The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 5:12 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021
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2:12 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

NBA halts Chicago Bulls' season as 10 players are in Covid-19 protocols

From CNN's David Close

With 10 players and additional staff members in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the league has postponed the Chicago Bulls’ two upcoming games.

The Bulls were set to play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at home and then travel to Toronto to face the Raptors on Thursday.

No make-up dates were announced.

Last week, a source told CNN 97% of NBA players were vaccinated.

1:20 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

1 in every 100 US seniors has died of Covid-19, federal data shows

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

One in every 100 seniors in the United States has died of Covid-19, according to federal data.

More than three-quarters of people who have died from Covid-19 were 65 or older, with at least 514,000 deaths in this age group since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the US Centers from Disease Control and Prevention. The latest data from the US Census Bureau estimates that there are about 50.4 million total people in this age group in the US.

Covid-19 has been especially deadly for people age 75 and older: More than one in every 60 people in this age group have died of Covid-19.

Overall, about one in every 417 people in the US have died of Covid-19 and one in every seven people have been infected – more than 797,000 deaths and nearly 50 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, experts estimate the true toll of Covid-19 to be even higher.

12:02 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Omicron will become dominant variant in London in next 48 hours, UK health secretary says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

British Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaks on COVID-19 situation in Parliament in London, Britain December 8th, 2021. 
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaks on COVID-19 situation in Parliament in London, Britain December 8th, 2021.  (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

Omicron will become the dominant variant in London in the next 48 hours, the British health secretary told lawmakers at the UK Parliament.

"While Omicron represents over 20% of cases in England, we've already seen it rise to over 44% in London and we expect it to become the dominant Covid 19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

"There are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK,” Javid said. "And the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current rate of, the current number of daily infections are around 200,000.”

In addition to the first fatality from Omicron reported earlier on Tuesday, the health secretary also said 10 people had been admitted to hospital with the new variant.

“It's vital we remember that hospitalizations and deaths lag infections by around two weeks so we can expect those numbers to dramatically increase in the days and weeks that lie ahead,” he said. 

11:31 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Overall risk from Omicron remains high as many questions remain, WHO says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

This photograph taken on December 7, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. 
This photograph taken on December 7, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva.  (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

The overall risk from the Omicron variant remains high, and more information is still needed about the variant, the World Health Organization said in a technical brief about the variant, published Friday.

“The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons,” the technical brief said. “First, the global risk of COVID-19 remains very high overall, and second, preliminary evidence suggests potential humoral immune escape against infection and high transmission rates, which could lead to further surges with severe consequences. Our understanding is still evolving, and the risk assessment will be updated as more information becomes available.”

The overall threat of Omicron is dependent on three key factors, WHO says:

  • How transmissible the variant is
  • How well vaccines and prior infection prevent against infection, transmission, clinical disease and death
  • How virulent Omicron is compared to other variants

WHO says Omicron appears to have a growth advantage over Delta, adding that it is spreading faster than Delta in South Africa, where there was low Delta circulation. But, it also appears to spread faster in countries with high incidence of Delta, based on current limited evidence, the organizations says. 

“Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs,” WHO says. 

There is limited data on the clinical severity and vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to Omicron, WHO says.  

On clinical severity, WHO says that while preliminary findings suggest it may be less severe than Delta, and cases reported so far who have been mild or asymptomatic, but “it remains unclear to what extent Omicron may be inherently less virulent.”

More data is needed to understand the severity profile.

For vaccine efficacy and effectiveness, WHO says there are limited available data and no peer-reviewed evidence. Preliminary evidence and the altered antigenic profile of Omicron’s spike protein also suggests that there may be a reduction in vaccine efficacy against infection and transmission. There is also preliminary evidence which suggests that reinfection in South Africa has increased, which may be associated with humoral immune evasion.

The accuracy of PCR and antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests doesn’t appear to be influenced by Omicron, WHO says. 

On treatments, WHO says that therapeutic interventions that target the host response – corticosteroids, for example — should still be effective. Monoclonal antibodies, however, will have to be tested individually.

WHO gives a number of priority actions for its member states. These include enhanced surveillance, laboratory testing for Omicron, vaccination, a risk-based approach in adjusting international travel measures, public health and social measures, health care system readiness and risk communication and community engagement. 

9:31 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

CDC: Only about half of US nursing home residents have received a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A CVS pharmacist gives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a resident at the Emerald Court senior living community in Anaheim, CA on Friday, January 8, 2021. The vaccine was optional for staff and residents.
A CVS pharmacist gives the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a resident at the Emerald Court senior living community in Anaheim, CA on Friday, January 8, 2021. The vaccine was optional for staff and residents. (Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images)

Only about half of fully vaccinated nursing home residents (51%) – and less than a quarter of fully vaccinated staff (22%) – have received a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to data published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Booster coverage among residents ranges from 81% in North Dakota to 30% in Arizona. It tends to be higher than average in the Northeast and Great Plains regions, and lower than average in the South. 

Nationally, 87% of residents and 79% of staff are fully vaccinated with either their initial one- or two-dose series, according to the CDC data. 

The federal data includes information submitted through December 5 by facilities certified by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Coverage may be higher than reported, as data from the most recent week is not yet complete. The share of nursing homes reporting data into the CDC varies by state.  

On Sept. 24, the CDC recommended that all seniors and residents in long-term care settings receive a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine, guidance that was later expanded to all adults. By the end of October, a month after the initial recommendation, about a quarter of residents had received a booster. Now, two months after the initial recommendation, about half have received a booster. 

About 143,000 nursing home residents and staff have died of Covid-19, according to CMS data, accounting for about 18% of total Covid-19 deaths in the United States. 

8:59 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Oxford study shows reduced effectiveness of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines against Omicron variant

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

There’s a substantial decrease in effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines against the Omicron variant, according to a study from researchers at Oxford University.

The results suggest the Omicron variant may drive a new wave of coronavirus infections, the researchers said, although there’s no evidence it would lead to an increase in severe disease or deaths. 

“Our findings show that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with the Omicron variant is significantly lower than with the Delta variant,” the researchers wrote. These findings align with other recently released studies looking at the effectiveness of vaccines against the Omicron variant. 

The Oxford researchers used blood samples collected from people who had received two doses of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines. For the Pfizer vaccine, effectiveness was lower against Omicron than against Delta, except for two to nine weeks after the second dose. Among those who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, “there was no protective effect of vaccination against symptomatic disease with Omicron from 15 weeks after the second dose.”

These results may be due in part to differences in the populations who received the vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccine was used early in the UK’s vaccination program, including in nursing homes and among older and higher-risk populations. The Pfizer vaccine’s high level of effectiveness against Omicron at two to nine weeks after the second dose is likely among recently vaccinated young adults and teens.

The study was released as a preprint, which means it has not been peer-reviewed or published.

The researchers noted they could not determine whether vaccines protect against severe disease because of the small number of Omicron cases and the lag between infection and severe illness. “It will be some time before effectiveness against severe disease with Omicron can be estimated but, based on experience with other variants, this is likely to be substantially higher than the estimates against symptomatic disease,” they wrote.    

“These data are important but are only one part of the picture,” Matthew Snape, a co-author of the paper and professor in pediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “They only look at neutralising antibodies after the second dose, but do not tell us about cellular immunity, and this will also be tested using stored samples once the assays are available.”

“Importantly, we have not yet assessed the impact of a ‘third dose’ booster, which we know significantly increases antibody concentrations, and it is likely that this will lead to improved potency against the Omicron variant.”
8:56 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Omicron variant spreading at "phenomenal rate" in UK, health secretary says

From CNN's Robert Iddiols

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid leaves 10 Downing Street on December 07, 2021 in London, England.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid leaves 10 Downing Street on December 07, 2021 in London, England. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading at a “phenomenal rate” in the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday. 

There are “about 10 people” currently in hospital in England with the new variant, Javid told Sky News. He said he could not confirm if anyone in the country had died from Omicron but warned "there is always a lag between infection and then hospitalization and then, sadly, death." 

"What we now know about Omicron is that ... it's spreading at a phenomenal rate, something that we've never seen before, it's doubling every two to three days in infections," Javid said. "That means we're facing a tidal wave of infection, we're once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus." 

Omicron was probably behind around 40% of infections in London, the health secretary said. He was speaking as guidelines asking people to work from home came into force on Monday.

Javid urged Britons to accept the offer a third dose of coronavirus vaccine, echoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson who delivered a televised address Sunday on the need to boost inoculations.  

“I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up." 

8:53 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

There's a new mask mandate in New York state starting today

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian, Laura Ly and Kelly Murray

Governor Kathy Hochul announcement on the launching of Homeowner Assistance Fund with Federal money at Governor's office on 6th December 2021 in New York, US.
Governor Kathy Hochul announcement on the launching of Homeowner Assistance Fund with Federal money at Governor's office on 6th December 2021 in New York, US. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced a new temporary indoor mask mandate, but at least one county leader says he won't be enforcing it.

On Friday, Hochul announced the rule, in place from today until at least Jan. 15. It requires New Yorkers to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces unless businesses implement a vaccine requirement.

The governor said she is trying to get ahead of what she calls a "winter surge" for three main reasons: increased cases, reduced hospital capacity and insufficient vaccination rates in certain areas, according to a news release.

Anyone who violates the mask mandate could face fines of up to $1,000 and is subject to all civil and criminal penalties.

"As Governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy," Hochul said. "We shouldn't have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers' frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet."

But the mandate brought a sharp response from one county leader.

According to a statement from Rockland County Executive Ed Day, "I told the Governor's staff that we cannot and will not enforce this requirement as it currently stands. How do you enforce something that's based on a press release that does not contain adequate information and explanation? The Governor has said that this program will be reevaluated on January 15, 2022, but what metrics will be used as part of this reevaluation?"

8:53 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

First confirmed death from Omicron variant in UK

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Health at the Stowe vaccination centre in central London on December 13th, 2021. - Johnson warned of a looming "tidal wave" of Omicron, and brought forward a target to give over-18s a booster jab by one month to the end of December. 
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Health at the Stowe vaccination centre in central London on December 13th, 2021. - Johnson warned of a looming "tidal wave" of Omicron, and brought forward a target to give over-18s a booster jab by one month to the end of December.  (Jeremy Selwyn/AFP/Getty Images)

The UK has confirmed its first death from the Omicron coronavirus variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday.

Johnson provided no further details on the case and did not specify if the person was vaccinated.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination center in central London, Johnson said the Omicron variant "is spiking now in London and some other parts of country."

"And sadly, yes Omicron is producing hospitalizations and sadly at least one patient is now confirmed to have died with Omicron."

The variant is now accounting for about 40% of cases in London, according to Johnson who said that "by tomorrow it will be the majority of cases."

The UK will now need to "hit warp speed" on its rollout of booster doses, Johnson said, stressing the need to "attain a pace and daily number of booster doses that we have never seen before."