The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant
By Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN
Updated 12:01 AM ET, Thu February 10, 2022
8:50 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
South Korea reports 54,122 new Covid-19 cases, another record daily increase
From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo
South Korea reported 54,122 new Covid-19 cases for Wednesday, setting another record daily increase of Covid-19 cases and surpassing 50,000 daily cases for the first time since the pandemic began, according to data released Thursday by the country’s health agency.
The health agency warned Monday that the number of cases could rise from a daily average of around 35,000 to between 130,000-170,000 by the end of this month, amid a surge of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic stands at 1,185,361, with 282 considered critically ill. The death toll stands at 6,963, according to the KDCA on Thursday.
As of 12am Thursday, 86.1% of the population has been fully vaccinated with 56% of the population having received a booster shot, according to the KDCA.
8:30 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
Washington governor lifts outdoor mask mandate, anticipates broader masking announcements to come soon
From CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn
Washington’s outdoor mask mandate will be lifted on Feb. 18, Gov. Jay Inslee announced this afternoon at a press conference.
Inslee said the state is entering a transition period as projections indicate a “very steep decline” in Covid cases and hospitalizations as numbers have already begun ticking downward.
Inslee said it’s not time to lift all masking requirements yet and he plans to share more information after gathering another week or so of data.
The governor said the state will make a “safe transition” when it’s time.
“The day to totally remove masks rapidly approaching,” Inslee said. “I did not require masks for symbolism, I required them because they work. Now I believe we’re in a position to transition to a different state.”
7:38 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
Covid-19 hospitalizations drop below 100,000 in the US, according to HHS data
From CNN's Deidre McPhillips
Covid-19 hospitalizations are dropping quickly in the United States, but a heavy burden persists, and the nation's health care workers are exhausted under the strain.
For the first time in more than a month, there are fewer than 100,000 hospital beds in use for patients with Covid-19 nationwide, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
That's a 38% drop from a few weeks ago, when Covid-19 hospitalizations reached a peak of more than 160,000 beds in use at one time.
Despite the promising trends, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, says it's still too soon to change guidance and loosen Covid-19 prevention restrictions.
Hospitalizations are an important barometer, especially at the local level where decisions are made, she said at a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday.
"Cases and hospitalizations are falling. This is, of course, encouraging. And that leads us, of course, to have us look at all of our guidance based on the latest data and the science and what we know about the virus," she said.
"We're, of course, taking a close look at this in real time, and we're evaluating rates of transmission as well as rates of severe outcomes as we look at updating and reviewing our guidance."
A growing number of states, from New York to California, have announced this week their plans to roll back indoor mask mandates in the coming days. Some others, like Connecticut and New Jersey, are eliminating mask mandates in schools.
Here are the states lifting mask mandates:
New York: Indoors, Feb. 9
Rhode Island: Indoors, Feb. 11
California: Indoors, Feb. 15
Delaware: Indoors, Feb. 1 and in schools, March 31
Massachusetts: In schools, Feb. 28
New Jersey: In schools, March 7
Oregon: In schools, March 31
Connecticut: In schools, Feb. 28
Illinois: Indoors, Feb. 28
Washington: Outdoors, Feb. 18
The White House has yet to update guidance on mask wearing for the general public, but are urging students, teachers and parents to follow CDC guidelines when making decisions about mask-wearing in schools, regardless of state rules.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that now is not the time to change the recommendations or loosen restrictions aimed at preventing Covid-19.
"Right now, we still have about 290,000 cases every single day, and our hospitalization rates now are higher than they even were at the peak of our Delta surge," Walensky said. "So in this moment — while we are looking ahead and planning ahead, and we'll continue to evaluate and follow the science — our recommendations are consistent with encouraging students to wear well-fitting masks."
See doctor's reaction to states lifting mask mandates:
3:41 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
California governor signs bill allowing up to 2 weeks of Covid-19 sick pay
From CNN's Cheri Mossburg
Californians will be granted up to two weeks of sick pay for Covid-19-related absences as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on Wednesday, just two days after it was passed.
The new law is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022 and extends grants to businesses that had expired on Dec. 31.
“Businesses cannot thrive in a world that’s failing and that’s why sick leave is foundational,” Newsom said in a news conference Wednesday. “Keeping people healthy, keeping patrons safe is so important.”
Newsom teased upcoming guidance about the use of masks in schools, anticipating that an announcement will come within days, possibly on Monday.
The state’s endemic plan is expected to be discussed in detail next week, Newsom said, which will outline the criteria for community surveillance along with rules, regulations, and requirements for residents and businesses.
2:45 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
Rhode Island's indoor mask mandates to be lifted on Friday
From CNN’s Paradise Afshar
Rhode Island’s governor announced the state will be lifting its indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination protocols.
The new rules go into place on Friday, Gov. Dan McKee said during a briefing Wednesday afternoon.
“With our numbers continuing to drop, and having the second-highest vaccination rate in the country, we can safely make this shift, which will also put us in line with other New England states,” he said.
The governor said if the state’s general assembly extends his emergency executive authority for another 45 days, as currently proposed, he would extend the executive order requiring masking in schools until March 4.
“After that time, school masking policies would be decided by individual school districts, not the state,” McKee said.
McKee said the March 4 date would give school districts time to plan for a transition and allow parents the opportunity to talk to their local leaders.
“I also want Rhode Islanders to know that none of these decisions were made in a vacuum,” McKee said. “Our team feels we can safely and confidently take this next step based on decreasing Covid numbers and increasing vaccination rates.”
3:43 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
White House: Students and teachers should follow CDC guidelines on mask-wearing, regardless of state rules
From CNN's Sam Fossum
White House press secretary Jen Psaki urged students, teachers and parents on Wednesday to follow federal guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when making decisions about mask-wearing in schools, not just local state rules.
When asked by CNN's MJ Lee whether students and teachers should follow CDC guidance even if their states do not require masks in those settings, Psaki said "yes."
The CDC currently recommends "universal indoor masking by students, staff members, faculty, and visitors" in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
"This is where we would advise any American to follow the CDC guidelines," Psaki added, noting that the CDC is continually reevaluating its recommendations.
Psaki also made a point to note the difference between state leaders who are permitting local school districts to make their own decisions and those are penalizing them for wearing masks.
Earlier today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said masks are recommended in areas of high and substantial transmission. "That's much of the public right now," she said, also adding that the agency is working to update its guidance on mask-wearing.
When asked by CNN why it has been nearly a month since President Biden has addressed Americans in a public speech, Psaki pointed to the President's recent news conference where he took questions on the pandemic.
"The American people can expect to continue to hear from the President on it," Psaki said.
2:20 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
Utah governor steps in as a substitute teacher at local school during Covid-19 staffing shortages
From CNN's Michelle Watson
Weeks after signing an order aimed at getting Utah state employees to work in school classrooms as substitute teachers amid a wave of absenteeism due to the Omicron coronavirus variant, Gov. Spencer Cox was seen doing just that Tuesday afternoon.
"Substitute teaching 3 periods of 8th grade history today. Pray for me…😅" the governor jokingly said in a tweet.
“Spending time in the classroom gave me even more respect for what our educators do every day. We can’t thank them enough for their skill and dedication, especially their extraordinary efforts during the pandemic,” Cox said.
Cox isn't the only governor to help out in the classroom.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed up to be a substitute teacher last month too after signing a similar order, CNN previously reported.
3:24 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022
Most of the California Bay Area to lift indoor mask mandates on Feb. 16
From CNN's Stella Chan
Nearly a dozen health officers in California’s Bay Area will lift universal mask requirements for most indoor settings, starting next Wednesday, according to a joint news release from the San Mateo County manager's office.
The city of Berkeley and counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma will only require masks for anyone who is unvaccinated and over age 2, according to the release.
State health officials announced Monday that the state indoor mask mandate will expire on Feb. 15.
Masking is still required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, on public transportation, congregate settings, long-term care facilities, childcare settings and K-12 schools.
Local health departments can relax their mask mandates in accordance with the state or keep stricter guidelines.
In nearby Santa Clara County, health officials announced Wednesday in a news release that it will lift indoor mask requirements when the seven-day average of new cases is 550 or below and when “COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgement of the health officer.” The county has met the vaccination metric that would trigger mask requirement changes: 80% of all county residents are fully vaccinated. Currently, the seven-day average is 1,922 cases per day and hospitalizations continue to remain high. The health officer anticipates lifting indoor mask requirements in a matter of weeks, said the release.
Similarly, the Golden State’s most populous county, Los Angeles, will change mask requirements for indoor spaces when transmission is under 50 cases per 100,000 people, or when vaccines are available for at least eight weeks for children age under age 5. Either of those two guidelines along with no reports of significant circulation of new variants will prompt a requirement change. The “post-surge” threshold for the county is triggered when daily hospitalizations drop below 2,500 for seven consecutive days. Once that happens, masks will no longer be required at outdoor spaces including mega events, childcare facilities and K-12 schools.
The state has not yet announced any changes to masking guidance for schools but said adjustments to policies will be shared in the next few weeks.