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
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10:45 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Massachusetts will lift mask mandate in schools at the end of February

From CNN's Laura Ly

Massachusetts will lift its mask mandate for schools and childcare settings on Feb. 28, according to a press release from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The decision was made in consultation with infectious disease physicians, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and other medical experts. Vaccinations are the best protection against COVID-19, and Massachusetts has among the highest vaccination rates of young people and is a national leader in overall vaccination,” the release states.

Gov. Charlie Baker discussed the decision to lift the mask mandate during an ongoing press conference Wednesday morning. 

“We’ve learned a lot about how safe schools are and how to keep kids in class learning over the course of this pandemic,” Baker said. “We have far more tools available to us to deal with the pandemic than we had back at the beginning.”
10:52 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Fauci says the US is heading out of “full-blown” pandemic phase

From CNN Health’s Tasnim Ahmed

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview Tuesday that he hoped Covid-19 restrictions would end soon due to increasing vaccination rates and more treatment options.  

“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of Covid-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” Fauci, who is also the White House chief medical adviser, told the Financial Times.

While Covid-19 deaths continue to hold steady this week, US Department of Health and Human Services data recently showed that Covid-19 hospitalizations dropped below 100,000 for the first time in more than a month with a rapid decline in new cases. 

Fauci’s comments indicate a possible shift of decision-making to local officials rather than the Biden administration as infection rates continue to fall after the Omicron surge. He also told the Financial Times that he believes the end of Covid-related restrictions, including mask mandates, will likely happen this year, with the caveat that they may be reinstated temporarily should outbreaks occur.

As more states announce plans to drop mask mandates, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said cases and hospitalizations are still too high to relax Covid-19 recommendations.

While Fauci doesn’t believe the virus will be eradicated, he said he hopes “we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection that the Covid restrictions will soon be a thing of the past.”

10:42 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

More than 61,000 people could die in the US from Covid-19 over the next 4 weeks, CDC forecast predicts

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts more than 61,000 additional people could die from Covid-19 over the next four weeks.

This is the third week that deaths are predicted to have a stable or uncertain trend after predicted increases since late December. 

The CDC included projections that indicate the number of deaths per week will plateau in the next couple of weeks and then begin to decline.  

The forecast predicts that there could be a total of 942,000 to 978,000 deaths reported by March 5.  

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Covid-19 has killed more than 900,000 people in the United States. 

The forecast could mean an average of 2,576 Covid-19 deaths a day, up from a current average of 2,481 per day, according to JHU data. 

Hospitalizations: For the third week, hospitalizations are predicted to decrease, with 1,000 to 11,800 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions likely reported on March 4. There are currently 104,090 people hospitalized with Covid-19, according to US Department of Health and Human Services data. 

Cases: The forecast for cases again did not predict an increase or decrease or give a predicted number of cases. 

“Recent case forecasts have shown low reliability,” according to the CDC. “Therefore, case forecasts will continue to be collected and analyzed but will not be summarized until sustained improvements in performance are observed.” 

11:54 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

About 100 protesters against Covid-19 regulations gathered near bridge connecting Detroit and Canada

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

Supporters of the truckers protesting against the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, block traffic in the Canada bound lanes of the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ontario, in Canada on Tuesday.
Supporters of the truckers protesting against the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, block traffic in the Canada bound lanes of the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ontario, in Canada on Tuesday. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Protests against Canada’s Covid-19 regulations remain ongoing Wednesday morning. 

The Windsor Police Service in Ontario, Canada, said about 50 to 75 vehicles and 100 protesters were on roadways near Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Canada, as of 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Constable Talya Natyshak told CNN via email that drivers can still access the bridge, despite heavy traffic and blocked roadways. 

“The Windsor Police Service continues to encourage the organizers of the demonstration to maintain an open line of communication with us,” Natyshak said. “The Windsor Police Service wants to resolve this situation through the use of diplomacy and negotiation, seeking a solution that is safe and sustainable for our community.”

More background: The so-called "Freedom Convoy" began at the end of January in Ottawa as an objection to a vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to either be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. Other protesters then joined to rail against mask mandates, lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and other Covid-19 preventative measures. 

The protests, which have seen demonstrators leave trucks idling on roads, have infuriated politicians and business owners, with some in downtown Ottawa complaining about financial losses.

"Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy, and our fellow citizens' daily lives. It has to stop," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in parliament on Monday, the same day the bridge was obstructed by demonstrators. 

The protesters' demands do not reflect the majority view in Canada, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with about four in every five Canadians fully vaccinated. Hate crimes have soared since the protests started in Ottawa, and a dedicated hotline has been established in the city following reports of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic acts at the demonstrations.

CNN's Tara John and Isabelle Jani Friend contributed reporting to this post.

10:37 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Transportation secretary declines to say when US mask rule will be lifted from airplanes, trains and buses

From CNN's Greg Wallace

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wouldn't say when the federal transportation mask mandate could be lifted, as governors in multiple states are relaxing masking rules.   

“A hospital is not the same as a school, school is not the same as a bar, and a bar is not the same thing as a plane,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Jim Sciutto in an interview Wednesday, saying there are “different considerations” for different places. “When we have the guidance saying that is the right thing to do, I will be as relieved as any traveling American that we can move on to the next phase.”  

Buttigieg spoke after multiple Democratic governors eased school masking requirements in their states on Monday, and as two more Democratic governors are expected to lift some masking rules on Wednesday. 

The rule is linked to a number of outbursts and violent incidents onboard planes. Federal Aviation Administration data show more than 60% of the 323 unruly passenger incidents on aircraft this year involved masks. Crews reported 4,290 mask-related incidents last year, according to the data.

Buttigieg said transportation officials are “always considering what makes sense” around the policy, which requires masks on mass transportation like planes, trains and buses, as well as in transportation hubs like airports. 

The latest extension of the rule is in place through March 18. 

9:22 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Education secretary says he understands Covid fatigue: "Schools not only have to reopen but need to reimagine"

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona delivers remarks last month in Washington.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona delivers remarks last month in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Most of America's schools have now returned to daily in-person learning, but it was far from an easy year for students, their families, teachers and staff. Parents fought at school board meetings, caught in the crosshairs of left-right politics. Some districts face severe staff and teacher shortages.

Miguel Cardona, 46, has found himself as the nation's top schools chief at a time of unprecedented tumult. He's been tasked with guiding the country's schools to stay open and helping them use billions of federal relief dollars effectively — while the power to make those decisions lies primarily with state and local leaders.

Families are still struggling to juggle temporary school shutdowns and adhere to Covid-19 testing and isolation rules at their kids' schools. This was especially the case after the winter break, when thousands of schools returned temporarily to remote learning or delayed reopening due to the surge in cases and teacher absences.

After an extremely challenging two years, some parents are losing trust in the public school system. About one-third gave their schools grades of C, D or F on how they're addressing learning challenges related to the pandemic and providing mental health supports, according to a November survey. Several of the nation's larger public school districts have seen a drop in enrollment.

"To those parents, I understand the fatigue. It's been two years, and we thought it was going to be two weeks," Cardona told CNN in a recent interview.

"We're all tired. We're tired of masks. But for me it's been really clear that our schools not only have to reopen but need to reimagine and do better than they even were before the pandemic," he said.

Read the full story here.

9:15 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

US Covid-19 hospitalizations drop below 100,000 for the first time in more than a month, HHS data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

The number of hospital beds in use for patients with Covid-19 has dropped below 100,000 for the first time in more than a month, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

There are 99,925 current Covid-19 hospitalizations, which is a 38% drop from the peak of more than 160,000 from about three weeks ago. 

Overall, about one in seven inpatient beds are currently in use for Covid-19. There are about 18,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units around the country, according to HHS data. 

Hospitalization rates are highest right now in West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama – each with more than 50 Covid-19 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents. They’re lowest in Vermont and New Hampshire, each with less than 15 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents. 

In December, hospitalization rates were 16 times higher among unvaccinated adults than they were among fully vaccinated adults, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among seniors age 65 and older, hospitalization rates were 51 times higher among the unvaccinated than among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. 

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 4.4 million people have been hospitalized with Covid-19, according to CDC data. In the first week of February, there were about 13,000 new Covid-19 admissions each day.

Here's a look at how US hospitalizations have changed over time, according to HHS data:

9:19 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

France's vaccine strategy chief says conditions to remove Covid-19 vaccine pass could be met by late March

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris

A Maître d' scans a customers Covid -19 vaccine certificate at a restaurant last month in Paris.
A Maître d' scans a customers Covid -19 vaccine certificate at a restaurant last month in Paris. (Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

Professor Alain Fischer, France’s top vaccine strategist, told lawmakers Wednesday that the Covid-19 situation in the country could permit scrapping the country's vaccine pass by the end of March.

Fischer said that for the vaccine pass to be removed, France would need an incidence rate that is “10 or 20 times less than today” and that hospitals can no longer be overburdened.

“That can change quickly,” said Fischer, the chairman of the French vaccine strategy advisory board. “We should get there by the end of March, beginning of April.”

France's vaccine pass law requires people to have proof of full vaccination to access a wide range of everyday activities, like visiting restaurants and bars as well as long-distance public transport between regions.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday regarding the Covid-19 situation, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said, “The situation improves before us and allows us to look forward with a certain optimism.”

“There is the beginning of an improvement in the situation in hospitals,” Attal said, adding that the removal of the vaccine pass could also be followed by new rules on wearing masks. Currently, masks are required in all indoor public spaces in France, including on public transportation.

More background: As of Tuesday, there were more than 33,000 Covid-19-linked hospitalizations in France, compared to fewer than 7,000 in early November, ahead of France's 5th wave of coronavirus, according to Public Health France.

France recorded 235,267 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to the latest data from Public Health France. The number of cases has been falling gradually since its all-time peak of more than 500,000 cases on January 25.

Attal said that the National Health Council will provide new advice Thursday regarding Covid-19 regulations in schools, which he expects to move towards an easing of rules, including regarding mask-wearing and testing of contact cases.

8:31 a.m. ET, February 9, 2022

UK prime minister signals early end to all coronavirus restrictions in England

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Sharon Braithwaite

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signaled an early end to all coronavirus restrictions in England, including the legal requirement to self-isolate for positive Covid-19 cases.

Johnson said he would present the government's strategy "for living with Covid" when Parliament returns from a short recess on Feb. 21.

"Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions — including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive — a full month early," Johnson said. 

The requirement for those who test positive for coronavirus to self-isolate is currently due to expire on March 24. Under the current regulations in England, people have to isolate if contacted by the National Health Service's contact tracers and must provide their addresses and names of people in their household.

In the past day, the United Kingdom recorded 66,871 new coronavirus cases and 317 deaths, according to the latest Johns Hopkins University data