COVID-19 live updates: Top scientists, doctors support Fauci after ‘partisan’ attacks

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 843,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.6% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 14, 7:13 pm
Over $2B in contracts awarded in White House’s at-home testing plan

The White House has awarded over $2 billion in contracts so far as part of its plan to ship millions of free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to Americans.

Among the most recent, three companies — IHealth Labs, Roche Diagnostics Corp. and Abbott — were selected out of 20 bids to manufacture a combined 380 million tests, with completion dates by March 14, according to a Pentagon advisory released Friday.

IHealth was awarded a $1.27 billion contract, Roche a $340 million contract and Abbott a $306 million contract, with all funds coming from the American Rescue Act, the Pentagon said.

The federal government had previously announced contracts for 48.3 million tests worth a combined $341 million.

Altogether, that amounts to about $2.2 billion for 428 million at-home rapid tests, which are part of a batch of 500 million the White House said it plans to ship out over the course of the next 60 days.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that the White House would also ship out another 500 million at-home tests, bringing the total to 1 billion. A timeline for the second batch of tests hasn’t been announced yet.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 14, 5:54 pm
Cloth masks provide ‘least protection,’ CDC says

In newly updated COVID-19 guidance on its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that loosely woven cloth masks provide the “least protection”, while masks like N95 respirators offer the highest level.

In some cases, Americans might want to opt for higher-quality masks like KN95 and N95 respirators, the agency said.

“Wearing a highly protective mask or respirator may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease,” the CDC stated.

The CDC recommendation stops short of calling on Americans to choose one mask over the other, maintaining that any mask is better than no mask.

The updated guidance comes after weeks of health experts urging Americans to upgrade their masks in the face of omicron.

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty

Jan 14, 2:50 pm
Free test website to launch Wednesday

The White House will launch a new website on Wednesday to distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests that’ll be mailed to Americans’ doorsteps, senior administration officials said on a Friday call with reporters.

People will be able to order four tests per household at from this first batch of 500 million. The White House will also launch a call line for people who don’t have computer access.

The tests will take seven to 12 days to arrive, the senior officials said.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden also pledged a second 500 million tests, bringing the total free tests that will eventually be offered to Americans up to 1 billion.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 14, 2:32 pm
New York ‘turning the corner,’ governor says

New York is “turning the corner” following record-breaking COVID-19 cases over the holidays, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

She said the seven-day case average and positivity rate are heading down.

One week ago there were over 90,000 daily cases, and now just 49,027 daily cases, the governor said Friday.

However, state numbers may be skewed due to the increased demand in testing during the holidays.

New York state is seeing a slight decline in hospitalizations, but at 12,000 patients, that number “is still very high,” the governor noted.

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams said Friday “it really appears” hospitalization numbers are “stabilizing.”

“Based on our optimistic views, we appear to be moving in the right direction,” he said.

-ABC News’ Joshua Hoyos, Matt Foster

Jan 14, 2:00 pm
Hospitalizations and pediatric hospitalizations at all-time highs

Nationwide, more than 157,000 COVID-19-positive patients are currently receiving care — a pandemic high, according to federal data.

More than 5,200 children are currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 – also a record high.

On average, over 20,000 Americans are being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 each day, a figure that’s more than doubled over the last month, according to federal data.

It’s still not clear how many of these patients were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 and how many people coincidentally tested positive after they were admitted for other reasons.

About 83% of staffed adult ICU beds are occupied (by COVID and non-COVID patients) — the highest ICU capacity in one year, according to federal data.

On average, the U.S. is now reporting a record high of more than 782,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 14, 12:12 pm
Utah urges symptomatic people not to take up tests

Utah health officials on Friday announced a change to testing guidelines due to a shortage of test availability in the state.

Symptomatic individuals in the general public are urged not to test and just isolate for five days and the “Test To Stay” program at schools is being suspended.

Since Christmas Day, daily tests in Utah have jumped from about 19,000 to nearly 48,000.

State epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said Utah must use its test supply where it has the biggest impact, and right now that’s not in the general community or schools.

Utah officials say you should still get tested if: you have underlying conditions; you’re visiting a vulnerable individual; you work in a health care setting and are symptomatic or have been exposed; you’re seeking confirmation that the infection has passed so you can end isolation.

-ABC News’ Matt Fuhrman

Jan 13, 8:39 pm
Report shows omicron’s rapid spread in NYC

Omicron became the dominant variant in New York City within five weeks after it was first detected, according to a new report released Thursday by the city’s health department.

By comparison, it took 20 weeks for the delta variant to become dominant.

The report, which details preliminary findings on the city’s omicron wave, found that there have been lower hospitalization rates but more total hospitalizations compared to the delta wave due to “significantly greater case numbers.”

Unvaccinated New Yorkers were more than eight times more likely to be hospitalized than those who were fully vaccinated early in the omicron wave, the report found. Black New Yorkers and people ages 75 and older also were more likely to be hospitalized.

Jan 13, 7:56 pm
Study finds higher risk of COVID-19 complications for unvaccinated pregnant women

Unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19 and their newborn babies have a higher risk of complications from the disease compared with those who are vaccinated, a new study found.

In the study, published Thursday in Nature Medicine, researchers from Public Health Scotland looked at vaccination rates and COVID-19 outcomes in 131,875 pregnant women in Scotland between Dec. 8, 2020, and Oct. 31, 2021, when the delta variant was dominant.

They found that 90.9% of COVID-19 hospital admissions, 98% of intensive care admissions and all 450 newborn deaths were in unvaccinated pregnant women.

The study reiterates the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated against the virus due to a greater risk of dangerous health complications from COVID-19. A growing body of research has shown the vaccines to be safe and effective for pregnant women.

-ABC News’ Dr. Siobhan Deshauer, Sony Salzman and Dr. Alexis Carrington

Jan 13, 6:58 pm
Over 200 scientists, doctors sign letter in support of Fauci

Following heated exchanges between Dr. Anthony Fauci and several Republican senators at a Congressional hearing Tuesday, more than 200 prominent science and public health leaders have now penned an open letter voicing their support of the White House chief medical adviser’s service and leadership — and condemning attacks against him.

“We deplore the personal attacks on Dr. Fauci,” the letter says. “The criticism is inaccurate, unscientific, ill-founded in the facts and, increasingly, motivated by partisan politics. It is a distraction from what should be the national focus — working together to finally overcome a pandemic that is killing about 500,000 people a year.”

Signatories include former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, a Republican; Rich Besser, former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; members of President Joe Biden’s transition COVID-19 task force; and several Nobel laureates.

The letter comes two days after a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing, during which Fauci publicly accused Republican Sen. Rand Paul of fomenting the violent threats and harassment that he and his family have had to contend with during the pandemic’s politicized climate.

-ABC News’ Sasha Pezenik

Jan 13, 4:23 pm
Inside an Ohio children’s hospital facing a COVID surge

More than 300 children with COVID-19 are in Ohio hospitals, including Dayton Children’s Hospital, where workers are seeing a significant increase in pediatric COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

Dr. Vipul Patel, chief of pediatric intensive care at Dayton Children’s, told ABC News the ICU is now busier than at any other point in the pandemic.

COVID-19 is only exacerbating previously existing health issues for many children, Patel explained, adding that many parents are shocked to see their children become so sick, and some families have even expressed regret for not vaccinating their kids. Nationwide, about 35% of eligible children (ages 5 to 17) are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

Dayton Children’s respiratory therapist Hillary O’Neil said it’s been particularly difficult to see children who are too young to understand what is happening sick and scared.

“You can see it in the faces of kids that can’t talk — their eyes get really big and they, we watch them struggle to breathe,” O’Neil said. “Then on top of that we watch their parents struggle to watch their child, and that is sometimes just as hard as watching the kids.”

Jackie Kerby, whose baby, Enaeshya, is hospitalized with COVID-19, told ABC News, “She’s getting these fevers in the night, and they’re not coming down. … I am terribly scared.”

Across the U.S. more than 5,000 children are currently hospitalized with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, according to federal data. On average, hospital admissions among children have quadrupled over the last month.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos, Kayna Whitworth

Jan 13, 3:20 pm
New York COVID-19 cases falling

New York state’s COVID-19 cases are falling after experiencing a major surge over the holidays, according to state data.

New York recorded 60,374 new cases in the last 24 hours — an improvement from New Year’s Day when 85,476 daily cases were reporting during a spike in testing demands.

Jan 13, 3:00 pm
Supreme Court issues stay of vaccine-or-test requirement on private businesses

The Supreme Court has issued a stay of the vaccine-or-test requirement imposed on private businesses with at least 100 employees by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In a 6-3 ruling, with the three liberal justices dissenting, the court finds likelihood the challengers will prevail and that OSHA exceeds its authority.

At the same time, the justices voted 5-4 to allow the Biden administration to require health care workers at facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients to be vaccinated, subject to religious or medical exemptions.

-ABC News’ Devin Dwyer

Jan 13, 11:22 am
8,000 Delta employees test positive within 4 weeks

About 8,000 of Delta Air Lines’ 75,000 employees had COVID-19 over the last four weeks, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC.

“Good news is that they were all fine. There’s been no significant issues,” he said.

“But it’s knocked them out of the operation” amid the busiest travel season in two years, he said.

United CEO Scott Kirby said Tuesday that around 3,000 of United workers have COVID-19 right now.

Across the U.S., 3,783 TSA employees are currently at home with COVID-19, the agency said.

-ABC News’ Mina Kaji, Sam Sweeney

Jan 13, 10:53 am
Biden: White House now trying to acquire 1 billion tests

President Joe Biden said he’s directing his team to procure 500 million additional tests to meet future demand — bringing the total to 1 billion.

Biden said the White House is on track to roll out a website next week allowing Americans to order tests shipped to their homes.

The administration will also announce next week how it’s making high-quality masks available for free, Biden said.

Biden also made a plea to social media companies and media outlets.

“Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that’s on your shows — it has to stop,” he said. “COVID-19 is one of the most formidable enemies America has ever faced. We’ve got to work together.”

Jan 13, 10:27 am
US death toll up 50% since Christmas

The U.S. is now reporting an average of 1,650 new COVID-19-related deaths each day — up by about 50% since Christmas, according to federal data.

Indiana currently has the highest death rate, followed by Delaware and New York City.

Twenty-six states are now averaging more daily cases than at any point in the pandemic, according to federal data.

Surging national case numbers, however, may not be indicative of what is happening in every region of the country. Some areas could see a decline or a plateau in cases, according to some experts.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 13, 5:02 am
Biden sending medical teams to hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19

President Joe Biden will deploy military medical teams to hospitals in six states where COVID-19 infections are surging.

Teams of doctors, nurses and clinical personnel will be sent as early as next week to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico, Biden is expected to announce on Thursday alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

Biden in December directed the defense secretary to ready 1,000 military medical personnel to deploy to hospitals across the country as needed in January and February. The teams now being readied will be the first to start arriving at hospitals.

They’ll be sent to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.

Biden, Austin and Criswell on Thursday will also “be briefed on the administration’s efforts to send resources and personnel to hard-hit communities across the country that are experiencing a surge in hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant,” according to a White House official.

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Jan 12, 7:24 pm
Testing labs now struggling with their own staffing shortages due to virus

The labs shouldering much of the nation’s PCR COVID-19 testing are getting slammed with demand again during omicron’s surge, and now they’re grappling with a new challenge: their workforces are getting hit by the virus they’ve been tasked with tracking.

The American Clinical Laboratory Association, the national trade association representing some of the leading clinical labs responsible for COVID diagnostics, is warning that their members’ workforce is strained as more workers call out sick.

“Labs are now facing a wave of new issues brought on by a fast-spreading variant that has not spared the laboratory care work force,” an ACLA spokesperson told ABC News.

COVID-19 infections have increased laboratory staff sick leave — a “significant factor in determining overall capacity” at an industry-wide level, the spokesperson said.

“We have been pressured to get our capacity where we believe it can be because of the labor problems we see,” Quest Diagnostics CEO Steve Rusckowski said Wednesday at the JPM Healthcare Conference. “Some of this is just getting the labor to do our work, but secondly, is because of callouts because of the virus have been considerable over the last two weeks.”

-ABC News’ Sasha Pezenik

Jan 12, 7:00 pm
Chicago teachers accept deal to reopen classes

Chicago teachers voted Wednesday to accept the deal made by the union and city to re start in-person classes.

The deal ended the five-day standoff after the union voted to switch to remote learning due to the omicron surge.

Union leaders made a tentative agreement on Monday and urged teachers to back the deal despite frustration that the district wouldn’t grant demands for widespread coronavirus testing or commit to districtwide remote learning during a COVID-19 surge.

The final agreement will expand COVID-19 testing and create standards to switch schools to remote learning.

The deal also resulted in the purchase of KN95 masks for students and teachers and bigger incentives to attract substitute teachers. The city also agreed to give teachers unpaid leave related to the pandemic.

Jan 12, 6:07 pm
96% of Army members fully vaccinated

The U.S. Army released an update on the vaccine status of its members.

As of Jan. 11, 96% of members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 97% have at least one dose, according to the Army.

All armed service members are mandated to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Around 18,000 members remain unvaccinated, the data showed.

The Army has chosen not to discharge unvaccinated soldiers but instead “flag” them so they’re not promoted and are not allowed to re-enlist.

“To date, Army commanders have relieved a total of six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 2,994 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for refusing the vaccination order,” the Army said in a news release.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez

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