The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:53 p.m. ET, January 23, 2022
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1:38 p.m. ET, January 23, 2022

Schools should wait to lift mask mandates, Gottlieb says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday it’s too soon and “imprudent” for schools to lift mask mandates right now while there are high numbers of coronavirus cases.

Gottlieb said some schools can’t implement social distancing or testing and may need to rely on masks as their only tool to prevent the virus from spreading.

“So to withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic, I think is imprudent. We should wait. I think within two weeks we'll be able to make that decision,” Gottlieb said.

In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that allows parents or guardians to decide whether their children wear masks in school is set to take effect on Monday. Some school districts have said they will continue to enforce mask mandates.

Gottlieb urged policymakers to set clear endpoints based on levels of coronavirus transmission for when they would withdraw use of coronavirus mitigation measures.

“I think parents are willing to tolerate masks in schools, recognizing it's very disruptive to children, if there is an end date to it, if it's clearly prescribed when we're going to use these masks and when we're going to withdraw them so they don't disrupt two years of a child's socialization and school activities,” Gottlieb said.

Some context: Speaking on ABC This Week on Sunday, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci reminded that US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance suggests multiple layers of protection are needed to keep children in school: vaccinating adults and children, wearing masks and improving ventilation.

“All of those things go together, and masking is a part of that,” Fauci said.

12:04 p.m. ET, January 23, 2022

Late March is likely the soonest a vaccine for younger children could be available, Gottlieb says

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Late March is probably the soonest a Covid-19 vaccine for children younger than 5 could be available, former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week he hoped a vaccine for younger children could be approved within the next month or so, but he clarified on CNN Friday, “We do not know for sure when the vaccine will be approved from an emergency use authorization for children from 6 months to 4 years. We just don’t know.”

Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, said on Sunday “a month is probably premature.” The Pfizer trial in younger children was extended to include a third dose because the lower-dose vaccine wasn’t as effective as expected after two doses.

But while the Omicron variant is dominant, the primary function of the vaccine is reducing severe disease, Gottlieb said. “And in that regard, getting any vaccine into young kids probably is going to afford them a measure of protection by getting baseline immunity to them. So any reconsideration of the vaccine timeline right now by regulators is probably based on that,” Gottlieb said.

“But I think even if the FDA were to reconsider the approval of the vaccine, you're looking at a timeline when this would get pushed at best perhaps into late March," Gottlieb added.

Vaccine trial data would still need to be re-examined and considered by vaccine experts, and then vaccines would need to be pushed into the supply chain, he said.

“By the time that happens, I think you're looking at a March date, maybe late March,” Gottlieb said. “So I don't think this is something that's going to happen in the next month. Right now Pfizer and the FDA are looking very closely at the data that's accrued to see if they can make a decision around this.”

11:43 a.m. ET, January 23, 2022

Several thousand protest coronavirus restrictions in Brussels

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston

People attend a protest against Covid-19 restrictions in Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday, January 23.
People attend a protest against Covid-19 restrictions in Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday, January 23. (Hatim Kaghat/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

Several thousand people attended a protest against coronavirus restrictions in multiple European nations on Sunday afternoon in Brussels, according to CNN affiliate LN24.

Belgian protestors were joined by several European movements, including World Wide Demonstration and Europeans United for Freedom, to march through the city in protest against coronavirus measures still in force across Europe, LN24 said.

Video from the scene shows police using tear gas on protestors, and a spokesperson for the Belgian police told CNN that there have been a number of clashes with police and at least six arrests. The Belgian police have called for the end of the demonstration, the spokesperson said.

Demonstrators from France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were also in the procession, according to CNN affiliate RTL Info. Pictures from the march show French protestors speaking out against France’s nationwide vaccine pass, which comes into force from Monday and will require anyone over the age of 16 in France to have proof of full vaccination to access a wide range of everyday activities.

Pictures from the Brussels march show large numbers walking together without wearing a mask, in opposition to current government guidance to maintain a 1.5-meter distance at demonstrations and to wear a face-covering at outdoor events with more than 100 people.

The group gathered at Brussels Gare du Nord station and walked through the city’s European quarter to Parc du Cinquantenaire, according to LN24.

Some context: The demonstration comes just days after Belgium announced a slight easing of Covid-19 restrictions, extending the closing time on restaurants and bars from 11 p.m. to midnight and allowing certain indoor venues to reopen from Jan. 28.

The government also announced that from March, booster shots will be required to maintain a Covid-19 vaccination certificate, which allows access to bars and cinemas. However, it is still possible to obtain a Covid-19 pass with a negative test or proof of a recent recovery from infection.

Police confront protestors during a demonstration against Covid-19 measures in Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday, January 23.
Police confront protestors during a demonstration against Covid-19 measures in Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday, January 23. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

9:16 a.m. ET, January 23, 2022

72 Covid-19 cases reported among personnel related to Beijing Olympics

From CNN's Yong Xiong and Hamdi Alkhshali

(Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images)
(Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 72 positive Covid-19 cases have been registered in China among personnel related to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and all of them are non-athletes, according to a statement by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics on Sunday. 

The statement said 39 positive cases had been confirmed following airport PCR tests among 2,586 Olympic-related arrivals who entered China at the airport from Jan. 4 to Jan. 22.

In the “closed-loop” system during the same time, 33 confirmed positive cases had been detected from personnel related to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing who were not athletes or team officials, the statement said.

Chinese authorities have implemented a “closed loop system,” a bubble completely cut off from the rest of the city, for the Winter Olympics to limit the spread of infection.

“All Olympic-related personnel who entered China and Games staffs implement closed-loop management. They are completely separated from the outside society,” the statement said.

As of Jan 22: A total of 171 athletes and team officials have arrived in Beijing for the Winter Olympics, and none have tested positive for Covid-19 so far.

In addition, no athlete inside the Olympics closed-loop system has tested positive since Jan. 4 as well.

 

 

8:01 a.m. ET, January 23, 2022

New Mexico state employees — including the governor — to sub in classrooms amid staffing shortages

A new program in New Mexico is streamlining the process to allow state workers and National Guard members to work as substitute teachers and aides as staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant continue — and that includes Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The governor said that the state has been "woefully short" on educators, so she and others are stepping in.

"States and governments have had to turn on a dime during the pandemic to stand up systems, to provide support to any of our critical, crucial, basic services. There aren't any other options," she said in a CNN interview.

She thinks she'll be placed in an elementary school next week.

The governor said that those participating in the program must go through a background check and safety course beforehand.

"I'm feeling very good about this effort, and the goal is to keep schools open and to support educators, parents and students through the worst of Omicron," she said.

So far, there are 50 National Guard members and 50 state employees taking part, and schools decide where they are placed in classrooms.

"The whole goal is certainly not to interrupt the qualified experienced work that is required in our public schools — but just to shore them up to stay open. And I hope maybe that it'll stay as we develop a pipeline. The whole point here is to really support ... hospitals, health care workers, child care workers and schools," Grisham said.