January 18 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 6:57 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022
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1:43 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

WHO director: There’s "hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with"

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

The Omicron coronavirus variant is continuing to “sweep the world,” and there is concern about the impact it could have on healthcare workers and health care systems, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday.

“Omicron continues to sweep the world,” Tedros said at a briefing in Geneva. “Last week, there were more than 18 million reported cases. The number of deaths remains stable for the moment, but we’re concerned about the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems.”


“In some countries, cases seem to have peaked, which gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet,” he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about countries with low vaccination rates, as the unvaccinated remain at higher risk for severe disease and death.

He also cautioned against the narrative that Omicron is a mild disease.

“Omicron may be less severe – on average, of course – but the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives,” he said. “Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities. The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable.”

In many countries, the next few weeks will be critical for health workers and systems, Tedros said, and he urged everyone to do their best to reduce their risk of infection to help relieve pressure on systems.

“Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag,” he said. “We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures that we know work.”


1:33 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

US website to order free Covid-19 tests is up and running

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

A resident processes a self-administered at-home Covid-19 test, received through a government program, in Easton, New Hampshire, in December 2021.
A resident processes a self-administered at-home Covid-19 test, received through a government program, in Easton, New Hampshire, in December 2021. (John Tully/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The federal government quietly launched its website to sign up for free Covid-19 tests, allowing people to order a maximum of four tests shipped directly to their household.

Given the formal launch wasn't expected until Wednesday, a White House official said this is only the beta phase to ensure the site works seamlessly.

"In alignment with website launch best practices, covidtests.gov is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch," a White House official told CNN. "This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible."

"We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning tomorrow," the official added.

Though the official said the site was only operating at a limited capacity, it's unclear how the initial phase of the site is limited. Once shipping information was entered online, the site instructed people that tests would begin shipping in "late January" and the United States Postal Service, which is handling the deliveries, "will only send one set of 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests to valid residential addresses.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki went on to confirm today that the government website to order free Covid-19 tests is up and running as part of a beta phase ahead of the government website's formal rollout Wednesday morning. 

"Covid test.gov is in the Beta phase right now, which is a standard part of the process typically as it's being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out," Psaki told reporters at the White House. "It will officially launch tomorrow morning." 

Psaki also noted that the administration went through a similar process for vaccines.gov, and she added that any orders placed during the Beta phase will go through.

The press secretary said there is no formal time for Wednesday's official rollout, but that her expectation is some time around "mid-morning."

"It's going to be out tomorrow morning, mid morning tomorrow. And we are looking forward to getting free tests out to the public," Psaki said. 

1:01 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

Boston opens new high-capacity testing center

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

A medical worker prepares a Covid-19 PCR test in Boston, Massachusetts on December 20, 2021.
A medical worker prepares a Covid-19 PCR test in Boston, Massachusetts on December 20, 2021. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

A high-capacity Covid-19 testing site opened at the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood on Tuesday.

Cambridge-based CIC Health will provide free PCR testing services from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday on a walk-in basis, according to Mayor Michelle Wu.

“Today we are celebrating another testing site that the Boston Public Health Commission has set up to make sure testing is accessible across all of our neighborhoods in Boston,” Wu said.

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, called the new testing center a “vital resource” for the Roxbury neighborhood, and its surrounding communities.

“We know COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color and exacerbated existing barriers to care,” Ojikutu said. “So, we’re really proud to open this site in the heart of Boston’s Black and African American community.” 

To get the word out about the location, flyers will be posted across the Roxbury neighborhood in multiple languages.

“I am so excited at the potential for this to be one more way to cut down the lines that we’ve been seeing across the city,” Wu said.

Additional Boston testing sites are slated to be opened in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods starting this week.

12:37 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

New York records about 22,000 new Covid-19 cases, down by 75% since peak on Jan. 7

From CNN's Taylor Romine

New York state reported a little more than 22,000 positive Covid-19 cases on Monday, which is down by about 75% from the peak of 90,000 cases less than two weeks ago, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Cases have also dropped by about 43% in the last seven days and hospitalizations continue to decline, she said. The governor said that percent positivity is at 12.48% and has dropped by about 11% since the peak on Jan. 2.

The state's highest case count of the pandemic was 90,132 people on Jan. 7, state data shows. 

She said this steady decline is a hopeful sign that the state may be able to "close the books" on this winter surge soon so the state can focus on recovering from the pandemic.

12:21 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

Omicron now accounts for 99.5% of US Covid-19 infections

From CNN'S Ben Tinker

The Omicron variant caused 99.5% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week – slightly higher than the previous week, according to estimates posted Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Delta variant makes up the remaining 0.5%.

Over the past month and a half, Omicron has risen rapidly in estimates, accounting for:

  • 0.6% of cases the week ending Dec. 4
  • 89.1% of cases the week ending Jan. 1
  • 97.9% of cases the week ending Jan. 8.

Note on the data: Not every Covid-19 test is sent for the extra genetic sequencing needed to detect which variant has infected someone. The CDC works off samples and extrapolates its estimates based on that extra testing.

2:06 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

Arkansas ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of inmates who say they were given Ivermectin without consent

From CNN's Tina Burnside

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four inmates who claim they were given the drug Ivermectin to treat Covid-19 without their consent. 

The suit, which was filed on Jan. 13 in the US District Court of Western Arkansas against the Washington County Detention Center, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, jail physician Dr. Robert Karas, and Karas Correctional Health, accuses the defendants of administering Ivermectin to the incarcerated individuals without prior informed consent as to the nature, contents, or potential side effects of the drug. 

Ivermectin is used to treat parasites such as worms and lice in humans and it is also used by veterinarians to de-worm large animals.

Plaintiffs Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales, and Dayman Blackburn allege they were deceived over a period of days and possibly weeks after receiving "high amounts" of Ivermectin. The lawsuit states the plaintiffs say they were given Ivermectin as early as November 2020 and didn’t become aware of the treatment until July 2021- instead being told their treatment consisted of "vitamins", "antibiotics", and/or "steroids".  

In August 2021 at a county budget hearing Sheriff Tim Helder confirmed that Karas Correctional Health had been prescribing Ivermectin as a treatment at WCDC, the ACLU said in a news release. Last year the Sheriff's office defended the practices to the local paper saying that all treatment is "voluntary".

"They are able to refuse any medication they're offered. Even with the vaccine, it's all voluntary," Chief Deputy Jany Cantrell told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazett. 

Karas also publicly defended his practice on Aug. 25, 2021, stating that there had been no Covid-19 deaths reported out of the 531 cases in the jail at the time, the lawsuit stated. 

CNN previously reported that the Arkansas Medical Board had opened an investigation into the matter. CNN has reached out to the AMB for an update. 

The suit also alleges that the defendants knowingly and intentionally disregarded U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings against using the drug to treat Covid-19.

Last March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned against using Ivermectin to attempt to treat or prevent Covid-19. 

In a news release, Gary Sullivan, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas accused the detention center of failing to use safe and appropriate treatments for Covid-19, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

“No one - including incarcerated individuals - should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation. Sheriff Helder has a responsibility to provide food, shelter, and safe, appropriate care to incarcerated individuals,” Sullivan said. 

In a statement to CNN, Washington County Sheriff's Office said they are unable to comment on pending litigation. CNN has also reached out to Karas Correctional Health. 

Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson Danyelle McNeill tells CNN that Karas is scheduled to appear in person before the Arkansas State Medical Board on Feb. 3, 2022.

CNN previously reported that the Arkansas Medical Board had opened an investigation into Karas' practice of administering the drug Ivermectin as treatment for Covid-19 to inmates detained in the Washington County Detention Center. 

You can read the complaint here.

12:07 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

School closures have "consistent" negative health impacts on children, studies find

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Dozens of studies found that children experienced consistent negative mental and physical health impacts — including increased anxiety and depression symptoms and decreased physical activity — during school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a review published Tuesday.

The review, published in JAMA Pediatrics, examined 36 studies that were conducted from February to July 2020 in 11 countries. Authors found “consistency in findings across studies. ... with almost all studies documenting poorer mental health and well-being.”

A UK study found more than 50% of girls and 44% of boys had “symptoms of anxiety and trauma above population threshold.” Chinese studies found high levels of mental health symptoms, and studies in other countries continued to find increased anxiety and depression symptoms.

Two studies on suicide found no significant increases during school closures and lockdowns. One of those studies, conducted in England, found “factors associated with Covid-19 and lockdown were judged by the investigators to have contributed to 48% of the 26 suicide deaths during lockdown.”

Three studies on physical activity levels found 36% to 47% of children had decreases in physical activity levels, and around 24% increased their physical activity level.

The authors noted that the studies examined are unable to separate the effects from school closures from the effects of broader lockdowns happening at the same time, and it’s “likely” that some impact of general lockdowns is seen in the data collected.

“However, there are strong theoretical reasons to suggest that school closures may have contributed to a considerable proportion of the harms identified here, particularly mental health harms, through reduction in social contacts with peers and teachers," the authors wrote.
11:47 a.m. ET, January 18, 2022

Children account for less than 0.2% of Covid-19 deaths in the US, according to CDC data

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A healthcare worker pretends to administer a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a child's stuffed animal at a Salvation Army vaccination clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., in this file photo dated November 12, 2021.
A healthcare worker pretends to administer a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a child's stuffed animal at a Salvation Army vaccination clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., in this file photo dated November 12, 2021. Hannah Beier/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Less than 0.2% of Covid-19 deaths in the United States have been among children, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children account for about one in five (22%) people in the US population overall, but about one in every 645 Covid-19 deaths and one in every six Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

There have been about 1,100 deaths and about 8.3 million cases among children, according to CDC data.

More than three-quarters of Covid-19 deaths have been among seniors, including more than a quarter that have been among people age 85 and older.

There have been more than 200,000 Covid-19 deaths among people age 85 and older, who represent about 2% of the US population overall, CDC data shows. Comparatively, there have been less than 400 Covid-19 deaths among children under 5, who represent about 6% of the US population overall.

3:30 p.m. ET, January 18, 2022

Any potential remote school option in NYC would be for sick children, mayor says

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

New York City mayor Eric Adams at a news conference outside the Manhattan Civil Courthouse in New York, on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
New York City mayor Eric Adams at a news conference outside the Manhattan Civil Courthouse in New York, on Thursday, January 13, 2022. Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg/Getty Images

New York City schools are going to remain open, Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday.

While discussions are underway with teacher union leadership with regards to a remote option for very sick children while they are in quarantine, Adams said, in no uncertain terms does it signal that any launch of a remote learning tool would become an option for students to remain home.

"Our exploration of anything remote is to target those children who are infected and we want to isolate them,” Adams said.

New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks said that they have not announced a remote learning option, but added they are "exploring the possibilities of the expansion of a remote learning option.” 

Meanwhile, officials continue to be pressed on school attendance which was at about 75% on Friday. The chancellor said school attendance was at 68% prior to the winter break and is steadily increasing.

The mayor said officials are “digging down” into the numbers to find children who are not in school and have not tested positive for Covid-19, and determine if there is any assistance school officials can give them to come back to campus.