The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT) January 27, 2022
14 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
9:04 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Former CDC director is "optimistic" about the direction of the Covid-19 pandemic

From CNN's Jen Christensen

As the US passes two years since the first laboratory-confirmed case of Covid-19, former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden admitted to feeling positive about the direction the nation is headed.

“I am more optimistic about the pandemic today than I have been since it was declared a pandemic nearly two years ago,” Frieden told CNN on Wednesday.

Frieden, currently the CEO and president of a global health initiative called Resolve to Save Lives, says the "flash flood" of cases stemming from a surge in the Omicron variant should soon slow down, largely as a result of effective vaccines.

“We don’t know if there will be another wave, but we do know that we’ve got much stronger defenses than we’ve ever had,” Frieden said.

“We’re in much better shape than we’ve ever been. But we do need to hang on for just a few more weeks until the Omicron flood recedes, so we don’t overwhelm the hospitals, which are really stressed out,” Frieden added.

As companies, including Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech, continue testing Omicron-specific boosters, Frieden is unconvinced that such measures will be required.

“I don't know if this will ever be approved for Americans, and really, I'm disappointed that a company like Moderna might be doing something like this and trying to adjust their market valuation,” Frieden said.

While scientists work towards the creation and approval of a universal Covid-19 vaccine, Frieden pushed patience.

“Remember, we've been trying to make a universal flu vaccine for several decades, and an HIV vaccine for several decades, a malaria vaccine for several decades. And we're just beginning to see some progress,” Frieden said. “I wouldn't hold your breath for a universal vaccine, but it's certainly a goal worth trying.”

7:16 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

About 26% of the US has received a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine, CDC data shows

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published new data showing that 63.5% of the total US population (all ages), or about 211 million people, have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

More data from the CDC:

  • Not vaccinated: At least 19.5% of the eligible population (age 5+) has not received any dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at least 61 million people.
  • Current pace of vaccinations (seven-day average): 962,958 doses are being administered each day. 
  • Most doses being administered – about 504,000 – are booster doses.
  • Only about 259,000 people are initiating vaccination each day. 
  • About 85.2 million people have received a booster dose. That’s about 25.7% of the US population.

To 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. 

6:51 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

UK study: Nearly two-thirds of participants who tested positive during Omicron surge reported prior infection

From CNN's Katherine Dillinger

Almost two-thirds of people participating in the REACT-1 study, which looked at coronavirus transmission in the United Kingdom, who tested positive for the virus during the surge of the Omicron variant reported that they’d had a confirmed previous infection, according to findings published Wednesday. 

Researchers from Imperial College London looked at more than 100,000 valid tests collected between Jan. 5 and Jan. 20. About 4.41% of the tests were positive, three times more than in December, and 99% of sequenced samples were found to include the Omicron variant.

Of the 3,582 people who tested positive and reported whether they’d had a previous infection, 2,315 (64.6%) reported a confirmed previous infection.

However, a blog post accompanying the findings noted, “these results are based on self-reported data and therefore it’s uncertain what proportion of these are reinfections or recent infections picked up due to the sensitivity of PCR testing.”

Researchers on separate studies had reported last month that the proportion of Omicron cases that were likely reinfections in people who have had Covid-19 before was more than 10 times that of Delta.

3:50 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

New York City schools shorten Covid-19 isolation period to five days

The New York City school system has changed its Covid-19 isolation period for students in kindergarten and higher who test positive for Covid-19 from ten to five days to be in accordance with CDC and New York state health department guidance

“This isn’t something we created,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for NYC's education department. “This is just bringing us in line with the CDC and state. They changed these rules already.”

“Anyone returning from a five-day isolation period should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their overall symptoms should be improving; they must be able to wear a well-fitting mask while at school from Day 6 through Day 10,” according to information provided by the city’s education department. 

Staff and students will not be required to produce negative test results before being allowed to return to school or work after their isolation period. The change will go into effect on January 31, the DOE said. 

The ten-day isolation period for students enrolled in Pre-K and other early childhood education will remain. If a student is not fully-vaccinated and is exposed to Covid-19 outside of a school setting, that student must quarantine for at least five days.

Unvaccinated students exposed to Covid-19 in their home must also quarantine for an additional five days “after a household member’s isolation period has ended, if the household member is not isolated from the student or the student continues to be exposed to the household member in the same home during that time,” the DOE said.

7:06 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Denmark will lift all Covid-19 restrictions in the country

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen holds a joint press conference in Copenhagen on January 26.
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen holds a joint press conference in Copenhagen on January 26. (mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

Denmark will lift all Covid-19 restrictions within the country, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced in a news conference on Wednesday evening, adding that coronavirus "should no longer be categorized as a socially critical sickness."

"Denmark will be completely open from 1 February," Frederiksen said. "Tonight we can start lowering our shoulders and find our smiles again." 

"The pandemic is still here, but with what we know now, we dare to believe that we are through the critical phase," Frederiksen added, highlighting the success of Denmark's vaccination program and booster shots. 

Frederiksen said she expected spring, summer, and early autumn to be "an open Denmark with hugs, parties, and festivals." Then later in autumn and into the winter, the government said it expects another season of increased infections, which may require additional vaccinations. She said the government is not ruling out the possibility that a fourth shot could be necessary for everyone.

Earlier on Wednesday, Denmark’s Minister of Health Magnus Heunicke recommended that some testing upon entry to the country is the only pandemic restriction that should remain. 

Tests for certain people when entering Denmark will primarily apply to those who have not been vaccinated or previously infected, Heunicke said on Wednesday evening. Maintaining that restriction would require the support of a majority in the parliament, and the health minister said he expects an answer from parliament on Friday. 

Danish authorities continue to recommend taking an at-home test before being in contact with groups of people, especially vulnerable people, according to the health minister. PCR tests will continue to be available to the public in order to confirm Covid-19 cases.

National Board of Health Director Søren Brostrøm said that authorities are confident about lifting restrictions due to the high levels of immunity because of widespread vaccination and previous infections, as well as the nature of the Omicron variant, which he said is "completely dominant and ... less pathogenic."

"We have an enormously high immunity in Denmark. Probably at least 80% of the population from cradle to grave is well-protected," Brostrøm said, adding that roughly twice as many people in Denmark have been infected with Omicron compared to previous variants. 

12:43 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

White House: 85% of Covid-19 antiviral pills go to states, while 15% are sent to community health centers

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

A Paxlovid pill is shown in this image provided by Pfizer.
A Paxlovid pill is shown in this image provided by Pfizer. (courtesy Pfizer)

The majority of the millions of Covid-19 antiviral pills that the United States has purchased have been distributed directly to states, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

"On the pills distribution, first of all, the [US Food and Drug Administration] and [National Institutes of Health] have provided guidelines on which patients should be eligible first for those pills, and then 85% of the pills had been distributed to the states — the same way we distribute vaccines — for them to then put the pills in the most important places within their states, at local hospitals and health systems and other caregivers," Zients said. 

The other 15% goes directly to community health centers around the country, he added.

"We're making sure that we're reaching those who are harder to reach and more vulnerable locations and that our response is fair and equitable," Zients said. "It's important to note that as soon as we get monoclonal treatments or pills, we distribute them out to the states so that they can get to patients as quickly as possible."

The US has purchased 20 million treatment courses of the Pfizer antiviral pill Paxlovid, with the first 10 million expected to be delivered by the end of June.

"We have hundreds of thousands of pills across the first quarter of 2022 per month, and that moves to millions in order to complete the 10 million half of the 20 million by the end of June," Zients said.  

"I want to remind everybody that that is one of five Pfizer pills, one of five effective treatments that we have in our nation's medicine cabinet — in that, we have more treatments between the Pfizer pill, the Merck pill, GSK's monoclonal antibody which is effective against Omicron, AstraZeneca's preventive therapy, and remdesivir," Zients said. "We have more available than we've had at any point in the pandemic and we're using every tool at our disposal to keep people safe."

12:36 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Universal coronavirus vaccines are in the works but "going to take years to develop," Fauci says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Scientists are working around the clock to develop a universal, or "pan-coronavirus," vaccine — one that offers protection against any type of coronavirus or multiple types that are out there, including variants that cause Covid-19.

But such vaccines are "going to take years to develop," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said during a White House briefing on Wednesday.

Coronaviruses that infect humans were first identified in the mid-1960s and, so far, there are seven known human coronaviruses: four that cause common colds; Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS; severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; and SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

"However, since September of 2020, there have been five SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now the current Omicron," Fauci said during Wednesday's briefing.

"So obviously, innovative approaches are needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses that are known and some that are even at this point unknown. Hence, the terminology pan-coronavirus vaccine," Fauci said, referring to a universal vaccine that potentially could offer protection against any coronavirus.

Fauci added that NIAID has invested more than $3 billion overall on coronavirus research since the pandemic began and a subset of that supports vaccine research, including studies on investigational pan-coronavirus vaccine candidates.

"I don't want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two. It's going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion. Some of these are already in Phase 1 clinical trials," Fauci said Wednesday.

"Don't forget, however, that our current vaccine regimens do provide strong protection, particularly when used with a booster against severe coronavirus disease and death," Fauci said. "So do not wait to receive your primary vaccine regimen and please get your booster if you are eligible," he said.

10:53 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

CDC forecast predicts at least 62,000 more people could die in the US from Covid-19 over the next 4 weeks

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts more than 62,000 additional people could die from Covid-19 over the next four weeks.

This is the first week that deaths have been predicted to have a stable or uncertain trend after predicted increases since the forecast published on Dec. 29. 

The CDC included projections that indicate the number of deaths will slowly but steadily rise for the first three weeks, before dropping quickly in the last week. 

The forecast predicts that there could be a total of 923,000 to 979,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US reported by Feb. 19.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus has killed at least 872,126 people in the United States. 

The forecast could mean an average of 2,622 Covid-19 deaths a day, up from a current average of 2,258 per day, according to JHU data. 

Hospitalizations are predicted to decrease for the first time after eight weeks of predicted increases, followed by one week of predicted stable or uncertain trends. CDC predicts that there will be 4,900 to 27,800 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions likely reported on Feb. 18. 

There are currently 150,178 people hospitalized with Covid-19, according to US Department of Health and Human Services data. 

The forecast for cases did not predict an increase or decrease, or give a predicted number of cases. 

“Recent case forecasts have shown low reliability, with more reported cases than expected falling outside the forecast prediction intervals for 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-week ahead case forecasts. Therefore, case forecasts will continue to be collected and analyzed but will not be summarized until sustained improvements in performance are observed,” the CDC said. 

11:38 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

It's "dangerous" to assume we are at the end of the pandemic, WHO director-general says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference in December.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference in December. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s dangerous to assume that there will be no more Covid-19 variants after Omicron or that the world is in the end game of the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. 

“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end. But it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the end game,” Tedros said during the 150th session of the WHO executive board on Monday. “On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”

“To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it,” Tedros continued, adding that the WHO recognizes everyone is tired of the pandemic and restrictions, that businesses and economies are hurting and that “many governments are walking a tightrope, attempting to balance what is effective with what is acceptable to their people.” 

Every country is in a unique situation, he said, “and must chart its way out of the acute phase of the pandemic with a careful, stepwise approach,” something that doesn't have easy answers. 

If WHO resources — including evidence, strategies and support — are used in a comprehensive way, the world could see not only an end to the acute phase of the pandemic, but an end to Covid-19 as a global health emergency this year, he said. 

But that requires reaching high vaccinations rates, equitable health care and increasing sequencing abilities, he said:

“What does that look like? It means achieving our target to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country, with a focus on the most at-risk groups. It means reducing mortality through strong clinical management beginning with primary health care and equitable access to diagnostics, oxygen and antivirals at the point of care. It means boosting testing and sequencing rates globally to track the virus closely and monitor the emergence of new variants. It means the ability to calibrate the use of public health and social measures when needed. It means restoring and sustaining essential health services. And it means learning critical lessons and defining new solutions now, not waiting until the pandemic is over,” he said. 

It is “astonishing” that Covid-19 vaccines work so well against preventing hospitalization and death, including with Omicron, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said during a social media live Q&A session on Tuesday, underscoring that it is critical for people to be vaccinated.

“Vaccine equity is absolutely critical, but it’s not vaccine equity in only some countries,” she said. “There are challenges in every single country about reaching those who are most at risk, high income as well as low income.” 

“But the fact remains that more than three billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go,” she said.