January 10 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 2:48 AM ET, Tue January 11, 2022
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3:23 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

More than 50 US lawmakers demand the Biden administration do more on Covid-19 testing

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Kaitlan Collins

People wait in line at a Covid-19 testing and vaccination site in Orlando, Florida, on December 22.
People wait in line at a Covid-19 testing and vaccination site in Orlando, Florida, on December 22. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More than 50 US lawmakers, including some top Democrats, say the Biden administration must do more immediately to bolster the testing capacity in the country, arguing that he needs to deploy the Defense Production Act (DPA).  

“Understanding the complexities of the manufacturing and distribution processes, we respectfully urge that you utilize the full scope of your executive power under Defense Production Act to manufacture enough rapid tests to ensure that each American can take at least one rapid test per week,” they wrote in a letter.

The White House said Monday it has seen a letter from Democrats, and claimed many of the steps called for were already being undertaken by the administration.

"The good news is that we agree and we’re already doing most of what’s in that letter," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Psaki noted the President had used the DPA earlier this year, and would continue to do so to expand capacity.

"We used the Defense Production Act to drive production of these tests and we’ll do so again when we can accelerate production and delivery of these tests," she said. "We used $3 billion to procure tests, which became a major driver in increasing and expanding the market for tests."

"The President’s plan to procure and distribute 500 million tests to all Americans is in and of itself providing a major stimulus for global production of these tests," she went on.

Among other things, the lawmakers called on the administration to establish a hotline where Americans could access free tests, in addition to the website already announced by the White House for people to order tests online.

Psaki said there would be "more details" on a hotline this week.

More background: The Biden administration signed its first contracts with a Covid-19 test manufacturer as part of Biden's efforts to distribute half a billion free rapid tests throughout the country, a White House official confirmed to CNN last Friday.

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.

Biden last month announced the purchase of a half-billion at-home rapid Covid-19 tests, one of a series of new steps he unveiled as the country faces a potentially crippling wintertime surge of infections. The 500 million new tests will be made available in January and will reach Americans through the mail, according to the White House.

2:46 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

First free rapid tests will arrive for distribution "early next week," White House says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on January 10.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on January 10. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The first Covid-19 tests that will be sent to Americans for free will start arriving for distribution “early next week,” the White House said Monday. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during an afternoon briefing that the administration is “working closely with manufacturing distributors to understand what they can ship and by when.” She said officials were still “working through the timelines of distribution.”  

“There are several components of this,” Psaki continued. “We want to ensure that there's not only that physical test, but the ability to distribute them, which is what we're working through right now.” 

She said contracts with testing manufacturers were expected to be “structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week. We expect to have all contracts awarded over the next two weeks, and then Americans will begin being able to order these tests online later this month.” 

“We also expect to have details on the website as well as a hotline later this week. So these are all components that we're working through and working to expedite as quickly as possible,” she said. 

More background: On Friday, the Biden administration 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, according to White House officials. As CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported, officials have offered few details since Biden announced the endeavor to send free test kits amid a nationwide shortage and surge in new cases.

2:42 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

CDC adds Canada to its highest-risk category for travel

From CNN’s Marnie Hunter

Vehicles cross the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ontario, into Detroit in November.
Vehicles cross the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ontario, into Detroit in November. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday added Canada to its highest-risk category for travel. 

In its weekly update of Covid-19 travel advisories, the CDC also added the Caribbean island nation of Curaçao 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 Aruba to the Level 4 category.

1:55 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Virginia declares 30-day state of emergency as hospitals struggle under Omicron wave

From CNN's Hannah Sarisohn 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a limited state of emergency Monday as the influx of Omicron cases strain his state’s health care system. 

“Today I am declaring a State of Emergency in order to ease the pressure on Virginia’s hospitals and their staff,” Northam said.

The order, which is limited to 30 days, is “based on modeling that suggests the virus will peak in the next few weeks,” a statement from his office said. 

The order allows hospitals to expand bed capacity and give more flexibility in staffing, Northam said, adding that it also expands the use of telehealth and it expands which medical professionals can give vaccines. 

More than 3,500 patients statewide are currently hospitalized with Covid-19, and intensive care unit hospitalizations have more than doubled since Dec. 1, Northam’s office said. 

The governor noted that today is his last Covid briefing, as Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is set for his inauguration this week.  

1:42 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Austria will ramp up checks against Covid-19 violations as infections rise  

From CNN's Nina Avramova

Austria will ramp up police checks against any violations of Covid-19 restrictions amid a rise in new infections, the country’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner announced on Monday.  

More than 1.6 million checks have been undertaken by the police so far – with more than 12,000 violations punished – since the country imposed a lockdown on the unvaccinated in November, Karner said in a statement.   

The checks will start Tuesday and will focus particularly on shops, tourist hotspots and bar and dining establishments, the statement said.  

Around 71% of the total population has a Covid-19 vaccine certificate in the country, Austrian health ministry data shows.  

1:27 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Sweden will impose a curfew on hospitality venues as Covid-19 cases rise

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Sweden announced the country will implement an 11 p.m. curfew on hospitality venues, as Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson warned of a "record high spread" of Covid-19 infections in the country.   

The curfew was announced today and will go into effect starting Wednesday.

From Jan. 12, all cafes, bars and restaurants in the country will have to close at 11 p.m. and a maximum of eight people will be allowed to eat together for seated service. Adults were advised to limit their close contacts indoors by refraining from larger dinners and parties at home, although a specific number of "close contacts" was not given by officials. 

Universities and other higher education establishments in the country have been advised by the government to partially carry out remote learning. Practical assessments such as examinations are to be conducted on site with risk reducing measures.   

These follow measures previously announced by the Swedish government on Dec. 23, advising all people who can to work from home. Limits were also placed on indoor public events, requiring people attending indoor events over 20 people to sit in groups of no more than eight, and people attending events of over 500 people must display a Covid-19 vaccination certificate to attend. 

Sweden recorded at least 17,376 daily coronavirus cases on Jan. 6, according to the latest data from the public health institute's dashboard.   

1:01 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Omicron-specific Pfizer vaccine will be ready by March, CEO says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

(Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images)
(Ariana Drehsler/AFP/Getty Images)

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on CNBC Monday that an Omicron-specific vaccine from the company will be ready by March. 

“We are working on a new version of our vaccine, a version that will be effective against Omicron as well, it’s not that it will not be effective against the other variants, but against Omicron as well,” Bourla said. “The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection, particularly against infections, because the protection against the hospitalizations and severe disease, it is reasonable right now with the current vaccine, as long as you are having, let’s say, the third dose.”

“This vaccine will be ready in March. I don’t know if we will need it, I don’t know if and how it will be used, but will be ready,” Bourla said. “In fact, we already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk, so if there is a need for that vaccine that we will have some immediately because there are a lot of governors that would like to see it immediately.” 

More context: Leaders of the US Food and Drug Administration said last Monday that while vaccine manufacturers are all working toward the possibility of a Omicron-specific vaccine, but it might not be necessary.

“We don’t know yet whether Omicron will take hold as the dominant variant over time. It could be that we have a very quick wave of Omicron and something else will be left behind it. Until we understand that, we can’t say with certainty what we will do with a variant vaccine,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “In other words, we don’t know yet whether it will have to be deployed, but we’ll be ready in case it does need to be deployed.”

If a booster shot of the current vaccine appears to offer sufficient protection, there is less need for a variant-specific vaccine, said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock.

CNN's Deidre McPhillips contributed reporting to this post.

12:05 p.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Covid-19 cases in US military have tripled since just before Christmas

From CNN's Barbara Starr

The number of Covid-19 cases in the US military has nearly tripled since just before Christmas, according to Defense Department statistics.

On Dec. 22, the department reported 5,285 cases among all military service members. By Jan. 5, it skyrocketed to 13,940 according to published statistics. 

The jump reflects, to some extent, what is happening in civilian society as the Omicron variant has taken hold and case rates have risen in many communities across the country, defense officials say. The Defense Department does not test specifically for the Omicron variant but officials say there is every reason to believe the highly contagious variant has hit the military force. Updated statistics will be published Wednesday by the department. 

Defense officials point out that even with the tripling, it’s a small percentage of the more than two million in the active duty, National Guard and reserve forces.

This comes as the military is increasing health restrictions in several places. Wright Patterson Air Force Base has moved to the highest level of health protection measures which includes now allowing only 15% of the workforce in the office at a time.

The move comes as positivity rates have increased in the region, the Air Force said. It is currently the only major US military installation rated as Delta.

In Japan, US forces are now largely confined to base except for mandatory travel circumstances. And at the Pentagon, stronger health protection measures have also been put into place.

The military also saw a rise in deaths due to Covid-19 in September and October as the Delta variant surged according to Defense Department statistics. As of Sept. 1, there were 40 military member deaths due to Covid-19. By Jan. 5 the total was 86. 

Defense officials note that most occurred in September and October, 18 and 13 respectively. The assessment is that is due not only to the Delta variant but services had not yet reached the final requirement for mandatory vaccination. By November, there were only four military member deaths, seven in December, and four so far in January according to a defense official. 

One base that has seen a post holiday surge is Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which currently has an estimated 50% positivity rate among those being tested. The base hospital, Womack Army Medical Center, was at 100% capacity at the end of last week, a military official there told CNN.

Fort Bragg is headquarters for much of the Army’s rapid response capability in a crisis. So far those units have not been impacted to the point they cannot deploy, but commanders are prepared to supplement with other troops if needed.

11:04 a.m. ET, January 10, 2022

Fourth Covid-19 shots for immunocompromised will start this week in the US 

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Under the latest guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine can begin this week for the severely immunocompromised. 

In early August, the agency recommended a third shot of an mRNA vaccine be added to the primary vaccination regimen for the severely immunocompromised. Later, in October, the CDC moved to recommend a booster dose for the severely immunocompromised age 12 and older at least six months after their third primary vaccination. 

But the CDC recently shifted to urge boosters five months after primary vaccinations. For immunocompromised people, this means a fourth shot will be available to some as early as this week, five months after the third shot was authorized.

According to CDC data, more than 2 million people received an additional dose in the first week they were authorized, starting Aug. 13.

Vaccination rates right now are generally lower than they have been at previous points in the pandemic, but the average number of people starting vaccination, becoming fully vaccinated, or receiving a booster dose has increased in recent days.