December 27 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Tara John, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 1:01 AM ET, Tue December 28, 2021
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6:01 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

CDC shortens recommended Covid-19 isolation and quarantine times

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

People wait in line for take-home Covid-19 test kits in New York on December 23.
People wait in line for take-home Covid-19 test kits in New York on December 23. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shortened the recommended times that people should isolate when they’ve tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

The CDC also shortened the recommended time for people to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus to a similar five days if they are vaccinated, and often to no time if they are boosted

“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others,” the CDC said in a statement on Monday.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

Quarantine refers to the time people stay away from others if they are exposed to a disease but not yet testing positive or showing symptoms.

CDC changed those recommendations, too. “For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days,” it said.

“Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.”

President Biden was briefed today by his Covid-19 team on the CDC's decision, according to a White House official. 

6:03 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Goldman Sachs introduces a new booster policy and mandates twice weekly testing

From CNN's Matt Egan

People enter the Goldman Sachs headquarters New York in June.
People enter the Goldman Sachs headquarters New York in June. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Goldman Sachs told employees in a memo on Monday that all individuals coming into the bank’s US offices will be required to show proof of a booster shot.

The new booster policy takes effect on Feb. 1 and applies to both employees and visitors. The move comes as a spike in Covid-19 cases complicates the return of office workers in New York and across the United States.

In addition to mandating booster shots for eligible employees, Goldman Sachs plans to double mandatory testing to twice weekly for those entering US offices, beginning on Jan. 10.

News of the new health policies was first reported by Bloomberg and confirmed to CNN by a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs. 

Andy Slavitt, former Covid-19 adviser to President Biden, told CNN earlier this month there’s “no question” CEOs should require employees to get boosters in light of how contagious Omicron is. 

"Boost everybody. If everybody is boosted, that's your best shot at having everyone back," Slavitt said, referring to how business leaders should approach back-to-the-office plans.

4:28 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Airlines canceled more than 1,100 US flights on Monday

From CNN's Greg Wallace

A coronavirus surge and winter weather threw off holiday travel plans for a fourth straight day on Monday – and at one airline, would-be travelers are waiting on hold for as long as 11 hours.  

Airlines canceled more than 1,100 US flights today and delayed more than 4,400 flights, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware. On Sunday, about 1,400 flights were canceled and more than 6,000 delayed, FlightAware reported.  

In all, carriers have canceled nearly 4,000 flights since Friday – Christmas Eve – and more than 11,800 were delayed, according to FlightAware data.    

West coast-heavy Alaska Airlines said severe weather in the Pacific Northwest disrupted its flight schedule. Alaska canceled more than one in five of its flights – 144 – on Monday, according to FlightAware, on top of the 248 cancellations Alaska Airlines reported on Sunday.  

“Reservations is experiencing extremely long hold times of up to 11 hours,” Alaska Airlines told CNN in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience our guests are experiencing due to flight delays and cancellations. We realize it’s incredibly frustrating when travel doesn’t go as planned.” 

Alaska said crew members calling out from work sick due to coronavirus is “no longer a factor,” but other carriers said it is an issue.   

United Airlines, which canceled more than one in 10 of its flights on Friday and Saturday, told CNN that “nearly 50% of our passengers have arrived at their final destination either early or within four hours of their originally scheduled flight.” It canceled 115 flights on Monday “due to Omicron staffing issues.”

4:32 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Covid-19 hospitalizations increasing slowly in Florida, hospital official says

From CNN's Leyla Santiago and John Couwels

While demand for Covid-19 tests is up, hospitalizations in the state of Florida do not appear to be, the head of the Florida Hospital Association tells CNN. 

"Although we are experiencing significant new daily cases of Covid, our hospitalizations for Covid are still relatively low and increasing slowly," said Mary C. Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. "While hospitals are readying their surge plans, today there are many beds available to treat Covid and non-Covid patients," she continued.

According to Mayhew, current statewide hospitalizations of 2,075 Covid-19 patients is about 12% of the 17,121 hospitalizations at the peak of the Delta variant surge on Aug. 23.

"Our biggest challenge continues to be the severity of our workforce shortages consistent with what states around the country are confronting," Mayhew noted in her statement.

Jackson Health System, one of the largest health systems in South Florida, said in a post on Twitter on Monday, "Across the Jackson Health System hospitals, we currently have 212 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.” One day earlier, the hospital system reported 175 patients. On Christmas Day, the system reported having 153 patients Covid-19 patients. 

Demand for testing has been increasing, as the number of people waiting to be tested at one of Miami-Dade County's busiest testing sites continues to grow. 

There was a line of cars wrapped around Tropical Park on Monday morning, with individuals reporting wait times for testing of more than two hours. 

Ron Goncalves, general manager of Nomi Health Florida, which partners with Miami-Dade County to run its testing sites, told CNN, "We’ve been north of 50,000 tests daily across the state of Florida, including limited numbers of sites and operating hours for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day."  

At the peak of the Delta wave, Goncalves said they averaged about 34,000 tests per day. 

Nomi Health Florida is now planning to open four or five more testing sites in Miami-Dade County "in the coming days" to help with testing demands, according to Goncalves. He also told CNN that the company has enough of staffing and tests, and has their labs working around the clock to cover the increase in volume, the likes of which they have not seen before.   

Miami-Dade County also plans to distribute free at-home testing kits at public libraries today, while supplies last. 

4:09 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Biden directs federal funding to assist in Covid-19 testing

From CNN's DJ Judd

Medical workers administer Covid-19 tests at a subway station in New York on December 27.
Medical workers administer Covid-19 tests at a subway station in New York on December 27. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

President Biden has directed federal funds to help get more Covid-19 testing across the country. In a memo Monday, citing the Stafford Act, Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with testing in the places "that need it most."

“It is the policy of my Administration to combat and respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic with the full capacity and capability of the Federal Government to protect and support our families, schools, and businesses, and to assist State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments to do the same,” Biden wrote. “This policy includes the use of emergency and disaster assistance available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get COVID-19 testing to the places that need it most.”

The order directs the department of Health and Human Services, “on a fully reimbursable basis, to provide testing sites, launched and operated by HHS in close coordination with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments,” using FEMA funding.

Some context: The rate of daily Covid-19 cases detected in the US has eclipsed those fueled by the Delta variant over the summer. While coronavirus hospitalizations remain relatively lower than peaks earlier this year, the situation may get worse as tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, putting them at higher risk for complications and death.

Furthermore, both health and government officials have been warning that the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals and health care workers.

3:58 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

US Education Department stresses importance of safely maintaining in-person learning 5 days a week 

From CNN's Liz Stark 

(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the US, the Biden administration is urging school districts to take certain safety measures to ensure classrooms remain open for in-person instruction in the second half of the school year, according to a new resource guide addressed to school leaders, which was obtained by CNN on Monday. 

In it, the US Department of Education outlines key strategies for keeping students and educators safe while maintaining in-person learning.

“After settling back into a school routine, many districts are eager to return to the ease of pre-COVID interactions and learning experiences, but we urge significant caution before decreasing any mitigation strategies. It is incredibly important that all schools work to remain open for in-person learning five days a week, especially in light of the Omicron variant,” according to the department’s document.

“The goal remains to keep all schools open for in-person learning five days a week throughout the 2021-22 school year and beyond—let’s make this goal a reality!” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a message to school leaders.

Cardona also urged school leaders to adopt safety strategies to “keep our students and staff safely in school and avoid quarantines and unnecessary closures or disruptions” — including collaborating with local health departments, encouraging vaccinations in school communities and implementing widespread Covid screening testing and “Test to Stay” strategies, among other measures.

This comes amid a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, leaving many school districts to grapple with questions about in-person and remote instruction as students return from winter break in the coming weeks.

Cardona has emphasized that schools should continue to prioritize in-person learning, with proper mitigation and testing strategies in place to protect students and school staff. 

“We know what works, we know how to protect ourselves, there's no reason our schools should be going remote fully, we need to keep our kids in the classroom,” Cardona said in a CNN interview last week.

2:50 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

France tightens Covid-19 restrictions but won't impose curfews or lockdowns

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu

French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on December 27.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on December 27. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

France will tighten restrictions but will not impose curfews or lockdowns ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations, despite reporting record new coronavirus cases, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced at a news conference on Monday.

“At this stage, our will is to adapt our plans in a proportionate way that allows us to rule out any curfew measure,” Castex said after a special health defense council meeting.

Starting on Jan. 3, France will introduce several restrictions for a duration of three weeks, such as banning eating and drinking inside cinemas, theaters, sports events or on-board public transportation, including long-distance transport.

Large gatherings outdoor and indoor will be restricted to 5,000 and 2,000 participants respectively, while standing concerts will be canceled. Customers willing to dine at a restaurant or café will have to be seated.

Working from home will also be made mandatory “when possible” for at least three days per week, and Castex said it’s up to local leaders to decide if mask-wearing mandates outdoors should be brought back for city centers.

Castex reiterated the government’s position that vaccinations are the key to get through this pandemic, which he described as “a never-ending film.”

Starting tomorrow, the required time needed between your last shot and booster dose will be shortened to three months.

The government also expects a new law, that will turn the country’s health pass into a vaccine pass, to come into effect starting on Jan. 15. It will effectively ban unvaccinated people from going to public places such as cinemas, theaters, restaurants and cafés. 

More than 51 million people, or 76.6% of the total population, in France have been fully vaccinated and more than 22 million have received their booster shot as of today.

France reported a record-breaking 104,611 covid infections on Christmas Day, the first time that case numbers crossed the 100,000 threshold since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Health Ministry data.

The government will re-evaluate the Covid-19 situation at the next health defense council on Jan. 5.

2:36 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

New York City pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations increase nearly 5-fold over 3 week period, data shows

From CNN's Melanie Schuman

Pediatric coronavirus hospital admissions in New York City have increased nearly five-fold since the week ending Dec. 11 through Dec. 23. 

Compared to the week of Dec. 5 to Dec. 11 when there were 22 pediatric admissions in New York City, there is a near five-fold increase through Dec. 23, when the state reported 109 pediatric admissions, according to New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett who announced the data Monday.

During the same period, there was a two-and-a-half-fold increase from 70 admissions to 184 statewide.

This data will be revised because Dec. 19 to Dec. 23 is currently a partial week of data reporting from the state.

CNN reported Sunday that officials issued a health advisory late last week which indicated a four-fold increase in New York City’s pediatric admissions through data available as of Dec. 19.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul once again encouraged parents Monday to get their children vaccinated and noted a gap between first and second doses for pediatric vaccines.

While acknowledging the time lag between first and second dose, Hochul said 27.3% of 5- to-11-years-old statewide have received one dose, a number which mirrors nationwide statistics. Hochul said 16.4% have completed the series which is up from 11% two weeks ago.

Two million testing kits which contain two tests each are going to New York City schools by Friday.

Meanwhile, about a third of the 608 nursing homes across New York state have at least one resident with a Covid-19 infection, but only about two thirds of nursing home residents have been fully vaccinated and boosted, Bassett said Monday. 

“We have done pretty well in getting the nursing home residents vaccinated – nearly 90% are fully vaccinated. But we are not doing as well as we would like in getting people boosted. And this seems to be particularly important in protecting against adverse outcomes of Omicron infection,” Bassett said.

She added that officials are working in a “very granular way,” county by county to improve the booster rate.

1:34 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

New York City mayor says 179,000 residents received a Covid-19 booster in the last week

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

179,000 New York City residents received their Covid-19 vaccine booster shot since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his vaccine booster incentive program last week, bringing the total number of vaccinated New York City residents to 1.9 million, the mayor said at a news conference Monday.

“We put this mandate into action as Omicron was coming, but we had no idea it would be quite this intense,” the mayor said, “We knew with Omicron coming, with cold weather, it was time to do more, well thank God we did because these mandates have been absolutely necessary to keep this city going.”

De Blasio said there were 296 citywide Covid-19 hospitalizations Monday and that this number had gone up intensely, as did the confirmed positivity level, 7.96%, which the mayor called aberrant.

However, he added that the city's hospitals are "doing remarkably well. We have real challenges, but what's striking is how different the Omicron experience is than even last winter, let alone the spring of 2020.”

With 17,334 Covid-19 positive cases reported Monday, the Mayor said he believed the positive case number, “is going to peak really soon.”

Starting Monday, all private sector employers, about 184,000 businesses, are required to have a Covid vaccine mandate in place at their business. Asked if businesses would be prone to spot checks, de Blasio said businesses should expect inspections.

“But again, with an attitude of 'let's make sure things are working for everyone's health and safety.' We're not trying to do gotcha, we're trying to just make sure that we're moving forward,” he said.

"It is a multi-agency inspection force, which is very similar to the way that we conducted engagement and then enforcement related to Key to NYC as well,” New York City's Department of Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said. “We seek to work with businesses and business owners so that everyone can come into compliance for the simple reason that vaccination is good for business — it helps us to keep our economy open and running and it helps to keep employees and all New Yorkers healthy and out of the hospital.”