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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8:11 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

More than half the inmates in 1 Mississippi jail have Covid-19

From CNN's Devon M. Sayers and Alta Spells

More than half the inmates at a federal prison in Mississippi are currently infected with Covid-19, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

The prison dealing with the outbreak, FCI Yazoo City, is a medium-security facility located 50 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi. This particular prison is part of a larger complex that also houses high and low-security inmates.

According to the latest BOP data from inside FCI Yazoo City, there are:

  • 1,416 total inmates
  • 719 inmates who have tested positive for Covid-19
  • Nine staff members infected with Covid-19
  • 146 inmates who have recovered from the virus

“Covid-19 transmission rates among staff and inmates in the BOP’s correctional institutions generally mirror those found in local communities,” said Scott Taylor, a spokesperson with BOP. 

The facility is using both rapid testing and PCR testing, Taylor told CNN.  

Some context: The outbreak in Mississippi is currently the largest in the federal prison system according to BOP.

“The majority of inmates who tested positive for Covid-19 are asymptomatic (positive with no symptoms) and do not require the level of care offered in a hospital setting,” Taylor added. 

FCI Yazoo City is operating at level 3, the highest grouping in the BOP Covid-19 modified operations plan. A tiered system, the plan is designed to assist in mitigating the risk and spread of Covid-19.

The BOP is currently offering inmates all three Covid-19 vaccines and booster doses as authorized for use in the US.

The executive order signed by President Biden in September stipulates that all federal prison employees be vaccinated, with limited exceptions.

7:44 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Omicron cases in San Francisco have peaked, health officials say

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Mayor London Breed
Mayor London Breed KGO

The surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant has peaked in San Francisco and the caseload is steadily declining, health officials announced on Thursday.

After peaking at a seven-day average of 2,164 cases on Jan. 9, new cases are slowing with the latest recorded average dropping to 1,705 cases, data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health showed.

The first known case of the Omicron variant was detected in San Francisco on Dec. 1.

"The good news is that things are starting to plateau," Mayor London Breed asserted in a news conference. "It doesn't mean that we get super comfortable and let our guard down."

Hospitalizations, which tend to lag behind new infections, are expected to peak in the next few days, but at a level that is manageable for current health care staffing and bed availability.

Calling the Omicron variant a "game-changer," Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax noted that the surge is still ongoing and cases remain very high. 

“We've proven that Covid doesn't have to upend our lives, even if we have to be vigilant, smart and flexible to adapt to what's needed," Colfax said. "Now, we don't know what Covid has in store for us, but we do have great defenses against this virus, our vaccinations and our boosters and I expect in the relatively near future, effective antiviral medications."

"The light at the end of the tunnel is here. We may go through another tunnel again, but just know that there is hope and there is light," Breed said.

6:15 p.m. ET, January 20, 2022

Omicron surge in Louisiana continues but peak is in sight, governor says

From CNN’s Amy Simonson

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, speaks during a hearing on May 13, 2021.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, speaks during a hearing on May 13, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images)

While infection rates and hospitalization numbers are high, officials believe they are seeing the first signs of a Covid-19 peak across the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

Edwards said the state continues to be in the middle of the Omicron surge, but data suggests a peak may be approaching.

“A peak would be welcome because you can’t start going down until you actually reached the peak,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of Covid in terms of cases and transmission and hospitalizations and deaths, as much as we’ve ever had in the state of Louisiana."

The state has reported 14,706 new cases of Covid-19 this week, bringing the total to more than 1 million cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Edwards.

Edwards said officials are seeing “startling” numbers among young adults and children. Six Covid-19 associated deaths have occurred among individuals ages 18 to 29 since Jan. 1.

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.