The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Mahtani and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:30 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022
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8:03 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo postpone Carnaval parades by 2 months due to Covid-19

From CNN’s Taylor Barnes

The cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo postponed their world-famous Carnaval parades by two months in light of “the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil and the need to, at this moment, preserve lives and put effort into expanding vaccination across the country,” according to a press release from the Rio de Janeiro city government.

São Paulo’s Carnaval parades had been scheduled for Feb. 25-26, while Rio de Janeiro’s were scheduled for Feb. 27-28. Both will now take place on the weekend of April 21.

Carnaval celebrations in the cities take place in two parts: organized parades of samba schools and themed street parties known as blocos. The street parties had already been canceled before Friday’s announcement. 


7:54 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

FDA expands eligibility for Covid-19 antiviral remdesivir to include children

From CNN's Katherine Dillinger

(Nic Coury/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Nic Coury/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The US Food and Drug Administration took action Friday to expand the use of the antiviral remdesivir for treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19.

Remdesivir, sold under the brand name Veklury, had received an emergency use authorization (EUA) in May 2020 for use in people hospitalized with severe Covid-19. In October 2020, the FDA approved the drug for anyone 12 and older who was hospitalized.

On Friday, the agency expanded the approval to include people 12 and older who test positive for Covid-19, are not in the hospital, have mild to moderate disease and are at high risk of severe illness. It also expanded the EUA to allow its use in children under 12 who meet the same criteria.

These patients can get remdesivir through an IV for three days.

“Today’s actions bolster the arsenal of therapeutics to treat Covid-19 and respond to the surge of the omicron variant,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release. "Today’s actions provide adults and pediatric patients, with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 who are at high risk of severe Covid-19, with a treatment option they could receive outside of a traditional inpatient hospital setting, including at skilled nursing facilities, home healthcare settings and outpatient facilities such as infusion centers.”

The agency noted that remdesivir is no substitution for vaccination to prevent severe Covid-19 illness and complications like hospitalization and death.


7:51 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

NFL tells remaining playoff teams unvaccinated players no longer subject to daily Covid-19 testing

(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

The NFL has told the remaining eight teams left in the playoffs in a Friday memo that Covid-19 protocols have been updated “to eliminate the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated players to determine testing cadence.”

The memo, which CNN obtained, said that effective immediately, any player or staff member who reports symptoms will be tested promptly. The memo also said that “targeted surveillance testing” will continue, which has been in effect since Dec. 18.

“This comprehensive, symptom-based approach to testing, reflects our recent experience with the Omicron variant and conforms to current public health recommendations and best practices employed in healthcare, and offers the best opportunity for identifying and treating cases promptly and avoiding spread within the facility,” the memo said.

7:18 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

CDC vaccine terminology is about "how well you are protected rather than a definition," Fauci says

From CNN Health’s Katherine Dillinger

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t updated its definition of “fully vaccinated” for Covid-19 because the recommendations are about “how well you are protected rather than a definition,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday.

“It becomes almost a matter of semantics,” Fauci said. 

The CDC is working to “pivot” its language, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing earlier in the day. Fauci said her remarks were about “keeping your vaccination for Covid up to date."

"If I was not vaccinated at all and I got vaccinated tomorrow, two weeks to a month from now, I would be at my optimal degree of protection, and that would be ‘fully vaccinated.’ However, five months later, if I wanted to be up to date, to be optimally vaccinated, I’d want to get the booster," Fauci added.

However, Fauci admitted that the terminology “is obviously confusing people. But one of the things that we’re talking about from a purely public health standpoint is how well you are protected, rather than what a definition is to get someone to be required or not required.”

Fauci also rejected any arguments that the CDC’s refusal to change the definition is about presenting the best vaccination numbers, as more than 63% of the US population is fully vaccinated while only a quarter has gotten booster doses. 

“I can tell you categorically that that’s not the motivation for that. That’s not the reason," Fauci said.

Follow how many people have been vaccinated: Tracking Covid-19 vaccinations in the US

7:11 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Arizona sues Biden administration to avoid loss of Covid-19 relief money for schools without mask mandates

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey filed a lawsuit against the US Treasury Department Friday, one week after the Biden administration warned the state it could be forced to give back some of its federal Covid relief funds.

The Treasury said Arizona was violating the terms of the grants by refusing to give them to schools with mask mandates.

“Treasury’s actions far exceed the statutory authority granted to it under [the American Rescue Plan],” the lawsuit said.

The letter sent by Treasury to the state on Jan. 14 said the state’s refusal to make the $173 million in funding available to schools with mask mandates clashed with official health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Deputy Chief Compliance Officer Kathleen B. Victorino wrote.

More details: Arizona’s lawsuit argues that the American Rescue Plan does not specifically require the schools getting grants to follow CDC mask guidance, and therefore the Treasury Department does not have the authority to demand it.

“If Congress intended to give Treasury—which has absolutely no expertise in matters of public health—the authority to withhold or recoup tens of millions of dollars from States based on Treasury’s subjective assessment of whether a State program ‘undermines’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts, Congress needed to ‘speak clearly,’” said attorneys Anni Foster and Brett Johnson, representing the state.

In its Jan. 14 letter, the Treasury Department gave Arizona 60 days to respond to its concerns before it would consider taking back the money.

6:57 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Fauci clarifies timeline for Covid-19 vaccine for kids under 5: "We just don't know"

From CNN's Leinz Vales


Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified his remarks about the timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine for children under 5, saying, “we just don’t know.”

"We do know that the data are being collected by the companies who will submit it to the FDA and the FDA will make a judgment based on the safety and efficacy," Fauci told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Friday evening. "When I said it could be within a month or two or three we really don't know and I think when people push you, give an estimate of what you think. I hope in the next few months but I don't know for sure, Wolf."

Fauci said he is not privy to the information that companies will submit to the FDA for emergency use authorization.

"I can't give you a month, whether it's February or March, April or whenever," Fauci added. "We just don't know and that's just the reality."

6:33 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

All Team USA athletes are vaccinated ahead of winter games in Beijing

From CNN's Holden Perrelli

Every member of Team USA headed to the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing is vaccinated against Covid-19.

According to Jon Mason, senior director of communications for Team USA, 100% of the members are vaccinated and no exemptions were requested by the team. 

Back in September: The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee mandated all athletes competing in Beijing for Team USA be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1, 2021, unless they obtained a medical or religious exemption.

This mandate also included all Team USA delegation members.

The expected team size will be 222 individuals; Mason told CNN there are plans to share the full and official roster on Jan. 24. 

Mason said American athletes will begin arriving in Beijing on Jan. 28.

The games begin Feb. 3.

See how Beijing is implementing very strict measures to keep the Winter Olympics Covid-19 free:

5:58 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Philadelphia delays city employee vaccine mandate again

From CNN’s Kiely Westhoff

Philadelphia is delaying enforcement of its vaccine mandate for city employees again, citing ongoing discussions with unions and arbitration with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 over their contract, the city announced Friday.

The mandate, which was to go into effect on Jan. 14, was delayed last week until Jan. 21 as the city negotiates with the FOP and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22. 

Two of the four unions previously agreed to the mandate, the AFSCME DC 33, which represents trash collectors, and AFSCME DC 47, which represents non-profit and higher education workers, the press release said.  

A condition in the agreements with DC 33 and DC 47 is any eventual deal reached with the other labor unions including favorable terms must automatically be extended to their members—including any change to the city’s initial Jan. 14 deadline to get a first dose or submit a request for exemption, the press release said. 

“We appreciate the mayor's pivot after Local 22 IAFF meeting with Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer who listened and understood our public safety concerns as we are already understaffed. And especially in light of the recent tragic fire here that took so many precious lives,” said IAFF Local 22 President Mike Bresnan. 

CNN has also reached out the union representing police. 

“As vaccines continue to be the best way to protect Philadelphians and save lives, we’re proud that nearly 22,000 city employees have gotten vaccinated and at least another 1,300 have an approved exemption to the vaccination mandate for city employees—representing 85 percent of all city employees,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in the press release. “We also commend those employees who’ve taken the first steps to getting vaccinated — receiving at least one dose of the vaccine by today.”
4:36 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Catholic Diocese of Arlington to follow Virginia governor's opt-out mask policy in schools

From CNN's Mary Kay Mallonee

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has directed its schools across Northern Virginia, which include nearly 17,000 students, to follow the new governor’s executive order rescinding statewide mask mandates in public schools.

The Diocese said in a statement to CNN that its schools will implement the order signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin when it goes into effect on Monday, allowing parents to decide whether their child will wear a mask while in school.

Some context: The decision by the Diocese comes as some of Virginia’s largest public school systems have told parents they will continue to enforce mask mandates despite the governor’s order.

The superintendent of schools for the Diocese sent a message to pastors and school officials with updated guidance, writing:

“The governor’s executive order is clear on the right of parents not to have their child be subject to a mask mandate.” 

“Diocesan direction to our schools is to continue following local public health guidance, without, however, violating the rights of parents as described in Executive Order 2,” Superintendent Joseph E. Vorbach III said in the message, “The health and safety of all students and staff in our schools, while maintaining in-person instruction, remains our top priority.” 

The Diocese of Arlington includes seven cities and 21 counties.