The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and Supreme Court ruling

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

Updated 7:52 PM ET, Thu January 13, 2022
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3:52 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Bank of America tells employees to work remotely "until we notify you" due to Covid-19

From CNN's Matt Egan

Bank of America Tower in New York, on January 4.
Bank of America Tower in New York, on January 4. (Amir Hamja/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Bank of America urged most employees to stay out of its offices due to continued health concerns.

“Please continue working remotely, until we notify you that it’s time to return,” Bank of America wrote in a memo Thursday that was viewed by CNN. A company spokesperson confirmed the contents of the memo.

Most employees are encouraged to work remotely during the week of Jan. 17 as the bank continues to monitor the environment, the Bank of America spokesperson said.

“With the ongoing guidance of medical health experts, we use our health & safety framework to assess local conditions and manage our local offices and operations,” the memo continued. “As conditions improve in each market, more teammates will return to the office.”

Last week, Bank of America promised to donate $100 towards hunger relief for each US employee who shows proof of getting boosted against Covid-19. 

Bank of America does not have a vaccine mandate, but strongly encourages employees to get fully vaccinated, including boosters.

4:48 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Biden expected to continue encouraging businesses to apply their own Covid-19 vaccine mandates

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

The White House still plans to encourage private businesses to voluntarily impose Covid-19 vaccine mandates after the Supreme Court blocked President Biden's rule requiring them in large employers, according to an administration official. 

While officials viewed the mandate as a key component of their larger vaccination strategy, they still believe many large businesses will go ahead with mandates because they have proved successful in keeping employees safe.

Biden used the example of United Airlines earlier Thursday, pointing to the difference in worker deaths before and after imposing a vaccine mandate.

Officials expect Biden to continue to encouraging businesses to impose their own mandates, and explaining that the court ruling doesn't disallow individual businesses from applying their own rules.

4:49 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Top Biden officials were bracing for the Supreme Court to block vaccine mandate

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Top Biden administration officials were bracing Thursday for the Supreme Court to block its emergency rule requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to have their workforce vaccinated or tested weekly.

The move is a major blow to the President's efforts to mandate vaccinations nationwide, and it remains unclear how the administration will respond to the court's decision.

Biden made the move reluctantly last fall as millions of Americans remained unvaccinated. Officials then spent two months crafting the temporary emergency rule in hopes it would survive expected legal challenges. 

4:49 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Supreme Court blocks Biden administration vaccine or testing rule for large businesses

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s vaccine or testing requirement aimed at large businesses, but it allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.

On Friday, the court heard arguments for almost four hours as the number of infections is soaring and 40 million adults in the US are still declining to get vaccinated. The three liberal justices on the court expressed clear approval for the administration's rules in both areas.

Two sets of rules were issued in November. Here's a closer look at both of them.

Vaccine or testing requirement for large employers: The first would impact some 80 million individuals and requires large employers to mandate that their employees either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

In the majority opinion, the justices said that although Congress has given the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the power to regulate dangers in the workplace, "it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category."

Justices writing for the liberal dissent said the court's order "seriously misapplies the applicable legal standards" and makes it more difficult for the federal government to "counter the unparalleled threat" of Covid-19. The dissent also said government officials have the "responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies," adding the order was within the scope of their authority.

Healthcare workers: The second case concerned a regulation that requires certain health care employees who work for facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs to obtain vaccinations.

In that dispute, more justices seemed receptive to the Biden administration's authority, particularly Chief Justice John Roberts, who suggested a closer link exists between health care workers and the vaccine mandates.

The majority opinion said that while the mandate goes further than past measures, officials "never had to address an infection problem of this scale and scope before."

"In any event, there can be no doubt that addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what he does," the majority added.

Justice Samuel Alito, with whom Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett join, wrote in the dissent that it is unexplained why "an agency can regulate first and listen later, and then put more than 10 million healthcare workers to the choice of their jobs or an irreversible medical treatment.”

2:22 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Ohio shatters its own hospitalization record as Omicron cases surge

From CNN's Hannah Sarisohn 

Ohio smashed its own hospitalization record earlier this week, the state's Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff said at a news conference Thursday.  

The state reached 100,000 hospitalizations just days after Gov. Mike DeWine called on the state's National Guard to support overrun hospitals and state testing sites, Vanderhoff said. 

"In this Omicron surge, you need to remember no one is untouchable," Vanderhoff said. 

Despite issuing 1.4 million testing kits in December alone, Vanderhoff said Ohio's test supply is draining. And only a fraction of the state's resupply has arrived due to shipping delays, Vanderhoff also said.  

The state is prioritizing distributing available testing kits to K-12 schools where they are essential for maintaining in-person learning, Vanderhoff said. 

Vanderhoff asked people to only go to the hospital in the case of a real emergency, as staffing shortages remain a critical issue.  

After DeWine deployed the National Guard last week, Maj. Gen.John C. Harris said nearly 2,000 guardsmen were split into 10-person teams to ease the pressure of Ohio's emergency rooms. Harris said a planning team is also working directly with the health department to expand its footprint inside the hospitals.  

Vanderhoff said the Cleveland Clinic asked the state for support in seeking federal help to allow for more transfers and beds to open. Federal teams will begin working with the clinic next week at its main campus, according to Vanderhoff.  

Dr. Daniel Bachmann, the director of emergency preparedness at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said the guard is positively impacting hospital staff morale.  

2:05 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

The Omicron surge may soon subside in some areas of the US — but early signs are not yet a trend

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

The Omicron surge has driven Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations to record highs in the United States. This week, however, officials have started to call out very early signs that the wave is peaking — or at least plateauing — in parts of the Northeast.

But case rates are still higher in this region than any other, and experts say it will be weeks before any change can be declared a trend.

The US overall is reporting an average of more than 786,000 Covid-19 cases each day, double what it was two weeks ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Yet, seven states have seen case rates start to level out, changing less than 10% week-to-week: New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia, New York, Kansas and Mississippi. And in Washington, DC, they're down 19% from last week. But only in DC has this been a pattern for more than a week.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that recent case trends are "a glimmer of hope." She specifically noted an apparent plateau in average daily case rates in New York City.

The New York City health department's data tracker indicates that while the test positivity rate is "stable," case trends are "increasing," as are hospitalizations and deaths. Also, data for the most recent 10 days is considered incomplete.

"We remain squarely within our Omicron wave in New York City, whether looking at cases, hospitalizations, or deaths due to COVID-19," according to a statement from the city's health department. "Although there are preliminary signs that the level of cases may be plateauing, we need to continue following the data closely in the coming days to discern the trend."

In a briefing Tuesday, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said that judging from a collection of metrics, the city "may be at peak right now." Data from the city shows that the test positivity rate dropped for the first time in months, from 45% positive in the last week of December to 36% in the first week of January.

But she noted that the trends remain in flux.

"The thing about watching things like this is you're watching a graph, you're doing your best to project, and there's no certainty to any of this," she said. "I think we're going to see it wiggle over the next few days, and then it's just a question of whether we can hold it together and manage not to expose ourselves."

But there are a few reasons it's hard to declare what longer-term trends in case rates will be in real-time, according to experts.

Read more about why here:

2:02 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

From KN95 to cloth: Which masks are effective in protecting against the Omicron variant

From CNN's Holly Yan

“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” CNN medical analyst and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said.

“We need to be wearing at least a 3-ply surgical mask,” she said, such as the ones often sold in drugstores or grocery stores that have an adjustable nose wire. “You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone.”

Ideally, in crowded places, “you should be wearing a KN95 or N95 mask,” Wen said. They include materials such as polypropylene fibers that act as both mechanical and electrostatic barriers to help prevent the spread of tiny particles.

But as of Jan. 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website still listed cloth masks with “two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric” as an option for helping mitigate the spread of Covid-19. 

“CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask, and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of Covid-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Jan. 12.

“We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people … and the different levels of protection different masks provide.”

When someone is speaking, wearing a face mask can slash the distance that droplets and aerosols travel by half (or more, depending on the type of mask), a recent study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests.

Without face masks, droplets and aerosols traveled up to about 4 feet when someone was speaking, researchers at the University of Central Florida in Orlando found. 

Single-layer cloth masks reduced that maximum distance to about two feet. And 3-ply, disposable surgical masks reduced the distance of droplet and aerosol travel all the way down to 0.5 feet, the researchers found. The study did not include KN95 nor N95 masks. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s guidance on masks during the Omicron surge is simple: 

“Get the highest-quality mask that you can tolerate and that’s available to you,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Jan. 11. “Right now, (there) doesn’t seem to be any shortage of the masks that some time ago were not available. If you can tolerate an N95, do it. If you want to get a KN95, fine.”

2:15 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

New Covid-19 infections continue to rise across the US. Here's where things stand

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips and Elise Hammond

Covid-19 has killed more than 840,000 people in the United States since January 2020. The US is now averaging 1,777 new deaths each day, according to data by Johns Hopkins University. This is 49% higher than a week ago.

As of Thursday, the US is now averaging 786,064 new Covid-19 cases, according to JHU. The average daily case rate has more than doubled in the past two weeks.

There are about 151,261 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, breaking previous record highs for the second day in a row.

But those numbers fail to paint a complete picture, however, since testing scarcity and delays likely left many Covid-19 cases and deaths undiagnosed, especially during the outbreak's early stages.

In fact, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 1 in 3 people in the United States has been infected, more than three times the official count.

You can track Covid-19 in your area using this map.

1:34 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

More than 15,000 National Guard members working to help with Covid-19 response across the US

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

About 15,200 National Guard members are working to help communities in 49 states across the US with their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel Hokanson said during a virtual press briefing on Thursday.

In Ohio, 2,500 National Guard members are currently deployed to help with the state’s response to the pandemic. Out of those 2,500 members, about 2,300 are stationed at hospitals across the state. Of the 60 locations where members are deployed, 48 of those are hospitals, Maj. Gen. John Harris, the adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, said during the briefing. 

National Guard members in Ohio are primarily helping increase capacity at hospitals, Harris said. 

“We’ve added capacity in those hospitals by adding medical teams, non-medical teams and running testing sites,” Harris said.  

Some of the testing sites the Ohio National Guard has been able to stand up are testing up to 1,000 people a day, which keeps those people out of emergency rooms where they would otherwise be getting tested, Harris said.

“The testing is probably one of the greatest ways that we’ve been able to extend the hospitals’ capacity,” he added.

In New York, there are currently 1,600 National Guard members activated to help with the state’s Covid-19 response, Brig. General Isabel Smith, director of the Joint Staff for the New York National Guard, said. 

The Army National Guard’s deadline for members to be fully vaccinated is June 30. National Guard Army service members activated in New York and Ohio who are not fully vaccinated are not directly dealing with Covid-19 patients, Smith and Harris said. They are serving in other roles that are not directly “patient-facing,” Harris said.