Less than 20% of elementary kids are vaccinated; Fauci says US could soon learn to live with COVID. Live updates


Just over 17% of U.S. children ages 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, more than two months after shots for the age group became available, according to an Associated Press report.

Vermont is at 48% while Mississippi is only at 5%. Vaccinations among elementary school kids surged after the shots were introduced in the fall, but the numbers have crept up slowly since as omicron’s explosive spread appears to have had little effect.

The low rates are “very disturbing,’’ said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Hospitalizations of children under 18 have climbed to their highest levels on record in the past few weeks.

Parents who hesitate “are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic,’’ Murphy said.

Also in the news:

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced calls to resign from senior members of his own Conservative Party after he apologized for attending a cocktail party while the UK was in a COVID-19 induced lockdown in 2020.

►The consumer price index jumped 7% last year, the fastest pace since 1982, the Labor Department said Wednesday. COVID-driven worker shortages and supply-chain bottlenecks were blamed.

►West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID-19 and is “experiencing moderate symptoms,” the governor tweeted Tuesday night. Justice is fully vaccinated and boosted.

►Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain. The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect.

►The U.S. is facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, largely as a result of a drop in blood drives because of the pandemic, the American Red Cross said.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 62.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 843,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 315 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we’re reading: Omicron hit the U.S. hard and fast in the past month, but modeling by several universities shows the wave of infections may have crested — and hospitalizations and deaths should follow.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Fauci: U.S. approaching point where it can learn to live with COVID

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent comments that the omicron variant “will, ultimately, find just about everybody,” have made headlines, though the president’s chief medical adviser pointed out that means almost everyone will get exposed to the virus, not necessarily get infected.

There was something else Fauci said in Tuesday’s “fireside chat” with Dr. J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies that bears highlighting, and it provides a measure of hope as the pandemic heads toward its second anniversary.

Though Fauci believes COVID may never be eliminated, as measles and polio have been in the U.S., he said we may soon be able to control the disease to the point it no longer impedes everyday life. That would require a certain level of community immunity as well as access to medications to treat people who are most at risk.

Fauci described that state as, “getting the level of infection that causes severe disease low enough that we can incorporate this infection – some people have said learning to live with it. … I believe we are possibly approaching that.”

CDC guidance for cruises becomes optional Saturday

Cruise lines will have the option to ignore CDC guidelines on ships by this weekend.

The CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire Saturday. At that point the health agency’s COVID guidance for cruise ships will become voluntary, the CDC confirmed to USA TODAY Wednesday.

The CDC “is transitioning to a voluntary COVID-19 risk mitigation program” the agency said in a statement shared by spokesperson David Daigle. The program includes guidance and recommendations for safe trips on cruises.

The U.S. is averaging more than 750,000 new coronavirus infections daily, fueled by the omicron variant. At a Senate hearing Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said confirmed COVID cases in cruise ships have risen 30-fold in the last two weeks.

— Morgan Hines

That cloth mask may not be enough, but CDC not changing guidance

As new variants continue to emerge, including the extremely contagious omicron, experts are calling for upgraded protective options such as N95 and KN95 masks. CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky, however, said Wednesday that the CDC does not plan to recommend Americans toss out their cloth masks in favor of masks with superior filtration.

“The best mask is the mask you will wear,” she said.

Still, finding and purchasing superior-quality masks on the consumer market at a fair price is possible now – and it might be the next, best purchase you can make to protect yourself and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. The N95 and KN95 masks both are rated with 95% filtration efficiency. N95 masks are certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available masks – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. Learn more here.

Although those higher-efficiency masks are designed for single use, the CDC says they can be worn several times. Find out here how many times can you reuse your mask and how to best store and clean it.

Has omicron surge ‘turned a corner’?

America’s tally of new cases ticked down slightly for the first time since Christmas, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

There were 5.23 million reported infections nationally in the week ending Tuesday, down from 5.28 million in the seven-day period ending Monday. The earlier tally likely included tests deferred into that week from a long holiday weekend.

U.S. case counts are up 34% from a week ago, and on Tuesday 47 states reported higher case counts than a week earlier; 21 states set records for cases in a week; 48 states reported more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds; and 41 states reported more COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units, data from Johns Hopkins and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show.

Still, there are encouraging signs. Boston has been a hot spot, but Dr. Mark Siedner of Massachusetts General Hospital told CBS in Boston there are early indications the city has “turned a corner.” One of those comes from a wastewater tracking system. Virus particles found in wastewater are no longer infectious but can still be measured and can reflect trends among people contributing to the wastewater.

“The wastewater data are in, and the news is good,” tweeted Bill Hanage, associate professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The data is “providing solid evidence, that importantly can’t be put down to exhausted testing capacity or other factors.”

Mike Stucka

California study confirms omicron symptoms less severe than delta

A study of data from 70,000 COVID patients in Southern California revealed that omicron resulted in less severe disease than other variants, a finding that supports similar research from South Africa and Britain.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House COVID response briefing Wednesday that Kaiser Permanente of Southern California studied the patients, all of whom tested positive in December. The vast majority of the positive samples were the omicron variant, which resulted in a rate of hospitalizations of about half of delta infections, she said. The variant also drastically cut hospital stays to an an average of less than two days.

Walensky and other public health officials, however, have repeatedly warned that the sheer volume of infected Americans still means that many hospitals are being strained by high numbers of patients.

That cloth mask may not be enough, but CDC not changing guidance

As new variants continue to emerge, including the extremely contagious omicron, experts are calling for upgraded protective options such as N95 and KN95 masks. CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky, however, said Wednesday that the CDC does not plan to recommend Americans toss out their cloth masks in favor of masks with superior filtration.

“The best mask is the mask you will wear,” she said.

Still, finding and purchasing superior-quality masks on the consumer market at a fair price is possible now – and it might be the next, best purchase you can make to protect yourself and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. The N95 and KN95 masks both are rated with 95% filtration efficiency. N95 masks are certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. KN95s – which the CDC notes are the most widely available masks – are manufactured in China and meet standards specific to China. Learn more here.

White House to provide millions more tests to schools

The White House announced plans Wednesday to send an additional 5 million rapid tests to schools each month, at no cost, as some districts struggle to return to in-person learning amid a record surge in COVID-19 infections. The CDC will work with states to submit requests for school districts in need of additional rapid tests. Once the initial requests are submitted, the first shipments will be delivered later this month, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.

The Department of Health and Human Services will also expand lab capacity to support up to 5 million additional PCR tests per month. Schools can gain access to the additional PCR tests by submitting requests to three federally funded regional providers that offer testing materials, supplies and lab results through four regional hubs.

Shortages grow more widespread – but the next one is anybody’s guess

Shortages at grocery stores across the country have grown more acute in recent weeks as omicron continues to spread and winter storms have piled on to the supply chain struggles and labor shortages. The scarcity of some goods being reported nationwide is widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereal. Curt Covington, senior director of institutional credit at AgAmerica, told USA TODAY that the trends for specific food shortages are intermittent and varied.

“Shortages depend on the item, store and region of the country,” Covington said. “Shortages can be driven by supply chain issues, consumer behavior or environmental factors, so it’s hard to pinpoint what will be affected next.”

Researchers in Texas, Washington state also see decline in latest surge

Wastewater followers aren’t alone in forecasting a decline in the omicron surge. Modeling by several universities also shows the wave of infections may have crested – and hospitalizations and deaths should eventually follow. COVID-19 infections peaked Jan. 6, according to researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. That’s close to estimates by the University of Texas, Austin, COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which puts the peak somewhere from Jan. 9-13.

“That’s a range between the most pessimistic and optimistic scenarios,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the consortium.

Because hospitalizations lag infections by about two weeks, the University of Washington team estimated the daily U.S. hospital census, including incidental admissions with COVID-19, will peak by Jan. 25. Read more here.

Elizabeth Weise

Oregon DOJ, Better Business Bureau investigating company that runs testing sites

The Oregon Department of Justice and the Better Business Bureau have launched investigations into an Illinois-based company that runs COVID-19 testing sites across the nation. Oregon’s DOJ opened a civil investigation into the Center for COVID Control this week for violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act, spokesperson Kristina Edmunson said.

The company operates testing sites across the nation – some as “pop-ups” run out of sheds and mobile storage units. Many Americans have rushed to the sites amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant and a national shortage of tests. But dozens of people nationwide have reached out to USA TODAY expressing concerns about the company.

Many said they discovered the sites by searching for nearby testing options on Google and were surprised by how the sites were run. Some said they received their test results later than promised or not at all.

At least two people filed complaints about the Center for COVID Control testing sites to the Oregon Department of Justice in October, USA TODAY reported last week. The individuals expressed concerns about the safety and legitimacy of the sites, alleging the sites offer “fake testing.” One said they were given a test labeled as having expired in June of 2021.

– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

FDA extends expiration date on COVID-19 tests in Florida by 3 months

Federal regulators have approved a three-month extension on COVID-19 testing kits that technically expired months ago.

This means nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests the federal government considered expired will now be made available to Floridians who have been struggling to find tests.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried alleged in late December that Gov. Ron DeSantis stockpiled COVID-19 tests that were “set to expire imminently,” despite the high demand for such tests as omicron surged.

During a news conference with DeSantis on Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, Kevin Guthrie, the director of the state Division of Emergency Management, confirmed that Florida had 800,000 to 1 million COVID-19 tests that expired Dec. 26-30.

According to Guthrie, they had originally expired in September, but the state received a three-month extension on those test kits from the manufacturer and federal regulators.

– Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

Contributing: – Felicity Warner, Reviewed; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Less than 20% of elementary students are vaccinated: COVID updates



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