The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and Supreme Court ruling

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 0052 GMT (0852 HKT) January 14, 2022
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7:32 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

US Surgeon General calls SCOTUS ruling on vaccines "disappointing"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

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."

6:57 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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

From CNN's Rob Frehse

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

7:01 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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

From CNN’s Lauren del Valle

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

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.

6:23 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

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.

6:49 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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

From CNN's Elizabeth Stuart

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.

6:27 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

WHO updates Covid-19 drug treatment guidelines

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

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. 

6:32 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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.
Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh attends a press conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, on December 13, 2021. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

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.

"Now what we have to do is find other ways we make sure to keep Americans safe," he added.

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

6:49 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

France will provide 5 million masks to schools

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman

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. 

5:26 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

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

From CNN’s Katherine Dillinger

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.