to reopen classrooms in the capital city of Santa Fe and shore up staffing across the state.

    Her administration says school districts and preschools are seeking as many as 800 substitute teachers and day care workers for shifts ranging from one classroom period to the entire day.

    New Mexico has been struggling for years to recruit and retain educators, leaving teaching routinely to long-term substitutes who do not have teaching credentials.

    A surge in infections linked to the omicron variant among school staff and teachers prompted a weeklong switch to remote classes at Santa Fe Public Schools that could end as soon as Monday.

    Manager of North End pizzeria punched by man who refused to wear mask, officials say — 3:02 p.m.

    By Emily Sweeney, Globe Staff

    The general manager of the Regina Pizzeria in Boston’s North End was assaulted by a man who refused to wear a mask inside the restaurant Sunday night, officials said.

    A company spokesman confirmed that the general manager was the victim.

    According to a Boston police report, an officer was dispatched to the pizzeria on Thacher Street and spoke to the victim, who said that at 8:55 p.m. the man tried to enter the restaurant without a mask.

    Prior infection and vaccines provide best protection from COVID-19, study finds — 2:36 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    A new study in two states that compares coronavirus protection from prior infection and vaccination concludes getting the shots is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19.

    The study examined infections in New York and California last summer and fall and found people who were both vaccinated and had survived a prior bout of COVID-19 had the most protection.

    But unvaccinated people with a prior infection were a close second. By fall, when the more contagious Delta variant had taken over but boosters weren’t yet widespread, those people had lower diagnoses than vaccinated people who had no past infection.

    US begins offering 1 billion free COVID-19 tests, but many more needed — 2:24 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    For the first time, people across the U.S. can log on to a government website and order free, at-home COVID-19 tests. But the White House push may do little to ease the omicron surge, and experts say Washington will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system.

    The website, COVIDTests.gov, allows people to order four at-home tests per household, regardless of citizenship status, and have them delivered by mail. But the tests won’t arrive for seven to 12 days, after omicron cases are expected to peak in many parts of the country.

    Baker announces launch of state’s ‘test and stay’ program for child care providers — 2:14 p.m.

    By Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

    Governor Charlie Baker announced the launch of the state’s new ‘test-and-stay’ program for child care and early education providers on Wednesday, aimed at helping facilities remain open as parents struggle with child care while the pandemic rages on.

    Under the new Testing for Child Care program, child care and early education providers will receive rapid antigen COVID-19 tests by the week of Jan. 31, Baker said at a news conference at Ellis Early Learning in Boston.

    All child care programs affiliated with the Department of Early Education and Care will be able to sign up for free COVID-19 tests, resources, and training to implement the new protocols.

    Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch issue statement rebuking report over masks — 2:07 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Two Supreme Court justices issued a rare statement Wednesday over what is for many Americans a common refrain — whether their coworkers should wear a mask.

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 67, who has been taking part in U.S. Supreme Court arguments remotely amid the COVID surge, said she did not ask Justice Neil Gorsuch to wear a mask during arguments.

    UK says Omicron wave ‘has peaked,’ lifts COVID restrictions — 1:53 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places and COVID-19 passports will be dropped for large events as infections level off in most parts of the country, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday.

    Johnson told lawmakers that the restrictions were being eased because government scientists think it is likely that the surge of infections prompted by the highly contagious Omicron variant “has now peaked nationally.”

    Dr. Rochelle Walensky defends her CDC tenure: ‘We’re making decisions in imperfect times’ — 11:40 p.m.

    By Jess Bidgood, Globe Staff

    Dr. Rochelle Walensky forcefully defended her bumpy CDC tenure in a Globe interview this week, describing her critics as “naysayers” who have helped sow the public confusion she has been accused of creating and pointing out that many Americans are still not following her agency’s most basic guidance.

    Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was committed to doing better but acknowledged few specific mistakes in her or her agency’s handling of the pandemic, even though she has faced criticism in recent weeks from public health experts and scientists for decisions on issues like testing and masks, and the way she has communicated them.

    Omicron is a bigger risk for the young, medical data shows — 10:38 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    The Omicron variant may be more dangerous for children than earlier coronavirus strains, a study of hospitalization data from one of South Africa’s biggest medical insurance programs showed.

    Data from the 56,164 COVID-19-related hospital admissions among the more than 2 million beneficiaries of the Government Employees Medical Scheme found that the admission rate for children under the age of four was 49 percent higher during the Omicron wave than for Delta. It was also higher than during the infection surges driven by the original virus and the beta variant, according to the data analyzed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

    Ginkgo acquires Project Beacon, consolidating COVID testing efforts in Mass. — 8:29 a.m.

    By Anissa Gardizy, Globe Staff

    Two of the state’s major COVID-19 testing players are combining their efforts.

    Ginkgo Bioworks said Wednesday that it acquired Project Beacon, a joint venture by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and venture capital firms F-Prime Capital and GV, which began in the early days of the pandemic to increase testing capacity in Massachusetts. Ginkgo will combine Project Beacon with its own testing business, called Concentric.

    Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    WHO counts 18 million virus cases last week as Omicron slows — 6:21 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% last week to more than 18 million, marking a slowdown in the surge caused by the omicron variant’s spread, according to the World Health Organization.

    In its weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said the number of new COVID-19 infections increased in every world region except for Africa, where cases fell by nearly a third. The number of deaths globally remained similar to the previous week, at about 45,000.

    Confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by about 50% the week before last, and earlier this month, WHO reported the biggest single-week increase in cases of the pandemic.

    WHO said in its report issued late Tuesday that Southeast Asia had the biggest rise in coronavirus cases last week, with the number of newly infected people spiking by 145%. The Middle East saw a 68% weekly rise.

    The smallest increases were noted in the Americas and Europe, at 17% and 10% respectively. Scientists said last week there were early signs in the U.S. and Britain that omicron-driven outbreaks may have peaked in those countries and that cases could soon fall off sharply.

    Slovakia imposes COVID restrictions to get ready for Omicron — 5:51 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Slovakia on Wednesday limited access to what the government considers the most risky events and public gatherings as the country gets ready for the highly infectious omicron coronavirus variant.

    To attend weddings, parties, discotheques and other venues like wellness and swimming centers, people need to receive a booster shot, or be vaccinated with two shots and additionally get tested for or be recovered from COVID-19.

    The number of people at those events and venues will be limited. All bars, restaurants and various services will also have to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

    Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week — 5:36 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

    The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

    Beijing residents disappointed Olympics will be closed event — 4:24 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    With just over two weeks before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, residents of the Chinese capital say they’re disappointed at not being able to attend events because of coronavirus restrictions that have seen parts of the city placed under lockdown.

    Organizers announced Monday that no tickets will be sold to the general public and only selected spectators will be allowed. Access to the famed National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, and indoor venues in the heart of Beijing have been sealed off.

    Report: German police see surge in fake vaccine certificates — 3:57 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Police in Germany are investigating thousands of cases of suspected forgery of coronavirus vaccine certificates, the dpa news agency reported Wednesday.

    It cited figures obtained from the country’s 16 states showing more than 12,000 police investigations have been opened nationwide.

    Dpa reported that the number of probes surged in December, after authorities announced new restrictions that largely locked unvaccinated people out of public life.

    Those who supply or use fake certificates could face severe penalties, from fines and suspended prison sentences to losing their jobs.

    Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation in one case after a woman used a fake vaccine certificate to continue working at a nursing home, despite having family members ill with COVID-19 at home.

    Germany’s parliament is expected to begin debating a universal vaccine mandate in the coming months, though government officials acknowledge the measure is unlikely to take effect for several months.

    Almost 73% of the German population have received a full course of vaccines against COVID-19, while nearly 48 % have had an additional booster shot.

    Germany saw a new record number of confirmed cases Wednesday. The country’s disease control agency reported 112,323 new infections in the past 24 hours, and 239 COVID-related deaths.

    Japan widens COVID curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge — 1:12 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for COVID-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyze society.

    A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13, said Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.

    Worker absences in U.K. fall in sign of Omicron wave ebbing away — 12:26 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Omicron’s grip on the U.K. economy is weakening, with falling COVID-19 case numbers mirrored by a drop in worker absences during the second week of January.

    The estimated number of people missing work in the U.K. from Jan. 10 through Jan. 16 stood at almost 2.7 million, a 3 percent decrease from a year earlier and down from 3.1 million in the first week of this year, according to data from GoodShape, which tracks work-related illness and wellbeing at U.K. employers.

    The lower level of absence meant the U.K. economy lost 112 million pounds ($152 million) less compared to the same period in 2021, GoodShape estimates showed.

    The figures are fresh evidence that the impact of Omicron infections is easing, following a sharp drop in case numbers and early signs of a decline in the numbers of Covid-19 hospitalizations. The U.K. reported 94,432 positive cases on Tuesday, down from a peak of 218,724 on Jan. 4. Bloomberg’s Pret Index also shows signs of business activity returning.

    Almost 40 percent of people missing work were absent because of medical infections, including Covid-19, down from over a half in the first week of January, GoodShape said. At the same time, just 13% were on leave for non-medical reasons, such as self-isolation.

      Jan. 18, 2022  

    Germany’s new daily COVID-19 cases top 100,000 for first time — 10:28 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Germany joined countries like the U.K., France and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new COVID-19 infections on one day, adding to evidence that the highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading fast across Europe’s largest economy.

    Another 112,323 infections were registered after 74,405 on the previous day, according to data published Wednesday by Germany’s public-health institute RKI.

    Germany has tightened restrictions on access to restaurants and cafes and pledged to accelerate vaccinations to fight the rapidly spreading Omicron strain. But policy makers have signaled additional measures might be needed and the country’s parliament prepares to discuss introducing mandatory vaccinations. The new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz has refrained so far from resorting to sweeping lockdown measures like shuttering businesses and schools again.

    The seven-day incidence rate was 584.4 per 100,000 people.

    The federal government and state leaders agreed recently to allow people to test out of quarantine after one week instead of the current 14 days to avert staff shortages in critical services, while people with a booster shot will be exempt from having to isolate. They made an “urgent recommendation” for wearing particle-filtering FFP-2 masks in stores and on public transport.

    Authorities will meet again on Jan. 24.

    New Zealand could again delay border reopening due to Omicron — 10:06 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    New Zealand is reviewing whether to begin a phased reopening of its border next month as it rushes to administer booster vaccination shots before the Omicron variant of coronavirus takes hold in the community.

    “We want to give New Zealanders time to get their boosters,” COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters Wednesday in New Plymouth. “We will be moving to a self-isolation model, the question is exactly what the date is.”

    The government has already pushed back the border reopening once, moving the start date from mid-January to the end of February amid fears the highly contagious Omicron strain will run rampant through the population as it has done in neighboring Australia. While 93% of people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, booster shots that provide greater protection against Omicron were only made available this month.

    The border has been closed to non-residents since March 2020, squeezing the supply of foreign labor to key export industries such as dairy and fruit farming.

    Website for free virus tests is here. How does it work? — 9:26 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Under criticism after weeks of shortages, President Joe Biden’s administration is working to make COVID-19 rapid test kits more available and accessible to Americans by boosting supply and lowering costs. A new federal website to request free test kits officially launches Wednesday — but was available to use Tuesday — with the first shipments going out to US households by the end of the month. In addition, most Americans are now able to get reimbursed for tests that they purchase.

    Tensions rise as Mass. changes school COVID measures for ‘current state of pandemic’ — 8:58 p.m.

    By Jenna Russell and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

    In the midst of the latest surge of COVID-19, an unlikely trend is taking shape in public schools in Massachusetts: a shift away from the most comprehensive virus mitigation measures, and from those straining the limits of school resources.

    A vocal contingent of experts say the time has come for schools to prioritize pre-pandemic routines over arduous measures to contain an illness that has, so far, caused few children serious symptoms. And schools have begun to change their practices.

    On Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker announced schools can stop contact-tracing — the time-consuming work of identifying and notifying all close contacts of infected students — to ease the burden on staff, as long as they join a new state initiative that offers weekly rapid tests to willing students and staff. The move puts Massachusetts in line with Vermont and Connecticut, which also recently relaxed school contact-tracing efforts.

    ‘Come to work with COVID’ demand stirs union anger in Australia — 7:52 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Australian workplaces have been put on notice by more than 30 unions to ramp up COVID-19 safety measures as businesses find increasingly risky solutions to cope with mass staff absences.

    Unions are demanding better protection from the virus and free rapid antigen tests for employees, sparked by mounting anger surrounding a South Australia abattoir that told workers they should still come to work even if infected with the virus, unless their symptoms rendered them too unwell.

    The case has become a flashpoint for unions, with many industries facing worker shortages as staff are struck down with COVID or forced to isolate as the country endures its worst wave of cases yet. Australia’s government is determined to avoid further lockdowns and keep the economy open despite record hospitalizations and rising death numbers.

    “Essential workers are being expected to put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going and in many cases without the protections they need,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions said in a statement Tuesday after a meeting of leaders of national unions.

    Mass. reports 56,489 coronavirus cases and 47 deaths, in first report since Friday — 5:25 p.m.

    By Globe Staff

    In its first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 56,489 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 114,096 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 47 new confirmed deaths.

    The data reported on Tuesday also contains some data from Thursday after network connectivity issues affected state agencies and a “substantial percentage” of results were not reported, the department said.

    The state also reported that 3,192 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the seven-day percent positivity was 17.44 percent.

    Justice Gorsuch reportedly refused to wear mask during Supreme Court arguments — 4:37 p.m.

    By Christina Prignano, Globe Staff

    Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly refused to wear a mask when the group gathered to hear arguments earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron surge swept across the United States over the holidays.

    NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported that Chief Justice John Roberts “in some form asked the other justices to mask up,” reportedly in response to concerns raised by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes and is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as a result.

    Grammy Awards move to April in Las Vegas — 4:19 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    The 64th annual Grammy Awards will take place on April 3 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the show’s organizers announced on Tuesday.

    The Grammys, the music industry’s most high-profile media moment, had been scheduled for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. Earlier this month the ceremonies were postponed amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, while organizers searched for a venue that could accommodate the show, which often requires more than a week of rehearsals and other setup.

    Mexico City’s hospital occupancy rate has doubled in two weeks — 4:02 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Hospital occupancy rates are shooting up fast in Mexico City as Omicron, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, tears through the country, setting new daily records for infections.

    Since Jan. 3, occupancy levels have doubled to 58 percent, according to a federal data base for public hospital availability that samples about one fifth of all hospitals. A total of 1,441 people were hospitalized in the city as of Monday, nearly a fourfold increase from the 383 patients in public and private hospitals across at the start of the year, according to Mexico City data.

    Experts say the world needs to be vaccinated to end pandemic — 3:42 p.m.

    By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

    Ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are fairly distributed across the world is the key to ending the public health emergency caused by the pandemic, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday.

    “There is no way out of this pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar. Being able to use those vaccines equitably is not only a fair and important humanitarian objective, it is the best way for us all to get out of the pandemic phase that we’re currently in right now,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program.

    The WHO has called previously for all countries to achieve at least a 70 percent vaccination rate.

    Omicron hasn’t peaked in US, surgeon general says, warning that ‘next few weeks will be tough’ — 2:48 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    The United States has not yet reached a national peak of the Omicron variant, the nation’s top doctor said, urging caution even as the explosion of cases has started to plateau in some areas.

    “We shouldn’t expect a national peak in the next coming days – the next few weeks will be tough,” US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said Sunday on CNN.

    Mass. relaxes contact tracing in schools that offer rapid tests to students and staff — 1:59 p.m.

    By Travis Andersen and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

    Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday his administration would allow schools to stop “test-and-stay” and contact-tracing efforts if they join a new state initiative offering weekly rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to staffers and students.

    The move, which was praised by school leaders and the state’s largest teachers’ union, was aimed at relieving overburdened school nurses and other employees at a time of high COVID cases and data showing low spread in schools. State education leaders credited the test-and-stay program, which administered rapid tests to students and staff exposed to COVID at school to avoid quarantine, with saving more than half-a-million days of in-person learning.

    Massachusetts Legislature moving $55 million COVID bill — 1:37 p.m.

    By Emma Platoff, Globe Staff

    The Massachusetts Legislature is moving forward with a bill to move this year’s primary election date to Sept. 6 and allocate $55 million for COVID-19 spending needs, as the state battles a surge of cases driven by the Omicron variant.

    The bill was approved Tuesday by the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is expected to be considered by the full chamber on Wednesday and the state Senate next week. It would put tens of millions of dollars toward COVID-19 spending needs, including $30 million to boost testing resources and $25 million to purchase and distribute high-quality masks like N95s and KN95s for children and school staff.

    White House soft-launches COVID-19 test request website — 1:30 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The Biden administration on Tuesday quietly launched its website for Americans to request free at-home COVID-19 tests, a day before the site was scheduled to officially launch.

    The website, COVIDTests.gov, now includes a link for Americans to order up four at-home tests per residential address, to be delivered by the US Postal Service. It marks the latest step by President Joe Biden to address criticism of low inventory and long lines for testing during a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.

    A White House official said the website is “currently in its beta phase” and operating at a “limited capacity ahead of its official launch.” The website will officially launch mid-morning Wednesday, the official said.

    Baker says Mass. is ‘on the backside of the Omicron surge’ — 12:52 p.m.

    By Annie Bennett, Globe Correspondent

    Governor Baker expressed cautious optimism over Omicron during a press conference on Tuesday as he announced a new testing initiative for K-12 schools.

    Speaking during a Q&A at the end of the press conference, Baker cited recent waste water data as he said the huge surge in COVID-19 cases could be ebbing.

    “The one thing I would say about COVID, generally, is you just never know. But, it certainly does look like we are very much on the backside of the Omicron surge in Massachusetts,” Baker said.

    Since December 2021, the Omicron variant has been sweeping through Mass., increasing infections and accounting for 95 percent of COVID cases in the Commonwealth. Baker cited a sharp up and down spike of Omicron-driven cases that has been seen in places like the UK and South Africa, explaining that he anticipates the same decline now beginning in Mass.

    Waste water data released Friday showed a continued decrease in coronavirus levels.

    Baker said the coronavirus levels in the wastewater are down “probably somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of where it was at the peak a couple of weeks ago.”

    However, nationally, Omicron is still on the rise. California first reported the variant Dec. 1, four days before Mass., and its numbers are still increasing. New York City, however, has seen the kind of sudden drop Baker is referencing, starting after the first week in January.

    Mayor Wu to open first of three new high-capacity, free testing centers — 10:47 a.m.

    By Tiana Woodard and Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

    Mayor Michelle Wu will open the first of three new high-capacity testing sites in Boston on Tuesday in an effort to improve access, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

    The Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury will offer free, walk-in testing from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the public health commission said in a statement Monday evening, with results usually within 24 hours. Cambridge-based CIC Health will offer the testing services. Self-administered PCR tests also will be available.

    Two additional sites, the city said, will open soon in Dorchester and Mattapan.

    Her bubble won’t burst: Worcester’s Hannah Vuong on opening Gong Cha bubble tea shop during the pandemic — 10:42 a.m.

    By Kara Baskin, Globe Staff

    Opening a bubble-tea shop during a pandemic might seem like a risky move. But for Worcester’s Hannah Vuong, 31, it was the culmination of a longtime dream. She and her husband, Jason, loved to stop into Taiwanese chain Gong Cha whenever they visited Boston. When he lost his banking job at the beginning of the pandemic, the couple got to work opening their own branch of the franchise in downtown Worcester, with support from the city. They’ll open a second location at 270 Newbury St. this spring.

    Boosters roll out unevenly as worker shortages hamper outreach — 10:40 a.m.

    By Felice J. Freyer, Globe Staff

    Like thousands of people, Gladys Vega was out sick with COVID-19 the first week of January, bedridden for seven days. And like millions of others, Vega hadn’t gotten the booster shot that might have prevented her illness, or made it milder.

    Vega wanted the shot – she even runs an agency that provides vaccines, the renowned Chelsea community service group called La Colaborativa. But, Vega explained on Friday, her voice still hoarse, she had gone three times to a vaccine clinic, only to find lines so long she knew supplies would run out before she could get to the front.

    State to provide schools with rapid COVID-19 at-home tests on a weekly basis — 10:36 a.m.

    By Travis Andersen and Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

    Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday will announce a plan to provide schools with rapid at-home COVID-19 antigen tests to staffers and students on a weekly basis, should they choose to participate in the program.

    Baker’s slated to announce the plan during a 10 a.m. briefing at the State House. The popular centrist Republican will be joined by state Secretary of Education James Peyser and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley.

    ‘This is a different phase.’ It may be time for a reset on kids, school, and COVID. — 9:39 a.m.

    By Kara Miller, Globe Staff

    Sometimes you can feel an inflection point.

    We’re seeing it in waste water, where, in the Boston area, evidence of COVID-19 has been plummeting for about a week.

    That already seems to be reflected in moderating case numbers. And, soon, we may start to witness a radical shift in how we think about COVID and school.

    Such a shift would impact a core part of society, one that has been a lightning rod for the last two years. And it may set the stage for a new chapter in the pandemic.

    Harvard will end contact tracing during spring semester, university health official says — 8:18 a.m.

    By Nick Stoico, Globe Staff

    Harvard University says it will no longer conduct contact tracing and students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to notify close contacts themselves, a university official said in a message to the Harvard community last week.

    Giang T. Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, announced the changes to the university’s COVID-19 policies as students prepare to return to campus for the spring semester.

    “With our Harvard community’s near universal vaccination, the majority of infected individuals in our community are having no symptoms or mild symptoms that resolve quickly,” Nguyen wrote in the message. “Thus, we are confident in our ability to proceed with plans for in-person learning in late January while applying new protocols which include community-wide boosters and a shortened period of isolation-in-place followed by strict masking.”

    Poland expects highest infection rate so far in new wave — 7:05 a.m.

    By Associated Press

    WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s health officials say that the country has entered a new, fifth wave, in the coronavirus pandemic, predicting that it it will peak in mid-February at about 60,000 new infections per day or even more.

    Waldemar Kraska, the deputy health minister, said Tuesday that the highly transmissible Omicron variant now accounts for 19% of the samples nationwide that have been sequenced, though 50% are in the Pomerania province along the Baltic coast in the country’s north.

    If the Health Ministry’s predictions prove correct, the rate of infection in the coming wave would be more than double that of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2021.

    On Tuesday, Poland recorded 19,652 new cases of COVID-19 and 377 deaths.

    Poland’s vaccination rate is at 56.5%, significantly lower than in many other European Union nations, and the death rate is significantly higher in proportion to the population.

    COVID-19 infected lions prompt variant warning in South Africa — 5:21 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Lions and pumas at a zoo in the South African capital of Pretoria got severe COVID-19 from asymptomatic zoo handlers, raising concerns that new variants could emerge from animal reservoirs of the disease, studies carried out by a local university showed.

    A 2020 study of feces from two pumas that had had diarrhea, nasal discharge and anorexia showed the animals had COVID-19 and made a full recovery after 23 days, the University of Pretoria said in a statement on Tuesday. A year later, in the midst of South Africa’s delta-variant-driven third wave, three lions, one of which had pneumonia, tested positive for the coronavirus.

    The studies add to evidence that while the dominant theory is that the coronavirus spread from animals to humans, the reverse can also happen. Data suggests that the disease was circulating among staff at the time of the lions’ illness and the disease was likely transferred from them to the big cats. The disease could then mutate in the animals and reinfect humans, the researchers said.

    Measures such as mask-wearing and infection control when dealing with captive animals, as well as barriers so that visitors to zoos can’t get too close to them, are advisable, the researchers said in the statement.

    “This is to protect endangered species from getting sick and dying,” Marietjie Venter and Katja Koeppel, two professors at the university, said in the statement. “These measures are also important because of the risk of new variants emerging if the virus establishes itself in other animal reservoirs; these variants could be transmitted back to humans.”

    Since the pandemic began, minks infected with the coronavirus in Denmark have been culled and Hong Kong said on Tuesday that 2,000 small animals including hamsters would be culled after some tested positive for the disease.

    Hong Kong goes on hamster crackdown after shock Delta flare — 4:30 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Hong Kong, suspecting that imported hamsters may have spread COVID-19 to humans, ordered the culling of thousands of the small mammals, closed shops selling them and sent more than 100 pet shop visitors into quarantine camp as part of its increasingly fervent quest to eliminate the virus.

    The escalation came after nearly a dozen hamsters imported from the Netherlands and sold at a local pet store called Little Boss were found to be infected with delta, a virulent COVID-19 variant that hadn’t been detected in the city for months until a worker there tested positive. Samples from the shop’s warehouse in another part of the city also showed traces of the virus.

    All pet shops selling hamsters in Hong Kong — in total 34 — were ordered to shut down immediately pending further testing and cleaning, while people who recently bought hamsters were to turn the animals over to authorities for culling. People who bought hamsters specifically from Little Boss will have to go into government quarantine camp.

    About 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, chinchillas and rabbits, will be culled while importation of such creatures has been suspended.

    The hamster furore comes as Hong Kong scrambles to stamp out infection in the city, where dozens of cases tied to the more contagious Omicron variant have been found after more than half-a-year without any local transmission. Officials in the financial hub and mainland China, the last places in the world still strictly adhering to the COVID-Zero approach, are pointing at frozen food, international mail and animals as potential causes of sporadic flareups that slipped through their strict control and tracing efforts.

    Abu Dhabi requires booster shots to enter the emirate — 3:17 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Facing a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Abu Dhabi is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots.

    The government’s health app said earlier this week that people entering the capital of the United Arab Emirates must show a “green pass,” confirming their vaccination status. The app says that visitors are no longer considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster at least six months after their second dose.

    Those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi also must have have tested negative for the virus within the last two weeks to maintain their “green” status.

    The emirate has taken a stricter approach to the virus than neighboring Dubai, the freewheeling tourism-dependent hub. Abu Dhabi requires that residents show their green pass before entering public places or government buildings.

    The UAE boasts among the world’s highest vaccination rates per capita. The country has fully vaccinated more than 90% of its population, health authorities have said. Although infections had plummeted in December, cases recently have skyrocketed to heights unseen in months.

    China media say foreign parcels suspected in new infections — 2:29 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Chinese state media report parcels mailed from overseas may have spread the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Beijing and elsewhere.

    Globally, health experts have stressed the virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when infected people breathe, speak, cough and sneeze. However, China has repeatedly emphasized the danger of infection from packaging, despite only trace amounts of the virus being found on such items, and it has boosted testing of frozen food and regular items shipped from overseas.

      Jan. 17, 2022  

    Japan ready to expand COVID restrictions as infections surge — 11:57 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Japan’s government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people.

    Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while COVID-19 cases jump.

    Omicron forces more cruise lines to cancel trips — 11:14 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have canceled several trips as the Omicron variant continues to wreak havoc with the cruise industry.

    In recent weeks, hundreds of passengers have contracted the coronavirus onboard ships, with many falling ill and spending days in quarantine.

    Australia has record COVID-19 deaths, hospitals under stress — 11:12 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Australia reported a record high of COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, and its second-largest state declared an emergency in hospitals to cope with surging patient admissions and a staffing shortage due to the coronavirus.

    The 74 deaths occurred in its three most populous states. New South Wales reported 36, Victoria reported 22 and Queensland 16. The previous daily record was 59 coronavirus-related deaths on Sept. 4, 2020.

    Detainees sue Arkansas jail that gave them ivermectin to treat COVID — 10:41 p.m.

    By The New York Times

    Detainees at an Arkansas jail who had COVID-19 were unknowingly treated by the detention center’s doctor with ivermectin, a drug that health officials have continually said is dangerous and should not be used to treat or prevent a coronavirus infection, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four detainees.

    The four men — Dayman Blackburn, Julio Gonzales, Jeremiah Little and Edrick Floreal-Wooten — say in the lawsuit that after testing positive for the coronavirus in August, they were taken to the “quarantine block” of the Washington County Detention Center and given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by Dr. Robert Karas, who runs Karas Correctional Health, the jail’s health provider.

    Hong Kong arrests 2 ex-air crew for breaking COVID-19 rules —9:43 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.

    The two arrived from the U.S on Dec. 24 and 25. While in medical surveillance, they had “conducted unnecessary activities,” according to a government statement posted late Monday.

    While the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had fired two crew members for breaching coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the Omicron variant.

    The duo have been released on bail and will have their case heard in court on Feb. 9. If convicted of violating anti-epidemic regulations, they could face up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($642).

    Hong Kong has been grappling with a local Omicron outbreak traced to several Cathay Pacific crew members who had dined at bars and restaurants across the city before later testing positive for the Omicron variant.

    Previously in Hong Kong, certain air and sea crew members could isolate at home under certain quarantine exemptions. Regulations tightened Dec. 31 require crew members to isolate in a designated quarantine hotel for about a week to safeguard public health.

    Nets’ star Kyrie Irving steadfast on vaccine despite Durant injury — 8:48 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving insists an injury to teammate Kevin Durant won’t change his stance on not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

    Irving, who only recently returned to action after a drawn-out stalemate over getting vaccinated, said Monday following a loss to the Cavaliers that he has no intention of getting the shot — and nothing will sway him.

    “That’s my decision already, and I’m standing on it,” Irving said.

    The seven-time All-Star point guard has become a lightning rod of sorts for his decision not to get the vaccine. And due to COVID-19 mandates in New York City concerning public arenas, Irving is not permitted to play in home games.

    His decision to remain unvaccinated is having a dramatic impact on the Nets and their ability to contend for an NBA championship, something that almost seemed assured when the team landed Irving, Durant and James Harden.

    With Durant potentially sidelined for six weeks with a knee injury suffered Saturday, Irving was asked if he’s feeling more pressure to get vaccinated.

    Irving made it clear he’s not been moved to act.

    “That’s what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment,” Irving said in his strongest comments on the sensitive subject. “You bring in teams and you bring in situations. Kev’s going to heal. Kev’s going to be OK, and we’re going to have to deal with that as his teammates.

    “But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision and that’s just what it is. It’s not going to be swayed just because of one thing is this NBA life that somehow it’s brought to my attention to being more important than what’s going on in the real world.

    “It’s just not happening for me.”

    China halts ticket sales to general public for the 2022 Winter Olympics —7:31 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Citing the “current grave and complicated situation” with COVID-19 in China, the organizers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games halted ticket sales to the general public.

    Instead, select groups of spectators will be invited to attend. They’ll be required to obey strict virus precautions before, during and after the event, the official organizing committee said on its website Monday.

    The move reverses an earlier decision to limit Olympic ticket sales to attendees from mainland China. The games are scheduled to begin Feb. 4.

    In Greece, unvaccinated people 60 and up face monthly fines — 6:04 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older as a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals, where most of the seriously ill patients belong to that age group.

    Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.

    About 69% of Greece’s 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, just under the EU average of 70.3%. COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalizations in Greece have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant, although the overwhelming majority of people in the hospital or dying of the virus have the delta variant. Pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.

    Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.

    “The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service,” Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.

    Greece imposed a vaccination mandate for health care workers last year. And starting Feb. 1, vaccination certificates for adults will expire after seven months unless the holder receives a booster shot.

    Fourth Pfizer dose is insufficient to ward off Omicron, Israeli trial suggests — 5:09 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    A fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was insufficient to prevent infection with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to preliminary data from a trial in Israel released Monday.

    Two weeks after the start of the trial of 154 medical personnel at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, researchers found the vaccine successfully raised antibody levels.

    But that only offered a partial defense against Omicron, according to Gili Regev-Yochay, the trial’s lead researcher.

    Trucker vaccine rule is making freight and fruit pricier — 4:43 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    New rules requiring truckers to show proof of vaccination when crossing the Canada-US border are cutting into shipping capacity and boosting the cost of hauling everything from broccoli to tomatoes.

    The cost of transporting produce out of California and Arizona to Canada jumped 25% last week as fewer trucks are available to cross the border, according to George Pitsikoulis, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based distributor Canadawide Fruits.

    “The lower the supply, the higher the price. Ultimately it’s the consumer that pays for this,” Pitsikoulis said Monday by phone.

    Canada implemented new rules on Jan. 15 that require border agents to turn away unvaccinated US truckers, a move industry executives warned could slow down supply chains that are already under stress. Canadian truckers who can’t show proof of vaccination will be required to quarantine when they re-enter the country from the US

    Shipping is expected to get disrupted in both directions, with the US set to impose its own vaccine mandate on foreign travelers on Jan. 22. Only 50% to 60% of US truckers are vaccinated, according to an estimate from the American Trucking Associations.

    Boris Johnson’s ex-aide accuses him of lying to UK Parliament — 3:18 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Boris Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings accused the premier of lying to Parliament, saying he would “swear under oath” that the premier both was aware of and allowed a drinks party at Downing Street at the height of lockdown during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It’s the latest tirade by Cummings against his former boss since he was forced from his position 14 months ago. His Jan. 7 post about a Downing Street party on May 20, 2020 attended by Johnson forced the prime minister to apologize in the House of Commons and left him fighting to save his career.

    Amid pandemic, the demand for single-family rentals soars — 2:32 p.m.

    By Cameron Sperance, Globe Staff

    Single-family rental housing has many of the amenities that surged to the top of home buyers’ wish lists during the pandemic.

    And Walker & Dunlop, a real estate finance firm, estimates growth in this market in the United States will outpace other commercial sectors like condos and apartments, office, retail, and storage over the next several years.

    County’s $7 million in PPE left outside, damaged by California rain — 2:11 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    About $7 million worth of surplus personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, purchased by a Northern California county earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, was damaged in recent rainstorms after it was left outside for months, officials said Friday.

    San Mateo County officials acknowledged the disaster following a KGO news report, published Thursday, that showed video of scores of sodden boxes outside the San Mateo Event Center in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Pfizer COVID-19 drug approved by Canada — 1:37 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Canada’s health regulator has approved a pill by Pfizer that treats the effects of COVID-19.

    Health Canada authorized Paxlovid for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. Health Canada did not authorize it for use on teenagers or on patients who are already hospitalized because of COVID-19.

    The agency’s announcement Monday comes amid soaring numbers of infections because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

    US Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley tests positive for COVID-19 — 1:10 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley, tested positive on Sunday for COVID-19, according to a statement from the agency.

    Milley, who is vaccinated and has received the booster shot, has mild symptoms and is working remotely, said Colonel Dave Butler, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs, in a statement. Milley’s last contact with President Joe Biden was on Jan. 12 at a funeral. He had tested negative prior to attending the funeral and each day after until Sunday, according Butler.

    All other of the joint chiefs tested negative besides one, Butler said in the statement. The other person who tested positive wasn’t identified.

    Just 36 percent of Americans say pandemic response is ‘going well’ — 11:56 a.m.

    By The New York Times

    As the anniversary of President Joe Biden’s inauguration approaches this week, American opinion of his efforts to contain the pandemic is lower than ever, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll.

    The poll, released Sunday, found just 36 percent of respondents believed US efforts to deal with the coronavirus were “going well.” Just 49 percent of Americans approved of the president’s management of the pandemic, compared with 66 percent of Americans who gave the same response in July, in a previous version of the poll.

    If he remains unvaccinated, could Novak Djokovic be barred from the French Open too? — 11:02 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Novak Djokovic returned home Monday after being thwarted from defending his Australian Open title only to face a new predicament: He could be barred from the French Open this year, too, if he’s still not vaccinated against COVID-19.

    A plane carrying the No. 1-ranked player touched down in his native Serbia, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australia’s pandemic politics and the polarized debate over the coronavirus shots.

    Fauci says it’s too soon to say Omicron heralds end of the pandemic — 9:39 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to the US president, said it’s too soon to say whether the Omicron variant will herald a shift in the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic.

    “It’s an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for because we have so much variability with new variants emerging,” Fauci said Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference.

    The fact that the virus’s mutations appear to be able to evade some immune response through vaccines and infection will make achieving herd immunity difficult, he said. The US official said variant-specific vaccines aren’t the best way to fight the disease and that inoculations that work against all strains are needed.

    Hong Kong faces both Delta and Omicron outbreaks — 6:07 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Hong Kong found an untraceable delta case on Sunday while facing the prospect of a new Omicron cluster stemming from a woman who tested positive after she completed a 21-day hotel quarantine, the South China Morning Post reported. Experts are looking into whether the Omicron case was a cross infection at the hotel, as another patient had occupied an adjacent room.

    New Virginia governor cuts COVID-19 restrictions — 5:03 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Glenn Youngkin, sworn in Saturday as Virginia’s governor, issued executive orders rolling back COVID-19 regulations.

    The Republican governor signed 11 executive orders outlining priorities for his new administration, including rescinding the vaccine mandate for all state employees and allowing parents to decide whether a child wears a mask in school, WTOP news reported.

    Outbreaks hit Louisiana nursing homes — 4:40 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Louisiana nursing homes are battling outbreaks — almost 1,000 infections among residents and more than 2,700 among staff in the last two weeks, the Times-Picayune reported. The level is six times higher than at the end of December, the newspaper said.

    The outbreak is worsening the state’s shortage of nursing staff. Deaths at nursing homes are rising slightly, at a far slower pace than infections.

    Djokovic out, but vaccine debate stays in Australian Open — 3:48 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    To some, it seemed a cloud had been lifted from the Australian Open. To others, Novak Djokovic still was almost palpably present, the name on everyone’s lips on the opening day of the first major tennis tournament of the year.

    Djokovic left Australia late Sunday when he failed in his legal challenge to overturn the cancellation of his visa due to his lack of a COVID-19 vaccination. His flight from Melbourne was touching down in Dubai early Monday just as the first matches of the tournament began.

    Qatar reports death of three-week-old baby from COVID-19 — 2:20 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    The fatality was announced by the Gulf state’s Ministry of Public Health on Sunday in a statement. It added that the baby had no known medical conditions.

    The ministry noted that while infant deaths are extremely rare, this was the second child to have died from COVID-19 in the country. It added that while COVID-19 symptoms among children have typically been milder, more children are catching the virus now because the Omicron variant is much more contagious.

    Omicron spreads to China’s major cities — 12:36 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    The Omicron variant has breached the crucial power centers of China for the first time, pressuring the country’s virus response at a critical moment.

    While still very small in number, the infections are causing consternation because of their timing. The Lunar New Year holiday, marked by mass travel as millions return home, begins on Feb. 1, while the winter Olympics are slated to start on Feb. 4. At least 166 domestic cases were found across China on Sunday, according to the National Health Commission.

    Local cases of the highly infectious variant were detected in the capital Beijing, financial center Shanghai and the technological and manufacturing hub of Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province. These together account for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

    The person who contracted the first known Omicron infection in Beijing had received international mail, said Pang Xinghuo, an official with the city’s health agency, at a briefing. The strain is consistent with the virus circulating in North America and Singapore. The city isn’t ruling out the possibility that the patient was infected by mail delivered from overseas, Pang said.

      Jan. 16, 2022  

    China toughens COVID-19 response as Omicron hits its power centers — 11:27 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Omicron has breached the political, financial and technology centers of China for the first time, putting pressure on the country’s response to the more transmissible variant as it awaits the Winter Olympics starting in less than three weeks.

    China has detected locally-transmitted Omicron infections in the capital Beijing, the financial center Shanghai, and Guangdong, where the southern technology center of Shenzhen is located, which together account for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product. The highly mutated strain has been detected in one out of every five provinces, while 14 of them have reported imported cases.

    Australia recognizes Sputnik V vaccine for travel — 10:34 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has recognized Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for the purpose of international travel to the country.

    Last week the TGA obtained additional information demonstrating the vaccine provides protection and potentially reduces the likelihood that an incoming traveler would transmit COVID-19 while in Australia, it said in a statement.

    Hong Kong faces both Delta and Omicron outbreaks — 9:33 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Hong Kong found an untraceable delta case on Sunday while facing the prospect of a new Omicron cluster stemming from a woman who tested positive after she completed a 21-day hotel quarantine, the South China Morning Post reported. Experts are looking into whether the Omicron case was a cross infection at the hotel, as another patient had occupied an adjacent room.

    A local microbiologist is recommending that guests staying in nearby hotel rooms undergo another 14-day quarantine.

    Hong Kong has reimposed strict curbs, such as the closure of gyms and in-restaurant dining for dinner, to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Health minister Sophia Chan said on Sunday that the current restrictions would not be fully relaxed even after the Lunar New Year as the city’s pandemic situation needs to be better in order for the mainland Chinese border to reopen.

    Coronavirus levels continue decline in region’s wastewater, amid national COVID-19 surge — 8:20 p.m.

    By John Hilliard, Globe Staff

    Coronavirus levels in the Boston region’s wastewater continued to fall Friday, according to state data reported Sunday, but public health officials cautioned that COVID-19 remained a threat amid a nationwide surge in cases and hospitalizations.

    The latest figures from the region’s wastewater data, seen by experts as an early warning system on the virus’s progress locally, came amid grim national news about the pandemic.

    The nation continues to grapple with soaring new cases daily — passing more than 800,000 as of Sunday with the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant — while hospitals are stressed caring for a surge in patients.

    Omicron strains marijuana industry supply chain — 8:19 p.m.

    By Dan Adams, Globe Staff

    Licensed marijuana firms cannot legally move pot products across state lines. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been spared the supply chain disruptions wreaking havoc on the rest of the business world.

    As the Omicron variant surges, Massachusetts cannabis companies are facing significant shortages of foreign-made packaging and construction materials that are essential to their operations, including vaporizer batteries and cartridges, childproof containers, and the steel beams and air conditioning equipment used to build indoor cultivation facilities.

    As nations decide to live with the virus, some disease experts warn of surrendering too soon — 6:04 p.m.

    By The Washington Post

    Nations around the planet are making a subtle but consequential pivot in their war against the coronavirus: Crushing the virus is no longer the strategy. Many countries are just hoping for a draw.

    It’s a strategic retreat, signaled in overt and subtle ways from Washington to Madrid to Pretoria, South Africa, to Canberra, Australia. Notably, few countries today outside of China – which is still locking down cities – cling to a “zero-covid” strategy.

    The phrase often heard now in the United States and many other nations is “live with the virus.” That new stance is applauded by some officials and scientists, and welcomed by people exhausted with the hardships and disruptions of this global health emergency entering its third year.

    Billions of dollars remain in federal COVID aid, but Omicron spurs calls for more help from Washington — 5:04 p.m.

    By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe Staff

    With COVID-19 surging a year ago, Congress began working on its largest pandemic relief bill, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that was enacted in March.

    But with the Omicron variant now triggering record case numbers, nothing close to that scale is being considered, mainly because tens of billions of dollars from that first infusion — by design — remain available to tap into.

    Scammers see opportunity in demand for virus testing in US, officials say — 4:19 p.m.

    By New York Times

    Federal and state officials warned last week of coronavirus testing scams that have taken advantage of the United States’ strained testing infrastructure and have left Americans with invalid test results, wrongful medical bills and overpriced at-home tests.

    Fraud related to the virus has persisted since the onset of the pandemic, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has created opportunities for scammers preying on the high demand for tests.

    On Friday, the Better Business Bureau issued an alert about phony websites and pop-up testing sites that collect people’s personal information, swab them for a test and then never provide results.

    The US surgeon general warns that Omicron has not yet peaked — 3:16 p.m.

    By New York Times

    Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, on Sunday warned that the Omicron surge of coronavirus cases had not yet peaked nationally, saying that the next few weeks would be very difficult in many parts of the country as hospitalizations and deaths rise.

    In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Murthy noted the “good news” of the plateaus and drops in known cases in the Northeast, especially in New York City and New Jersey.

    But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding that “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”

    Some colleges loosen rules for a virus that won’t go away — 2:23 p.m.

    By New York Times

    As the Omicron surge spreads across the country, sending COVID-19 case counts to new heights and disrupting daily life, some universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic — one that acknowledges that the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus.

    Schools are asking: Should there still be mass testing? Does there need to be contact tracing? What about tracking the number of cases — and posting them on campus dashboards? And when there is a spike in cases, do classes need to go remote?

    Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California, Davis have begun to discuss COVID in “endemic” terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.

    At many churches, pandemic hits collection plates, budgets — 1:49 p.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or less — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy.

    Attendance has been a persistent challenge. As faith leaders moved to return to in-person worship, first the highly transmissible delta variant and now the even faster-spreading Omicron have thrown a wrench into such efforts, with some churches going back online and others still open reporting fewer souls in the pews.

    Surgeon general defends Biden’s response to steep COVID-19 surge — 1:23 p.m.

    By Bloomberg

    US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s response to the surge of COVID-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant, conceding though that health officials need to “close that gap” in the severe shortage of testing.

    “We have more to do,” Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the spike in infections outstripped what he said was an eight-fold increase in testing over the last month.

    Denmark lifts COVID restrictions, opens many public venues — 7:18 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Denmark lifted a number of coronavirus restrictions and allowed the reopening of certain venues Sunday despite the spread of the Omicron variant in the country.

    Cinemas, zoos, museums, and theaters were among the places that could welcome visitors again. Limited numbers of spectators also were allowed to attend indoor and outdoor sports events.

    Visitors are required to wear masks at most of these places and provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have recovered or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

    The government is planning to relax coronavirus restrictions further in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million, on Jan. 31.

    COVID program delivers 1 billion doses to poorer countries — 5:22 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    The World Health Organization said Sunday that an UN-backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries.

    A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.

    Saudi Arabia starts vaccinations in children from five years old — 4:50 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Saudi Arabia will begin vaccinating children aged from 5 to 11 against coronavirus, the Ministry of Health said in a tweet.

    People in Saudi Arabia can now take the third vaccine dose, or booster, three months after the second dose. In December, Saudi Arabia advised citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel outside the country amid rising coronavirus cases and the new Omicron variant.

    Omicron exposes inflexibility of Europe’s public hospitals — 3:57 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    A World Health Organization official warned last week of a “closing window of opportunity” for European countries to prevent their health care systems from being overwhelmed as the Omicron variant produces near-vertical growth in coronavirus infections.

    In France, Britain, and Spain, nations with comparatively strong national health programs, that window may already be closed.

    The director of an intensive care unit at a hospital in Strasbourg is turning patients away. A surgeon at a London hospital describes a critical delay in a man’s cancer diagnosis. Spain is seeing its determination to prevent a system collapse tested as Omicron keeps medical personnel off work.

    Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia — 2:41 a.m.

    By The Associated Press

    Novak Djokovic’s hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed Sunday after a court dismissed the top-ranked tennis star’s appeal against a deportation order.

    Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

    The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.

    Djokovic awaits deportation decision as hearing adjourned — 12:21 a.m.

    By Bloomberg

    Tennis star Novak Djokovic is awaiting a decision on whether he’ll be allowed to stay in Australia after the Federal Court adjourned a hearing on a government deportation order.

    Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying it was in the public interest to do so. The court will likely indicate its decision to the parties on whether to quash his second visa cancellation later Sunday, with full reasons published at a later date, Chief Justice James Allsop said.

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