The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 1:22 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022
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3:06 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

After bout with Covid, West Virginia governor urges others get vaccines and booster shots

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

(West Virginia Governor's office)
(West Virginia Governor's office)

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice urged residents to “stack the deck” in their favor by getting vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 during a briefing Thursday morning. 

Justice was diagnosed with Covid-19 earlier this month and detailed his experience with the virus. 

“I know without anybody telling me in any way, if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I’d have been in the hospital for sure, and I’d have been in really tough shape — really, really tough shape,” said Justice, who has been vaccinated and boosted against the virus. “So stack the deck in your favor. You gotta vaccinated and you gotta get boosted. I mean that’s all there is to it.” 

Justice said he experienced a “blazing headache,” fever, elevated heart rate and high blood pressure. His symptoms also included congestion and a light cough. 

While Justice said he did not receive immediate relief from the monoclonal antibody treatment he was given, he did begin to feel better after a few days. 

“I’m tickled to death to be back with you and more than anything, I appreciate your prayers. I will never forget them,” Justice said. 

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported a daily positivity rate of just above 22.6%, with 215 people in the ICU with confirmed cases of the virus and 125 on ventilators. 

About 89.5% of the 5,576 reported Covid-related deaths in West Virginia have been among the unvaccinated, according to Justice.

1:48 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Covid-19 vaccination prevents hospitalization more than previous infection, CDC study says

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Both vaccination and prior infection help protect against new Covid-19 infections, but vaccination protects against hospitalization significantly more than natural immunity from prior infection alone, according to a study published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Researchers analyzed the risk of Covid-19 infection and hospitalization among four groups of individuals: vaccinated with and without prior infection and unvaccinated with and without prior infection.

Overall, Covid-19 case and hospitalization rates were highest among unvaccinated people who did not have a previous diagnosis. 

The study case data is from about 1.1 million cases in California and New York between the end of May and mid-November 2021. Hospitalization data was available from California only. 

At first, those with a prior infection had higher case rates than those who were vaccinated with no history of prior infection. As the Delta variant became predominant in the US in later months, this shifted, and people who survived a previous infection had lower case rates than those who were vaccinated alone, according to the study. 

“Experts first looked at previous infections confirmed with laboratory test by the spring of 2021, when the Alpha variant was predominant across the country. Before the Delta variant, Covid-19 vaccination resulted in better protection against a subsequent infection than surviving a previous infection. When looking at the summer and the fall of 2021, when Delta became the dominant in this country, however, surviving a previous infection now provided greater protection against subsequent infection than vaccination," Dr. Benjamin Silk, lead for CDC's surveillance and analytics on the Epi-Task Force, said on a call with media Wednesday.

However, this shift coincides with a time of waning vaccine immunity in many people. The study did not factor the time from vaccination – and potential waning immunity – into the analysis. The study also does not capture the effect booster doses may have and was conducted before the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Throughout the period of the study, risk of Covid-19 hospitalization was significantly higher among unvaccinated people with no previous Covid-19 diagnosis than any other group. 

Read more:

12:28 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

PAHO aims to vaccinate 70% of population of the Americas by mid-2022 

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

The Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Revolving Fund aims to vaccinate at least 70% of the Americas by mid-2022 by delivering 100 million doses of vaccines to 33 countries, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday. 

Speaking during the weekly PAHO briefing, Etienne also said more than 60% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. 

1:04 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

T cells induced by Covid vaccine still "provide extensive immune coverage" against Omicron, new study suggests

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Ben Tinker

A new study adds to growing evidence that immune cells in the body called T cells can still recognize coronavirus variants, including Omicron, even if the variant appears to partly evade antibodies.

The T cells induced upon getting vaccinated or having a prior coronavirus infection appear to "provide extensive immune coverage" against the Omicron variant, according to the study, which was published last week in the journal Nature Medicine.

The researchers – from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, La Jolla Institute for Immunology in the US and University Hospital of Wales in the UK – collected blood samples from 40 people six months after they received a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. They also collected samples from 48 people nine months after having mild or severe Covid-19 in March through April of 2020, and another 48 people who had previously been neither vaccinated nor infected in late 2020. 

The experiments showed that T cells elicited by vaccination or prior infection both "remain largely intact" against Omicron — but the overall magnitude of response among those who had a previous infection was lower than among those who had been vaccinated.

"These results suggest that booster immunization may provide benefits that extend beyond the induction of neutralizing antibodies to enhance protection against recurrent episodes of severe Covid-19,” the study's principal investigator, Marcus Buggert of the Karolinska Institutet’s Center for Infectious Medicine in Stockholm said in a news release Wednesday. 

“We now want to understand why the response differs from one individual to the next and if a third vaccine dose can augment the T cell response to Omicron even more."

Why all this matters: Throughout the pandemic, immunity has often been measured by the presence of antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to help fight infections. But immune systems are much more than just antibodies. They involve many different players, including T cells, that are involved in the body's effort to fight off coronavirus infection or any pathogen.

You can read the full study here.

12:15 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

New Jersey healthcare workers will be required to receive Covid-19 vaccine course and booster

From CNN’s Mirna Alsharif

All workers employed in healthcare settings in New Jersey will be required to receive their primary Covid-19 vaccine course and their booster, with no option to test-out, according to an executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy.

"We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues and perhaps, I think even more importantly, those who are their responsibility in danger of Covid," Murphy said.

Unvaccinated healthcare workers have until January 27 to get their first dose and must complete their primary course of the Covid-19 vaccine by February 28.

12:07 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

All counties in Nevada required to wear masks indoors again 

From CNN's Michelle Watson 

Nevada updated its mask guidance to require everyone to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status, the state said in a news release Tuesday.  

As of Wednesday, all counties in Nevada are listed on the CDC's website for "high" Covid-19 transmission.  

"For a county to change masking requirement status it must remain in a low or moderate transmission classification for two consecutive weeks," according to the Nevada Health Response team.

"Low" transmission is considered no more than 10 cases per 100,000 people, or a test positivity rate of less than 5%, while "moderate" transmission is 10 to 50 cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate between 5% and 8%.

Last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak obtained almost 600,000 at-home Covid-19 tests for the state, according to a news release from his office.  

About 57.5% of Nevada residents are fully vaccinated, according to CNN estimates.  

11:55 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Covid-19 cases continue to accelerate and reached new peaks in the Americas last week, PAHO says

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

A healthcare worker conducts Covid-19 test a woman in North Miami on January 13.
A healthcare worker conducts Covid-19 test a woman in North Miami on January 13. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Covid-19 cases continue to accelerate and reached new peaks in the Americas over the last week, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.

"The Americas reported nearly 7.2 million new Covid infections and more than 15,000 Covid related deaths. In North America, the United States and Canada continue to experience a surge of Covid hospitalizations."

Etienne also pointed out that Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras are reporting the highest number of new Covid-19 cases in Central America, with cases more than doubling over the last week.

11:22 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

CDC forecast predicts more than 61,000 new US Covid-19 deaths will occur over next 4 weeks 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts that over 61,000 more people could die from Covid-19 over the next four weeks. 

According to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), coronavirus has killed 854,076 people in the United States. 

The forecast could mean an average of 2,575 Covid-19 deaths a day, up from a current average of 1,576 per day, according to JHU data. 

The CDC included projections that indicate the number of deaths will steadily, but slowly rise for the first three weeks, followed by a decrease in the last week. 

Hospitalizations are predicted to remain stable or have an uncertain trend after eight weeks of predicted increases, with 9,600 to 36,900 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions likely reported on Feb. 11. 

There are currently 154,335 people hospitalized with Covid-19, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

The forecast for cases did not predict an increase or decrease, or give a predicted number of cases. 

“Recent case forecasts have shown low reliability, with more reported cases than expected falling outside the forecast prediction intervals for 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-week ahead case forecasts. Therefore, case forecasts will continue to be collected and analyzed but will not be summarized until sustained improvements in performance are observed,” the CDC said. 

 

2:49 p.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Staffing issues due to Covid-19 push several Kentucky school districts to remote learning

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Amanda Watts

Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky’s largest school district, will be conducting classes remotely for the remainder of the week due to Covid-19-related staff shortages, according to a statement on the district’s website

“If our staffing levels return to a point that we can safely operate school, our scheduled return to in-person instruction will be Monday, January 24,” the district said in a statement. 

The staffing shortages come as Kentucky is experiencing an all-time high positivity rate of 30.25%, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Gov. Andy Beshear said he “never dreamed” that 1 in 3 people in the state would be testing positive. 

At least three other districts in the state are also temporarily in remote formats due to a surge in Covid-19 cases among teachers. 

In a message to parents posted on Twitter, Woodford County Public Schools told parents while “this decision was not made lightly,” the high number of staff testing positive has made it “increasingly difficult to adequately staff” schools in the district. 

After two digital school days, Union County Public Schools plans to have students return to an in-person instruction on Thursday. “It has been our goal to stay in school as long as we could remain operational,” the district said in a statement posted on Facebook.  

Hopkins County Public Schools moved to digital learning, too. “The current staff shortages make it impossible to provide in-person classroom instruction,” a statement read on their website.  

Here's why the Omicron surge has one Kentucky healthcare worker worried about his kids: