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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10:30 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

FEMA will announce expanded flexibility for National Guard to help support US hospitals battle Covid-19

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A National Guard airman is trained in hospital procedures at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts last month. The Massachusetts National Guard activated soldiers and airmen to help address the medical worker shortage. 
A National Guard airman is trained in hospital procedures at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts last month. The Massachusetts National Guard activated soldiers and airmen to help address the medical worker shortage.  (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell is set to announce at Friday’s White House news briefing new steps from the Biden administration to help alleviate staffing shortages at hospitals across the country amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

On Thursday, an administration official told CNN, Criswell “directed an expansion of FEMA policy to support Governors in using their National Guard to meet urgent staffing needs at healthcare facilities.” 

This direction from FEMA means that governors have more flexibility to use National Guard members for support services at hospitals.

“Now, FEMA has granted governors flexibility to perform vital support missions at primary medical facilities when, in the judgment of public health officials, doing so is necessary to sustain the provision of Covid-19 medical care at those facilities and failure to do so would constitute an immediate threat to the public health and safety,” the official said.

Those extra services National Guard members can now provide include “activities like linen and laundry services, food preparation and delivery, biomedical waste removal, perimeter fencing, contracted security guards, professional cleaning, and other related services,” the official said.

More background: That expanded help comes as cases continue to surge and hospitalizations rise. Some states’ health care systems are beset with nearly-full intensive care units. Nineteen states have less than 15% remaining capacity in their intensive care units. Four of them have less than 10%: Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana and New Hampshire, according to data Wednesday from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The rising cases have led to decreased staffing at hospitals, from doctors to support staff.

President Biden announced Thursday that the US has deployed 120 military medical personnel to six additional hard-hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.

Since Thanksgiving, he said, over 800 military and other federal personnel have been deployed across 24 states, tribes, and territories, including over 350 military doctors, nurses, and medics. More than 14,000 National Guard members are also activated in 49 states. All of those deployments, he noted are fully paid for by the Covid relief package passed by Congress early last year. He said he has also directed FEMA to ensure there is enough hospital bed capacity in every state.

Friday’s announcement is meant to alleviate additional personnel shortages. The use of the National Guard will be paid for by FEMA, as authorized by Biden, through April 1.

Criswell joins White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the briefing room podium at 11:45 a.m. ET.

 

9:34 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Senate Democrats send stinging letter to White House on Covid-19 testing

From CNN's Eva McKend

The Biden administration is facing intense scrutiny from a group of Democrats about the administration’s pandemic response.

In a letter to White House Covid-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients Thursday, led by Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen, the groups asks, “why the Administration failed to take more significant steps earlier to increase access to at-home tests.”

While the group praises the administration’s efforts to promote and distribute vaccines, they are fiercely critical of the slowness to get tests out across the country. “Far too many measures – such as increasing access to home-based testing – have been reactive, rather than proactive,” the letter reads.

The Senators are calling on the administration to improve preparedness to ensure they are not caught off guard again and asking if they need Congress’ help to address the current spike in cases The letter is also signed by Sens. Mark Kelly, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Jon Ossoff.

Biden announced Thursday his administration would purchase an additional 500 million Covid-19 tests — on top of the 500 million tests he previously announced — and said the website where Americans can go to get the free tests shipped to them will be rolled out next week as the White House continues to face pressure to bulk up testing.

9:02 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

There are more than twice as many new Covid cases as there are new vaccinations each day, US data shows  

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips and Travis Caldwell

As Covid-19 hospitalizations reach new highs, more states and health care systems are cutting back services that aren't urgent and relying on National Guard personnel to fill staffing gaps as infected health care employees miss work to recover and patient demand grows.

While officials have started to call out very early signs that the Omicron coronavirus wave is peaking — or at least plateauing — in parts of the Northeast, experts say it will be weeks before any change can be declared a trend. Until then, the surge has put frontline workers in the medical industry and others at higher risk.

Here's a look at the latest official US Covid-19 figures on cases, deaths and vaccinations:

  • The US is now averaging 786,468 new Covid-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The average daily case rate has more than doubled in the past two weeks. And likely next week, the US will have reported at least one infection for every five people since the start of the pandemic.
  • The US is now averaging 1,673 new deaths each day, according to JHU. This is 31% higher than a week ago.
  • There are 155,935 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, breaking previous record highs for the third day in a row. This includes nearly 26,000 adults who are in the intensive care unit with Covid-19.
  • About 1.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered each day over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • About two-thirds of the eligible population (ages 5+) are fully vaccinated, but at least one in five eligible people are unvaccinated. There are about 333,000 people getting their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine each day.

Here's how hospitalizations have changed over time, according to HHS data:

9:00 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Strict outdoor mask mandate suspended in Paris

From Dalal Mawad in Paris 

Paris' strict outdoor mask mandate has been suspended after a French court found its conditions were “neither necessary, nor strictly proportionate to the protection of public health.” 

The mandate came into effect in the French capital on Dec. 31 after the city's police prefecture decided it was needed due to record incidence rates of Covid-19.  

Under this mandate, people in Paris had to wear a mask in all outdoor public spaces at all times of the day. 

Spain, Italy and Greece also imposed an outdoor mask mandate in late December amid fears of the spread of the Omicron variant. 

A ruling from the Paris administrative tribunal Friday, said however that the mask decree was "marred" by serious doubts regarding its legality. 

“The wearing of a mask in the entire Parisian public area, at any time of the day or night, is neither necessary, nor strictly proportionate to the protection of public health," the court said. 

The city's police prefecture failed to "report any local health circumstances specific to the city of Paris to justify the necessity and the strict proportionality of the contested decree,” the ruling added.

The Paris police prefecture has yet to issue a statement on the ruling. CNN has reached out to the prefecture for comment. 

8:56 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

20th Premier League match postponed due to Covid-19 issues

From CNN's Aleks Klosok

Burnley’s English Premier League match at home to Leicester City on Saturday has been postponed due to ongoing Covid-19 cases and injuries within the Burnley squad, the league announced on Friday.

A statement from the league said Burnley did not have the required number of players available for the match (13 outfield players and one goalkeeper) to fulfill the fixture.

No makeup fixture date has been announced.

This is Leicester City’s third consecutive league game to be called off due to Covid-19 related issues with their last league match being on Dec. 26.

The Premier League has now postponed a total of 20 matches this season due to Covid-19 issues.

8:56 a.m. ET, January 14, 2022

Key things to know about the nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses after SCOTUS's ruling

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden's vaccine and testing requirement aimed at large businesses, but it allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.

The decision is a huge hit to Biden's attempts to use the power of the federal government to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The President has emphasized the necessity of getting vaccinated against the virus for months and eventually decided to use the mandate on large employers as his main vehicle for convincing hesitant Americans to get their shots.

In freezing a lower court opinion that allowed the regulation to go into effect nationwide, the majority sent a clear message the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, charged with protecting workplace safety, overstepped its authority. In contrast, the justices said that a separate agency could issue a rule to protect the health and safety of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

"Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category," the unsigned opinion in the businesses case says.

Biden issued a statement praising the ruling on health care workers but criticized the ruling on businesses that will have the much wider effect.

"I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law," Biden said.

Moving forward, Biden said "it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated."

Read more about the decision here.