The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 5:12 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021
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6:20 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Omicron fears could curb some holiday travel, airlines say

From CNN's Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace

The Omicron variant could be affecting future flight bookings, but airline industry officials say it will not be clear by how much until after the busy holiday season is over.  

“We’ve seen a little bit of a waver in the bookings,” said Nick Calio of lobby Airlines for America during an industry press briefing on Monday.

Even still, TSA Administrator David Pekoske says the agency is preparing for a crush of passengers, just “a little bit less” than pandemic records set over Thanksgiving. 

That record was set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when 2.45 million people passed through TSA checkpoints at airports nationwide. 

Numbers have already been “robust,” Pekoske said. About 2.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints this past Sunday. 

Dec. 23 and Jan. 3 are set to be the busiest, Pekoske said, who advised that passengers should travel during off-peak days.

6:21 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

California will require universal masking in indoor public settings starting on Wednesday 

California will require universal masking in indoor public settings starting Dec. 15 through Jan. 15, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced in a teleconference Monday.

The announcement comes amid the growing number of coronavirus cases and concerns over the new Omicron variant.

There has been a 47% increase in case rates across California since Thanksgiving, according to Ghaly.

The new masking policy will cover about 50% of the state’s population that currently lives in counties that do not have a similar mandate, Ghaly explained.

Some of the more populous counties in the state, including several Bay Area counties, Los Angeles, Yolo, and Ventura counties, already have an indoor masking mandate in place.

“Even a 10% increase in indoor masking can reduce case transmission significantly," Ghaly said.

People attending big events with 1,000 or more people, who do not show proof of vaccination, will also be required to show a negative coronavirus test result taken within one day of the event.

The state is also recommending visitors or travelers returning to California to get tested within three to five days of arrival.

4:33 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

South Africa Covid-19 positivity rate rises to 31% amid Omicron variant surge 

From CNN's Larry Madowo in Johannesburg 

South Africa's Covid-19 positivity rate rose to 31% on Monday amid the Omicron variant surge, with 13,992 new coronavirus cases reported, according to the latest data from The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

That represents the highest positivity rate since the Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa.

Monday's positivity rate of 31% is an increase from the 28.9% positivity rate reported on Sunday.

South Africa reported a further 11 deaths related to Covid-19 on Monday, bringing the death toll to 90,148 since the pandemic began, according to NICD data. 

3:18 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

US reports more than 50 million total Covid-19 cases, Johns Hopkins data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

As of Monday, the United States has reported more than 50 million cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly 798,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the US, according to JHU data. 

Nearly a third of all cases were reported last winter, between December 2020 and February 2021. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. 

  • The US reported its first 10 million cases about eight months later, by Nov. 8, 2020.
  • Reported cases hit 20 million less than two months after that, by Dec. 31, 2020. 
  • By March 24, 2021, 30 million cases were reported — about three months after that.
  • There were 40 million reported cases about five and half months later, by Sept. 4, 2021. 
  • Now, about three months after that, the US has reported 50,009,507 cases. 

Globally, nearly 271 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, and the US accounts for nearly one in five of them (18%), according to JHU data. 

In the US, more than one in seven people — 15% of the population — have had Covid-19. To date, case rates are highest in North Dakota and Alaska, where one in five people have reported a case. They’re lowest in Hawaii, Vermont, Oregon, Maine and Maryland, where fewer than one in 10 people have reported a case. 

Together, California with 5.2 million cases, Texas with 4.4 million cases and Florida with 3.8 million cases account for more than a quarter of total US cases, according to JHU data.  

Remember: Experts believe the true burden of disease to be much higher. Between February 2020 and September 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of Covid-19 infections in the US was about four times higher than reported.

2:53 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Premier League instituting Covid-19 emergency measures after a sharp rise in positive tests

From CNN's Kevin Dotson

(Paul Terry/Sportimage/Cal Sport Media/AP)
(Paul Terry/Sportimage/Cal Sport Media/AP)

England’s Premier League announced Monday that it will institute its Covid-19 emergency measures due to a rise in Covid-19 cases across the country. The Premier League also revealed a significant increase of Covid-19 cases within the league.

The measures will apply to all clubs and will require protocols such as wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time, the Premier League said in a statement. The league will also increase lateral flow and PCR testing of players and staff. 

The Premier League said that it received 42 new positive Covid-19 tests between Dec. 6 and 12, more than triple the previous week’s total of 12.

“We will continue to work closely with the Government, local authorities and supporter groups, while being responsive to any future changes to national or local guidance,” the Premier League said in its statement.

Manchester United announced Monday that it was halting operations at its training complex for 24 hours to try to slow the spread after a number of positive tests in recent days. United’s scheduled Tuesday fixture against Brentford is also in doubt, according to the club. 

Another Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur, had to postpone its game Sunday due to a Covid-19 outbreak within the team which has impacted more than a dozen players and staff.

2:12 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

NBA halts Chicago Bulls' season as 10 players are in Covid-19 protocols

From CNN's David Close

With 10 players and additional staff members in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the league has postponed the Chicago Bulls’ two upcoming games.

The Bulls were set to play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at home and then travel to Toronto to face the Raptors on Thursday.

No make-up dates were announced.

Last week, a source told CNN 97% of NBA players were vaccinated.

1:20 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

1 in every 100 US seniors has died of Covid-19, federal data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

One in every 100 seniors in the United States has died of Covid-19, according to federal data.

More than three-quarters of people who have died from Covid-19 were 65 or older, with at least 514,000 deaths in this age group since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the US Centers from Disease Control and Prevention. The latest data from the US Census Bureau estimates that there are about 50.4 million total people in this age group in the US.

Covid-19 has been especially deadly for people age 75 and older: More than one in every 60 people in this age group have died of Covid-19.

Overall, about one in every 417 people in the US have died of Covid-19 and one in every seven people have been infected – more than 797,000 deaths and nearly 50 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, experts estimate the true toll of Covid-19 to be even higher.

12:02 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Omicron will become dominant variant in London in next 48 hours, UK health secretary says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

British Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaks on COVID-19 situation in Parliament in London, Britain December 8th, 2021. 
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaks on COVID-19 situation in Parliament in London, Britain December 8th, 2021.  (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

Omicron will become the dominant variant in London in the next 48 hours, the British health secretary told lawmakers at the UK Parliament.

"While Omicron represents over 20% of cases in England, we've already seen it rise to over 44% in London and we expect it to become the dominant Covid 19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

"There are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK,” Javid said. "And the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current rate of, the current number of daily infections are around 200,000.”

In addition to the first fatality from Omicron reported earlier on Tuesday, the health secretary also said 10 people had been admitted to hospital with the new variant.

“It's vital we remember that hospitalizations and deaths lag infections by around two weeks so we can expect those numbers to dramatically increase in the days and weeks that lie ahead,” he said. 

11:31 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Overall risk from Omicron remains high as many questions remain, WHO says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

This photograph taken on December 7, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. 
This photograph taken on December 7, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva.  (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The overall risk from the Omicron variant remains high, and more information is still needed about the variant, the World Health Organization said in a technical brief about the variant, published Friday.

“The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons,” the technical brief said. “First, the global risk of COVID-19 remains very high overall, and second, preliminary evidence suggests potential humoral immune escape against infection and high transmission rates, which could lead to further surges with severe consequences. Our understanding is still evolving, and the risk assessment will be updated as more information becomes available.”

The overall threat of Omicron is dependent on three key factors, WHO says:

  • How transmissible the variant is
  • How well vaccines and prior infection prevent against infection, transmission, clinical disease and death
  • How virulent Omicron is compared to other variants

WHO says Omicron appears to have a growth advantage over Delta, adding that it is spreading faster than Delta in South Africa, where there was low Delta circulation. But, it also appears to spread faster in countries with high incidence of Delta, based on current limited evidence, the organizations says. 

“Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs,” WHO says. 

There is limited data on the clinical severity and vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to Omicron, WHO says.  

On clinical severity, WHO says that while preliminary findings suggest it may be less severe than Delta, and cases reported so far who have been mild or asymptomatic, but “it remains unclear to what extent Omicron may be inherently less virulent.”

More data is needed to understand the severity profile.

For vaccine efficacy and effectiveness, WHO says there are limited available data and no peer-reviewed evidence. Preliminary evidence and the altered antigenic profile of Omicron’s spike protein also suggests that there may be a reduction in vaccine efficacy against infection and transmission. There is also preliminary evidence which suggests that reinfection in South Africa has increased, which may be associated with humoral immune evasion.

The accuracy of PCR and antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests doesn’t appear to be influenced by Omicron, WHO says. 

On treatments, WHO says that therapeutic interventions that target the host response – corticosteroids, for example — should still be effective. Monoclonal antibodies, however, will have to be tested individually.

WHO gives a number of priority actions for its member states. These include enhanced surveillance, laboratory testing for Omicron, vaccination, a risk-based approach in adjusting international travel measures, public health and social measures, health care system readiness and risk communication and community engagement.