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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2:45 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Rhode Island's indoor mask mandates to be lifted on Friday 

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

A customer enters a restaurant past a sign requiring masks on Wednesday, Feb. 9 in Providence, R.I.
A customer enters a restaurant past a sign requiring masks on Wednesday, Feb. 9 in Providence, R.I. (David Goldman/AP)

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

Students listen to a presentation before receiving KN95 protective masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus at Camden High School in Camden, N.J., on Wednesday, Feb. 9.
Students listen to a presentation before receiving KN95 protective masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus at Camden High School in Camden, N.J., on Wednesday, Feb. 9. (Matt Rourke/AP)

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 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (center) at West Lake STEM Junior High School��on Feb. 8.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (center) at West Lake STEM Junior High School��on Feb. 8. (Utah.gov)

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.   

Cox spent his teaching hours at West Lake STEM Junior High School in the Granite School District, according to a news release from his office.  

“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

A customer enters a Fitness SF gym on October 15, 2021 in San Francisco, California. 
A customer enters a Fitness SF gym on October 15, 2021 in San Francisco, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.

2:23 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Truck drivers seeking alternate routes as protesters block US-Canada border crossings

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Tanika Gray 

Truck drivers are finding alternate routes along the US border with Canada as protests against Canada’s Covid-19 regulations continue for a second week. 

“They’re avoiding the interstate and bridges and actually coming through the backroads to get closer to the bridge,” James Freed, city manager for Port Huron, Mich., told CNN.

The Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit and Windsor, Canada, remains closed to traffic on the US side.

James Lake, Michigan Department of Transportation's north region communications representative, said that "traffic is not currently moving into Canada,” as the “I-75 exit ramps to Canada are currently closed.” 

“MDOT is monitoring traffic flow and operations, and our focus is on communicating to the traveling public about closures so drivers can make decisions,” Lake said. “We are directing traffic to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, which is open, or the Windsor Tunnel for non-truck traffic.” 

The Canada Border Services Agency reported wait times of more than four hours Wednesday morning at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.  

“The problem is we’re a smaller Midwestern community,” Freed said. “We were never designed to have thousands of truckers showing up to our city all at once. So it’s significant congestion blocking up our downtown.” 

Freed said the truckers in his community are not protesters. 

“These are truck drivers who are legitimately trying to traverse the border, supply our factories and continue with commerce,” he said.

Watch drone video below:

3:40 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

London police will reconsider whether to investigate Downing Street lockdown party after new photo emerges

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on Feb. 9.
Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on Feb. 9. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Scotland Yard said on Wednesday that it is reviewing its assessment that a Christmas quiz at Downing Street on Dec. 15, 2020 did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation after an image surfaced of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson near a bottle of champagne, according to a statement from the Metropolitan Police. 

The news comes after a new photo emerged on Wednesday, published by The Mirror, seemingly showing Johnson gathering with others in an office setting, with a bottle of champagne, while the country was under a strict lockdown. 

The gathering was not included in the list of events published on Jan. 31 as being investigated by the police, but it was mentioned by senior civil servant Sue Gray in her findings to the Downing Street inquiry

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement Wednesday: "The MPS previously assessed this event and determined that on the basis of the evidence available at that time, it did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation. That assessment is now being reviewed." 

On Jan. 25, the police announced it was investigating a "number of events" that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential coronavirus regulation breaches. 

1:40 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Police say truckers moved tractors and vehicles to block US-Canada border in protest

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spokesperson said the US-Canada border at Coutts, Alberta, remains inaccessible after truckers moved additional vehicles to block the highway on Tuesday evening.

The protesters in Coutts are part of a group of truckers across Canada that have successfully blocked major border crossings in protest of Canada's mandate requiring that trucker drivers be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict testing and quarantine requirements.

Fraser Logan, spokesperson for the RCMP in Alberta, said that vehicles were moved onto Highway 4, completely blocking access to the border, around 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

"Protesters moved in 10 farm tractors and three passenger vehicles," Logan said, describing the situation as fluid. 

In a Tuesday evening press conference, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki had touted the dwindling number of truckers present at the protests as progress towards breaking the blockade. He said that was through successful conversations with the protesters over the almost two-week-long blockade.  

Part of the success, Zablocki said, was convincing truckers to allow a lane of traffic to open in either direction towards the border.

Logan did not have any information as to what may have led the truckers to bring in the additional vehicles and completely shut down roadway access. However, Logan did confirm that the RCMP in Alberta is continuing to talk to towing companies about moving the trucks.

According to Department of Transportation statistics, roughly 150,000 trucks pass through the Sweet Grass-Coutts border crossing each year. The nearest border crossing to the east adds about two hours of travel to a trip; the nearest border crossing to the west adds about an hour travel to a trip. 

Zablocki said the protests started in Coutts 12 days ago with over 250 truckers, but as of Tuesday evening, that number has dwindled to around 50.  

1:31 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

New York governor: There's a "strong possibility" masks won't be mandated in schools by second week of March

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

A masked student receives an in-person lesson at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 05, 2022 in New York City. 
A masked student receives an in-person lesson at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 05, 2022 in New York City.  (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul acknowledged there is a possibility that mask mandates in school may be lifted in the second week of March.

She was asked at her Covid-19 briefing Wednesday if she envisions schools lifting mask mandates by March 7 if metrics stay basically where they are now — and there is “barely” any uptick by March 4. Hochul said:

"That is a very strong possibility but ... I will factor all the data that’s gathered during that week, [and] look at everything else I’ve mentioned as well as global trends.”

The governor added she wants to make sure there is thoughtful guidance on “what could re-trigger the institution of this again,” adding “hopefully, never again but we have to be realistic; this has not been declared over, this pandemic is still with us.”

When asked about the varying decisions on school masks from leaders in the tri-state area — the New Jersey and Connecticut governors — Hochul said “we’re very close” in terms of their various approaches. Hochul maintained the state will continue to make data-driven, metric-driven decisions. 

1:45 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

Masking will no longer be required in Denver-area schools and childcare facilities after Feb. 25

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos and Leslie Perrot

Students in masks start their first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic at Garden Place Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in north Denver. 
Students in masks start their first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic at Garden Place Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in north Denver.  David Zalubowski/AP

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment announced Wednesday it will lift its mask mandate in schools and childcare facilities on Feb. 25 at 11:59 p.m. MT. 

The department cited “a significant drop in COVID-19 cases in Denver and the metro area” as well as high vaccination rates among children ages 5 and older.    

The city’s indoor face covering order expired last week, CNN previously reported.

“I want to thank all the students, teachers and staff who have done the right thing to protect themselves and one another from Covid-19 by following public health orders and getting vaccinated,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a press release. “Based on the current data, and the efforts of our residents, this is a step we can take at this time. We are supportive of any additional measures our schools put in place, as needed, to continue in-person learning.”

The department said it plans to announce more information on quarantine and isolation guidelines later this week as well.