The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:24 PM ET, Fri January 14, 2022
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2:50 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Canadians told to "hunker down" again for winter as Omicron continues to challenge health care system

From CNN’s Paula Newton 

Data released Friday showed the number of people in hospitals with Covid-19 quadrupled in Canada in little more than month.

This comes as, Canadian public health officials warned that a punishing surge of new hospitalizations would put considerable strain on the health care system well into next month.

Recent data indicates that hospitalizations have not increased at the same "explosive rate" as cases, Canada’s top doctor confirmed Friday during a Covid-19 briefing.

But despite that data, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the, "sudden acceleration and enormous volume of cases associated with an Omicron surge puts an intense strain on hospitals over several weeks, and adds to longer-lasting impacts such as extended backlogs and a strained workforce.”

Dr. Tam also noted that critical care admissions, however, had not increased at the same pace and the length of stay in hospital for patients seemed to be shorter than with previous waves of the pandemic. 

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians earlier this month to "hunker down" for winter.

“The strain on the healthcare system is tremendous and as much as we can do, all of us, individually, collectively, to decrease the pressure on the hospital system, our exhausted healthcare workers on the frontline, I think that’s really what we need to be focusing on,” Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with about 4 in every 5 Canadians fully vaccinated. 

2:29 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Los Angeles schools interim superintendent: In-person learning safe as district sees low positivity rate

From CNN Health’s Virginia Langmaid

Covid-19 positivity rates in the low teens among faculty, students and staff are a sign mitigation measures are working in Los Angeles Unified School District, interim Superintendent Megan Reilly said Friday. 

“Everything that we’re seeing is not unexpected as far as the numbers,” Reilly told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. 

“Today we’re seeing lower numbers, it’s about 13% for our students, 11%, just under 12% for our employees, so having people in school is safer for them and we think that’s what’s going to be shown as people return to our campuses,” she said. 

According to data from LAUSD, the district had an 11% positivity rate over the last seven days. There are 73,000 active cases among students and staff, and five cases the district said are linked to school-based transmission. 

The positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of those overall who have been tested. 

Reilly said the district will rely on county and state public health experts if the time comes for schools to go remote, but stressed the importance of an in-person education. 

“We had three to seven times less positivity than the general public. And we know that to be true, that our measures work, So, again, I think it’s about kids being in the safest place possible — but also safe not just from Covid but safe for their well-being,” she told Bolduan. 

Watch the interview:

2:03 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

See the coronavirus spread across the US in 6 months

From CNN's John Keefe

This animation shows the march of Covid-19 cases across the United States in the pandemic's most recent six months.

Starting July 1, 2021, amid a relatively quiet summer, the emergence of new cases fueled by the Delta variant spreads across the South in August. Cases then climb across the Plains, Midwest and Northeast by fall.

Another dramatic rise overwhelms the map starting in December, likely attributable to the more transmissible Omicron variant. As of this week, nearly every county is reporting average rates higher than 100 new cases per 100,000 people. Average daily new cases nationwide are now more than three times the pandemic's peak last winter.

The animation is based on county-level data collected by local governments and tracked by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

An estimated 64 million cases have been reported in the United States since the pandemic started in 2020, a number that is about 19 percent of the population — though some people have had Covid-19 more than once.

To note: Data is from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering each day from July 1, 2021 through Jan. 13, 2021. New cases that are missing or not assigned to a particular county are excluded. Due to reporting anomalies, new case counts are omitted for counties in Nebraska from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, 2021.

1:27 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Key steps to take if someone in your family contracts Covid-19

From CNN’s Katia Hetter 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidelines around isolation and quarantine.

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management, offers a few pointers if you or someone in your family contracts Covid-19.

If one member of the family gets diagnosed with Covid-19, what should they do next?

The person who was just diagnosed with Covid-19 should be presumed to be potentially infectious. Everybody else in the family should also get tested immediately. It's possible that the person who tested positive was not the first person to contract Covid-19, and other members may also test positive.

What if everybody tests positive? Do they need to isolate from one another?

If everyone in your household has Covid-19, they do not need to isolate from each other. That's because it's highly unlikely that they have different strains of coronavirus; they probably all got the same strain from one another, and they aren't going to reinfect each other so quickly. The entire family, of course, should be isolating from other people.

What if it's a child who tests positive, and everybody else is testing negative? Who's going to care for the child?

If a young child tests positive for Covid-19 and other family members are at high risk, having the child form a pod with one parent is an option.

The two different "pods" should not interact with one another during the isolation period and the parent caring for the child with Covid-19 should wear a mask when with the child to try to reduce the likelihood of getting infected themselves.

How long should someone be in isolation?

The CDC's new guidelines essentially shorten the isolation period from 10 days to five days, with an additional five days wearing a mask. This means that you should stay fully isolated for the first five days. After that, you can go out — to work, to the grocery and so forth — but you should wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when out in public. Don't go to settings where you will be maskless, such as restaurants.

When it comes to people in the same family, this guidance means you really shouldn't have meals together or have other casual, maskless encounters with uninfected members of your family in the 10-day period. If families are in two pods, the two shouldn't mix for 10 days inside their house.

Read more tips here.

12:46 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

N95 masks: How long you can wear them, when to reuse them and how to sanitize them

From CNN's Kristen Rogers

3M N95 masks.
3M N95 masks. (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Compared to cloth masks, properly fitted N95s better prevent tiny particles from getting into your nose or mouth thanks to certain materials — such as polypropylene fibers — acting as both mechanical and electrostatic barriers to shared air, the primary driver of coronavirus infection.

The difference between N95, KN95 and KF94 masks is where the mask is certified, according to Oklahoma's state health department. The US certifies N95s, whereas China approves KN95s. KF94s are Korean-standard masks.

Experts warn to watch out for knockoffs and purchase masks "from a trusted, reputable source," such as Project N95, according to Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

How long you can wear a N95 mask and when to reuse it

Marr said she'll wear her N95 for up to a week before replacing it, even after wearing it in a crowded indoor setting like a subway car or grocery store.

"An N95 mask's material and filtration ability aren't "going to degrade unless you physically rub it or poke holes in it," she said. "You'd have to be in really polluted air ... for several days before it lost its ability to filter out particles. So, you can really wear them for a long time."

However, a known exposure should affect your approach.

If "I was working in an office and I was wearing an N95 and someone in my office had tested positive... I'd probably throw out that mask," said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. "Because that mask has done its job of trapping the virus and I don't even want to take the risk of it being there and getting on my hands or whatever."

How to sanitize N95 masks

The longer and more frequently you wear an N95 mask, the more contaminated it can become. But particles will die off over the course of a few hours, Marr said, and even faster if you set the face covering aside in sunlight.

"Things like temperature and sunlight have an effect, but you don't want to be throwing it in an oven or microwave," Bromage said. "I used to stick mine on the dashboard of my car in summer, and that would do more than enough in regards to the heat and the direct light that it was getting. But in reality, there's nothing you can really do to extend its life through cleaning that is accessible to an average person."

Because N95 masks have that special static charge that helps filter out viruses, you shouldn't wash the masks, as water will dissipate the charge, Marr said.

A KN95 protective mask for children.
A KN95 protective mask for children. (Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Can children use N95 masks?

"If you see an N95 as marketed for children, that should raise a red flag," Marr added. "Certainly, for children, a KN95 or KF94 will provide better protection on average than a surgical mask or cloth mask."

Read more guidance for children's masks here. And these five tips can help for getting your child to wear a mask.

12:21 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Omicron is "inherently milder" than Delta among children under 5, new study shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Researchers analyzed electronic health records for about 80,000 children under the age of 5 who were infected with Covid-19 for the first time in the United States. 

They found that the Omicron coronavirus variant is “inherently milder” among children under 5, with infection leading to “significantly less severe outcomes” than the Delta variant, according to a preprint study published Thursday.

The study also showed about 70% reduction in hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and mechanical ventilation among children infected with Omicron compared with those infected with Delta. They also found a 29% reduction in visits to the emergency room. Data on deaths was not included, as there were so few reported.  

About 1% of children infected with Omicron were hospitalized, compared with about 3% of children with Delta. 

The study also found that both variants disproportionately infected Black children, but especially the Omicron variant. More than a quarter (26%) of the children infected with Omicron were Black, but less than 15% of the children who had any encounter with the health care system during the same timeframe were Black. 

“Despite this encouraging result, further studies are needed to monitor the longer-term acute consequences from Omicron infection, the propensity for development of ‘long COVID,’ the rapidity of spread, potential for mutation, and how prior infections alter clinical responses,” the researchers wrote. 

“Additionally, although infections from the Omicron variant, based on this analysis, appear to be milder, because of Omicron’s increased transmissibility, the overall number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mechanical ventilator use in children may still be greater with the Omicron variant than the Delta variant," they continued.

Covid-19 hospitalizations among children have reached record highs in recent weeks. In the last week of December, there were about 10 hospitalizations for every 100,000 children under the age of 5, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

More on the study: The study included about 7,000 children infected during a time when the Omicron variant was predominant and about 63,000 children infected when the Delta variant was predominant. Virus samples were not sequenced for each individual child, but were instead assumed based on broader sequencing data from the time. Omicron accounted for about 92% of samples during the two weeks ending January 6, while Delta accounted for 99% of samples between September and mid-November. 

12:01 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Alabama's largest school system announces it's switching to virtual learning because of staffing issues

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

Mobile County Public Schools, Alabama's largest school system, will switch to a virtual learning format starting next week because the uptick in Covid-19 cases has made it “difficult to staff many of our schools,” according to the superintendent.

Superintendent Chresal Threadgill made the announcement in an email sent to parents and teachers on Thursday. The school system plans to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 24.

“I made the decision to close a full week to allow nine consecutive days, including the weekends, for individuals to recover from illness,” Threadgill said.

Regarding the Jan. 24 target date, Threadgill said he will “allow the numbers to inform further decisions being made within the district.”

About 265 positive Covid-19 cases among students and staff in the school system were reported Thursday, according to the school system’s website.

Threadgill said he believes switching to remote learning is “best for the health and safety” of the school system’s roughly 54,000 students and 7,200 employees.

Here's a look at other school systems across the country that are shifting to remote learning.

1:03 p.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Walgreens and CVS temporarily close some US stores due to Covid-19 surge and staff shortages

From CNN’s Alison Kosik

Walgreens in San Francisco, last year.
Walgreens in San Francisco, last year. (Yichuan Cao/Sipa/AP)

Two of the biggest retail pharmacies in the US are temporarily closing some stores and pharmacies on the weekends as the latest surge in Covid-19 causes staff shortages.  

Walgreens says that, like many industries, this latest surge in the Omicron variant is placing a significant strain on its business in the short-term and driving demand unlike “anything seen before.” 

In a statement to CNN on Friday, Walgreens spokesperson Kris Lathan said, “While the vast majority of our stores are open and operating with normal business hours, the ongoing labor shortage combined with the surge of COVID-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we’ve had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores.”

When making the decision to adjust store hours, Lathan said that the company makes every effort to minimize disruption for customers by selecting days with “the lowest prescription demand.” Lathan added that when Walgreens does temporarily close a store, it directs some pharmacy services to the nearest open Walgreens.  

CVS said on Friday that a vast majority of its stores are operating on their normal weekend hours, according to Mike DeAngelis, executive director of CVS Corporate Communications. But DeAngelis noted that “a tiny fraction of stores are temporarily closed on one or both days of the weekend to help address acute staffing issues amidst both the omicron surge and the workforce shortage affecting nearly every industry and company.” 

DeAngelis added that “the adjusted operating hours in these stores are temporary.” 

Pharmacies closing because of staffing pressures is happening consistently across the country, according to Mitchel Rothholz, chief of staff at the American Pharmacists Association. 

“It's a problem across the whole healthcare system, not just in pharmacy,” Rothholz told CNN last month, “but our members are dealing with this constantly now, because of the increased demand for testing as well as Covid vaccinations, people who are wanting to get the boosters or even getting their first doses.” 

CNN’s Virginia Langmaid contributed reporting to this post.

11:14 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Health care workers in US states where SCOTUS reinstated mandate must be vaccinated by March 15

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Health care workers covered by the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate will have until March 15 to be fully vaccinated in the 24 US states where the mandate was reinstated by the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Twenty-five states and Washington, DC, continue to face a Feb. 28 deadline for health care workers to be fully vaccinated, as the mandate had not been blocked in those states before the Supreme Court order that came down Thursday.

The mandate – issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – remains blocked in Texas. Texas had brought its own lawsuit challenging the mandate separate from the cases that were before the Supreme Court, and the preliminary injunction in that case still stands.

The mandate covers health care workers at facilitates that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.