December 29 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Tara John and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0601 GMT (1401 HKT) December 30, 2021
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8:34 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

The latest wave of Covid-19 cases is "unlike anything we’ve ever seen," doctor says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

This latest wave of Covid-19 cases is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, said Wednesday.

“What we're experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments throughout Washington, DC,” Phillips told CNN.

The emergency departments, he said, are flooded with mostly mildly symptomatic patients who are there to get tested.

“It's part of that shortfall of national testing that's occurring, and it's all falling on the emergency department,” Phillips said.

The problems are compounded by the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant.

“While many of us were able to stay safe from getting the Delta virus and the previous variants that have come our way, Omicron is affecting the staff at our hospitals in an unprecedented way,” Phillips said. “We're really struggling to maintain our workforce, particularly of nurses right now. And that makes wait times even longer in the waiting rooms, and it's very demoralizing for both the patients and our staff.”


8:05 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Covid-19 cases will threaten critical infrastructure, scientist says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The US is in a “mess right now” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said. 

“The best way to approach it is to say what we know and what we don't know,” Osterholm told CNN on Wednesday.

It’s clear that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is highly infectious, but it is unclear how many people will get seriously sick and die, he said. Rather, the country is in “unknown territory.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts more than 44,000 new Covid-19 deaths over the next four weeks.

“If you look at those CDC data,” Osterholm said, “if you look at the confidence intervals, you can drive a whole semi load of information through there. There's a big hole in terms of, just what does the real number look like over the course of the next month? We don't know.” 

Because scientists still are working with limited information, public health leaders have had to make a best guess about what will work to keep people safe. Osterholm thinks the CDC is being too harshly criticized for its decision to change its guidelines to allow certain people to leave isolation or quarantine after a shorter period of time.

“Everything we’re going to do right now is imperfect. Just accept that right now,” Osterholm said.

“We don't know a lot of the things we wish we'd know, but what we do know and what is emerging here is that this country is going to be in the soup in just the next few weeks with so many cases and so many locations, that we're going to see critical infrastructure as well as health care challenged,” Osterholm added. 

Osterholm predicts that with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, there may not be enough people who are well enough to keep hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations working. The change in CDC guidelines is not just about helping the economy, he said: “It was to play to the very safety of our everyday lives.”

7:06 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Skip indoor New Year's Eve parties to avoid Covid-19, doctor says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

People should skip big indoor New Year’s Eve parties this year, said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus “is extraordinarily contagious, and if you are in a crowd now, and certainly if you're unvaccinated, you are at great risk of contracting this virus,” Reiner told CNN on Wednesday. 

Reiner said a small celebration at a friend’s house should be OK if everyone is vaccinated and boosted and has tested negative before the party. Big outdoor parties are less risky unless they’re crowded. 

People may be frustrated that they still have to be so careful with get-togethers, but this is a temporary situation, he said. 

“This is not going to go on forever. And the important issues now are to maintain not just the health of the population, which is obviously our primary goal, but also to maintain the health of the people who are manning our hospitals,” Reiner said. 

8:00 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show postponed due to Covid-19 threat

From CNN's David Close

(John Minchillo/AP)
(John Minchillo/AP)

The upcoming 2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York has been postponed.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, the Board of Governors said the decision to postpone the January event to a future date was made "due to the extraordinary spread of the Omicron variant in New York City at this time and the disruptions it is currently creating in travel and event management."

The statement continued, "The health and safety of all participants in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are paramount. We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support as we delay the show to a time when we can safely convene."

The new dates for the 146th event have yet to be announced.

The annual dog show is the second-oldest continuous sporting event in the United States.

The event is typically held in New York's Madison Square Garden but was relocated this past June to Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

6:13 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Omicron case at German nightclub during Christmas party puts hundreds into quarantine

From CNN's Chris Stern

A nightclub owner in northern Germany has informed at least 622 people that they must quarantine for 14 days after at least one Omicron infection was detected at a celebration over Christmas.

The "Joy" dance club was holding the event in the Segeberg district of Schleswig-Holstein state. Only people with proof of vaccination, those who recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months plus a negative test, were allowed to enter under Germany's so-called 2G-plus rule. No masks or social distancing were required.

At least one guest was confirmed to have a Covid-19 infection with the Omicron variant, Segeberg district officials said in a news release Wednesday. Officials added that the 2G-plus rules were correctly enforced.

"We have implemented all applicable requirements since September and have done our best to prevent a situation like this," club manager Joey Claussen said in the news release. “But we always knew that there is no such thing as 100 percent security. And now we have to try together to prevent greater damage," Claussen added.

Claussen informed 622 visitors with online tickets by email on Wednesday. Around 200 other guests bought their tickets at the box office. To locate these guests, the disco manager is asking the 622 contacted guests for help.

7:52 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Remainder of World Juniors hockey tournament canceled due to Covid-19

From CNN's David Close

(Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP)
(Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP)

Organizers of the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship have abruptly canceled the ongoing men's hockey tournament due the spread of Covid-19 within the teams participating.

The tournament was being held in Alberta, Canada.

"The sportive integrity of the event has been compromised," IIHF stated, blaming the spread of the Omicron variant in an announcement made on Wednesday.

The IIHF said a member of the Russian national team tested positive for Covid-19, which forced the team into mandated quarantine. Positive tests and subsequent quarantines had already forced organizers to cancel two previously planned preliminary games – Switzerland vs. Team USA and Finland vs. Czechia (Czech Republic).

On Tuesday, Team USA was forced to forfeit their game against Switzerland following two positive Covid-19 tests within the US team.

“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work,” said IIHF President Luc Tardif. “Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”

Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney said, "Although we know this is the right decision, we sympathize with all participants who have earned the opportunity to represent their countries on the world stage and that will not be able to realize that dream in its entirety.”

The US men's junior team were the defending World Junior Championship gold medal winners. 

6:11 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Fauci: "The CDC is concerned that people just wear a mask, any mask"

From CNN's Jen Christensen

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Studies have shown that an N95 mask offers better protection from the coronavirus than a cloth mask, even with the more contagious Omicron variant in circulation, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidelines about masking because the agency doesn’t think it’s practical, said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“The CDC is concerned that people just wear a mask, any mask. There are so many people who just don't want to wear a mask that if we can get anybody to wear a mask, that's a big plus,” Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

The best masks are N95s, Fauci said, but people are less likely to use them because they aren’t comfortable, particularly if worn for any length of time, he explained.

“It is not the easiest thing to wear, so the decision was made by the part of the people at the CDC. We would rather have people wear a mask than have to worry about people not wearing a mask because it’s uncomfortable,” he said.

The CDC has changed its guidelines for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 but don’t have symptoms, saying they should isolate themselves for five days and then wear a mask for five more days when around other people. Fauci said that change is meant to strike a balance when addressing an “almost overwhelming surge” of new cases that will probably get worse in the next two weeks.

“So you either shut down the society, which no one wants to do, or you try and get a situation where you can safely get people back particularly to critical jobs without having them be out for a full 10 days, so long as they are without symptoms,” Fauci said.

In this pandemic, every public health decision is made to reduce risk, he said, but risk is relative.

“I think what people need to understand: There is risk in everything when it comes to SARS-CoV-2. That's just the reality. Some people think if you do this, there is no risk. There's a risk to everything,” Fauci said.

4:19 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Spain surpasses 100,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day

From CNN’s Al Goodman

People queue for a COVID-19 test at La Paz hospital in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.
People queue for a COVID-19 test at La Paz hospital in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Spain reported 100,760 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time since the pandemic began that it has surpassed 100,000 cases in a single day, the country’s health ministry reported. 

Wednesday's figure also set a record for the second consecutive day of the highest number of new cases in a 24-hour reporting period. Tuesday’s figure of 99,671 new cases was double the previous record, which was set just last week, on Dec. 21, the ministry reported.  

Spanish officials have said the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant is to blame for the spikes in cases. 

Spain’s infection rate on Wednesday of 1,508 cases per 100,000 population, over 14 days, was up from 1,360 cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday. 

Officials said the heavy caseload is especially putting extra pressure on the public neighborhood health clinics, but not as much on the hospitals as earlier in the pandemic. Covid-19 cases now occupy 19.1 percent of intensive care beds in Spanish hospitals, up from 18.7 percent in Tuesday’s report. 


4:10 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

US pediatric Covid-19 hospital admissions only 2% below September peak, CDC and HHS data shows

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a Covid-19 positive girl, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas. 
An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a Covid-19 positive girl, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

US pediatric hospital admissions for Covid-19 are only 2.2% lower than their peak in early September, continuing a rapid increase since mid-December. 

On average, 334 children have been admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended Dec. 27, according to data published Wednesday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

This is a more than 58% increase from the previous week and just 2.2% lower than the peak average of 342 children admitted to the hospital at the end of August and in early September.

Nearly 76,000 children up to age 17 have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since August 2020. They make up the lowest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations of all age groups, but hospitalizations in this population are rapidly increasing.

Currently, 0.46 children are hospitalized with Covid-19 for every 100,000 children in the United States. This is up from 0.26 two weeks earlier and near the record of 0.47 hospitalized children that was set Sept. 2.

Pediatric hospital admissions are up more than 50% in the past week in HHS regions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8, which includes the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. Only region 7, in the central Midwest, saw hospital admissions decline compared with the previous week.