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December 29 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

CDC director explains new Covid isolation period rules
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What we're covering

  • The US reported a record seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data, as a rapid acceleration of infections continues in the country. 
  • Several European countries — including France, the UK, Italy and Portugal — are also seeing a large increase in cases, with several setting new pandemic records.
  • Meanwhile, organizers of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship have abruptly canceled the remainder of the men’s hockey tournament due to coronavirus spread within teams.

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The latest wave of Covid-19 cases is "unlike anything we’ve ever seen," doctor says

This latest wave of Covid-19 cases is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, said Wednesday.

The emergency departments, he said, are flooded with mostly mildly symptomatic patients who are there to get tested.

“It’s part of that shortfall of national testing that’s occurring, and it’s all falling on the emergency department,” Phillips said.

The problems are compounded by the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant.

“While many of us were able to stay safe from getting the Delta virus and the previous variants that have come our way, Omicron is affecting the staff at our hospitals in an unprecedented way,” Phillips said. “We’re really struggling to maintain our workforce, particularly of nurses right now. And that makes wait times even longer in the waiting rooms, and it’s very demoralizing for both the patients and our staff.”

Covid-19 cases will threaten critical infrastructure, scientist says

The US is in a “mess right now” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said. 

“The best way to approach it is to say what we know and what we don’t know,” Osterholm told CNN on Wednesday.

It’s clear that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is highly infectious, but it is unclear how many people will get seriously sick and die, he said. Rather, the country is in “unknown territory.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts more than 44,000 new Covid-19 deaths over the next four weeks.

“If you look at those CDC data,” Osterholm said, “if you look at the confidence intervals, you can drive a whole semi load of information through there. There’s a big hole in terms of, just what does the real number look like over the course of the next month? We don’t know.” 

Because scientists still are working with limited information, public health leaders have had to make a best guess about what will work to keep people safe. Osterholm thinks the CDC is being too harshly criticized for its decision to change its guidelines to allow certain people to leave isolation or quarantine after a shorter period of time.

“We don’t know a lot of the things we wish we’d know, but what we do know and what is emerging here is that this country is going to be in the soup in just the next few weeks with so many cases and so many locations, that we’re going to see critical infrastructure as well as health care challenged,” Osterholm added. 

Osterholm predicts that with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, there may not be enough people who are well enough to keep hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations working. The change in CDC guidelines is not just about helping the economy, he said: “It was to play to the very safety of our everyday lives.”

Skip indoor New Year's Eve parties to avoid Covid-19, doctor says

People should skip big indoor New Year’s Eve parties this year, said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus “is extraordinarily contagious, and if you are in a crowd now, and certainly if you’re unvaccinated, you are at great risk of contracting this virus,” Reiner told CNN on Wednesday. 

Reiner said a small celebration at a friend’s house should be OK if everyone is vaccinated and boosted and has tested negative before the party. Big outdoor parties are less risky unless they’re crowded. 

People may be frustrated that they still have to be so careful with get-togethers, but this is a temporary situation, he said. 

“This is not going to go on forever. And the important issues now are to maintain not just the health of the population, which is obviously our primary goal, but also to maintain the health of the people who are manning our hospitals,” Reiner said. 

2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show postponed due to Covid-19 threat

The upcoming 2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York has been postponed.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, the Board of Governors said the decision to postpone the January event to a future date was made “due to the extraordinary spread of the Omicron variant in New York City at this time and the disruptions it is currently creating in travel and event management.”

The statement continued, “The health and safety of all participants in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are paramount. We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support as we delay the show to a time when we can safely convene.”

The new dates for the 146th event have yet to be announced.

The annual dog show is the second-oldest continuous sporting event in the United States.

The event is typically held in New York’s Madison Square Garden but was relocated this past June to Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Omicron case at German nightclub during Christmas party puts hundreds into quarantine

A nightclub owner in northern Germany has informed at least 622 people that they must quarantine for 14 days after at least one Omicron infection was detected at a celebration over Christmas.

The “Joy” dance club was holding the event in the Segeberg district of Schleswig-Holstein state. Only people with proof of vaccination, those who recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months plus a negative test, were allowed to enter under Germany’s so-called 2G-plus rule. No masks or social distancing were required.

At least one guest was confirmed to have a Covid-19 infection with the Omicron variant, Segeberg district officials said in a news release Wednesday. Officials added that the 2G-plus rules were correctly enforced.

“We have implemented all applicable requirements since September and have done our best to prevent a situation like this,” club manager Joey Claussen said in the news release. “But we always knew that there is no such thing as 100 percent security. And now we have to try together to prevent greater damage,” Claussen added.

Claussen informed 622 visitors with online tickets by email on Wednesday. Around 200 other guests bought their tickets at the box office. To locate these guests, the disco manager is asking the 622 contacted guests for help.

Remainder of World Juniors hockey tournament canceled due to Covid-19

Organizers of the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship have abruptly canceled the ongoing men’s hockey tournament due the spread of Covid-19 within the teams participating.

The tournament was being held in Alberta, Canada.

“The sportive integrity of the event has been compromised,” IIHF stated, blaming the spread of the Omicron variant in an announcement made on Wednesday.

The IIHF said a member of the Russian national team tested positive for Covid-19, which forced the team into mandated quarantine. Positive tests and subsequent quarantines had already forced organizers to cancel two previously planned preliminary games – Switzerland vs. Team USA and Finland vs. Czechia (Czech Republic).

On Tuesday, Team USA was forced to forfeit their game against Switzerland following two positive Covid-19 tests within the US team.

“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work,” said IIHF President Luc Tardif. “Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”

Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney said, “Although we know this is the right decision, we sympathize with all participants who have earned the opportunity to represent their countries on the world stage and that will not be able to realize that dream in its entirety.”

The US men’s junior team were the defending World Junior Championship gold medal winners. 

Fauci: "The CDC is concerned that people just wear a mask, any mask"

Studies have shown that an N95 mask offers better protection from the coronavirus than a cloth mask, even with the more contagious Omicron variant in circulation, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidelines about masking because the agency doesn’t think it’s practical, said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“The CDC is concerned that people just wear a mask, any mask. There are so many people who just don’t want to wear a mask that if we can get anybody to wear a mask, that’s a big plus,” Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

The best masks are N95s, Fauci said, but people are less likely to use them because they aren’t comfortable, particularly if worn for any length of time, he explained.

“It is not the easiest thing to wear, so the decision was made by the part of the people at the CDC. We would rather have people wear a mask than have to worry about people not wearing a mask because it’s uncomfortable,” he said.

The CDC has changed its guidelines for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 but don’t have symptoms, saying they should isolate themselves for five days and then wear a mask for five more days when around other people. Fauci said that change is meant to strike a balance when addressing an “almost overwhelming surge” of new cases that will probably get worse in the next two weeks.

“So you either shut down the society, which no one wants to do, or you try and get a situation where you can safely get people back particularly to critical jobs without having them be out for a full 10 days, so long as they are without symptoms,” Fauci said.

In this pandemic, every public health decision is made to reduce risk, he said, but risk is relative.

“I think what people need to understand: There is risk in everything when it comes to SARS-CoV-2. That’s just the reality. Some people think if you do this, there is no risk. There’s a risk to everything,” Fauci said.

Spain surpasses 100,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day

People queue for a COVID-19 test at La Paz hospital in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

Spain reported 100,760 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time since the pandemic began that it has surpassed 100,000 cases in a single day, the country’s health ministry reported. 

Wednesday’s figure also set a record for the second consecutive day of the highest number of new cases in a 24-hour reporting period. Tuesday’s figure of 99,671 new cases was double the previous record, which was set just last week, on Dec. 21, the ministry reported.  

Spanish officials have said the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant is to blame for the spikes in cases. 

Spain’s infection rate on Wednesday of 1,508 cases per 100,000 population, over 14 days, was up from 1,360 cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday. 

Officials said the heavy caseload is especially putting extra pressure on the public neighborhood health clinics, but not as much on the hospitals as earlier in the pandemic. Covid-19 cases now occupy 19.1 percent of intensive care beds in Spanish hospitals, up from 18.7 percent in Tuesday’s report. 

US pediatric Covid-19 hospital admissions only 2% below September peak, CDC and HHS data shows

An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a Covid-19 positive girl, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas. 

US pediatric hospital admissions for Covid-19 are only 2.2% lower than their peak in early September, continuing a rapid increase since mid-December. 

On average, 334 children have been admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended Dec. 27, according to data published Wednesday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

This is a more than 58% increase from the previous week and just 2.2% lower than the peak average of 342 children admitted to the hospital at the end of August and in early September.

Nearly 76,000 children up to age 17 have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since August 2020. They make up the lowest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations of all age groups, but hospitalizations in this population are rapidly increasing.

Currently, 0.46 children are hospitalized with Covid-19 for every 100,000 children in the United States. This is up from 0.26 two weeks earlier and near the record of 0.47 hospitalized children that was set Sept. 2.

Pediatric hospital admissions are up more than 50% in the past week in HHS regions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8, which includes the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. Only region 7, in the central Midwest, saw hospital admissions decline compared with the previous week.

New York state reports a record 67,000 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday

An aerial view of a long line is seen at a Covid-19 testing center next to the Queens Hospital Center as hundreds of residents to get Covid-19 test in Queens, New York, on December 28.

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul said that they are preparing for a Covid-19 surge in January as the state reports a new record high of 67,000 positive cases on Tuesday and a steady increase in hospitalizations over the last week. 

Hochul announced the large amount of new positive cases during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, but gave the context that this was from approximately 362,000 total tests.

She also announced 6,700 Covid-19-related hospitalizations were reported on Tuesday, which is up about 10% from the 6,173 hospitalizations reported on Monday. The state’s daily percent positivity is currently at 18.5% while the seven-day average is 14.61%, a release from Hochul’s office said. 

Hochul said that hospitalizations are down from the same time last year, but are still an “area of concern.” Despite this, only 25 hospitals have had to suspend elective procedures, and the National Guard is helping fill in staffing gaps, she said.

The governor also announced $78 million in federal funding to help protect vulnerable communities with Covid-19. Local governments and non-profits can apply for grants to get added protection in areas of their community, like farmworkers or at a senior citizen center. 

Georgia activates 200 National Guard troops to assist at testing sites and hospitals as cases increase

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp during a news conference at Lockheed Martin in August in Marietta, GA.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced today that he has authorized the deployment of 200 National Guard troops to assist as Covid-19 cases increase statewide.

In a news conference Wednesday, Kemp said that the troops will assist at testing sites and hospitals and mobilization will start next week. Close to 100 will support the Department of Public Health while the rest will be deployed to hospitals. 

He said today that he will not implement measures to close businesses. He also said that there will be no new policies implemented to “divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated or the masked from the unmasked.”

Kemp also said that $100 million will be put towards health care staff augmentation throughout the state which would mean an additional 1,000 personnel. This will further support the medical community, he said. 

The governor also announced that he is fully vaccinated and boosted.

Chicago's Covid-19 cases "higher than they have ever been," health commissioner says

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady during a press conference at Chicago City Hall last Tuesday.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago department of public health commissioner, said Covid-19 cases in the city are significantly higher than they’ve ever been during the pandemic.

Arwardy said hospital bed capacity is a concern, with non-ICU hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients at the highest level since December 2020.

While there have been some Covid-19 cases in vaccinated and boosted people, “by far the biggest risk for infection remains among people who are unvaccinated,” Arwady said.

Unvaccinated people "are 17 times more likely" to be hospitalized with Covid-19, CDC chief says

A syringe is prepped for a Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a pharmacy in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 27.

Vaccinated people may be more likely to develop a breakthrough coronavirus infection with the Omicron variant than with Delta, but vaccines still keep most people out of the hospital, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

“What I can tell you is that compared to people who are boosted, if you are unvaccinated, you are 10 times more likely to be a case and 20 times more likely to be a fatality. Compared to people who are (vaccinated), you are 17 times more likely to be in the hospital,” Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 briefing. 

“So our vaccines are working really well to prevent severe disease and hospitalization and death. They’re actually also working quite well to prevent cases, although we do know more breakthrough cases are happening in the context of Omicron,” she added.

And it’s too soon to consider asking people who are boosted to get another dose, said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“Before we start talking about a fourth shot, it will be very important for us to determine the durability of protection, particularly against severe disease for the third shot booster of an mRNA and the second shot of a J&J. Right now, we don’t have that information,” Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the briefing.

“It is conceivable that in the future, we might need an additional shot, but right now, we are hoping that we will get a greater degree of durability of protection from that booster shot,” Fauci added. “So we’re going to take one step at a time, get the data from the third boost and then make decisions based on the scientific data.”

CDC forecast predicts over 44,000 new Covid-19 deaths over next 4 weeks

A healthcare worker puts on PPE on the Covid-19 ICU floor of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA, on Monday, Dec. 27.

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts that more than 44,000 people could die of Covid-19 in the next four weeks. 

By comparison, the US typically sees between 12,000 and 52,000 deaths from flu over an average year.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus has killed at least 821,251 people in the United States. The CDC forecast estimates that number could rise to 866,000 deaths reported by Jan. 22.  

The forecast could mean an average of up to 1,800 Covid-19 deaths per day, up from a current average of 1,523 each day, according to JHU data. 

The CDC included projections indicating that the quickest rise in deaths may happen in early January, with the average slowing after Jan. 22. 

Hospitalizations are predicted to increase for the sixth straight week, with 11,400 to 28,800 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions reported on Jan. 21.

According to US Department of Health and Human Services data, there were 76,779 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Dec. 28. 

The forecast for cases did not predict an increase or decrease. The CDC has not included this information for many months. But this week, for the first time, it also did not give a predicted number of cases.

“Recent case forecasts have shown low reliability, with more reported cases than expected falling outside the forecast prediction intervals for 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-week ahead case forecasts. Therefore, case forecasts will continue to be collected and analyzed but will not be summarized until sustained improvements in performance are observed,” the CDC said. 

More than 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported in New Jersey

Cars line up at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in North Bergen, New Jersey, on December 22.

New Jersey has reported more than 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, which is almost double the over 11,000 cases reported on Monday and a new record.

Tuesday’s confirmed case count of 20,483 is the highest of the pandemic, beating out the previous high of 16,626 confirmed cases on Dec. 25, according to state data. The state’s rate of transmission currently sits at 1.76. 

In addition to Tuesday’s confirmed cases, the state also reported 6,590 probable cases through antigen testing. 

A little under 3,300 people were reported hospitalized Tuesday, which is about 10% higher than Monday.

Omicron is highly transmissible but may cause milder disease than Delta, Fauci says

Indications are building that while the Omicron variant of coronavirus is very contagious, it may cause a milder course of disease than Delta does, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday. 

“We know now, incontrovertibly, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus. We know that from the numbers we’re seeing,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House Covid-19 briefing.

“And clearly, there is a degree of immune evasion, particularly against infection and, to some degree, against hospitalization,” he added.

Omicron can infect vaccinated people, though not as easily as it infects unvaccinated people, and certain monoclonal antibody treatments do not help against it.

“However, importantly, and the bottom line message here, is that boosters bring back up that degree of protection to a level that is approximately what it was before. So boosters are critical in getting our approach to Omicron to be optimal,” Fauci said.

Several studies from South Africa and the UK, as well as lab studies in animals, indicate that the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease, Fauci said. In Britain, the risk of hospitalization admission for Omicron was 40% that of the risk seen with Delta.

“In the United States, we are getting an accumulation of data,” Fauci added. “The spike in cases is out of proportion to the increase in hospitalization.”

He said that over 14 days in December, the US racked up a 126% increase in the number of cases but just an 11% increase in hospitalizations.

“Now, we must remember that hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators,” Fauci noted. “However, the pattern and disparity between cases and hospitalizations strongly suggest that there will be a lower hospitalization-to-case ratio when the situation becomes more clear. 

“So in conclusion, the data are encouraging but still in many respects preliminary,” Fauci noted. “But having said this, all indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta. It is difficult to determine what degree of lessened severity is due to pre-existing immunity or the intrinsically lower virulence of Omicron — as suggested by the animal studies — or a combination of both.”

And the sheer numbers could still mean that, even with lower hospitalization rates for Omicron, the number of people infected could add up to more people in the hospital and a strain on the nation’s health care system, Fauci noted.

DC students and staff must show proof of negative Covid-19 test before return to school on Jan. 5

Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that all public school students and staff will be required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result before returning from winter break Jan. 5.

Previously, Bowser had recommended tests for those returning to the classroom. 

Bowser said the city will likely need to transition to “situational learning throughout the semester, especially in the coming weeks,” but added that “decisions about specific classrooms and grade levels within a school will be made on a case-by-case basis,” based on staff availability and the percentage of students and staff in quarantine. 

UK Covid-19 infections hit new daily record with 183,037 additional cases

Shoppers on Oxford Street in London, on Monday, Dec. 27.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom registered 183,037 new cases of Covid-19, a new record of daily infections, according to government data.

In the last seven days, the UK registered more than 900,000 new cases — a more than 41% increase compared to the previous week. 

The death rate remained low, compared to previous waves in the UK, at 0.9 fatalities per 100,000 people. 

There were 57 additional deaths reported Wednesday that were related to Covid-19.

Chicago vaccine requirement for restaurants and gyms will go into effect Monday

The city of Chicago will implement a vaccine requirement starting Monday, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Acting Commissioner Ken Meyer announced Wednesday.

“As we’ve seen over the course of this holiday season, Covid-19 cases continued to rise. So in response, on Monday, January 3, the Chicago vaccine requirement will go into effect to slow the spread of Covid-19 and to help us continue our path to recovery,” Meyer said.

Anyone age five and up will be required to show proof of vaccination in order to dine indoors, visit gyms, or go to entertainment venues where food or drinks are being served.

Additionally, anyone over the age of 16 will need to show identification to compare with their vaccination card, Meyer said.

“The vaccine requirement is a collaborative effort that prioritizes the health of Chicagoans. This is a necessary and intentional policy, which in fact has already been placed voluntarily by many establishments in the hospitality and performing arts industry thus far,” Meyer said. “The new order will standardize health protocols across businesses and industries.”

CDC director outlines what the new quarantine and isolation recommendations mean for you

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tried Wednesday to lay out what her agency’s new quarantine and isolation guidelines mean for individual Americans.

The CDC released new guidelines cutting in half the recommendations for how long people should isolate after being infected with Covid-19 and how long they should quarantine if exposed. Walensky tried to clarify these at a White House coronavirus update Wednesday and added simplified definitions.

“Let me walk you through exactly what these new recommendations mean for you. First, isolation refers to what you do when you have Covid-19, most likely diagnosed by a positive test. Isolation prevents those who are known to be infected from transmitting the virus to others,” she said.

“Quarantine, on the other hand, is different. This is what you do when you have been exposed to someone who has disease and are unsure if you yourself were infected. Quarantine prevents further spread of the virus in the time before someone may develop symptoms or from those who are asymptomatic from their infection,” she added.

“If you’re infected with SARS-CoV-2, regardless of your vaccination status, you should isolate for five days. During periods of isolation, it’s best for you to wear a mask around those in your household to avoid spreading the virus at home,” she said. “After five days, if you’re asymptomatic or if your symptoms have largely resolved, you may leave isolation as long as you continue to wear a mask around others, even in the home, for an additional five days.”

Quarantine for people exposed to the virus depends on whether people are fully vaccinated or boosted.

“If you are boosted or have been vaccinated with your Pfizer or Moderna series in the past six months or your J&J shot in the past two months, no quarantine is needed. However, a mask must be worn for 10 days following your known exposure. And we also recommend getting a test on day five after your exposure,” Walensky said.

“If you’re not vaccinated or you were vaccinated with your Pfizer or Moderna series over six months ago or with J&J over two months ago and have not yet received your booster, you should quarantine for five days following your last exposure. After five days, you should continue masking around others for an additional five days, and you should also get a test at day five,” she said.

“If it’s not possible for you to quarantine, it is really important that you do the right thing and wear a mask at all times around others for 10 days after your exposure. Here, we also emphasize that you should get a test at day five. And if at any point you develop symptoms of Covid-19 during your quarantine period for your 10 days after exposure — like fevers, runny nose, a cough, headaches or body aches — you should get a test and isolate until your test results return. And of course, then isolate if your test returns positive.”

The CDC did not include many recommendations for using quick at-home tests because it’s not clear that they tell whether a person is likely to transmit the virus to others, Walensky said.

“On the other hand, we know that after five days, people are much less likely to transmit the virus and that masking further reduces that risk. And this is why people need to mask for five days after their five days of isolation. This science, as well as what we know about the protection provided by masking, vaccination and booster doses and about our testing programs, are all part of what informed our updated recommendations.”

UK health agency: Omicron variant now accounts for over 90% of all community Covid-19 cases in England

The data shows the Omicron variant now accounts for more than 90% of community Covid-19 cases recorded in England, the UK’s public health agency said in a tweet.

An additional 39,923 cases of the variant were recorded in the UK on Wednesday by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). 

The London region has so far recorded the highest number of Omicron cases in England with a total of 45,245 cases. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down concerns regarding the threat of the variant during a visit to a vaccination center Wednesday, saying that Omicron is “obviously milder than Delta.” 

Johnson attributed England’s ability to “go ahead with New Year in the cautious way that we are,” to the high uptake of the booster vaccine. 

Italy sets a new daily record of Covid-19 infections, government data shows

A medical staffer takes a nasal swab for a COVID-19 rapid test at a pharmacy in Rome, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. 

Italy announced Wednesday that there were at least 98,030 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, a new daily record for the country.

The number of dead from the virus grew by 136, according to data released by the health ministry.

Fauci to Americans: Cancel your large-scale New Year's Eve party "hugging and kissing"

The 2022 sign that will be lit on top of a building on New Year's Eve is displayed in Times Square, New York, on Monday, Dec. 20.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans against attending large-scale New Year’s Eve celebrations this year, suggesting that people opt for smaller gatherings with vaccinated and boosted family and friends as the Omicron variant spreads across the country.

“If you were in a situation with a family setting, in your home, with family — parents, children, grandparents — and everyone is vaccinated and boosted, although the risk is never zero in anything, the risk is low enough that we feel you should continue to go through with those plans of having a home-related, vaccinated, boosted gathering with family and close friends who are also vaccinated and boosted,” the President’s top medical adviser told reporters during the White House’s Covid-19 response team briefing Wednesday.

But, Fauci added, “If your plans are to go to a 40-to-50 person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Happy New Year? I would strongly recommend that, this year, we do not do that.”

White House expects contract to purchase 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests "to be completed late next week"

Workers distribute free rapid at-home Covid-19 test kits at a vaccine clinic in Philadelphia, last week.

White House Covid-19 Response Director Jeff Zients told CNN’s Jeremey Diamond Wednesday that the administration expects the contract for purchasing 500 million at-home rapid Covid-19 tests “to be completed late next week,” adding that the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense “are executing on an accelerated contracting timeline” to speed up distribution. 

“That means that the first deliveries from manufacturers will start in January, we’ll set up a free and easy system, including a new website, to get these tests out to Americans,” Zients told Jeremy during Wednesday’s White House Covid-19 Response briefing. “We’re actively working to finalize that distribution mechanism, which includes a website where people will be able to order tests for free, and we’ll share more details in the weeks ahead — days and weeks ahead.”

As CNN reported earlier Wednesday, the inability to secure enough timely tests for the number of people who want them has led to a new reckoning for Biden’s Covid-19 response, while delays in launching the administration’s 500 million test purchase led to major disruptions to holiday travel and frustrations around the availability of testing.

Walking along the seafront in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Biden said on Tuesday that he’d made “a bit of progress” in distributing the new tests. But he didn’t expand on how far along the program was.

Pressed Wednesday on the dearth of available tests, Zients pointed to the administration’s efforts to ease testing shortages through federally-run testing sites in major cities. 

Fauci reiterates domestic travel vaccine requirement remains "on the table" but not necessary at this time

Travelers pass through Salt Lake City International Airport on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021.

Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated Wednesday that the idea of a domestic US travel vaccination requirement remains on the table as the Omicron variant spreads across the US, but suggested it was not necessary at this time.

“Everything that is an intervention is always on the table and always discussed, and we discuss it regularly,” Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters during Wednesday’s White House Covid-19 response team briefing.

Fauci explained that an international travel vaccine requirement was made to help prevent infection and new variants from spreading in the US. A domestic travel vaccine requirement, he said, is different.

“Right now, we feel that the masking requirements and the degree of filtration on a plane is sufficient to keep people safe,” he said. <