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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4:07 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

New York state reports a record 67,000 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday

From CNN’s Taylor Romine

An aerial view of a long line is seen at a Covid-19 testing center next to the Queens Hospital Center as hundreds of residents to get Covid-19 test in Queens, New York, on December 28.
An aerial view of a long line is seen at a Covid-19 testing center next to the Queens Hospital Center as hundreds of residents to get Covid-19 test in Queens, New York, on December 28. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul said that they are preparing for a Covid-19 surge in January as the state reports a new record high of 67,000 positive cases on Tuesday and a steady increase in hospitalizations over the last week. 

Hochul announced the large amount of new positive cases during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, but gave the context that this was from approximately 362,000 total tests.

She also announced 6,700 Covid-19-related hospitalizations were reported on Tuesday, which is up about 10% from the 6,173 hospitalizations reported on Monday. The state’s daily percent positivity is currently at 18.5% while the seven-day average is 14.61%, a release from Hochul's office said. 

"We are basically preparing for a January surge," Hochul said. "We know it's coming and we are naive to think it won't." 

Hochul said that hospitalizations are down from the same time last year, but are still an "area of concern." Despite this, only 25 hospitals have had to suspend elective procedures, and the National Guard is helping fill in staffing gaps, she said.

The governor also announced $78 million in federal funding to help protect vulnerable communities with Covid-19. Local governments and non-profits can apply for grants to get added protection in areas of their community, like farmworkers or at a senior citizen center. 

3:42 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Georgia activates 200 National Guard troops to assist at testing sites and hospitals as cases increase

From CNN’s Kay Jones  

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp during a news conference at Lockheed Martin in August in Marietta, GA.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp during a news conference at Lockheed Martin in August in Marietta, GA. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced today that he has authorized the deployment of 200 National Guard troops to assist as Covid-19 cases increase statewide.

In a news conference Wednesday, Kemp said that the troops will assist at testing sites and hospitals and mobilization will start next week. Close to 100 will support the Department of Public Health while the rest will be deployed to hospitals. 

He said today that he will not implement measures to close businesses. He also said that there will be no new policies implemented to "divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated or the masked from the unmasked."

Kemp also said that $100 million will be put towards health care staff augmentation throughout the state which would mean an additional 1,000 personnel. This will further support the medical community, he said. 

The governor also announced that he is fully vaccinated and boosted.

3:36 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Chicago's Covid-19 cases "higher than they have ever been," health commissioner says

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady during a press conference at Chicago City Hall last Tuesday.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady during a press conference at Chicago City Hall last Tuesday. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/AP)

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago department of public health commissioner, said Covid-19 cases in the city are significantly higher than they’ve ever been during the pandemic.

“Our case rates are rising sharply, just like nationally, just like across the state of Illinois, here in Chicago, our Covid cases right now are higher than they have ever been,” she said.

Arwardy said hospital bed capacity is a concern, with non-ICU hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients at the highest level since December 2020.

While there have been some Covid-19 cases in vaccinated and boosted people, “by far the biggest risk for infection remains among people who are unvaccinated,” Arwady said.

3:17 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Unvaccinated people "are 17 times more likely" to be hospitalized with Covid-19, CDC chief says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

A syringe is prepped for a Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a pharmacy in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 27.
A syringe is prepped for a Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a pharmacy in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 27. (Jenny Kane/AP)

Vaccinated people may be more likely to develop a breakthrough coronavirus infection with the Omicron variant than with Delta, but vaccines still keep most people out of the hospital, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

“What I can tell you is that compared to people who are boosted, if you are unvaccinated, you are 10 times more likely to be a case and 20 times more likely to be a fatality. Compared to people who are (vaccinated), you are 17 times more likely to be in the hospital,” Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 briefing. 

“So our vaccines are working really well to prevent severe disease and hospitalization and death. They're actually also working quite well to prevent cases, although we do know more breakthrough cases are happening in the context of Omicron,” she added.

And it’s too soon to consider asking people who are boosted to get another dose, said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“Before we start talking about a fourth shot, it will be very important for us to determine the durability of protection, particularly against severe disease for the third shot booster of an mRNA and the second shot of a J&J. Right now, we don't have that information,” Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the briefing.

“It is conceivable that in the future, we might need an additional shot, but right now, we are hoping that we will get a greater degree of durability of protection from that booster shot,” Fauci added. “So we're going to take one step at a time, get the data from the third boost and then make decisions based on the scientific data.”

2:30 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

CDC forecast predicts over 44,000 new Covid-19 deaths over next 4 weeks

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A healthcare worker puts on PPE on the Covid-19 ICU floor of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA, on Monday, Dec. 27.
A healthcare worker puts on PPE on the Covid-19 ICU floor of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA, on Monday, Dec. 27. (Allison Dinner/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts that more than 44,000 people could die of Covid-19 in the next four weeks. 

By comparison, the US typically sees between 12,000 and 52,000 deaths from flu over an average year.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus has killed at least 821,251 people in the United States. The CDC forecast estimates that number could rise to 866,000 deaths reported by Jan. 22.  

The forecast could mean an average of up to 1,800 Covid-19 deaths per day, up from a current average of 1,523 each day, according to JHU data. 

The CDC included projections indicating that the quickest rise in deaths may happen in early January, with the average slowing after Jan. 22. 

Hospitalizations are predicted to increase for the sixth straight week, with 11,400 to 28,800 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions reported on Jan. 21.

According to US Department of Health and Human Services data, there were 76,779 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Dec. 28. 

The forecast for cases did not predict an increase or decrease. The CDC has not included this information for many months. But this week, for the first time, it also did not 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. 
2:37 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

More than 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported in New Jersey

From CNN's Taylor Romine

Cars line up at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in North Bergen, New Jersey, on December 22.
Cars line up at a drive-through Covid-19 testing center in North Bergen, New Jersey, on December 22. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

New Jersey has reported more than 20,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, which is almost double the over 11,000 cases reported on Monday and a new record.

Tuesday's confirmed case count of 20,483 is the highest of the pandemic, beating out the previous high of 16,626 confirmed cases on Dec. 25, according to state data. The state's rate of transmission currently sits at 1.76. 

In addition to Tuesday's confirmed cases, the state also reported 6,590 probable cases through antigen testing. 

A little under 3,300 people were reported hospitalized Tuesday, which is about 10% higher than Monday.

2:00 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Omicron is highly transmissible but may cause milder disease than Delta, Fauci says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Indications are building that while the Omicron variant of coronavirus is very contagious, it may cause a milder course of disease than Delta does, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday. 

“We know now, incontrovertibly, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus. We know that from the numbers we're seeing,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House Covid-19 briefing.

“And clearly, there is a degree of immune evasion, particularly against infection and, to some degree, against hospitalization,” he added.

Omicron can infect vaccinated people, though not as easily as it infects unvaccinated people, and certain monoclonal antibody treatments do not help against it.

“However, importantly, and the bottom line message here, is that boosters bring back up that degree of protection to a level that is approximately what it was before. So boosters are critical in getting our approach to Omicron to be optimal,” Fauci said.

Several studies from South Africa and the UK, as well as lab studies in animals, indicate that the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease, Fauci said. In Britain, the risk of hospitalization admission for Omicron was 40% that of the risk seen with Delta.

“In the United States, we are getting an accumulation of data,” Fauci added. “The spike in cases is out of proportion to the increase in hospitalization.”

He said that over 14 days in December, the US racked up a 126% increase in the number of cases but just an 11% increase in hospitalizations.

“Now, we must remember that hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators,” Fauci noted. “However, the pattern and disparity between cases and hospitalizations strongly suggest that there will be a lower hospitalization-to-case ratio when the situation becomes more clear. 

“So in conclusion, the data are encouraging but still in many respects preliminary,” Fauci noted. “But having said this, all indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta. It is difficult to determine what degree of lessened severity is due to pre-existing immunity or the intrinsically lower virulence of Omicron — as suggested by the animal studies — or a combination of both.”

And the sheer numbers could still mean that, even with lower hospitalization rates for Omicron, the number of people infected could add up to more people in the hospital and a strain on the nation’s health care system, Fauci noted.

2:01 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

DC students and staff must show proof of negative Covid-19 test before return to school on Jan. 5

From CNN's Sarah Fortinsky

Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that all public school students and staff will be required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result before returning from winter break Jan. 5.

Previously, Bowser had recommended tests for those returning to the classroom. 

Bowser said the city will likely need to transition to "situational learning throughout the semester, especially in the coming weeks," but added that "decisions about specific classrooms and grade levels within a school will be made on a case-by-case basis," based on staff availability and the percentage of students and staff in quarantine. 

1:50 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

UK Covid-19 infections hit new daily record with 183,037 additional cases

From CNN’s Mia Alberti

Shoppers on Oxford Street in London, on Monday, Dec. 27.
Shoppers on Oxford Street in London, on Monday, Dec. 27. (David Cliff/AP)

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom registered 183,037 new cases of Covid-19, a new record of daily infections, according to government data.

In the last seven days, the UK registered more than 900,000 new cases — a more than 41% increase compared to the previous week. 

The death rate remained low, compared to previous waves in the UK, at 0.9 fatalities per 100,000 people. 

There were 57 additional deaths reported Wednesday that were related to Covid-19.