January 4 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 4:53 a.m. ET, January 5, 2022
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4:24 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

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."

4:26 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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.
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. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

2:34 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

CDC adds Aruba to its highest-risk category for travel

From CNN’s Forrest Brown

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.

4:26 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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.

2:25 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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.

2:23 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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.
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. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

2:05 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

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.

4:01 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

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.

1:30 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

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

From CNN's Mick Krever

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.”