The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

Dr. Wen
Doctor supports some states lifting mask mandates in schools. Here's why
03:13 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • New York will be lifting its statewide mask-or-vaccine mandate for indoor businesses Thursday. The move comes as a growing list of US states say they will lift school mask requirements in the coming weeks. 
  • The White House urged teachers and students to follow federal CDC guidelines when making decisions about mask-wearing in schools, not just local state rules. The CDC director, meanwhile, says it’s still too soon to change guidance and loosen prevention restrictions.
  • Global Covid-19 deaths increased by 7% compared to last week, according to the World Health Organization.

Our live coverage has ended for the day. Read more about the pandemic here.

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South Korea reports 54,122 new Covid-19 cases, another record daily increase

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.

Washington governor lifts outdoor mask mandate, anticipates broader masking announcements to come soon

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.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations drop below 100,000 in the US, according to HHS data

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.”

But there’s no “magic number,” Walensky said.

Read more here.

Here are the states lifting mask mandates soon

Shoppers wear masks while walking through an indoor market in New York, on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

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:

02:51 - Source: CNN

California governor signs bill allowing up to 2 weeks of Covid-19 sick pay

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.