Biden Forms Task Force, Faces Criticism Over Surge: Virus Update
Track the global Covid-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts here.
New York State is “turning the corner” on the omicron surge, Governor Kathy Hochul said. New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged businesses to bring workers back and parents to send kids to school.
- Virus Tracker: Cases near 322.4 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.64 billion shots administered
- Poor NYC schools see twice the attendance hit from Covid surge
- Omicron surge gives bosses reason to order shots Biden can’t
- Chaos at Hong Kong quarantine camp leaves some detainees trapped
- Canada plays dangerous game demanding U.S. truckers have shots
Biden Forms Task Force for New Threats (4:55 p.m. NY)
The Biden administration has assembled a group that will prepare new countermeasures for the emergence of future Covid-19 variants and other pandemic threats, after the arrival of the omicron strain led to tumult in the U.S. economy and health-care system.
The Pandemic Innovation Task Force, formed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, will focus on developing vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other tools, said officials familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity as the details aren’t yet public. That will help prepare the country in case new versions of the virus surface, and for future biological threats beyond Covid-19, they said.
Lawmakers Press Biden on Covid Response (4:48 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden is facing calls from Democrats to improve his administration’s pandemic response, including access to at-home Covid tests.
“We write with grave concern regarding the current state of preparedness and response,” five U.S. senators including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema said in a letter to White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients released Friday.
It was the third letter this week from a group of congressional Democrats raising alarm about testing shortages, suggesting growing concern ahead of this year’s mid-term elections.
Utah Recommends Against Testing (4:44 p.m. NY)
Utah urged most residents to skip Covid tests if they have telltale symptoms, citing a critical shortage of home and in-person testing capacity.
“If you’re symptomatic, we encourage you to assume you have Covid,” Leisha Nolen, Utah’s state epidemiologist, said at a press briefing. “Instead, stay home isolate for five days, act as if you are in fact Covid positive.”
Tests should be reserved for the elderly, medically vulnerable, or those working with or visiting those groups, she said.
Orders to Begin for Free U.S. Home Tests (3:37 p.m. NY)
The Biden administration on Wednesday will begin accepting orders for free at-home Covid-19 tests, the latest government response to a record number of infections.
Each U.S. household that asks for tests via CovidTests.gov, or by phone, will receive four kits drawn from a 500 million-test order approved by President Joe Biden in December.
The administration expects the tests to initially be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service in seven to 12 days, though shipping may move faster as the program ramps up.
Nebraska’s Largest Hospital Limits Surgeries (2:31 p.m. NY)
The largest hospital in Nebraska is imposing crisis standards of care and suspending non-emergency surgery for 30 days as infections surge across the farm-belt state.
In a statement issued Friday, Governor Pete Ricketts said the state granted Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha permission to curtail surgeries and that the halt will remain in effect until Feb. 13.
The hospital is licensed for 718 beds and Ricketts said it “remains focused on prioritizing care for patients with the most urgent medical needs.”
N.Y. ‘Turning the Corner,” Governor Says (2:11 p.m. NY)
New York State is “turning the corner” on the omicron surge, Governor Kathy Hochul declared on Friday.
The state had 49,027 cases as of Thursday, down from the high of 90,000 cases this time last week, she said at a virus briefing.
Downstate numbers including New York City and Long Island are trending downward, and Upstate numbers are lagging behind those, she said. The state had 12,207 hospitalizations and 177 deaths on Thursday, according to state data.
Illinois Fatalities Climb (1:43 p.m. NY)
Deaths in Illinois caused by Covid-19 have continued to climb this week, reaching the highest daily number in a year.
On Friday, 153 Covid-19 deaths were reported, the highest in one day since January 2021, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health website. The deaths come after the state reported a daily record number of confirmed and probable cases last week and amid declining availability of hospital and intensive care unit beds in the state.
BP Tells Houston Workers to Stay Home (1:41 p.m. NY)
BP Plc told employees at its largest U.S. office to work from home until next month due to rising omicron cases in Texas.
The oil major reopened its sprawling glass-walled campus in west Houston last summer as the first waves of Covid-19 subsided, but its 3,500 employees were asked to return to remote work this week.
Netherlands Eases Lockdown (1:38 p.m. NY)
The Dutch government eased the strict lockdown that has been in place since last month amid a drop in fatalities and intensive-care admissions.
The announcement came even as infections continued to rise, reaching a record 35,521 on Friday, according to government data.
Non-essential shops are set to re-open in the Netherlands from Saturday, with a closing time of 5 p.m. Hairdressers and other contact professions will be allowed to reopen but restaurants, cinemas, museums, theaters and concert halls will remain closed.
BofA Delays Office Return Again (1:04 p.m. NY)
Bank of America Corp. pushed back its return to office for staff in the U.S. again, until at least the fourth week of January, as Covid-19 cases remain escalated nationwide from the highly contagious omicron variant.
The company told employees they can work remotely through at least next week, and until they’re advised it’s time to come back, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The move follows last week’s decision to delay bringing back workers through this week.
GE Halts Vaccine Rule After Court Decision (12:32 p.m. NY)
General Electric Co. is suspending implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the federal rule.
The maker of jet engines, wind turbines and medical scanners confirmed the decision Friday via email. GE is the first major company to announce a halt after the court’s decision Thursday to block the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s push to boost Covid-19 vaccinations.
U.K. Daily Cases Dip Below 100,000 (12:23 p.m. NY)
The U.K. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the first time since late December, raising hopes that the country is past the worst of its omicron wave.
The 99,652 infections recorded on Friday compare with almost 200,000 a day at the peak of the outbreak.
Hospitalizations in London, the early center of the U.K. omicron onslaught, are below the recent high reached on Jan. 5., and show signs of decline elsewhere in the country as well. While the average number of fatalities is creeping upward, deaths have stayed relatively low compared with earlier waves.
Maryland Begins Distributing 20 Million Masks (11:44 a.m. NY)
Maryland began distributing the first of what it says will be a total of 20 million more-protective N95 and KN95 masks. Maryland, part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, has hit record cases and hospitalizations, though some health experts say the state’s omicron wave may be peaking.
Adams Says NYC Can’t Function Remotely (11:06 a.m. NY)
New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged businesses to bring workers back and parents to send their kids to school.
“We cannot run a city as complex as New York remotely,” Adams said at a press conference at the Steinway & Sons factory in Astoria, Queens.
The mayor, who spoke on a podium in the middle of the factory as employees worked, continued his bid to will the city back to regular activity despite a daily average of more than 25,000 cases due to the omicron variant.
More U.K. Babies Hospitalized (9:30 p.m. HK)
Omicron has resulted in a higher hospitalization rate for babies in the U.K. than seen for previous variants of Covid-19, though most hospital stays were short, researchers said.
Infants under the age of one accounted for 42% of children hospitalized during the omicron wave, compared with 30% in May to mid-December when the delta variant was prevalent, the research team said in data presented on Friday. Outcomes for the hospitalized babies have been positive, however, with no deaths, less need for oxygen and proportionally fewer intensive-care admissions than during the delta wave.
Gene Linked to Severe Covid (6 p.m. HK)
Polish scientists have discovered a gene that they say more than doubles the risk of falling severely ill with, or even dying from Covid-19.
The Health Ministry in Warsaw expects the discovery to help identify people who are most at risk from the disease, which has already killed more than 100,000 people in Poland alone. It also plans to include genetic tests when it screens patients for potential Covid-19 infections as soon as the end of June.
Omicron Less Severe for Unvaccinated: S. African Study (4:04 p.m. HK)
The omicron coronavirus variant causes less severe disease than the delta strain even in those who are unvaccinated or who haven’t had a prior Covid-19 infection, a study from South Africa’s Western Cape province showed.
The findings add to growing evidence that while more infectious, omicron may be less virulent than predecessors. Data from South Africa, the first country to have a major outbreak caused by the strain, has so far shown lower hospitalization and death rates.
Cases in Germany Soar to Record (10:41 a.m. HK)
Infections surged by 92,223, the highest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic, according to numbers released Friday by the country’s RKI public-health institute. The seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed to a record high of 470.6.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week issued a strong appeal for Germans to get vaccinated, saying failing to do so puts others at risk as the nation grapples with omicron. More than 72% of the population is fully vaccinated with two shots, and over 45% have had a booster shot, according to the latest RKI data. But there remain pockets of intense opposition to inoculations.
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