January 3 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 4:52 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022
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4:17 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Study shows Omicron variant took over fast, but patients are not as sick as with previous variants

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus accounted for 90% of cases at one Houston hospital system by mid-December, but patients are not as severely ill as those infected by previous variants, a team of doctors reported Monday. 

And while nearly half of all patients the doctors saw had been vaccinated, only 10% had gotten booster shots – which supports the value of boosters in fighting Omicron.

Dr. James Musser of the Houston Methodist Research Institute and colleagues reported on the cases of 862 Covid-19 patients treated at the hospital system between November 27 and December 18. The system sequences the genomes of most cases, so they have a good picture of which variants are involved.

“In three weeks Omicron spread throughout the Houston metropolitan region and became the cause of 90% of new COVID-19 cases,” they wrote in their report, posted online as a preprint and not yet peer-reviewed.

“Compared to patients infected with either Alpha or Delta variants and cared for in our system, significantly fewer Omicron patients were hospitalized, and those who were hospitalized required significantly less intense respiratory support and had a shorter length of stay. We cautiously interpret our findings to be consistent with decreased disease severity among Houston Methodist Omicron patients,” they added.

Remember: It’s not clear that Omicron is less virulent, and the study was not designed to show that, they cautioned. “Many factors undoubtedly have contributed, including but not limited to increased vaccination uptake, population immunity, and patient demographics such as younger age. The extent to which our findings translate to other cities and other patient populations, including children, is unknown.”

But they could show how quickly Omicron took over. “The estimated case doubling time during this three-week period was approximately 2.2 days, which means that Omicron increased in frequency approximately three times faster than Delta had increased in our area, an unprecedented trajectory for SARS-COV-2 infections,” they wrote.

And they could show that Omicron evades the protection offered by vaccines, at least to some degree. “We found 430 of the 862 total Omicron patients (49.9%) for whom we have whole genome sequence data met the CDC definition of vaccine breakthrough cases,” they wrote. Just 9.9% of the patients had gotten a booster dose, they found.

The researchers could not find an easy way to measure whether the time since a person was vaccinated had an effect on their risk of a breakthrough infection. They also noted that their study represents just 5% of cases in the Houston metro region.

3:39 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Detroit schools closed until Wednesday because of record Covid-19 surge

From CNN's David Shortall

Public schools in Detroit are closed Monday through Wednesday as the city faces an all-time high Covid-19 infection rate, according to a letter sent to parents Friday from superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

No virtual classes will be offered as an alternative, Vitti said. Instead, employees will be required to take Covid-19 tests during the days off on Monday and Tuesday. Students are not required to test, but are encouraged, Vitti said, and 10 sites at schools across the city will offer free tests. 

Nearly 20 percent of school employees who took voluntary Covid-19 tests last week tested positive, Vitti said. The city's infection rate is even higher — at 36 percent. 

2:12 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

More than 100,000 people in the US are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, data shows

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

More than 100,000 people are currently hospitalized with Covid-19 in the US for the first time in nearly four months, according to the latest data from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Covid-19 hospitalizations reached a record high of more than 142,000 about a year ago, on Jan. 14, and they last topped 100,000 on Sept. 11. There have only been 67 days throughout the entire pandemic when more than 100,000 people have been hospitalized with coronavirus.

Currently, about three-quarters of hospital beds across the country are full, and one in seven are for Covid-19 patients.

There are more than 18,500 Covid-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Nearly 78% of intensive care unit beds are currently occupied, and about a quarter of them are for Covid-19 patients.

Hospitalization rates are currently highest in New Jersey, Ohio and Delaware, where there are more than 50 Covid-19 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people. They’re lowest in Alaska and Wyoming, with less than 10 Covid-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

Child hospitalizations are the highest they’ve ever been, with more than 500 children admitted each day over the week ending Dec. 31, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the latest data from the CDC, cumulative hospitalization rates through November are about eight times higher for unvaccinated adults and about 10 times higher for unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17. 

Here's a look at how US hospitalizations have changed over time, according to HHS data:

1:53 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

CDC vaccine advisers will meet Wednesday after FDA expands booster shot eligibility to 12- to 15-year-olds

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

A pharmacist prepares a children's dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Lawrence, Mass., on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.
A pharmacist prepares a children's dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Lawrence, Mass., on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

The meeting follows Monday’s announcement by the US Food and Drug Administration that the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was expanded to include boosters for adolescents ages 12 to 15, reducing the time between completing an initial series and recommended booster from six months to five months, and allowing for a third dose of the primary series for some immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11.

The CDC’s vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. 

1:30 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Chicago Teachers Union is gearing up for a potential walkout as Covid-19 cases surge

From CNN’s Omar Jimenez and Elizabeth Stuart

The Chicago Teachers Union is planning to convene an emergency meeting to vote on whether its teachers would move strictly to virtual teaching amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, according to a union official, setting up a potential lockout with the school district.  

Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the country, resumed in-person learning Monday and has maintained its conditions are safe for in-person instruction. 

The union meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, would include a poll of the group's delegates, (elected union leaders for individual schools,) on if they support a return to remote learning until the pandemic is under better control.

The union will also be sending the same question electronically to its roughly 25,000 rank-and-file members Tuesday, according to the official. If rank-and-file members vote to return to remote learning, those teachers would notify their respective principals either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning that they would be ready to teach, but remotely.

At that point, it would be in the hands of Chicago Public Schools to potentially lock teachers out of their remote classrooms, as the district has threatened to do under similar circumstances in the past.

At a union virtual town hall meeting Sunday, about 80% of the 8,000 members who attended indicated they did not want to return to work in-person under the current conditions, according to the union official.

It could trigger a “mass electronic lockout,” the official said.

Part of the union hesitation to return has come from a recent surge in Covid-19 cases among both students and in the community, along with uncertainty over the current picture of infection.

According to data released by Chicago Public Schools, 35,590 tests were completed by students and staff between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, and 24,843 were declared invalid. Of those tests that were accepted, 18% tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement to CNN, Chicago Public Schools wrote, “Over the holiday weekend, we learned from our vendors, ThermoFisher and Color, that more than half of the 40,000 submitted tests could not be validated. While we continue to seek answers, we are focused on increasing on-site testing opportunities for the impacted students and schools this week as part of our ongoing weekly testing.” 

“CPS is aware of the CTU's calls for possible member actions, including refusal to report to work which CPS is deeply concerned could place the health and safety of members of our community, particularly our students, at increased risk,” part of the statement read. “In the face of evolving pandemic challenges, our plan is to double down on those proven COVID-19 mitigation strategies: vaccination, testing, contact tracing, universal masking; social distancing; strong hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; monitored and high indoor air quality; appropriately cleaned and disinfected spaces; and making certain staff and families know that sick people must stay home,” it continued.

Additionally, as the school district headed into winter break, it reported its highest weekly Covid-19 case count since the school year began. Citywide over the past two weeks, Chicago has reported its highest daily case counts of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

“Remote two-way live online instruction” is available for any students directed to quarantine.

1:28 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

The Netherlands will reopen schools next week despite strict lockdown

From CNN’s Mick Krever

Pupils wearing face masks leave a primary school in de Bilt, on November 29, 2021.
Pupils wearing face masks leave a primary school in de Bilt, on November 29, 2021. (Jeroen Jumelet/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

Primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands will reopen next week despite a strict national lockdown, the Dutch government announced on Monday. Higher education, including trade schools and universities, will remain closed for in-person learning.

“Primary schools, secondary schools and schools for special (secondary) education will reopen on January 10, 2022. This also applies to out-of-school care,” the government said in a news release. “According to the OMT [Outbreak Management Team], that is responsible.”

“In vocational education, colleges, and universities, online education will be provided because of an increase in the number of infections in this age category, except for the previously excluded groups," the statement continued.

More context: The government last month said that schools would be closed to in-person learning starting Dec. 20. For primary school students, that meant starting the so-called Christmas vacation a week early.

The Netherlands has been in a strict lockdown since Dec. 19, in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. All hospitality venues and non-essential shops have been closed, the government has advised people to stay at home as much as possible, and has said that people should receive no more than two visitors per day.

1:08 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

New York City teachers’ union concerned about safely staffing schools as Covid-19 cases remain high

From CNN's Kiely Westhoff

The president of one of the largest teachers’ unions in New York City says he is concerned about safely staffing schools this week in the wake of rising Covid-19 cases in the city. 

“The issue was we wanted to make sure that each school could have the appropriate staffing to be safe,” said Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, in response to why he wanted New York City schools to begin the year remotely. “The last scenario we want is a school being forced to make a decision about combining classes together.”

Mulgrew told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that he wanted to avoid a scenario where there is a high rate of student attendance combined with low staff, resulting in a lower than normal rate of teachers to students.

Only one New York City school closed Monday due to staffing issues. There are more than 1,700 schools in the New York City system – the largest in the country.

Mulgrew said Sunday was a frustrating day for teachers who were trying to get tested because they faced long lines at testing sites.

“The teachers have had a very difficult time trusting government. Let’s just put it that way. So we now have a new mayor. We’ll see where that goes,” Mulgrew said earlier Monday outside The American Sign Language & English Lower School in New York City.

The city distributed 1.5 million Covid test kits as well as KH95 masks to schools over the weekend.

Mulgrew also urged parents to get their children vaccinated. “We need your children vaccinated,” he said. “We need the vaccination rate to go up for our 5 to 11-year-olds.”

12:48 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Covid-19 infection rates have increased to 13% at Capitol's testing center, physician says

From CNN's Melanie Zanona, Ryan Nobles and Kristin Wilson

 The U.S. Capitol building seen from the U.S. Supreme Court building on December 29 in Washington, DC.
 The U.S. Capitol building seen from the U.S. Supreme Court building on December 29 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The number of positive coronavirus infection rates at the Capitol’s testing center have increased from 1% to 13%, according to a letter from the Office of the Attending Physician that was sent to congressional offices and obtained by CNN.

This comes as coronavirus cases have exploded in the DC area, which has the highest number of cases per population size in the country, according to the letter. Over a dozen lawmakers have announced breakthrough cases in recent weeks.

The Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) says most of the positive cases identified at the Capitol are breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals and have not “led to hospitalizations, serious complications, or deaths, attesting to the value of coronavirus vaccinations.” So far, the OAP has administered booster vaccinations to more than 7,500 Capitol personnel.

“Most cases at the Capitol are breakthrough infections, with omicron virus variant representing approximately 61% and the delta virus variant 38% of our positive cases in a limited sampling as of December 15, 2021,” the letter states. “Dozens of individuals with coronavirus infection are identified at the Capitol daily, with the majority of these occurring in vaccinated individuals.”

The OAP advised offices to shift to a “maximal telework posture” and wear masks for any group activity indoors. The OAP also said “blue surgical masks, cloth face masks and gaiter masks must be replaced by the more protective KN95 or N95 masks.”

12:20 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

New York governor on state's current Covid-19 metrics: "We’re not in a good place"

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaking during a press conference on Monday January 3.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaking during a press conference on Monday January 3. (State of NY)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul didn’t sugar coat it Monday when speaking about Covid-19 metrics, saying “We’re not in a good place, I’m going to be really honest with you.”

“This is the winter surge we predicted,” she said speaking at SUNY Rochester Educational Opportunity Center.

“We fully anticipate on top of the surge that has already been ongoing that there’s going to be another wave that's occurring as a result of these holidays,” she said.

“Our numbers are misleading today,” the governor continued, reporting approximately 51,000 positive cases.

“They didn’t go from nearly 90,000 to 51,000," she said, noting that the shift in latest case numbers is due to people not getting tested over the weekend.

“Unfortunately I’m going to say is a result of the holiday weekend. Those numbers are probably going to be much higher tomorrow," the governor added.

She said the numbers are “rather shocking,” and while people are testing positive at a much higher rate “the severity of the illness is far less than we’ve seen before.”

She recalled the first Omicron case was reported on Dec. 2 and said “literally a month later we have enough data to say right now — we can say with certainty — that the cases are not presenting themselves as severely as they could have or we had feared. That is a silver lining…”

The state is also reporting an increase in hospitalizations – up at least 9,563. Hochul said the trend in hospitalizations is shooting up, and she’d “love to see it come straight down.”

The governor said beginning Tuesday, her team is going to poll hospitals to see how many people are being hospitalized for Covid-19 symptoms vs how many people are being hospitalized for other issues and develop Covid-19, to give more transparency.

“Hospital capacity is still hospital capacity, you either have beds for sick people or you don’t,” she said.

Speaking from northern New York, she said specifically the Finger Lakes hospitals had 2.8% bed capacity and Monroe County 1.8% bed capacity. “That’s a low number,” she said, reminding that the federal government has sent resources to assist, including nat guard members who are training. 

Right now there are 21 hospitals that have elective procedures paused, something that happens when they are at only 10% capacity left. This is down from 32, she said.

Meanwhile, New York has obtained 37 million at-home test kits and has begun distributing them, in part to Rochester to be distributed to schools.

Hochul said 103 people were reported to have died from Covid-19 related complications, and she mentioned by name a 17-year-old from the Rochester community.

She also said SUNY schools were going to open additional testing sites to the public beginning tomorrow.