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January 4 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

Dr. Gupta: Lack of testing is country's 'original sin'

What we covered here

  • US Covid-19 hospitalizations have surpassed September’s peak during the Delta surge, government health data shows. 
  • Meanwhile, Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in the US, reported a more than four-fold increase in child Covid-19 hospitalizations over the last two weeks, spurred by the spread of Omicron and Delta over the holidays.
  • Delhi, India’s national capital territory, announced a weekend curfew and UK’s prime minister is recommending that indoor mask measures continue as Covid-19 cases rise.

Our live coverage has ended. Read more about the pandemic here.

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CDC releases some of the data backing its new guidelines on shorter isolation and quarantine periods

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some of the data backing up its decision to shorten recommended isolation and quarantine periods for people who test positive for the coronavirus or who are exposed to someone who has it.

In updates to its recommendations released Tuesday, the CDC said that if people have access to a Covid-19 test and want to take one, the best approach is to use a rapid test toward the end of their five-day isolation period.

It cites a few sources in explaining the recommendations. 

“Data, including a review of 113 studies from 17 countries, show that most SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of infection,” the CDC says. “Infectiousness peaks around one day before symptom onset and declines within a week of symptom onset, with an average period of infectiousness and risk of transmission between 2-3 days before and 8 days after symptom onset,” the agency adds, linking to two sources.

One analysis the CDC cites, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, dates to September 2020 and looks at what was detailed in other studies.

The second source, a review of 113 studies, published in the Lancet medical journal on Dec. 20, 2021, says that review that showed genetic material from the virus can be detected up to six days before people develop symptoms and as long as two weeks afterwards. 

“Studies using viral cultures show that, although patients can remain RNA-positive for weeks after symptom onset, live virus cannot be cultured from specimens collected later than 9 days after symptom onset, suggesting that the mean period of infectiousness and risk of transmission could be restricted to the period between 2 and 3 days before and 8 days after symptom onset,” says the Lancet study, conducted by Rosanna Peeling of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues.

The CDC notes that the data comes from studies done before the Omicron variant was circulating. “The science is evolving, particularly for the Omicron variant, and some reports suggest that compared with previous variants, Omicron has a shorter incubation period (2-4 days), defined as the time between becoming infected and symptom onset.” It links to those studies, as well.

“Hospitalization and death rates are much lower for vaccinated people for all SARS-CoV-2 variants; preliminary data from South Africa suggest that hospitalization and death rates are lower for people infected with Omicron compared with other variants,” the CDC adds, citing a study from a private South African hospital group published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Early estimates of lower vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection due to Omicron after the Pfizer-BioNTech primary series suggest that booster doses are important to improve protection from hospitalization and death due to infection with the Omicron variant,” the CDC adds, referring to a Dec. 14 pre-print of work led by the UK Health Security agency.

"We have to do everything we can" to keep kids in school safely, vaccine expert says

Students arrive at Maitland Middle School on the first day of classes after the winter break, Tuesday, January 4.

Everyone wants to find a way to keep children in school, but it must be done safely and responsibly, Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said on Tuesday.

“Nobody has suffered, I think, the social isolation from not being in school more than children,” Offit told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “For many, it’s the only decent meal they get during the day, and ‘distance learning’ is in many ways a contradiction in terms. I think we want kids to be in school. But if we want them to be in school, then we have to do everything we can to keep them in school.”

Offit acknowledged that many Americans are still having problems finding Covid-19 tests.

“I think what we have to do is make use of the fact or understand the fact that we just don’t have testing that’s available. So the best thing to do then, if a child obviously has Covid, they should stay home until they’re completely asymptomatic and then come back to school with masks. And for anybody who’s been exposed, they need to mask for 10 days. With masking and social distancing and vaccination, I think we can really get on top of it,” he said. 

“If the teachers have to be vaccinated, the bus drivers have to be vaccinated and the children over 5 should be vaccinated, and then we can have the thing we all want, the precious thing we all want, which is to have our children back in school. But we should do it in a responsible way,” he added.

Offit also emphasized the importance of vaccines for kids, noting that although the coronavirus tends to affect children less severely than adults, it can still be dangerous. “About 1,000 children less than 18 years of age have died from this infection. We have vaccines in place for diseases that cause far fewer deaths than that,” he said.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,045 children under 18 have died from Covid-19. 

It’s especially hard to watch children struggle with Covid-19 now that kids over 5 are eligible to be vaccinated, he said.

“You’re watching these parents suffer the fact that their children are brought up to the ICU, sedated, put on a ventilator, and you’re watching the parents cry, and you’re thinking, ‘this was all preventable. You could have vaccinated your child; you could have vaccinated yourself,’ and it’s just really heartbreaking. This was heartbreaking enough before we had a vaccine. Now that you have a vaccine to prevent all of this, it’s doubly heartbreaking,” he told CNN.

Omicron variant up to 3 times more infectious than Delta, CDC says

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is up to three times more infectious than the Delta variant, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The CDC included the estimate as part of an update to its guidelines on isolating after testing positive for the virus or quarantining after exposure to it.

“With the recommended shorter isolation and quarantine periods, it is critical that people continue to wear well-fitting masks and take additional precautions for 5 days after leaving isolation or quarantine,” it adds.

“Modeling data from the United Kingdom reinforce the importance of mask use; after the 5th day after a positive test, an estimated 31% of persons remain infectious,” the CDC said. It cites a pre-print study posted online on Dec. 24.

“Mask use and layered prevention strategies, such as receiving all recommended vaccination and booster doses, physical distancing, screening testing, and improved ventilation, are key to preventing COVID-19 and decreasing transmission,” the CDC continued.

For the estimate of transmissibility, the CDC cites a study published in the Journal of Medical Virology. Kimihito Ito of Japan’s Hokkaido University and colleagues used data including 758 cases of Omicron variant infection confirmed in Denmark. They developed a method to calculate the infectiousness of a variant based on how many times it is detected over a certain period of time.

“We have estimated the effective (instantaneous) reproduction number of Omicron as 3.19 times greater than that of Delta under the same epidemiological conditions,” they wrote in the report.

“Theoretically, the enormous advantage of transmission can stem from two independent factors, (i) intrinsically greater transmissibility of Omicron compared to that of Delta, and (ii) substantial capacity of Omicron variant to escape from existing population-level immunity conferred either naturally or by vaccination,” they added.

The UK study, posted on the online server MedRxiv, was done by the UK Health Security Agency and was a modeling study done to support earlier release from isolation.

One table in that paper shows estimates that 31% of people would still be infectious on day five after a test. By day six it’s 22% and by day seven it’s 16%. “The current 10-day isolation period results in the release of 5% of the infected population being released from isolation whilst still being infectious,” the researchers wrote. They advocated for a seven day isolation period.

New York state's Covid-19 hospitalizations top 10,000 for first time since May 2020, data shows 

The number of people in New York state hospitalized for Covid-19 topped 10,000 on Tuesday, marking the first time the state’s Covid-19 hospitalization rate was over 10,000 since May 1, 2020, according to state data.

At least 10,411 New Yorkers were hospitalized Tuesday, with at least 1,302 of those patients in the intensive care unit. On May 1, 2020, 10,350 people were hospitalized. At its peak in mid-April 2020, Covid-19 hospitalizations reached nearly 19,000 statewide, data shows.

Most of the New York’s new Covid-19 cases remain in New York City or in adjacent counties.

Of the 236,904 tests reported on Tuesday, 53,276 were positive for Covid-19. Nearly 31,000 of the new cases are located in the city, with another 12,035 of the new cases in surrounding Westchester, Rockland, Suffolk, and Nassau counties.

At least 99 more New Yorkers have died due to Covid-19, bringing the state’s pandemic death toll to 48,798, the data shows, and 69.9% of all New Yorkers are fully-vaccinated and 78.2% have at least one vaccine dose, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.

Cloth masks still OK to use to protect against Omicron variant, CDC says

The Center for Disease Control headquarters is seen on October 13, 2014, in Atlanta.

Cloth masks are still OK to use to protect against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, so long as they are well-fitted and filter the air properly, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. 

The CDC referred to its existing guidance on mask use in updated recommendations for isolation after a positive Covid-19 test and quarantine after exposure.

It says people should wear masks after testing positive and isolating for five days to protect others, because people may remain infectious for up to 14 days after a positive test.

“Masks are designed to contain your respiratory droplets and particles. They also provide you some protection from particles expelled by others,” the CDC notes in Tuesday’s update.

In a question and answer, the CDC provides links to its guidance suggesting what types of masks work best. Although several medical experts have said in recent days that cloth masks do not provide good protection, the CDC says they can.

“Can I remove my mask in public places after the end of isolation/quarantine? No. After your 5 days of quarantine or isolation end, you should continue to wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home and in public for 5 days. Refer to current CDC guidance for mask wear to determine what to do after the 10-day period is complete. In areas of substantial or high community transmission, masks should continue to be worn in public indoor settings,” the new guidance reads.

All masks should fit snugly so air does not escape around the edges of the mask but is filtered through the material, the CDC said. All masks should have wire to fit the mask tightly across the bridge of the nose. Cloth masks should have multiple layers of fabric, the CDC said.

Using a cloth mask over a disposable surgical style mask can provide good protection, the CDC said. The CDC recommends holding cloth masks up to the light and says that if light shines through, it’s too thin.

The CDC released updated Covid-19 isolation guidance. Here's a look at the changes. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated its guidance on the recommended Covid-19 isolation period, telling people that if they have access to a Covid-19 test and want to take it, the best approach is to use a rapid test toward the end of their five-day isolation period.

The agency has faced pressure over the past week from outside medical experts to include a testing component in its new shortened isolation period.

The updated recommendations do not advise a test for isolated people, but they offer guidance on how those people should respond to a test result if they choose to take one:

  • If the test is positive, isolated people are advised to continue their isolation until 10 days after their symptoms started. If the test is negative, isolated people can end their isolation but are advised to wear a mask around other people until day 10.
  • The recommendations advise people who are isolating to avoid places where they can’t wear a mask, such as restaurants and gyms, and to avoid eating around others until day 10.
  • People who are isolating are now urged to wait to travel until at least 10 days after the start of symptoms. Those who must travel on days six to 10 should wear a mask for their entire trip.

The CDC says the changes aim to “focus on the period when a person is most infectious. … These updated recommendations also facilitate individual social and well-being needs, return to work, and maintenance of critical infrastructure.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky foreshadowed the updated guidance Monday night on CBS’ “The Late Show.”

“So, if you have access to a test, and if you want to do a test at day five, and if your symptoms are gone and you’re feeling well, then go ahead and do that test. But here’s how I would interpret that test. If it’s positive, stay home for another five days. If it’s negative, I would say you still really need to wear a mask. You still may have some transmissibility ahead of you. You still should probably not visit grandma. You shouldn’t get on an airplane. And you should still be pretty careful when you’re with other people by wearing a mask all the time,” Walensky said.

More context on the CDC guidance: The updated guidance advising people to stay isolated until day 10 if they have a positive rapid test after five days in isolation appears to contradict Walensky’s claim to CNN last week that “we wouldn’t change our guidance based on the result of the rapid test.”

Walensky had steadfastly defended the agency’s decision not to include recommending a rapid test in the new guidance, telling CNN last week, “We opted not to have the rapid test for isolation because we actually don’t know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you’re transmissible during the end of disease.” 

On CNN on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the “likelihood of transmissibility is considerably lower” in the second half of the 10-day period following a positive result.

Walensky has also maintained that the CDC’s decision to not include a testing recommendation had nothing to do with the nationwide shortage of rapid tests. 

“This decision really, from an isolation standpoint, had everything to do with the fact that we wouldn’t change our guidance based on the result of that rapid test. And you know that it didn’t have anything to do with any shortage at all, because we recommend rapid tests for those in quarantine,” Walensky said. 

Despite that, there has been deep frustration inside the Biden administration in the days since the CDC announced that it was shortening the isolation period for those who test positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five with no testing component, according to multiple officials.

French president tells newspaper his goal is to "piss off" the unvaccinated

France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference in Brussels on December 17, 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he “really wants to piss off” the unvaccinated, in an exclusive interview with Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday.

“I’m not for pissing off the French. I rant all day at the administration when it blocks them,” Macron said, referring to his disdain for how bureaucracy often gets in the way of the French people.

“Now the unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we’re going to keep doing it, until the end. This is the strategy,” Macron added.

Macron went on to say there will be no severe punishment – such as jail time – for the unvaccinated, but their status could limit their lifestyle and access to restaurants, travel and more from mid-January, if a bill currently being debated in parliament is approved.  

“I’m not going to put them in jail, I’m not going to forcibly vaccinate them, and so, you have to tell them: from January 15, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant, you will no longer be able to have a drink, go for a coffee, to the theatre, you will no longer go to the movies,” Macron said.

The proposed legislation would replace France’s health pass with a vaccine pass, making proof of vaccination necessary for access to a range of everyday activities, from entering restaurants and bars to traveling inside the country.

First introduced last July, the health pass is a pillar of President Macron’s Covid-19 strategy, aimed at pushing people in France to get vaccinated.

Macron described those opposed to vaccination as “irresponsible” adding that “they undermined the strength of a nation.”

 “When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible,” he said, “an irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.”

Pace of US Covid-19 vaccinations is half of what it was a month ago, CDC data shows

Here’s a look at the latest data on vaccination efforts in the United States, published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Fully vaccinated: 62.2% of the total US population (all ages), about 207 million people
  • Not vaccinated: at least 21.6% of the eligible population (age 5+) have not received any dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at least 67.5 million people
  • Current pace of vaccinations (seven-day average): 1,093,005 doses are being administered each day 
  • That’s nearly half of what it was a month ago. 
  • Most doses being administered – about 623,000 – are booster doses.
  • Only about 305,000 people are initiating vaccination each day.
  • About 71.6 million people have received a booster dose
  • About 22% of the total US population is now fully vaccinated and boosted.
  • The pace of booster dose administration ticked up amid the early spread of the Omicron variant but has since trailed off.

Note: CDC data on Covid-19 vaccinations is an estimate. The agency notes that data on people who are fully vaccinated and those with a booster dose may be underestimated, while data on people with at least one dose may be overestimated. 

Here’s how the seven-day average of new administered vaccine doses compares over time, according to CDC data.

White House is "finalizing the contracts" for free Covid-19 test kits for Americans, press secretary says

Additional details are coming “soon” on a plan to allow Americans to request free test kits online from the federal government, the White House said Tuesday.

The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services are already working on an “accelerated contracting timeline,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in an afternoon press briefing.

She said the request for proposal, or RFP, which “allows us to best understand logistics timing and manufacturing considerations,” is closed as of Tuesday.

“We are currently evaluating the responses to it, which means we are finalizing the contracts,” Psaki said.

“We’re on track to start seeing movement on some of the awards through the RFP this week. So the first deliver delivery for manufacturers will start later this month. That’s our expectation,” she continued. Once the tests are in hand, she said, the website will come online.  

In remarks earlier in the day, President Biden admitted he was frustrated on the status of testing in the country, adding that “we should see waiting lines shorter, more appointments freed up.”

“I know this remains frustrating. Believe me it’s frustrating to me. But we’re making improvements in the last two weeks,” he said, claiming that drugstores an online websites are “restocking,” and pointing to a previously-announced federal initiative to have tests shipped to Americans who request them for free.

US military deploys 2 more medical teams to New Hampshire and New York to support Covid-19 relief

The US military is deploying two additional medical teams to New Hampshire and New York to assist FEMA to treat Covid-19 patients, the US Army North said in a statement Tuesday.

A 15-person team from the US Air Force will support Elliott Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, and another 20-person team from the Navy will assist the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York.

“Military medical personnel are just one of the many tools available to the nation to combat COVID-19 and save lives,” said Lt. Gen. John R. Evans, Jr., US Army North commander, said in a statement. “Our service members are working tirelessly in support of FEMA, and hand-in-hand with civilian partners, to provide additional support for hospitals facing capacity issues.” 

The US military will now have 13 teams helping efforts across eight states: one in Arizona, one in Colorado, one in Indiana, four in Michigan, two in Minnesota, one in New Mexico, two in Pennsylvania, and one in Wisconsin.

Belgium reduces Covid-19 isolation and quarantine requirements

Belgium is making changes to their testing, quarantine and isolation policies as the country is hit with an “exponential increase in Omicron infections,” the health authority, the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health (IMC), announced Tuesday.

Modeling from the IMC expects the number of coronavirus infections to increase in the coming days and weeks and says, “the pressure on test administration and analysis capacities is becoming untenable.”

The new rules will come into effect on Jan. 10 and include a shortening of isolation and quarantine for those who are vaccinated.

Starting Monday:

  • Belgians who are isolating – because they are sick or have tested positive for coronavirus – will have their isolation “shortened to seven days” from 10 days. 
  • This is followed by three days of additional measures where social contacts and social activities, such as eating dinner with other people, is not allowed.  
  • Citizens who are fully vaccinated or have received their booster shot within the last five months will no longer have to quarantine or take a PCR test after being a close – or “high-risk” – contact of someone who has Covid-19. 
  • But they should “apply strict preventive measures” which include: wearing a face covering and maintain social distancing for at least 10 days after coming in to close contact with an infected person, the IMC guidance said. 
  • People who are partially vaccinated will still have to quarantine for seven days after coming into close contact with someone who has coronavirus, but can end their quarantine from the fourth day if they present consistent negative results from self-administered daily tests. 
  • For those who are unvaccinated, they must quarantine for 10 days and take PCR tests on days one and seven. They can leave their quarantine on day seven by taking a daily self-test with a negative result. 

These changes follow similar moves by other countries. In France and Spain, people infected with coronavirus now have to isolate for seven days instead of 10 and high-risk contacts have a reduced quarantine of five days.

CNN’s Sandrine Amiel and Al Goodman contributed to this report.

Biden: US doubling order for Pfizer’s antiviral pill to 20 million to be delivered in "months ahead"

This image provided by Pfizer in October 2021 shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills.

President Biden announced Tuesday that he is directing his Covid-19 response team to work with drugmaker Pfizer to double the US order of its Covid-19 antiviral pill.

“I’m directing my team to work with Pfizer to double our order from 10 million to 20 million treatment courses to be delivered in the months ahead,” Biden said before he received a briefing from his team.

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, to treat Covid-19, the first antiviral Covid-19 pill authorized in the US for ill people to take at home, before they get sick enough to be hospitalized.

“We may need even more,” Biden added. “That’s the estimate we need right now. We’ve already placed the largest order in the world. Now I’m doubling that order. These pills are going to dramatically decrease hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19. They’re a game changer and have the potential to dramatically alter the impact of Covid-19, the impact it’s had on this country and our people.”

Some more context: It will take months to ramp up supply of Pfizer’s antiviral treatment for early Covid-19. With forecasts – by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others – that the Omicron surge could peak this month, this could mean the vast majority of courses arrive at a time when the variant is on the decline. 

According to a statement posted last month to, “An initial 65,000 courses of Paxlovid will be made available for shipment to states and territories and will begin arriving at dispensing sites by the end of December.” The statement continues, “An additional 200,000 courses are expected in January, ramping up steadily in the months ahead.”

statement by Pfizer Tuesday says that the delivery of the first 10 million courses “have been accelerated for delivery by the end of June,” and the second 10 million by the end of September.

CNN’s Michael Nedelman contributed reporting to this post.

Biden: We know our kids can be safe when in school

President Biden urged parents to get their children vaccinated if they’re eligible and said that he believes schools should remain open, despite a surge in Covid-19 cases around the country.

For parents “who still haven’t gotten your kids vaccinated, please get them vaccinated. Look out for their interests here. It’s the best way to protect them. And for parents with kids too young to be vaccinated, surround your kids with people who are vaccinated. And make sure you are masking in public so you don’t get Covid and give it to your kids. Look, we have no reason to think, at this point, that Omicron is worse for children than previous variants,” Biden said.

The President also said that he believes school should remain open and outlined efforts the administration has made, through the American Rescue Plan, to make sure buildings and transportation for students are safe.

“We know that our kids can be safe when in school, by the way. That’s why I believe schools should remain open. You know, they have what they need because of the American Rescue Plan… that I signed in March, we provided the states with $130 billion – with a ‘B’ – billion dollars to specifically keep our students safe and schools open. Funding for ventilation, ventilation systems to the schools, social distancing classrooms, even larger classrooms. On buses and everything from bus drivers to buses, to the actual bus… in all this process, we also back then included an additional $10 billion for testing for schools. That money went out to the states,” he said.

Biden added, that while most states have used the money “well,” he encouraged those states still struggling to use the funding “that you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open.”

Biden: The coming weeks are going to be challenging, but we'll get through it together 

US President Joe Biden speaks with members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team on January 4, in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC.

President Biden told Americans that the coming weeks will be “challenging” as Omicron cases continue to rise, but he urged them to continue to follow Covid-19 measures and get vaccinated.

“Folks, I know we’re all tired and frustrated about the pandemic. These coming weeks are going to be challenging. Please wear your mask in public to protect yourself and others. We’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through it together,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday while receiving a briefing from his Covid-19 response team.

“We have the tools to protect people from severe illness due to Omicron if people choose to use the tools,” the President added. “We have the medicines coming along that can save so many lives and dramatically reduce the impact that Covid has had on our country. ”

Biden said there’s “a lot of reason to be hopeful” this year, but said “for God’s sake, please take advantage of what’s available” to save lives.

CDC adds Aruba to its highest-risk category for travel

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added one new destination to its highest-risk category for travel on Tuesday.

In its weekly update of Covid-19 travel advisories, the CDC added the Caribbean island of Aruba to its “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” category.

The CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days.

Last week, the CDC added three destinations in Europe to the Level 4 category.

Biden says while Covid-19 testing remains "frustrating," US is making improvements

President Biden said he knows Covid-19 testing “remains frustrating” for many Americans while speaking about the Omicron coronavirus variant surge.

Biden maintained that the administration is making improvements, highlighting an increasing number of testing sites and restocking of at-home tests at drug stores. He also said insurance reimbursement of at-home tests will begin next week.

The US government is launching a site later this month to get tests shipped to homes for free, he said.

Biden: No excuse for Americans not to get vaccinated

President Biden once again urged unvaccinated Americans to get their Covid-19 shot, saying there’s “no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated.”

“Please, please get vaccinated now,” Biden pleaded during a briefing with his White House coronavirus response team.

“We’ve reduced the number of American adults without any shots from 90 million to about 35 million in the past six months, but it’s still 35 million people not vaccinated,” Biden said. “And let me be absolutely clear. We have in hand all the vaccines we need to get every American fully vaccinated, including the booster shot. So there’s no excuse. No excuse for anyone being unvaccinated.”

The President said that this continues to be a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“So we got to make more progress,” he said, sending a message to parents that they should get their kids vaccinated if they have not already.

President Biden says there are enough booster shots for the "whole nation"

US President Joe Biden speaks with members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team on January 4, in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC.

President Biden said on Tuesday that the US is going to continue to see a “rise in cases” due to the Omicron variant.

“Omicron is very transmissible, transmissible variant, but much different than anything we’ve seen before. But you can protect yourself. And you should protect yourself, quite frankly. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. There’s plenty of booster shots. Wear a mask while you’re in public,” Biden said.

Biden said that the US has enough booster shots for the “whole nation.”

“Those who are fully vaccinated, especially those with the booster shots — and by the way, we have booster shots for the whole nation, okay? — you can still get Covid, but it’s highly unlikely, very unlikely that you become seriously ill.” 

The President said people should “be concerned about omicron, but don’t be alarmed.” However, he added that the unvaccinated continue to “have some reason to be alarmed.” 

“Many of you will … experience severe illness in many cases if you get Covid-19 if you’re not vaccinated. Some will die needlessly. Unvaccinated are taking up hospital beds and crowding emergency rooms and intensive care units,” he said.

Biden expected to announce US will double order of Pfizer’s antiviral pill to treat Covid-19

President Biden is expected to announce Tuesday he is doubling the US order for Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral pill, Paxlovid.

In remarks set to start soon, Biden will say the US will order 20 million courses of the drug, which has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and severe illness significantly.

Biden had previously announced a purchase of 10 million courses late last year.

“These pills will be delivered in the coming months and have been shown to dramatically decrease hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” the White House said.

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly on what timeline the new pill would be delivered.

Covid-19 cases in US children reach record level, data from pediatrics organization shows 

In an “alarming increase,” new Covid-19 cases in children in the US increased nearly 64% over the prior week, according to data published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

For the week ending Dec. 30, there were more than 325,000 new cases among children. The prior week saw more than 126,000 new cases. This is the highest case count ever reported in children over the course of the pandemic and nearly double the case count from two weeks earlier, according to AAP.

Nearly 7.9 million children have tested positive over the course of the pandemic, more than 10% of all US children, according to AAP. In the most recent week, children were just below 18% of all new Covid-19 cases.

The week ending Dec. 30 was the 21st week of more than 100,000 new cases in children. 

In the 24 states and New York City that report hospitalizations, children accounted for between 1.7 and 4.1% of cumulative hospitalizations. 

“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” the report authors wrote. 

“However, there is an urgent need to collect more data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects,” they wrote.

Covid-19 cases are rising in the Netherlands again despite strict lockdown

After a month of falling coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, and despite a strict national lockdown, the Omicron variant is causing new SARS-CoV-2 infections to rise once again, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said on Tuesday.

New infections are up 35% in the past week compared to the week before that. 

“The latest reproduction number for 20 December 2021, based on the number of positive COVID-19 tests, is now entirely above 1 for the first time since mid-November 2021,” the RIVM said in a statement. 

Last month, citing the danger of the Omicron variant, Prime Minister Mark Rutte put the country into a strict lockdown, beginning Dec. 19. All hospitality venues and non-essential shops have been closed since then, 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. Primary and secondary schools are currently expected to reopen next week.

Even before that strict lockdown, the country had been in partial lockdown since the end of November, with all non-essential businesses closed between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The RIVM said people ages 18 to 29 account for most of the positive tests. It said that an increase in testing was not to blame, as it conducted roughly the same number of tests week on week.

“In the next few weeks, as infections rise rapidly due to Omicron, the number of hospital admissions may start increasing again,” the RIVM said. “This could happen even if the Omicron variant causes serious illness in a lower percentage of people who have a SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US have surpassed Delta September peak, HHS data shows

US Army Critical Care Nurse, Captain Edward Rauch Jr., left, tends to a Covid-19 patient on a ventilator at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, on December, 17, 2021.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States have surpassed September’s peak during the Delta surge and are quickly approaching the record high from last year, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

There are nearly 113,000 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19 – jumping nearly 10,000 since Monday. During the Delta surge over the summer, Covid-19 hospitalizations peaked at about 104,000 on Sept. 1, 2021.

Hospitalizations reached a record high about a year ago, with more than 142,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Jan. 14, 2021. Current hospitalizations are nearly 80% of the way to that peak.

There have been only 43 days since the beginning of the pandemic that there have been more than 110,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19 at one time, HHS data shows.

There have been about 3.7 million total hospital admissions for Covid-19 since August 2020, and there were about 13,000 new admissions each day over the last week of December, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

CDC study: No link between Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy and preterm or low-weight births

Women who are vaccinated against Covid-19 during pregnancy face no increased risk for preterm or low-weight births, according to a study published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It’s the latest in a series of studies that have shown the Covid-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women.

The findings are consistent for those who received either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines and for those who were vaccinated during the second or third trimester. There was not enough data to analyze risk among those vaccinated with during the first trimester or with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The CDC study included about 46,000 pregnant women, including about 10,000 who received at least one dose of Covid-19 during vaccination. A preterm birth was defined as less than 37 weeks gestation and low-weight births are those where the baby’s birthweight was below the tenth percentile for gestational age. 

Pregnant women who experience a symptomatic case of Covid-19 face a two-fold risk for intensive care unit admission and ventilation and an even higher increased risk for death compared with non-pregnant women who experience a symptomatic infection, according to the researchers. 

The CDC recommends vaccination for all women who are pregnant, recently pregnant, those who are trying to become pregnant or may become pregnant in the future. Yet, vaccine uptake among pregnant women is low – only about a third of pregnant women have been vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data. 

“Evidence of the benefits of Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy continues to accrue, including the detection of antibodies in cord blood,” the researchers wrote. That suggests the vaccinating pregnant women can also protect their newborns.

“Together, these findings reinforce the importance of communicating the risks for Covid-19 during pregnancy, the benefits of vaccination, and information on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy,” they added.

The study does not account for potentially confounding factors, including a pregnant woman’s previous history of preterm or low-weight births or a prior Covid-19 infection. Also, the group studied does not include those who may have been eligible for additional vaccine doses or booster shots during pregnancy. 

CDC director: If you test positive after 5 days in Covid-19 isolation — stay home

People who get a positive result on a rapid test after five days in isolation for Covid-19 should stay home, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

“If you have access to a test, and if you want to do a test at day five, and if your symptoms are gone and you’re feeling well, then go ahead and do that test,” Walensky said on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

“But here’s what I how I would interpret that test. If it’s positive, stay home for another five days. If it’s negative, I would say you still really need to wear a mask. You still may have some transmissibility ahead of you. You still should probably not visit grandma. You shouldn’t get on an airplane. And you should still be pretty careful when you’re with other people by wearing your mask all the time,” she said.

Some more context: The CDC is expected to update its guidance on the recommended isolation period imminently, according to a source familiar with the plan.

The agency, which could provide the update as soon as Tuesday, has faced pressure over the last week from outside medical experts to include a testing component in its new shortened isolation period. But it remains to be seen what the final language from the CDC will look like.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed reporting to this post. 

UK prime minister recommends that mandatory indoor mask measures be kept in place due to surging cases

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference in the Downing Street briefing room in London on January 4.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will recommend to his Cabinet that so-called “Plan B” measures be kept in place for the time being, he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

These measures include mandatory use of face masks in most indoor spaces and the recommendation for people to work from home.