The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 9:39 PM ET, Thu January 20, 2022
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4:33 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

More than a quarter of total US Covid-19 cases have been reported over the past month, JHU data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

More than a quarter of total Covid-19 cases in the United States have been reported in the past month during the Omicron surge, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

The US has recorded nearly 69 million total Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 18 million of them have been reported over the past month.

Omicron has been the dominant strain in the US throughout the past month. The US confirmed its first case of Omicron on Dec. 1, 2021, and it became the dominant variant less than three weeks later during the week of Dec. 19. Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 25, Omicron accounted for about 74% of sequenced samples, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that total Covid-19 case counts are four times higher than the reported total through September 2021. This gap between reported and actual case counts may have grown even more in recent months as at-homes tests have become more common.

There are an average of about 764,000 new Covid-19 cases reported each day in the US, and at least one in five people in the US has tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Covid-19 hospitalizations are currently at a record high and deaths are rising, too. There are nearly 1,800 new deaths reported each day now, and nearly 860,000 people in the US have died of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Track the spread of coronavirus in the US here and see how cases have changed over time in the chart below:

4:30 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Covid-19 vaccinations do not impair fertility in men or women, new study finds

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A new study adds to growing evidence showing that there is no connection between receiving Covid-19 vaccinations and having a reduced chance of conceiving a baby.

Rather, couples in the study had slightly lower chances of conception if the male partner had been infected with the coronavirus within 60 days – which offers even more reason to get vaccinated against Covid-19, since the illness could affect male fertility in the short term, according to the study published today in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"These findings indicate that male SARSCoV-2 infection may be associated with a short-term decline in fertility and that COVID-19 vaccination does not impair fertility in either partner," the researchers – from Boston University School of Public Health and other institutions across the United States – wrote in the study.

"This adds to the evidence from animal studies, studies of humans undergoing fertility treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine trials, none of which found an association between COVID-19 vaccination and lower fertility," the researchers wrote. "Similarly, several studies have documented no appreciable association between COVID-19 vaccination and miscarriage risk."

More on the study: The study included data on 2,126 women, ages 21 to 45, in the United States and Canada. The women enrolled in the study from December 2020 through September 2021, and they were followed up with through November 2021. During the study, the women completed questionnaires online every eight weeks about their reproductive and medical histories, among other factors, and they were given the option to invite their male partners to complete questionnaires too. Among the participants, 73% of the women and 74% of their male partners had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

The researchers analyzed the questionnaire responses and found no association between having been vaccinated against Covid-19 and the probability of conceiving a child within one menstrual cycle. Yet the data showed that while having had Covid-19 was not strongly associated with the probability of conceiving among the women, the male partners who had Covid-19 were associated with a "transient reduction" in the probability of conceiving.

The National Institutes of Health announced the study findings Thursday and noted that couples in which the male partner had tested positive within 60 days were 18% less likely to conceive in that menstrual cycle, but there was no difference in conception rates for couples in which the male partner had tested positive more than 60 days before a cycle, compared with couples in which the male partner had not tested positive.

More research is needed to determine what might be driving these findings, but fever is known to reduce sperm count and fever is a symptom of Covid-19, according to the NIH.

1:53 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Austria becomes first country in EU to make Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for adults 

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt

Lawmakers vote in the parliament in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
Lawmakers vote in the parliament in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner) (Lisa Leutner/AP)

Austria's parliament on Thursday passed a bill making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for all residents age 18 and older starting on Feb. 1.

It is the first country in the European Union to impose such a strict measure.  

While the mandate goes into effect Feb. 1, Austrian officials will only begin conducting checks to see if the law is being adhered to starting on March 15. From then, those without a vaccine certificate or an exemption could be slapped with initial fines of 600 euros (around $680) going up to 3,600 euros (around $4,080).  

According to the Austrian Health Ministry's website, pregnant people and those who cannot be vaccinated without endangering their health are exempt from the law. People who are recovering from a Covid-19 infection are also exempt for 180 days from the date they received their first positive PCR Covid-19 test.

In addition to the introduction of the vaccine mandate, the Austrian government said Thursday that it was introducing a national lottery to encourage those unsure of getting a Covid-19 vaccine to get vaccinated, and those who have already been vaccinated twice to receive a booster shot.    

"To put it bluntly, we have earmarked up to 1 billion euros for the vaccination lottery, which is based on reward and incentive,'' Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said at a news conference hours before the vote in parliament. "I believe it's totally justified to spend this money."  

Nehammer said that Austrian citizens will get one lottery ticket for each vaccine shot they have had, meaning three tickets in total for those who have had their booster shot. The lottery entails that every 10th ticket would win a gift voucher of 500 euros (about $568), the Austrian chancellor said.  

Nehammer said that Austria has learned from its past successes, adding ''we have seen that a vaccination lottery is the best possible way to set up such a system.”  

Austria's new vaccine mandate comes as the country sees its highest-ever daily Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. On Wednesday, Austria recorded 27,667 new infections in the last 24 hours, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The Austrian government said it wants to avoid another lockdown, since the Alpine country emerged from its fourth lockdown in December last year.  

1:09 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Supply chain issues are affecting Ohio's free Covid-19 testing abilities

From CNN's Paradise Afshar, Amanda Watts, Jacqueline Howard and Gabe Cohen

The director of the Ohio Department of Health acknowledged the impact supply chain issues are having on the state’s ability to distribute free Covid-19 testing kits to residents.

“As we shared last week, the Omicron surge has led to soaring demand for Covid-19 at-home rapid tests and consequently a shortage in supply,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said during a briefing this morning. “This demand for testing continues to grow nationally and continues to stretch our national supply chain.” 

Vanderhoff said only a fraction of the 1.2 million testing kits the state ordered have arrived. 

“As a result of these ongoing supply challenges stemming from extreme high national demand, it’s likely that the state’s ability to provide tests could be intermittently affected,” he said. 

Some states say they are having a difficult time getting their hands on rapid Covid-19 tests following the US federal government's plan to send at-home test kits to households across the country.

Charles Patterson, Clark County Ohio Combined Health district commissioner, told CNN on Thursday that the county will run out of free at-home test kits today after the state health department cut off their supply days ago because the manufacturer couldn’t fill their order. 

The state didn’t specify why, but Patterson said, “It doesn’t take much to put two and two together," as it timed out as the federal government was ramping up supply of the same brand of tests.

Vanderhoff said once tests become available, “and the urgent requests of our schools are filled,” the state plans to resume fulfilling requests for rapid test kits from local health departments and other community partners.

Vanderhoff encouraged Ohioans to take advantage of the federal government’s free at home rapid test mailing program and pointed out other options to get tested. 

“Over the counter home rapid testing kits can still be purchased at many pharmacies and grocery stores,” he said. “Testing is also available at many urgent care locations, community health centers and pop-up testing sites.” 

1:02 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Metro Atlanta health care leaders say hospitals are overwhelmed with patients

From CNN’s Maria Cartaya

(Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
(Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Medical professionals from six leading health care systems in metro Atlanta held a virtual media briefing Thursday “with an urgent and unified call to action to address the ongoing pandemic,” according to the news release. 

“We are still in a crisis and a global pandemic that is significantly impacting our communities and our healthcare systems,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. 

“Hospitals continue to remain overwhelmed with patients in the metro Atlanta area,” said Sharon Pappas, chief nurse executive at Emory Healthcare.  

“Aside from being overwhelmed with patients, and we are running about 110% capacity right now, we’ve had to divert ambulances over the last several weeks because of the huge number of patients coming in. That has a big impact on the rest of the city,” Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer and chief of staff at Grady Health System, said.

“This is a real interesting time because everybody’s tired of talking about this,” said Jansen. “This isn’t going to go away. Covid-19 isn’t going to disappear after this wave. There’ll be other variants,” he added.

“Do understand, this is real. This has been an overwhelming peak on top of an already fatigued staff,” said Jansen.  

Pappas spoke about staffing shortages despite “doing all we can to bring in additional staff everywhere we need it.”  

“We are seeing many nurses and clinicians leave the profession or pause their careers because of the stress the pandemic has caused both personally and professionally,” said Pappas.  

Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of the Covid-19 Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare talked about supply shortages.

“If you present to the emergency room and to the hospital, physicians unfortunately are in the position of having to triage care, which is demoralizing to all doctors,” said Morgan.   

12:07 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Today marks 2 years since the first recorded case of Covid-19 in the US

From CNN's Michelle Watson  

Providence Regional Medical Center, where the first known person infected with Covid-19 in the United States was being observed, is seen in Everett, Washington, on January 21, 2020.
Providence Regional Medical Center, where the first known person infected with Covid-19 in the United States was being observed, is seen in Everett, Washington, on January 21, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

Today marks two years since the first documented case of Covid-19 was found on US soil, the Washington State Department of Health said in a news release.  

“Today marks two years since the first case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was found in Washington and in the United States,” the release says. “Our state lead the nation in the early days of the pandemic response by being proactive, transparent, and tough in its fight to protect people from the fast-spreading virus.” 

Since then, more than 857,000 people have died in the US from Covid-19 and more than 68.5 million people in the US have tested positive for Covid-19, according to estimates from Johns Hopkins University.  

"Over the past two years, our lives have changed dramatically at school, at work, and at home," the health department said. "Now, looking back on two years of pandemic response, we can say we are proud of the countless lives that have been saved by the partnerships in and around the public health system." 

About 63% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and roughly 25% is both vaccinated and boosted.

The US is currently averaging 754,906 new Covid-19 cases, according to JHU.

Track the spread of coronavirus in the US here.

10:45 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

HHS will give $103 million to help health care workforce burnout and mental health

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday it will award $103 million to help retain health care workers by strengthening long-term efforts to reduce burnout and to promote mental health, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a news briefing. 

Becerra said the funding comes from the American Rescue Plan and will be “disbursed to numerous organizations that oversee evidence-informed programs and practices and training. The focus will be on providers who do service in underserved and rural communities.” 

Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator Carole Johnson said the award will go to 45 grantees across the United States, including the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, among others.

According to a release from HHS, the awards are being made through three programs. First, $28.6 million will be awarded to 10 grantees to help the organizations establish, improve or expand evidence-informed programs and practices to promote mental health and well-being among health workers. Second, $68.2 million will be awarded to 34 grantees “to support tailored evidence-informed training development within health profession and nursing training activities.” And third, $6 million is being awarded to George Washington University for the Health and Public Safety Workforce Resiliency Technical Assistance Center to provide tailored training and technical assistance to the awardees. 

About one in four hospitals in the United States are reporting a “critical staffing shortage,” more than most of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from HHS.

10:40 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Biden administration disputes Maryland governor's claim on availability of tests

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

The White House is disputing a claim made by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan that some states aren't receiving the Covid-19 tests they ordered because of a new federal program to distribute them for free.

“We have not taken a single contract away from anyone," a senior administration official told CNN Thursday morning, explaining that there is a stipulation in contracts the federal government is signing that procurements cannot interrupt or interference with other federal, state or commercial orders for over-the-counter tests.

Instead, the official cited a fast-moving situation where states and the federal government are both actively trying to secure tests as a reason for the confusion and miscommunication.

"There have been moments where there’s a communication from a distributor or supplier that suggests the federal project is interfering with the state," the official said, and added that the administration's team is actively speaking with state officials who say they've been turned down by distributors or manufacturers for tests they've ordered.

In some circumstances, some manufacturers may be overpromising on tests numbers and then citing the new federal contract when they come up short, the official claimed.

In the last month, federal officials have spoken with approximately seven states about issues with orders they believed were being affected by the new federal program, and the issue is typically resolved within a matter of days.

Hogan raised his issue during the weekly White House call with governors. The administration official said their team reached out afterward to get information about what happened and believes the problem has now been resolved.

"We want the states to get over-the-counter tests," the official said.

Hogan's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

10:43 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Some officials say states are having a hard time getting Covid-19 tests as the federal testing plan rolls out

From CNN's Amanda Watts, Jacqueline Howard and Gabe Cohen

Covid-19 at home test kits are seen at Davies Pharmacy in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday, January 5.
Covid-19 at home test kits are seen at Davies Pharmacy in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday, January 5. (Julie Vennitti Botos/USA Today Network)

Some states say they are having a difficult time getting their hands on rapid Covid-19 tests following the US federal government's plan to send at-home test kits to households across the country.

"We did order millions more and we're expecting a huge shipment this week and all of our vendors called us late Friday to say that the White House's announcement on Friday had frozen all the orders and that they were taking all the tests that were going to go to us and the other states," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Wednesday at the end of his annual budget announcement.

Hogan said he raised the issue "pretty forcefully" on a call with the White House earlier this week. "Multiple other governors, both parties, agreed that they were having the same problem and we're trying to get the White House to address it," he said. 

The White House is disputing this claim.

“We have not taken a single contract away from anyone," a senior administration official told CNN Thursday morning, explaining that there is a stipulation in contracts the federal government is signing that procurements cannot interrupt or interference with other federal, state or commercial orders for over-the-counter tests.

Instead, the official cited a fast-moving situation where states and the federal government are both actively trying to secure tests as a reason for the confusion and miscommunication.

In Ohio, Charles Patterson, Clark County Ohio Combined Health District Commissioner, told CNN on Thursday that the county will run out of free at-home test kits today after the state health department cut off their supply days ago because the manufacturer couldn’t fill their order. The state didn’t specify why, but Patterson said, “It doesn't take much to put two and two together," as it timed out as the federal government was ramping up supply of the same brand of tests.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told CNN on Thursday that "we have heard some states are not getting their full supplies," but he added that the US Department of Health and Human Services has said "states should hold suppliers accountable, as the federal contracts required suppliers to prioritize existing orders before selling to the federal program."

Additionally, “the White House assured that the new testing supplies were separate supplies from the standard chain and would not disrupt existing orders or future orders," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Thursday.

President Biden announced his plan to make half a billion Covid-19 rapid tests available to Americans by mail last month as the Omicron variant surges across the US. The website where households can order their tests launched this week.

"The new program to mail tests out to people directly — they didn't produce any new tests, they just took all the tests off the shelf that we were supposed to get on trucks to come here," Hogan said.

Tom Inglesby, senior adviser to the White House's Covid-19 response team, rebutted Hogan’s claim during a call with reporters, including The Washington Post.

The federal program to distribute the tests "is specifically not allowed, by contract, to take away tests from state governments or U.S. commercial operations," Inglesby said. "By contract, that program cannot interfere with state, local or U.S. commercial operations."