The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT) January 26, 2022
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6:30 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

About 40% of the US is "up to date" on Covid-19 vaccination, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a drive-through site in Miami, Florida, on December 16, 2021.
A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a drive-through site in Miami, Florida, on December 16, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

About 40% of the United States population is considered “up to date” on Covid-19 vaccination, according to a CNN analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

On Friday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency is working to “pivot” its language around what it means to be fully vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered this explanation of what “up to date” means in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday:

“If I was not vaccinated at all and I got vaccinated tomorrow, two weeks to a month from now, I would be at my optimal degree of protection, and that would be ‘fully vaccinated.’ However, five months later, if I wanted to be up to date, to be optimally vaccinated, I’d want to get the booster.”

People who are “up-to-date” with their Covid-19 vaccinations include:

  • 84.3 million people who have completed their initial vaccine series and gotten a booster dose, about 25% of the total population
  • 31.6 million people ages 12 and older who have completed their initial series but are not yet eligible for a booster dose, about 10% of the population. This includes those who completed their initial series of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech less than five months ago or who received the initial Johnson & Johnson shot less than two months ago.
  • 5.6 million adolescents ages 5 to 11 who have completed their initial series but for whom a booster shot has not been authorized, about 2% of the population
  • 8.5 million people who received their first dose of a two-dose Covid-19 vaccine series within the past month and are not yet eligible to receive a second dose, about 3% of the population

That means about 60% of the US population is not fully protected against Covid-19, as nearly 700,000 new infections are reported each day. Included in that are about 20 million children under the age of 5 who are not eligible to be vaccinated, about 6% of the total US population.  

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.

4:59 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections suspends in-person visits because of Covid-19 surge

From CNN's Claudia Dominguez

Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections announced in a statement on Monday that it’s suspending in-person visitation at all correctional institutions from Jan. 27 through Feb. 28 due to a recent surge in Covid-19 throughout the Commonwealth. 

"Staffing levels have been significantly impacted throughout the winter months by the same uptick in COVID-19 cases that our communities are experiencing," Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections George Little said.

"Even when symptoms are mild, quarantine requirements for COVID-positive staff and close contacts of those who have tested positive have led to an increased reliance on voluntary and mandated overtime that is not sustainable," Little said in the statement said.

Recreational and educational programs will not be impacted by this measure, the statement said, but some services could be modified to promote social distancing. 

Little recognized the stress of suspending in-person visitations on incarcerated people, but he said that the temporary measure was taken to “ensure critical positions in our facilities remain staffed."

A little more than 113,000 cases were reported in the Commonwealth last week according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 dashboard.

4:16 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

New Jersey Covid-19 cases are down two-thirds from where they were 2 weeks ago, governor says

From CNN’s Laura Studley

People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 in Newark, New Jersey, on January 4.
People wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 in Newark, New Jersey, on January 4. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

New Jersey Covid-19 cases are down about two-thirds from where they stood two weeks ago, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press briefing Monday. 

The governor said that the state’s test positivity rate has decreased "dramatically," to around 15%, much lower from when it was the mid-30s. 

"No one should be complacent here, even though these numbers are trending very positively, and they are, they're still higher than anything we had encountered even through last winter's surge and the Delta variant surge from last summer," Murphy said.

Overall, Murphy said hospitalizations are “dropping significantly over the past week," but noted that these numbers are still higher than the state experienced in the past two surges.

"In fact, these numbers have more in common with May 2020 than in any other time," Murphy said. The governor said that the state is more concerned about the number of Covid-19 patients in the ICU and those Covid-19 patients on ventilators, numbers which are coming down more slowly. 

There are currently 4,093 Covid-19 related hospitalizations across the state as of Sunday night, which is lower compared to 6,089 hospitalizations reported on Jan. 11, according to New Jersey’s Covid-19 dashboard

The governor reminded New Jersey residents to get vaccinated and boosted and then shared that two new vaccination mega-sites opened in North Jersey, one in Bergen County and Passaic County. 

Murphy emphasized the need for residents to get vaccinated and boosted, saying that “it’s a shirking of our collective responsibility” if you’re not getting vaccinated. He said not getting vaccinated is akin to drunk driving, “you're not only putting yourself at risk, you're putting other people at risk.”

Follow how many people have been vaccinated: Tracking Covid-19 vaccines in the US

4:15 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

Antibodies that neutralize Omicron remain 4 months after Pfizer/BioNTech booster, study suggests

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

A new lab study provides a “first glimpse” of the durability of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster, suggesting that antibodies against the Omicron variant remain robust four months after the third dose.

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch, Pfizer and BioNTech looked at serum samples from vaccinated people and tested their neutralization of an older coronavirus strain and an engineered version of the Omicron variant. The preprint study was posted online Saturday and has not been peer-reviewed or published.

As in past studies, the study found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was “not sufficient to elicit robust neutralization against Omicron.” But “three doses of vaccine increased the magnitude and breadth of neutralization against Omicron,” wrote Pei-Yong Shi and Xuping Xie and their co-authors.

“Additional real world effectiveness data and laboratory investigations will further inform the duration of protection, potential need for an additional dose at a later time, and whether an Omicron modified vaccine is required,” the authors said.

More on the study: Antibody levels decreased somewhat over time but persisted at four months. More research is needed to determine how much longer protection would last, since protection from the vaccines is known to wane over time as antibodies decline. The new study did not examine whether neutralization against Omicron continued beyond four months and did not consider T cells, which probably play an important role in protection against Covid-19. Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may still induce protection against severe disease, Pfizer and BioNTech said in a statement.

Currently, people 12 and older in the United States who received an mRNA vaccine are recommended to get a booster dose five months after their primary series; adults who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are recommended to get a booster two months after their initial shot. Israel is offering some vulnerable groups a fourth booster shot, but it’s not clear what’s next for vaccines and boosters in the United States.

4:11 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

CDC adds 15 destinations to its highest-risk category for travel

From CNN’s Forrest Brown

A view of Jaco Beach in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
A view of Jaco Beach in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. (Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday added 15 destinations to its highest-risk category for travel, including Costa Rica, Peru and the United Arab Emirates.

A country is labeled as "Level 4: Covid-19 Very High" risk by the agency when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days. Last week, the CDC added 22 destinations to that level.

The CDC now lists dozens of countries as Level 4 on its site and many others at lower risk levels.

See the full list here.

2:16 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

Biden administration says it won't enforce federal employee vaccine mandate during ongoing litigation

From CNN's Liz Stark 

The Biden administration says it will not be enforcing the federal employee vaccine mandate amid ongoing litigation, after a Texas federal judge on Friday blocked the enforcement of the vaccine mandate for government employees.

“To ensure compliance with an applicable preliminary nationwide injunction … the Federal Government will take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination … for Federal Employees,” according to the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force’s website. The task force is led by the White House Covid-19 Response Team, the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

“Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance on other Federal agency safety protocols based on vaccination status—including guidance on protocols related to masking, distancing, travel, testing, and quarantine – remains in effect,” according to the website.

This comes after Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown called the mandate an overstep of presidential authority and cited the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a separate administration mandate that had applied to private sector workers. 

“For months, the federal government has been implementing its vaccination requirement. It is doing so with no disruptions to operations and in a way that increased vaccination rates,” a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement to CNN Monday.

The OMB spokesperson noted that more than 98% of the federal workforce is in compliance with the vaccine mandate, and more than 93% of federal employees are vaccinated with at least one dose.

“We are confident in our legal authority and the Justice Department is appealing the decision,” the OMB spokesperson added.
1:49 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

California state senator wants to eliminate personal belief exemption for students' Covid-19 shots

From CNN's Stella Chan

California State Sen. Richard Pan pictured in 2019.
California State Sen. Richard Pan pictured in 2019. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

State Sen. Richard Pan, who represents the Sacramento area and is a pediatrician, says he wants to get rid of the personal belief exemption for student Covid-19 vaccinations in California.

“As the parent of two school students, I understand parents need confidence and certainty that their child’s school is safe and can be in-person,” said Pan. “The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing, and good ventilation to minimize infections."

Pan's proposed legislation builds on SB 277, which eliminated the personal belief exemption for all other childhood vaccinations and became law in 2015. “After passage of SB 277, vaccination rates dramatically increased for childhood diseases such as measles,” according to a release from Pan’s office.

Last September, the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) board passed a mandate requiring all staff and eligible students to be vaccinated. That mandate would have gone into effect today for high school age students, said SDUSD Board Member Richard Barrera.

“We were not able to move forward with that policy because it’s being held up in the courts,” Barrera lamented. “We disagree with the interpretation of the lower court that a local school district does not have the authority to implement a vaccine mandate. But the judge in our case was very clear that the state legislature does have the authority to require a student vaccine mandate throughout California.”

In response to the proposed legislation, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly said, “This consistency in health standards will help ensure all of us in the school community are doing our part to keep community transmissions low, ensure a safe school environment for our most vulnerable student populations.”

The LAUSD and SDUSD are the state’s two largest school districts and educate nearly 720,000 students combined. 

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg contributed reporting to this post.

5:34 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

Americans begin receiving their free Covid-19 at-home tests

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy 

(Courtesy Brian Jorgensen)
(Courtesy Brian Jorgensen)

Some Americans across the country have started receiving their free Covid-19 at-home rapid tests, six days after the Biden administration launched the website.

Gourjoine Wade of San Antonio, Texas, told CNN that he ordered the tests on Tuesday, the first day that covidtests.gov went live to take orders.

"I actually thought there would be four test kits per household and not four single tests," he said. "Regardless, I am grateful to have them and appreciate the Biden Administration for sending them."

Wade said he ordered the tests because he wants to have them on hand and ready for when they are needed.

"It's another tool in the toolbox of keeping me, my family, and our community safe," he told CNN.

Tempe, Arizona, resident Brian Jorgensen also ordered on Jan. 18, and received his USPS package this morning.

He ordered them because at the time, he was symptomatic for Covid-19, and only had older tests on hand. Although Jorgensen said he feels fine now, he said he is still glad he has the free rapid tests.

"There are others around me who still haven't shown any sign of having it, so I wanted to be prepared," he said. "It sounds to me like reinfection is a very real possibility with this virus."

Los Angeles resident Ellen Aprill received her tests over the weekend after ordering them on Jan. 18. A friend emailed her the link to the website saying they were available to order.

Aprill said these tests will be helpful for her job — she's a law professor and will need a negative rapid test to get back on campus. Additionally, Aprill said she wanted to make sure she was able to test to protect her mother, who is 100 years old.

Here's how you can request your at-home Covid-19 test for free:

1:11 p.m. ET, January 24, 2022

Nearly 90% of US restaurants saw a drop in business due to Omicron, new survey reveals

From CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich

Arthur Mickle checks vaccine cards at Daley's Restaurant in Chicago on January 9.
Arthur Mickle checks vaccine cards at Daley's Restaurant in Chicago on January 9. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)

The impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus on the US restaurant industry is alarming, says the National Restaurant Association. About 88% of restaurants experienced a decline in demand in recent weeks due to Omicron, a new survey by the National Restaurant Association revealed Monday. About 76% of restaurant operators report that business is worse than it was just three months ago. 

In just the last few weeks, 51% restaurants have reduced hours and 34% closed on days they would normally be open, the survey finds. This is on top of the losses that restaurants are still trying to recoup from the last two years. About 74% of operators say their restaurant is less profitable than it was before the pandemic, the survey found.

In a letter to Congress Monday, the National Restaurant Association highlighted the need to replenish the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) in the upcoming legislation package. The fund ran out of money last year – awarding grants to just a third of those restaurant operators that applied.

The National Restaurant Association estimates that $43 billion in additional funds would aid the 177,000 eligible restaurant operators who applied for the fund last year did not receive money. The group also estimates it would save 1.6 million jobs currently at risk.

“New data from our 10th COVID-19 Operators Survey show that restaurant recovery is paralyzed and nowhere near complete,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association in the letter. “The restaurant industry is at an inflection point,” he added.

The RRF saved more than 900,000 jobs and helped 96% of the 101,000 restaurants that received funding to stay in business, according to the survey. Yet, it shows, 46% of restaurant operators who applied but did not receive funding said it is unlikely they will be able to survive if they do not receive a RRF grant. 

“After two years of closures, COVID-19 variants, worker shortages, and inflationary pressure, a dangerous number of restaurants are at the end of the line,” said Kennedy.

A bipartisan bill to replenish the fund is being crafted by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, which would also include additional aide for other small businesses. There is no timeline on when it will be introduced.

The National Restaurant Association Research Group conducted the COVID-19 Restaurant Impact Survey of 4,200 restaurant operators from Jan.16-18. This is the group’s tenth Covid-19 Operators Survey.