Clouds are seen in the sky above the US Supreme Court at dusk in Washington, DC on January 11, 2022.
Why the Supreme Court decided against vaccine mandate
01:29 - Source: CNN

What we covered

  • The Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s vaccine or testing requirement aimed at large businesses — but it allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.
  • The decision comes as the US continues to face record hospitalizations, with Biden announcing his administration will purchase an additional 500 million Covid-19 tests, deploy a new wave of medical teams to hospitals and soon make free high-quality face masks available to all Americans.
  • Meanwhile, in France, thousands of teachers have gone on strike in protest over the government’s school safety protocols.

Our live coverage of this story has ended. Read the latest here.

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US Surgeon General calls SCOTUS ruling on vaccines "disappointing"

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called the Supreme Court’s decision to block a nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses, “disappointing.”

“As a doctor and a public health professional today’s news was disappointing,” Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We know that the requirements for vaccines in workplaces are an important part of how we can keep workplaces safer, for both workers as well as for customers.”

Murthy said he expects the next few weeks to be “challenging” before the nation puts the pandemic in its rearview mirror.

“I think the next few weeks are going to be challenging. We are going to continue to see high numbers of cases. Our hospital systems in parts of the country are strained and that will continue,” he said.

The best course of action, Murthy said, is to stay diligent, and take all the proven measures that keep people safe and protected, not only against the Omicron variant but also in the event of the emergence of further harmful Covid-19 strands.

“The bottom line is, Wolf, there are a lot of curveballs that this virus has thrown at us. We’ve got to continue to do everything we can to invest, not just in vaccines and boosters… but also expand the supply of therapeutics… expand the supply of testing, to make masks actually more available to the public,” Murthy said.

“These are parts of the strategies that we have been working on… to make sure that we not only get through this wave of Omicron but also that we’re prepared for any new variants that may come our way.”

About 7.6% of New York City students have tested positive for Covid-19, sample data shows

About 7.6% of New York City students have tested positive for Covid-19, according to sample testing data the New York City Department of Education released Thursday.

The testing, which includes only about 23% of the approximately 1,875 city schools, is a sample snapshot that was taken during a 24-hour period Wednesday, according to the data.

It shows that 7.59%, or 1,254 students, tested positive out of 16,515 students tested.

By comparison, 3.1%, or 91, of the 2,917 staff members tested positive during the same time period, according to DOE data.

No schools are closed at this time due to Covid-19, according to additional DOE data. About 77% of students reported to school Wednesday, according to preliminary DOE data.

The testing is a part of the in school testing surveillance program, and it is done using PCR tests, according to the DOE. In-school PCR testing as part of the city’s new effort to double surveillance began when classes resumed, a DOE spokesman said. 

The school system has also been handing out rapid tests to students since classes resumed. Students or teachers in a classroom with a positive case will receive an at-home rapid test kit and will take two tests in five days.

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia and David Shortell contributed to this post

New York City mayor reverses stance and is now considering a remote learning option

New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a press conference in New York on January 13.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams told reporters Thursday that he’s in talks with teachers’ union leadership and will consider a temporary remote learning option. His comments come less than one week after saying a remote learning option didn’t make sense to him. 

“What we want to do, we want to provide the safest place for our children and we want to have our children in school. I am working closely with the president of the UFT,” Adams said during a news conference. “And we will find the right way to educate our children in a very safe environment and if we’re able to put in place a temporarily remote option, we’re welcome to do so.” 

The comments were a contrast to what the mayor told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last Friday, when he said that a remote learning option to slow the current spread of Covid-19 in the city didn’t make sense to him, particularly because virtual lessons during past periods of the pandemic were not effective. He said remote learning negatively impacted children without proper access to Wi-Fi and technology and said he would need time to build out a proper remote learning option that addressed these issues. 

The last time we did a remote option, children were not learning, and you can’t have a false remote option. I am going to build out one of the best remote learning processes in our country, but I need time to do so. But the product we did was inferior. We can’t continue to hurt the education of our children. And think about the children where English is a second language, or those children who live in homeless shelters and don’t have access to Wi-Fi or don’t have two to three meals a day,” Adams said last week.  

Today, Adams said that while he’s willing to talk with teacher union leadership about a remote learning option, his goal remains to keep children in school.

“I’m willing to sit down and entertain with the UFT if there is a way to do a temporary remote option, you know if we can do it, and it is a quality option, but my goal – I want children in school because it’s not only the academics, you hear me say it all the time, it is the holistic approach the full development of the personhood of the children. All the experts state they should be in school,” Adams said. 

Some background: New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks told CNN Wednesday that he would be meeting with some student leaders who walked out of classrooms on Tuesday, demanding remote learning in the wake of the latest Covid-19 surge in cases. 

Students walked out of several schools including Brooklyn Tech High School and Bronx High School of Science, saying they want more Covid-19 testing for students and staff, as well as an option for remote learning. Brooklyn Tech is the largest in-person high school in the country with nearly 6,000 students, according to the city’s education department.

“I certainly appreciate any time students raise their voices to be heard, and those young people are saying we want to be heard, and we’re going to meet with them, we’ll listen to them, we’ll consider everything they’re feeling,” Banks told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Wednesday. “I understand and I empathize with where they are, but I think we also are very focused on making sure we keep schools open.”

New York City is the largest school district in the United States and serves nearly 1.1 million students, according to its website

CNN’s Mirna Alsharif, Laura Ly, and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.

Biden administration signs contracts for 380 million at-home Covid tests

The Biden administration signed contacts with three companies for a total of 380 million at-home Covid-19 tests, the Department of Defense announced on Thursday.

The contracts, awarded in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, were signed with Abbott Rapid Dx, iHealth Lab and Roche Diagnostics Corporation.

“This effort supports the president’s plan to deliver 500 million free at-home COVID-19 tests to the nation in response to the Omicron variant,” the Defense Department stated in the announcement.

The contract announcement did not mention a price for the Covid-19 tests nor did it state a date by when the tests would be delivered.

Maryland's largest school district asks National Guard to help with bus driver shortage amid Covid-19 surge

Montgomery County Public Schools is asking for help from the National Guard to address its school bus driver shortage due to the Omicron Covid-19 surge.

MCPS, the largest school district in Maryland, put in a formal inquiry through the county government, district spokesperson Chris Cram confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

Cram said an official response from the National Guard has not yet been received.  

Earlier this week, nearly 100 of the district’s school bus routes were impacted by the shortage of bus drivers, but that number is now down to 29 routes as of Thursday, Cram confirmed.

“Staff in the MCPS Department of Transportation are working to recruit, hire and train bus drivers in as fast a manner as is possible,” Cram said in an email.

Among students and staff, the district reported 1,769 cases of Covid-19 on Monday; 2,530 on Tuesday; and 1,349 on Wednesday, for a total of more than 5,600 cases reported so far this week.

WHO updates Covid-19 drug treatment guidelines

The World Health Organization on Thursday released its eighth update to guidelines on drug treatments for Covid-19, adding a recommendation for the use of a type of immune-suppressing drug. 

The organization “strongly recommended” the use of baricitinib, a time of Janus kinase inhibitor (JAK), for people with severe Covid-19 when used with corticosteroids, according to guidelines published in the British Medical Journal. 

JAKs are immune-suppressing treatments frequently used for autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. This recommendation was made after reviewing evidence that the drug “improves survival and reduces the need for ventilation, with no observed increase in adverse effects,” the WHO said in a news release.

Baricitinib is recommended as an alternative to interleukin-6 receptor blockers, which WHO recommended for use in July 2021. 

“Baricitinib and IL-6 receptor blockers have similar effects; when both are available, choose one based on issues including cost and clinician experience,” the authors wrote. 

In the new guidelines, WHO also issued a conditional, or weak, recommendation against the use of ruxolitinib and tofacitinib, two other JAK treatments, as there was unclear evidence that they had any benefit and some evidence suggesting that tofacitnib could increase serious side effects. 

WHO updated its guidance on monoclonal antibody treatments as well, adding a conditional recommendation for sotrovimab, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, in those with mild Covid-19 at a high risk for hospitalization after evidence showed a “substantial” decrease in hospitalization risk.

This recommendation is similar to the one made for casirivimab-imdevimab, developed by Regeneron and sold as REGEN-COV. In the new guidelines, the organization said there is not enough data to recommend one treatment instead of another, but this decision could change based on data on effectiveness against the Omicron variant. 

“Following the publication of a previous conditional recommendation for casirivimab-imdevimab, pre-clinical evidence has emerged suggesting that this monoclonal antibody combination lacks neutralization activity against the omicron variant in vitro. Sotrovimab has been reported to retain activity against omicron in pseudovirus assays but with higher concentrations being required for neutralization,” the guidance authors wrote. 

Labor secretary: SCOTUS blocking vaccine or testing requirement for businesses is "disappointing"

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh attends a press conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, on December 13, 2021.

Labor Sec. Marty Walsh said the Supreme Court’s decision to block the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing requirement aimed at large businesses is “unfortunate.”

“It is disappointing the court ruled against workers to keep them protected in America. As we were putting this together, we talked to medical experts and we talked to legal experts, who all said they had the right to do this. And it’s really unfortunate,” Walsh told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Walsh also discussed the potential economic effects of the decision.

“The first Friday of the month is jobs day, and people are going to say, ‘what’s keeping people out of work?’ One of the reasons why people aren’t going back into the workplace is because they are concerned about their own health,” Walsh said.

He said the administration encourages any company to institute their own vaccine or testing requirement, adding that they can receive assistance from the federal government if needed.

In a separate statement, Walsh called the decision a “major setback.”

He also said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “will be evaluating all options to ensure workers are protected from this deadly virus,” but declined to say if the administration will pursue a more targeted mandate. 

-CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this post

France will provide 5 million masks to schools

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced the provision of five million FFP2 (filtering face piece) masks to schools, following an “extremely intense” meeting with teaching unions on Thursday after a day of strikes by teachers. The meeting included the French prime minister, ministers of education and health and representatives from all the French teaching unions.

Blanquer said in a news briefing following the meeting that the masks would be distributed in particular to kindergarten teachers and some teachers with handicapped classes, whose students do not wear masks.

The French government will also undertake additional recruitment of “several thousand” teaching, support and administrative staff to support schools during the pandemic, Blanquer told reporters.

Blanquer also said a bimonthly meeting between the ministers of education and health and teaching unions would take place going forward. 

More than 77,000 people took to the streets of France on Thursday in strikes and marches organized by teaching unions in protest of the French government’s Covid-19 policies in schools, according to the French interior ministry. 

Severe Covid-19 and newborn deaths are more likely in unvaccinated women, study finds

Severe Covid-19 and newborn deaths are more likely in women who aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine.

The researchers used data from a study, Covid-19 in Pregnancy in Scotland, to look at pregnancies between December 2020 and October 2021. There were 4,950 infections in pregnant women in that time: 77.4% of them were in unvaccinated women, with a little more than 11% each in partially and fully vaccinated women.

More than 19% of infections in unvaccinated women were associated with hospital admission (versus 8% in partially vaccinated women and 5% in fully vaccinated women), and 2.7% of infections in unvaccinated women were associated with intensive care unit admission (versus 0.2% for both partially and fully vaccinated women). 

Unvaccinated women accounted for a vast majority of infections associated with hospital admission and almost all the infections associated with Intensive Care Union admission.

The preterm birth rate during the study period was 16.6% in babies born within 28 days of their mother’s Covid-19 infection and 10.2% in babies born to women infected at any point in pregnancy. In contrast, the overall preterm birth rate from March 2020 through October 2021 was 8%.

The extended perinatal mortality rate, defined as stillbirth or infant death within 28 days of birth, was 8 per 1,000 births for women with Covid-19 at any point in their pregnancy and 22.6 per 1,000 births for babies born within 28 days of the beginning of the mother’s infection. Women who were vaccinated during pregnancy had an extended perinatal mortality rate just above 4.3 per 1,000 births. In contrast, the overall extended perinatal mortality rate from March 2020 through October 2021 was 5.6 per 1,000 births.

The researchers note that all of the perinatal infant deaths after Covid-19 infection during pregnancy were in women who weren’t vaccinated at the time of their infection.

They also noted that vaccine uptake in pregnant women was consistently lower than in the general population of females of reproductive age, especially among the youngest women and those in the most deprived areas. “Our findings emphasize the need for continued efforts to increase vaccination uptake in pregnant women,” the researchers wrote.

There are more than twice as many new Covid-19 cases as there are new vaccinations each day

Here’s the latest data on vaccination efforts in the United States, published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Fully vaccinated: 62.8% of the total US population (all ages), about 209 million people
  • Not vaccinated: At least 20.6% of the eligible population (age 5+) has not received any dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at least 64 million people.
  • Current pace of vaccinations (seven-day average): 1,291,013 doses are being administered each day.
  • Most doses being administered – about 735,000 – are booster doses.
  • Only about 333,000 people are initiating vaccination each day. New Covid-19 case counts (about 786,000 per day, according to Johns Hopkins University) are about 2.4 times as high. 
  • About 78.1 million people have received a booster dose 
  • About 23% of the total US population is now fully vaccinated and boosted.

Note: CDC data on Covid-19 vaccinations are estimates. The agency notes that data on people who are fully vaccinated and those with a booster dose may be underestimated, while data on people with at least one dose may be overestimated. 

Nevada to distribute more than a half-million Covid-19 rapid test kits 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the state has ordered 588,216 at-home antigen test kits for Covid-19 that will be made available at no cost.

“This will ensure that, as we live with Covid, the supply chain does not dictate access for Nevadans,” Sisolak said during a Thursday news conference.

Sisolak says the test kits will not be sent directly to people’s homes, but will instead be distributed through “community partners” that will be named later. The test kits are expected to be available near the end of the month.

State health officials acknowledge it has been a challenge to keep up with changes in how much testing is needed.

“The demand for testing and the type of testing throughout the pandemic has varied, and Nevada is constantly adapting to meet the public demand,” said Julia Peek, deputy administrator of the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Nation’s top trade groups hail SCOTUS ruling on vaccine mandates "a victory"

The nation’s largest industry trade groups are calling the US Supreme Court’s decision to block President Biden’s vaccine or testing requirement for businesses a “victory for employers.” 

On Thursday the Supreme Court froze a lower court opinion that allowed the mandate to go into effect nationwide. The Biden administration’s Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard directed businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccines or mandatory weekly testing for employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which protects workplace safety. The mandate would affect 80 million workers. 

“While NRF [National Retail Federation] has maintained a strong and consistent position related to the importance of vaccines in helping to overcome this pandemic, the Supreme Court’s decision to stay OSHA’s onerous and unprecedented Emergency Temporary Standard is a significant victory for employers,” said David French, Senior Vice President of Government Relations with the National Retail Federation. 

The NRF joined with more than 26 other trade associations this week and presented oral arguments before the court. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer supporting 52 million Americans. The Associated Builders and Contractors and American Trucking Associations were two of the groups that filed emergency appeals to the Supreme Court.

“Trucking has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic – delivering PPE, medical supplies, food, clothing, fuel, and even the vaccines themselves. Thanks to this ruling, our industry will continue to deliver critical goods, as our nation recovers from the pandemic and we move our economy forward,” said Chris Spear, CEO of American Trucking Associations 

“This is a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry, which is facing multiple economic challenges, including a workforce shortage of 430,000, rising materials prices and supply chain issues. ABC continues to support vaccinations and encourages members to use its COVID-19 vaccination toolkit to keep workers safe on construction jobsites,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. 

The National Federation of Independent Business, which filed a petition with the Supreme Court argued there should have been a notice and comment period prior to instituting the mandate, a nationwide testing and vaccine mandate should be left to Congress, and the mandate will further exacerbate challenges for small businesses. 

“As small businesses try to recover after almost two years of significant business disruptions, the last thing they need is a mandate that would cause more business challenges. We are pleased the Supreme Court stopped the rule from taking effect while the courts consider whether or not it is legal,” said Karen Harned, Executive Director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. 

The National Retail Federation is calling on President Biden to back down after today’s ruling. 

“NRF urges the Biden Administration to discard this unlawful mandate and instead work with employers, employees and public health experts on practical ways to increase vaccination rates and mitigate the spread of the virus in 2022,” said French.