The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0116 GMT (0916 HKT) January 26, 2022
26 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
4:41 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

For the first time, Covid-19 cases among US children top 1 million, pediatricians' group reports

From CNN's Jen Christensen

New Covid-19 cases among children in the US topped 1 million last week for the first time since the American Academy of Pediatrics began tracking cases, the group said today. 

For the week ending Jan. 20, there were at least 1.15 million new cases, a rate that is nearly five times greater than the peak of last winter's surge, the group reported.

According to the group, children (who constitute 22% of the US population) now account for 25.5% of total reported weekly cases. Since the start of September, nearly 5.6 million new cases have been reported among children.

The group said it also marks the 24th consecutive week that more than 100,000 children have tested positive for the virus.

"As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, cases of Covid-19 among children and adolescents are the highest they have ever been," said Dr. Moira Szilagyi, the academy's president, in a statement. "These numbers are staggering."

Despite the sobering news, children are still statistically less likely than adults to be hospitalized with Covid-19, and data from states that report hospitalizations by age showed that rates of hospitalization were roughly the same last week as the week prior.

The group also reports that deaths continue to account for a small percentage of total cases among children, with 0.26% of cases resulting in death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 1,140 children have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

However, the number of infections continues to rise due to the high rate of transmission of the Omicron variant and because children remain the least vaccinated of any age group, despite the fact that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now eligible to those age 5 and older.

3:04 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

White House slams Florida governor's reaction over limits on use of monoclonal antibody treatments

From CNN's Steve Contorno, Betsy Klein, Chris Boyette and Carma Hassan

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The White House on Tuesday reacted to criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after federal officials moved to curb the use of some versions of Covid-19 treatments found to be less effective against the now-dominant omicron variant. 

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it was revising its authorizations for monoclonal antibody treatments made by Eli Lilly (bamlanivimab and etesevimab, administered together) and Regeneron (REGEN-COV, or casirivimab and imdevimab), because data showed they are "highly unlikely to be active against the omicron variant."

DeSantis, who has made the treatments the cornerstone of his state's Covid-19 response, assailed President Biden's administration for the decision. In response to the FDA's ruling, Florida will close all sites administering the treatments.

“Let me just take a step back here to say how crazy this is,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, comparing the administration’s efforts to treat Covid-19 cases to a “medicine cabinet.”
"We're not relying on one type, one brand or treatment. We invested in and continue to buy a variety across monoclonal antibodies, pre-exposure prevention therapies and oral antivirals," she continued.

“What the FDA is making clear is that these treatments, the ones that they are fighting over — that the governor's fighting over — do not work against Omicron, and they have side effects," Psaki said.

Some people who've received monoclonal antibody treatment reported rashes, diarrhea, nausea and dizziness after treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. A small percentage of patients had severe allergic reactions.

Psaki noted that the federal government last week sent Florida 71,000 doses of treatments that are effective against the Omicron and Delta strains, including 34,000 that work on the Omicron variant.

On Tuesday, DeSantis vowed to “fight back” against a decision by federal regulators to limit the use of certain monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19 that have not been effective against the Omicron variant.  

“People have a right to access these treatments and to revoke it on this basis, it's just fundamentally wrong,” DeSantis said at a press conference in the Florida panhandle.

DeSantis did not say what actions his administration is considering. 

2:29 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Biden administration will withdraw Covid-19 vaccination and testing regulation aimed at large businesses

From CNN's Liz Stark 

The Biden administration is withdrawing its Covid-19 vaccination and testing regulation aimed at large businesses, following the Supreme Court’s decision to block the rule earlier this month.

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday it will be withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard for businesses with 100 or more employees, according to a statement on the agency’s website

“Although OSHA is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, the agency is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule. The agency is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard,” OSHA’s statement reads. 

OSHA did not immediately return CNN’s request for additional comment.

It comes less than two weeks after the Supreme Court blocked the rule, dealing a major blow to President Biden’s attempts to use the power of the federal government to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. OSHA’s regulation required businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. 

“OSHA strongly encourages vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace,” the agency noted in its statement Tuesday.

The withdrawal will be effective Wednesday, according to OSHA’s statement, with official publication in the Federal Register.

2:15 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Elton John tests positive for Covid-19, prompting concert postponement

From CNN's Megan Thomas

Elton John performs during the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour in New Orleans on January 19.
Elton John performs during the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour in New Orleans on January 19. (Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Elton John's concerts at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas have been postponed after the singer tested positive for Covid-19, according to a statement from the arena. 

The venue announced the already long-delayed "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour would not run this Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It is with great regret that the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour dates in Dallas set for Tuesday, January 25 and Wednesday, January 26 must be postponed due to Elton recently testing positive for Covid-19. Fortunately, Elton is fully vaccinated and boosted, and is experiencing only mild symptoms. Fans should hold on to their tickets as they will be honored at the rescheduled dates to be announced soon. Elton and the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour look forward to returning to the stage shortly," the venue wrote in a statement.

The singer had just returned to performing after a nearly two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The tour was also delayed last year as he underwent hip surgery.

He had announced tour dates in June 2021, saying at the time: "The shows that I announce today will be my final tour dates ever in North America and Europe. I'm going to go out in the biggest possible way, performing at my very best, with the most spectacular production I've ever had, playing in places that have meant so much to me throughout my career."

It's not yet clear if the tour, scheduled to stop in Little Rock, Ark., and Oklahoma City on Saturday and Sunday, will go forward or be postponed. 

2:44 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

New York attorney general seeks to block ruling that voids state mask mandate 

From CNN's Sonia Moghe and Laura Studley

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a motion Tuesday to stay a state Supreme Court judge’s decision striking down a statewide mask mandate while the appeals process plays out, court documents showed.

In the motion, James argued that allowing the ruling to remain in place would cause “irreparable harms to public health” during the current surge of Covid-19 cases brought on by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. While the wave is receding, daily case numbers in New York remain stubbornly high.

If a stay is granted, the mandate would remain in effect during the appeals process. 

“The order, if not stayed, will allow individuals to refuse to wear face coverings in indoor public settings where the risk of Covid-19 spread is high, including in schools where many children remain unvaccinated against Covid-19,” the filing states. 

A hearing to discuss the motion is expected Tuesday afternoon in appellate court, according to New York state courts spokesperson Lucian Chalfen.

Meanwhile, in response to Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker's ruling on Monday, at least 15 school districts have made it optional to wear masks, while nine other districts and the Archdiocese of New York have indicated they will keep the mandate in place, according to a CNN review.

In his opinion, Rademaker wrote because New York was no longer under a state of emergency when the mask mandate was announced, the governor and health commissioner did not have the additional authority to order such a mandate, adding the mandate is now unenforceable.

2:09 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Palm Beach County School District asked 5 teachers to stay home for refusing to follow employee mask mandate

From CNN's Devon M. Sayers and Leyla Santiago 

The Palm Beach County School District put in place a mask mandate for staff this month to help control the spread of Covid-19. The district is the largest employer in the county, north of Miami, with more than 22,000 staff members.  

"We are experiencing shortages of staff, and we have to mitigate Covid-19 spread," district spokesperson Claudia Shea said. 

On Thursday five teachers refused to follow the district policy regarding masks and were asked to leave and stay at home for non-compliance, Shea said. The district is now conducting a personal investigation that could lead to disciplinary action.

“Facial coverings serve as a mitigating factor in helping to control the spread of COVID-19, and in doing so, keeping our students and staff healthy, while reducing absenteeism and staffing shortages,” a communication sent Friday to the district said. “The Superintendent has decided that it remains in the best interest of our schools, students, and staff to keep the current facial covering requirement for those individuals in place for another week. He will re-evaluate the situation again on January 28,” the release added 

One of the teachers has returned to their classroom today, the district said. “The other four are welcome to return as soon as they follow the facial covering mandate. The great majority of teachers are in compliance," with the mask policy, and this was the first non-compliance issue that Shea was aware of. 

The Palm Beach Post first reported this story.  

1:12 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

CDC study: Disease severity during Omicron appears to be lower than during other Covid surges

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

During a period when the Omicron coronavirus variant was dominant, severe outcomes for patients hospitalized with Covid-19 — including ICU admission, ventilator use and death — were less common than during Delta or the first winter surge, according to a study published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also, while the daily average of new cases and hospital admissions reached record highs during the Omicron period, the ratio of daily cases to hospital admissions and cases to deaths was lower than during previous periods. The ratio of cases to hospitalizations and deaths compared the peak daily average of each metric within each period. 

Severity of disease appears to be lower during the Omicron period due to a combination of factors, according to the researchers: higher vaccination coverage — including boosters — immunity acquired from previous infection and potentially lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

A look at the numbers: Among patients hospitalized with Covid-19, about 13% were admitted to the ICU during the Omicron period, compared with about 18% during Delta and the first winter surge. About 7% of patients died in the hospital during Omicron, compared with more than 12% during earlier peaks. 

Also, patients hospitalized with Covid-19 during the period of Omicron predominance had a lower average length of stay than during other periods of high transmission: about 5.5 days on average during the Omicron period, compared with 7.6 days during the Delta surge and about eight days during the first winter surge. 

For this study, researchers analyzed Covid-19 indicators for three periods of high transmission: the first winter surge from December 2020 through February 2021, a period of Delta predominance from mid-July through October 2021 and an early period of Omicron predominance from mid-December 2021 through mid-January 2022.

“Although disease severity appears lower with the Omicron variant, the high volume of hospitalizations can strain local health care systems and the average daily number of deaths remains substantial,” the researchers wrote. “This underscores the importance of national emergency preparedness, specifically, hospital surge capacity and the ability to adequately staff local health care systems.” 

It also reinforces the value of vaccination to prevent severe illness and death, they said. 

These findings are reflective of broad trends and are not indicators of individual risk. Covid-19 hospitalization data includes incidental Covid-19 infections, which could affect in-hospital severity indicators. Also, the Delta variant was still circulating during the beginning of the Omicron period, which could also affect severity indicators. 

Researchers analyzed trends in Covid-19 cases and deaths reported to the CDC by state and territorial health departments, and in-hospital outcomes among more than 300,000 Covid-19 patients in 199 hospitals.

1:22 p.m. ET, January 25, 2022

EU recommends lifting travel rules for those with Covid-19 certificates

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow, Scotland

A medical staff waits stands by a Covid-19 test center at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt on July 28.
A medical staff waits stands by a Covid-19 test center at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt on July 28. (Stefanie Loos/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the European Union recommended lifting travel restrictions for citizens traveling within the bloc who have been fully vaccinated in the past nine months, have tested negative, or have recently recovered from Covid-19.

The European Council has proposed that member states remove testing and quarantine requirements for people who hold "EU digital Covid certificates" from February 1, 2022, according to an online statement.

Under the new recommendations, “measures should be applied taking into account the person's health status rather than the epidemiological situation at regional level, with the exception of areas where the virus is circulating at very high levels,” according to a statement from the European Council. The proposal comes “in response to the significant increase in vaccine uptake and the rapid roll-out of the EU digital COVID certificate,” the statement adds.

According to the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 69.7% of the total EU/European Economic Area population has been fully vaccinated. More than 40% of the EU/EEA population has received an additional booster dose.

Those who do not hold a digital certificate may be required to undergo a test no later than 24 hours after their arrival.

11:47 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Neil Young demands Spotify remove his music due to Covid-19 vaccine misinformation

From CNN’s Scottie Andrew

Neil Young performs in 2015 in Los Angeles.
Neil Young performs in 2015 in Los Angeles. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Neil Young, an outspoken advocate for Covid-19 safety and prevention, doesn't want his music to share a home with vaccine misinformation.

In a now-deleted post on his website, Young asked his managers and record label to remove his music from Spotify because he said the music and podcast platform is "spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe this disinformation spread by them." (Rolling Stone originally reported the text of the deleted post.)

"I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform," the 76-year-old said in Monday's post, according to Rolling Stone. "They can have Rogan or Young. Not both."

"Rogan" refers to Joe Rogan, the exceedingly controversial podcast host who has made frequent false and inaccurate claims surrounding vaccines and Covid-19. Earlier this month, a group of more than 250 scientists, doctors and nurses penned an open letter to Spotify condemning the streamer for platforming Rogan and calling on Spotify to warn its listeners about misinformation.

CNN has reached out to Young's manager, his publicist at Warner Records and Spotify for comment.

Frank Gironda, Young's manager, did confirm to the Daily Beast that the two had discussed Young's concerns and were "trying to figure this out right now." He said, too, that Young was "very upset about this disinformation."