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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12:47 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

CDC director continues to recommend masks, but says decline in Covid-19 numbers is "encouraging"

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard and Donald Judd

Recent declines in Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalization rates across the United States has led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review guidance on mitigation measures, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a virtual White House briefing Wednesday.

"We certainly understand the need and desire to be flexible," Walensky said Wednesday.

"Cases and hospitalizations are falling. This is, of course, encouraging and that leads us of course to look at all of our guidance," Walensky said. "At this time, we continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission. That's much of the public right now."

Walensky added later in the briefing that the agency is working to update its guidance on mask-wearing.

"We are working on that guidance. We are working on following the trends for the moment," Walensky said, adding that even though hospitalizations and death rates are still high, "we are encouraged by the current trends."

When pressed in a follow-up question by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins if Americans should follow guidance from the CDC or that of governors — like Phil Murphy of New Jersey, John Carney of Delaware, or Kathy Hochul of New York, who’ve announced rollbacks of some indoor mask requirements in their respective states — Walensky said decisions would continue to be made "at the local level."

"As I understand it, in many of these decisions, are using a phased approach — not all of these decisions are being made to stop things tomorrow, but they’re looking at a phased approach. And so, what I would say is again, they have to be done at the local level," Walensky said, adding she was "really encouraged" by the decline in cases and hospitalizations and that the CDC was still "working on our guidance," with respect to masks.

 

12:10 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

White House offers some more details on preparations to vaccinate kids under 5

From CNN's Besty Klein

The White House offered some additional details on its efforts to prepare to vaccinate children aged six months to five years, pending the US Food and Drug Administration’s authorization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation.

Data on Covid-19 vaccine efficacy for this age group has been submitted to the FDA and its advisory committee will meet next Tuesday, Feb. 15. 

Since the vaccine is specially formulated for this age group, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Wednesday, the administration is “launching a new program specially for kids under five,” for which the planning process is “well underway.”

The CDC is working with states to help them prepare and the US has procured enough vaccine supply, as well as special needles, syringes, and kits, to vaccinate this young age group.

“We're working closely with pediatricians and family doctors and children's hospitals and pharmacies to make sure the vaccine is available at thousands of locations across the country — locations that parents know and trust,” Zients said, adding that the vaccines will be packed and shipped “once FDA makes its decision.”

More context: As CNN reported last week, there is some hesitancy among parents of this age group. A January Kaiser Family Foundation poll of a nationally representative sample of 162 parents released last week found only 3 in 10 parents say they'll get their child under 5 vaccinated against Covid right away. Zients said the administration will focus on local messengers to combat hesitancy.

“There are parents that do have questions and we need to answer those questions. And we've learned through our efforts across the last year that the best messengers are local messengers, local community groups and leaders, doctors and other health practitioners. So we are working closely with HHS (the US Department of Health and Human Services) to line up that group and make sure that they have the materials that they need, training they need to be able to answer the questions that parents have about getting their kids vaccinated,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, added that the FDA’s decision will be “based on the scientific data of both safety and efficacy.”

 

12:51 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

New York will assess masks in schools after reviewing Covid test results from next break, governor says

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York state will make an assessment on mask-wearing in schools after reviewing student Covid-19 test results in the first week of March following the next school break, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

“After the break, after we’ve had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment that first week in March based on all the metrics I’ve described to you and look at that combined picture,” she said.

Hochul met with various educational leadership in a virtual closed press meeting Tuesday.

“We solicited their input, their advice and I believe they felt comfortable with this approach — that it is not reactive, it is thoughtful, it is based on everything we have been doing since day one and we’ve done it successfully," the governor said.

The state has amassed more at-home test kits than any state in the nation, Hochul said, and they will be given to families prior to the school break. 

Most students are expected to return to school on or about February 28, she said.

“After this break, parents will have test kits for their children, we want them to test the day after they come back and again three days later and let the school know if your child tests positive, keep them home, but by that Friday, just a few days after the children come back, we’ll be able to look at those numbers,” and other metrics, she said. 

Hochul said the state is also working to make sure the schools know what to do in potential future circumstances wherein the masks come off, and a student tests positive – guidance of which has not yet been developed by other state or federal partners.

 

12:01 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

White House still scant on details for getting back to normal and lifting US Covid-19 protocols 

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The White House continued to suggest that it is looking ahead to a time when Americans can get back to normal after nearly two years of Covid-19 protocols, but offered scant details on what that would look like and when it could be announced. 

With cases and hospitalizations trending downward, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that fighting the Omicron surge of coronavirus remains “priority number one,” and indicated that there has been some outreach to governors and other public health officials on the next steps. 

“The President, as I just mentioned, has been clear that we're moving toward a time when Covid won't disrupt our daily lives — a time when Covid won't be a constant crisis — so we're no longer fearing lockdowns and shutdowns, but getting back to safely doing what we all love. In doing so, we will rely on the powerful set of tools that have been developed: the vaccines, the booster shots, treatments, and testing,” Zients told reporters.

In a rare and notable moment, Zients directly named Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. CNN reported earlier this week that Becerra is seeking to take a more public-facing role.

“For the last several weeks, we've been working closely with Secretary Becerra, our team of doctors, and the White House Covid response team, under the President's leadership, is reaching out to governors and outside public health experts and doctors and local public health officials on steps we should be taking to keep the country moving forward,” Zients said.

Zients acknowledged that some places have experienced cases falling more significantly, and that will lead to “different approaches and different timing.”

But overall, officials at Wednesday’s briefing offered no specific benchmarks or metrics for how or when the administration will shift away from its crisis footing as some governors, including Democrats, have moved toward lifting restrictions. 

 

12:17 p.m. ET, February 9, 2022

New York governor will lift statewide mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses tomorrow

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is lifting the statewide mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses on Thursday, leaving counties, cities and businesses to “make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to mask or the vaccination requirement.”

“Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to life this in effect tomorrow," she said.

The emergency temporary measure was put in place two months ago and was set to expire tomorrow, she reminded. 

“We want to make sure that every business knows, this is your prerogative. And individuals who want to continue wearing masks, continue wearing masks," the governor said.

The statewide mask requirement is still in effect at state regulated health care settings, state regulated adult care facilities and nursing homes, correctional facilities, schools and childcare centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and on transit including busses, trains, subways and their stations as well as on planes and in airports.

These are concentrated areas and areas where people are more vulnerable, she explained.

See her tweet:

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.