The latest on coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Hannah Strange, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 8:21 PM ET, Fri January 7, 2022
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3:23 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Biden administration signs first contract for free rapid test distribution

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

The Biden administration has signed its first contract with a test manufacturer as part of President Biden's efforts to distribute half a billion free rapid tests throughout the country, a White House official confirms to CNN.

The Department of Defense awarded a $51 million contract to Goldbelt Security, LLC, “for delivery of over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits.” With this contract, the administration is purchasing existing tests that the company has, according to a White House official.

The administration plans to sign other contracts for manufacturing.

Officials have offered few details since Biden announced the endeavor to send free test kits amid a nationwide shortage and surge in new cases. But they expect to launch a website this month where people can sign up for the tests online and then ship them out. 

The first contract has been signed and more are expected in the coming weeks, officials said. 

1:53 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

New York governor announces testing and mask requirements for nursing home visitors

From CNN's Laura Dolan

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that all nursing home visitors must test negative for Covid-19 within 24 hours of visitation and also wear a surgical mask.

Hochul called it a “point of vulnerability” while noting an increase in Covid-19 cases in nursing homes.

“The last thing we want to do is create a situation where visitors are coming in and now getting people that they love — or their neighbors in the next room — sick from the pandemic,” the governor said during a news conference.

Hochul said the state will provide Covid-19 tests to nursing homes to make sure they have the supply for visitors.  

She noted that she was limited in what she could mandate at nursing homes because of a federal requirement “that there can be no restrictions whatsoever on visitors.”

Hochul also spoke about the increase in the rate of child Covid hospitalizations, saying it “is an area of anxiety” for her.

Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the rate of hospitalizations is increasing fastest among children. The rate of hospitalizations among children under the age of 5 has increased nearly eight-fold. It has increased ten-fold for children ages 12-18. Children under the age of 5 are not eligible for vaccination. This is faster than the rate for adults.

But she noted that the overall number is still fairly small. Currently, 571 children are hospitalized with Covid, she said. 

“It’s the rate of increase more than the numbers that have made us very concerned about these children,” Bassett said, adding that “many of these children are admitted with Covid, not for Covid.”

She urged parents to vaccinate and boost their children, saying, “the vast majority of children who are hospitalized are unvaccinated.”

2:05 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

CDC director connects child hospitalization rates with high Covid-19 case counts and increased testing

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

While Covid-19 hospitalization rates in children are higher than they have been at previous points in the pandemic, that might not be a signal that the Omicron variant is inherently more severe in children, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday. 

“This very well may be the fact that there are just more cases out there and that our children are more vulnerable when we see that they have more cases surrounding them,” she said. 

“We are seeing a rise in hospitalizations, both because they are coming in with Covid but also because they're screening in for Covid. And so I would say we don't yet, have not yet, seen a signal that there is any increased severity in this age demographic,” she said.  

Walensky said while hospitalizations are increasing in children, they’re increasing in other populations as well. She presented data from the CDC COVID-NET surveillance system tracking Covid-19-related hospitalizations. According to CDC data, in the week ending Jan. 1, children under 4 had 4.3 Covid-19-associated hospitalizations per 100,000. This number fell to 1.1 in children ages 5 to 17, but both are well under the rate of 14.7 in adults over 65.

“So rates are higher, again, in the pediatric population than we've seen previously, but they're also higher in many of our other populations and many populations that are also vaccinated,” Walensky said. 

The CDC director also said this is the typical time of year for other types of illnesses to land children in the hospital. 

"When we talk to our colleagues in these pediatric hospitals, what we're hearing is, yes, there's a lot of pediatric admissions associated with many things and other respiratory viruses. We’re seeing more than ... we generally do,” she said. 

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, close to 82,000 children have been hospitalized with Covid-19, according to most recent data from the CDC.

1:41 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

CDC study: Pfizer's Covid vaccine is 91% effective in preventing rare condition in adolescents age 12-18

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Teens receive their vaccination cards after being vaccinated in Los Angeles in May 2021.
Teens receive their vaccination cards after being vaccinated in Los Angeles in May 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is 91% effective in preventing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) in adolescents age 12 to 18, according to a study published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

MIS-C is a rare but serious condition that involves the inflammation of various organs and generally occurs two to six weeks after infection with Covid-19. 

The CDC study found that the vast majority — 95% — of adolescents hospitalized with MIS-C were unvaccinated, and all that required respiratory or cardiovascular life support were unvaccinated. 

“This analysis lends supportive evidence that vaccination of children and adolescents is highly protective against MIS-C and COVID-19 and underscores the importance of vaccination of all eligible children,” the researchers wrote. 

For this study, CDC researchers analyzed data for 283 adolescents ages 12 to 18 who were hospitalized between July and December 2021, a period during which the Delta variant was dominant. The cohort included 102 patients with MIS-C and 181 control patients. Children under 12 were not included in this analysis, as they were not yet authorized to receive a Covid-19 vaccine during the time that the study was conducted. The median age of patients included in the study was 14.5 years and more than half had at least one underlying medical condition. 

There have been more than 6,400 cases of MIS-C reported to the CDC, including 55 deaths. 

About 54% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, and 16% of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the latest data from the CDC. 

This specific study does not assess the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against MIS-C attributed to the Omicron variant. Also, the researchers note that the timing in which protection against MIS-C is conferred is unknown. The study does not evaluate protection after one dose of vaccine or the potential effects of waning immunity or protection. 

1:45 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

New York governor to require all health care workers to get a Covid booster shot

From CNN's Laura Dolan

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that she is mandating all health care workers get a Covid-19 booster shot within two weeks of eligibility.

“Healthcare workers will be asked to do this with no exemptions other than a medical exemption and no test-out options,” Hochul said at a press conference Friday. 

Hochul said New York is the first state in the nation to require a booster shot for health care workers and called it an important priority to prevent healthcare workers from getting sick amid breakthrough Omicron cases.

Hochul said she discussed the mandate with acting Health Commissioner of New York Dr. Mary Bassett.

Bassett will make the recommendation to the state's Public Health and Health Planning Council at a special meeting being held on Jan. 11. Hochul said she “anticipates swift approval” and the mandate will take effect “immediately.”

The council advises the health commissioner on issues related to public health and also has decision-making responsibilities for state's public health and health care delivery system, according to the New York State Department of Health.

All health care workers were previously required to be fully vaccinated in September.

As of Friday, there were more than 11,500 people hospitalized for Covid-19 in New York, Hochul said. 

Hochul added that she believes the state is reaching the beginnings of a plateau, although she cautioned it’s not official yet.

12:51 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

CDC director: Before considering fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose, US has to get more people a third shot

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

People are vaccinated at Los Angeles International Airport on December 22, 2021.
People are vaccinated at Los Angeles International Airport on December 22, 2021. (Ringo H.W Chiu/AP)

Although Israel has moved to give fourth doses of coronavirus vaccines to certain people, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday the United States has to focus first on getting third shots to more people.

Walensky noted the United States has boosted about 35% of the eligible population — including 60% of people over 65, who are especially vulnerable to severe Covid-19.

“Right now, I think our strategy has to be to maximize the protection of the tens of millions of people who continue to be eligible for a third shot before we start thinking about what a fourth shot would look like,” Walensky said during a CDC telebriefing.

Walensky said CDC is in touch with scientists in Israel to track booster data there.

“We will be following our own data carefully, as well, to see how the boosters are working in terms of waning effectiveness, not just for infection, but importantly for severe disease. So more to come as those data emerge,” she said.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said at a Goldman Sachs health care conference on Thursday that more people may need a fourth dose of a Covid-19 vaccine this fall as booster doses are likely to become less effective over time.

A preliminary Israeli study found that a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine raises coronavirus antibodies five-fold in a week’s time. People who are 60 and older, health care workers and those with weakened immune systems are eligible for fourth doses in that country.

The Canadian province of Ontario will offer fourth doses to people in some high-risk settings such as long-term care homes and retirement homes.

12:09 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Biden: "Covid as we're dealing with it now is not here to stay"

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden said he doesn't think Covid-19 is "here to stay" in its current iteration after making remarks about the economy and the latest US jobs report.

"I don't think Covid is here to stay. But having Covid in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay. But Covid as we're dealing with it now is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be. We have so many more tools we're developing and continuing to develop that can contain Covid and other strains of Covid," Biden told reporters.

The President said the country is in a very different place than it was a year ago in dealing with Covid-19, touting that many schools are open and the administration is ordering more tests.

"The new normal is not going to be what it is now. It's going to be better," he said.

On Thursday, a group of former Biden health advisers wrote that the US strategy on the Covid-19 pandemic needs to be updated to face a “new normal” of living with the virus, rather than aiming to eliminate it.

11:57 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

South Africa's Omicron surge was shaped like an "ice pick," CDC head says. What that could mean for the US.

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

The wave of Omicron Covid-19 cases in South Africa was an “ice pick” rather than a wave, and the United States may see a similar precipitous rise and fall in cases, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a CDC telebriefing on Friday.

There are some reasons to expect the surges will look the same — and reasons they may differ, she said.

“There are many things about South Africa that make it a little bit different than the United States. For example, they do have a huge proportion of their population with previous disease. We have a larger proportion of our population that is vaccinated and boosted,” Walensky said.

“I do think in places that we are seeing this really steep incline, that we may well see also a precipitous decline,” she said. “But we're also a much bigger country than South Africa, and so it may very well be that we see this ice-pick shape, but that it travels across the country. Right now, we're of course seeing it in the Northeast in the highest burden.”

12:07 p.m. ET, January 7, 2022

CDC recommends people get Moderna booster after five months

From CNN’s Ben Tinker

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

During a telebriefing on Friday, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said she has signed off on a recommendation by the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that people who have received the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine get a booster shot at the five-month mark, as opposed to six months, as previously recommended.

More on this: Earlier Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, shortening the period of time between initial vaccination and the booster shot to at least five months for those over the age of 18. 

The FDA has already shortened the time needed before receiving a booster shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from six to five months. The Pfizer booster is authorized for everyone age 12 and older.