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Coronavirus Live Updates

Omicron drives US COVID-19 deaths higher than in fall’s Delta wave

Serena Cho, at right foreground, checked the temperature and proof of vaccination of a guest that arrived for dinner at Pagu in Cambridge, MA.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

COVID-19 cases have fallen in Massachusetts after a surge driven by the Omicron variant swept across the US and the world. The winter surge has prompted many experts and officials to reemphasize the importance of masking indoors and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated, including booster shots.

Below, we’re gathering all the latest news and updates on coronavirus in New England and beyond.


 

Jan. 28, 2022

 

Joni Mitchell plans to follow Neil Young off Spotify, citing ‘lies’ — 11:19 p.m.

By The New York Times

Joni Mitchell said Friday that she would remove her music from Spotify, joining Neil Young in his protest against the streaming service over its role in giving a platform to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

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Mitchell, an esteemed singer-songwriter of songs like “Big Yellow Taxi,” and whose landmark album “Blue” just had its 50th anniversary, posted a brief statement on her website Friday saying that she would remove her music from the streaming service. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” she wrote. “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

Florida’s weekly coronavirus deaths double — 10:43 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Florida’s weekly fatalities almost doubled, to 1,192 through Thursday from 605 the previous week.

Deaths generally lag infections by several weeks, and new cases in Florida are dropping rapidly, to 198,719 this week, from 288,793 the week before, according to state data released Friday. Cases in the omicron surge peaked the week starting Jan. 7, at 430,015.

Vaccinations are also falling, to 144,052 this week from 230,966 the previous one. The highest number of vaccine doses given in the last 10 weeks was 633,544, in the first full week of December.

Public safety unions are fighting Mayor Wu over vaccine mandates. But it’s a proxy war. | Adrian Walker — 9:25 p.m.

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist

One of the biggest battles Michelle Wu will face in her time as mayor has already begun.

No, I am not referring to the monster storm expected to dump a foot of snow or more on the city Saturday.

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I refer, instead, to her promise to overhaul policing in the city.

Wu pledged reform during her campaign for the office, and battle lines are forming.

The protests in front of her house and the press conferences by public safety unions over vaccine mandates are only partly about COVID. They are also — and perhaps mainly — an effort by cops and their firefighter allies to send a message to City Hall about union adamancy and clout, in the knowledge that this is just the first fight of many.

Senator Romney tests positive for COVID-19 — 9:00 p.m.

By Lauren Booker, Globe Staff

US Senator Mitt Romney, Republican representing Utah, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Friday statement from his office.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is asymptomatic and “will be isolating and working remotely for the recommended period of time,” the statement says.

His wife, Ann Romney, is negative for COVID and they both are fully vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus.

Still cautious, many older residents trim back their lifestyles in the time of COVID — 6:44 p.m.

By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff

They’re still on their laptops ordering N95 masks, cocooning in “bubbles” with vaccinated friends and neighbors, and steering clear of settings where people don’t take COVID-19 as seriously as they do.

Many older Massachusetts residents continue to lead tentative and isolated lives as the pandemic drags on, even as younger folks return to work or school, checking apprehensions at the door.

Mass reports more than 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 65 deaths — 5:04 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Friday reported 7,181 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 22,928 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 65 new confirmed deaths.

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The state also reported that 2,377 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 8.92 percent.

Omicron drives US COVID-19 deaths higher than in fall’s Delta wave — 4:06 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Omicron, the highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across the country, is driving the daily American death toll higher than during last fall’s delta wave, with deaths likely to keep rising for days or even weeks.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been climbing since mid-November, reaching 2,267 on Thursday and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.

Governor says NY mask-or-vaccine mandate extended to Feb. 10 — 3:52 p.m.

By The Associated Press

New York state’s mask mandate that requires face coverings in all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues require COVID-19 vaccinations will be extended until at least Feb. 10, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday.

“We’ll have a temporary extension of our business mask or vaccine policy,” Hochul said at a news briefing on Long Island. The Democratic governor said the mandate, first announced Dec. 10, has been “a critical tool” in driving COVID-19 numbers down.

Coronavirus infections spiked in New York around Christmas, thanks to the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant, but have declined in recent weeks. New reported COVID-19 infections dropped from almost 70,000 a day in New York during the week than ended Jan. 12 to about 20,000 during the week that ended Jan. 26.

Hochul said the mask mandate could be lifted after Feb. 10 if case counts keep declining.

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“We’ll be extending that just through Feb. 10,” she said. “Probably a couple days before then we’ll be evaluating. But if we continue on this rapid trend downward we’ll be in a good place. If it levels off or something else happens, I need that flexibility.”

Omicron sub-variant now in Idaho amid hospital rationing — 3:17 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Idaho health officials confirmed the state’s first case of the fast-spreading COVID-19 Omicron sub-variant BA.2 days after returning to crisis health-care rationing.

“The BA.2 sub-variant has been identified in 22 US states and at least 40 countries where it is reportedly spreading quickly,” the state Department of Health and Welfare said in a press release.

Idaho is one of the least vaccinated U.S. states and on Monday it returned to rationing hospital care with the implementation of crisis standards of care in southern Idaho. The BA.2 case was detected in Ada County, which includes the state capital of Boise where rationing is underway.

“Very early data from Asia and Europe indicate there have not been major differences in disease severity or the effectiveness of currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines against the BA.2 sub-lineage,” the department said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other US agencies have prioritized characterization of the BA.2 lineage.

Ottawa police get reinforcements as anti vax convoy arrives — 2:45 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Police in Canada’s capital have called in reinforcements as the first trucks in a convoy organized to protest the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers arrive in the capital.

Several thousand people are expected in Ottawa as part of group demanding an end to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. Some of the group’s leaders are calling for a peaceful event, but statements from some associated with the group have included threats of violence.

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Ottawa police are working with national security agencies to identify any potential threats to public safety, Chief Peter Sloly said during a press briefing on Friday.

Virginia’s state colleges can’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines — 1:12 p.m.

By The Associated Press

State colleges and universities in Virginia cannot require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, under a legal opinion issued Friday by Virginia’s new Republican attorney general.

Attorney General Jason Miyares found that because the state legislature has not passed legislation specifically mandating coronavirus vaccines for students, the colleges and universities don’t have the authority to require them.

A federal watchdog for COVID aid warns Congress it is nearly out of money — 12:18 p.m.

By The Washington Post

A federal watchdog overseeing billions of dollars in coronavirus aid told lawmakers late Thursday that it is now facing a “terminal budget crisis,” as its fast-dwindling funds in the face of congressional inaction threaten to shutter the office as soon as this summer.

The warning arrived from the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), an oversight body chartered by Congress in 2020 to oversee a portion of the country’s first major stimulus package. The leader of the office, Brian D. Miller, stressed that its coffers are at risk of running dry unless Democrats and Republicans fill them swiftly as part of an upcoming debate over government funding levels.

Merck’s COVID pill shows effectiveness against Omicron in labs — 11:19 a.m.

By Blomberg News

Merck’s COVID-19 pill showed activity against Omicron in six laboratory studies that raise confidence in the ability of the new therapy to battle the contagious, dominant variant.

The independent studies from the US and five European countries examined the impact of Merck’s molnupiravir and other antivirals against variants of concern including Omicron, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said Friday in a statement.

Lack of Medicare coverage for at-home COVID tests sparks outcry — 11:04 a.m.

By The Washington Post

When the Biden administration began requiring insurers to pay for at-home coronavirus tests, it left out a group especially vulnerable to the virus. Medicare, the federal insurance system with 64 million older or disabled Americans, was not included in the order, and the absence has triggered a fusillade of complaints.

Members of Congress and advocates for older Americans have dispatched vehement letters to President Joe Biden and his health secretary in recent days, urging the administration to alter Medicare’s rules so that it will uniformly pay for the antigen tests consumers use at home. Meanwhile, thousands of people on Medicare have called a federal hotline about the tests, confused about what is covered.

Hong Kong’s growth slows as Omicron spread weighs on economy — 10:05 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Hong Kong’s economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, with the city facing mounting risks in coming months as it struggles to bring an Omicron wave under control.

Gross domestic product expanded 4.8 percent last quarter from a year earlier, according to advanced estimates released by the government on Friday, weaker than the 5 percent median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 12 economists. Full-year growth was 6.4 percent, compared with a median estimate of 6.6 percent, the first annual expansion after two straight years of contraction.

UK set to start giving Pfizer COVID pill to vulnerable people — 8:22 a.m.

By Blomberg News

The UK will start giving Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill to the most vulnerable people next month, rolling out a treatment that could potentially save thousands of lives and help ease pressure on hospitals, the government said Friday. On Feb. 10, people with weakened immune systems can begin to get access to the therapy, which reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 88 percent in clinical trials, the government said.

The arrival of a pill that can be taken at home at the first sign of symptoms is sparking optimism about the course of the pandemic, especially amid evidence that the Omicron variant causes less severe disease. But health experts warn emerging variants continue to pose a risk, and worry lower-income regions that struggled to get vaccines will be left behind again.

The UK said it has obtained more antivirals per person than any other country in Europe, with almost 5 million courses ordered so far. Merck & Co.’s antiviral molnupiravir and the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab are already being deployed in Britain, with nearly 10,000 patients being treated to date. A European Union regulatory panel on Thursday recommended granting conditional marketing authorization for Pfizer’s pill, called Paxlovid, for adults with COVID who don’t require supplemental oxygen and are at risk of developing severe disease.

More than half of Virginia school districts are defying Youngkin’s mask-optional order — 3:46 a.m.

By The Washington Post

About a week after announcing his executive order making masks optional in schools throughout Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin, R, said on a radio show that school districts statewide had rushed to comply.

“The reality is it’s about 25 out of our 130 school systems across Virginia who aren’t recognizing the rights of parents today,” Youngkin told conservative host John Fredericks on Monday, adding that the noncompliant districts were prioritizing “bureaucrats and politicians over the rights of parents.”

But a Washington Post analysis shows that the majority of Virginia public school districts — enrolling more than two-thirds of the state’s students — have opted to disobey Youngkin’s mask-optional order. As of Wednesday, two days after the order was supposed to take effect, 69 districts, or 53 percent, are still requiring masks for all students inside schools. Cumulatively, those districts enroll 846,483 students, or about 67 percent of the state’s public school student population. The divide falls along partisan lines, although not perfectly: Almost every district that opted to make masks optional is in a locality that voted for Youngkin in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

The widespread defiance suggests Youngkin will have enormous difficulty in enforcing his mask-optional mandate, which is already the subject of two lawsuits: one from parents in Chesapeake, and one from seven school boards that oversee some of the state’s largest, most prominent school districts. A hearing on the second suit is scheduled for next week. Youngkin has said he will use every tool at his disposal to carry out his order as those cases wind through the court system, and his spokeswoman did not rule out disciplining disobedient districts by yanking their state funding.

It also raises serious doubts about the viability of Youngkin’s intense focus — both on the campaign trail and in his first days as governor — on the nation’s education culture wars, including his push for greater parental control over every aspect of education, from masking to which books appear on library shelves to the content of curriculums.


 

Jan. 27, 2022

 

Marvel actress Evangeline Lilly says she went to D.C. for anti-vaccine rally — 10:07 p.m.

By Lauren Booker, Globe Staff

Marvel star Evangeline Lilly said she was a part of the COVID-19 anti-vaccine rally in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

Lilly, who played the Wasp in “Ant-man and the Wasp,” posted on her Instagram Thursday that she went to the nation’s capitol to”support bodily sovereignty while Canadian truckers were rallying for their cross-country, peaceful convoy in support of the same thing.”

In the post, Lilly said she is against people being forced to inject something into their body “under any threat whatsoever,” including job loss.

Union fight with Wu over COVID-19 vaccination is dominating her early tenure — 10:02 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

It was the latest turn in the political fight that continues to dominate Mayor Michelle Wu’s early tenure as city executive: on Thursday, a judge with the Massachusetts Appeals Court effectively paused Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate days before the city planned to place unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave.

In an order, the judge issued a temporary stay, pending review of a judicial decision made earlier this month declining to block the vaccine requirement, as sought by a trio of public safety unions.

Father of unvaccinated man denied heart transplant says his son has received a heart pump — 8:32 p.m.

By Brittany Bowker, Globe Staff

The family of a Massachusetts man who claims he’s been denied a heart transplant because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19 is speaking out this week, saying they are devastated over a hospital policy that says he isn’t eligible to have the procedure.

David Ferguson Jr., known as D.J., has been receiving treatment at hospitals around Boston since late November after suffering complications from atrial fibrillation and deteriorating heart failure, according to a fundraising appeal set up by his mother, Tracey Ferguson.

The 31-year-old was told by Brigham & Women’s Hospital officials that he is ineligible for the transplant, according to the fundraising post, because he has not been vaccinated against the deadly virus.

Southwest Airlines CEO shifts on masks — 7:17 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Southwest Airlines Co.’s chief executive officer is weighing in again on measures to stop the spread of coronavirus -- and this time he’s firmly in the pro-mask camp as carriers struggle to cope with the omicron variant’s impact.

CEO Gary Kelly said on the airline’s quarterly conference call Thursday that now would not be the best time to lift a federal requirement for masks to be worn at all times on aircraft and in airports -- unless a person is eating or drinking. The mandate, which covers all transportation networks across the U.S., is set to expire March 18.

Kelly’s comment follows his controversial remarks during a U.S. Senate committee hearing in December that masks didn’t add much, “if anything,” to fight the virus on airplanes. Kelly himself came down with Covid-19 days later.

Anti-mask anger forces Colorado children’s museum to close — 6:28 p.m.

By The Associated Press

A Colorado children’s museum is the latest casualty of harassment by people angry over mask mandates designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, for decades a popular downtown attraction primarily devoted to those age 8 and under, temporarily closed on Wednesday because of escalating harassment of staff by adult visitors angry over a mandate requiring anyone age 2 and older to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.

“We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably some guests who object to the Museum’s mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff,” the museum said in a statement announcing the closure, which began Wednesday.

Its doors will stay closed until Feb. 4 to give staff members a break and to evaluate how the museum can respond to aggression by visitors in the future, the statement said.

“To our members and guests who respect our mask policy and cooperate with out staff, thank you. We are sorry that the unacceptable behavior of others means you cannot enjoy the Museum at this time.”

Mass. reports 18,536 new coronavirus cases among public school students and 3,150 among staff — 5:44 p.m.

By Colleen Cronin and Felicia Gans, Globe Staff

COVID cases in the Massachusetts public schools decreased for a third consecutive week, as state education leaders on Thursday reported 18,536 new cases among students and 3,150 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

The 21,686 total cases were 11,223 fewer, or about 34 percent fewer, than those reported last week. Total cases had started decreasing three weeks ago, during the week that began Jan. 6, but this reporting period only marks the second time since early December that both staff and student cases have decreased.

See the latest town-by-town COVID-19 data — 5:35 p.m.

By Ryan Huddle and Peter Bailey-Wells, Globe Staff

The Department of Public Health released new town-by-town data for coronavirus cases and vaccinations on Thursday. It’s the latest set of such data showing how the virus has impacted individual communities throughout Massachusetts.

8,616 confirmed cases and 84 deaths. See today’s COVID-19 data from Mass. — 5:10 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Thursday reported 8,616 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 23,592 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 84 new confirmed deaths.

Batch of vaccine bills heard by committees in N.H. — 4:04 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The coronavirus isn’t the only thing mutating in New Hampshire. Multiple variants of pandemic-inspired legislation also are spreading through the Statehouse.

Committees held public hearings on nearly a dozen bills related to vaccines this week, including House Speaker Sherm Packard’s attempt to block federal vaccine mandates. It was written before the Supreme Court halted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on US businesses with at least 100 employees, and Packard said he is open to amendments.

State appeals court pauses vaccination mandate for Boston city workforce — 2:54 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

A judge with the Massachusetts Appeals Court has temporarily paused Boston’s vaccination mandate for its city workforce that was set to go into effect Monday.

In a Thursday order, the judge issued a temporary stay, pending review of a judicial decision made earlier this month that denied a request from three unions for a preliminary injunction.

That order is the latest turn in a clash that has pitted Mayor Michelle Wu’s new administration against municipal unions over her attempt to require the city’s 18,000-plus workers be vaccinated in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public.

Hong Kong cuts strict quarantine orders for travelers to 14 days — 1:17 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Authorities in Hong Kong said Thursday that they will shorten mandatory quarantine requirements for incoming travelers from 21 days to 14, easing a policy that some say was chipping away at the city’s status as an international financial hub. Starting Feb. 5, all arrivals will be subjected to a 14-day hotel quarantine, followed by seven days of self-monitoring at home without curbs on their movements but with two days of mandatory testing. City Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the measures would “ensure consistencies” and were based on science after experts had found the Omicron variant’s incubation period to be “relatively short.”

Hong Kong’s 21-day quarantine has in recent months pushed businesses and expatriates to relocate, unwilling to bear the mental and financial cost of the restrictions. It has also added to the cost of operating in Hong Kong, and Western chambers of commerce say the policy made city a less attractive place for businesses. Hong Kong reported 164 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest in a single day since January 2020.

The government has been following a strict “dynamic zero infection” strategy since late December, a “mainland strategy requirement” to cut transmission chains and stop the virus from spreading. Additional measures, such as flight bans on eight countries considered high-risk - including the United States and the UK - will be extended until Feb 18. Social distancing curbs, including the closure of gyms, bars and salons, will remain in place for the next two weeks. Starting from late February, vaccination passes will also be required to enter most indoor venues and government facilities.

Mass. on ‘back side’ of Omicron surge, Baker says — 12:48 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday said the state has seen the worst of the Omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge that’s strained hospitals in recent weeks.

“We are definitely on what I would call the back side of the Omicron surge,” Baker said during his regular appearance on GBH Radio. “That’s clear looking at both the daily case counts and the wastewater that we track pretty religiously and have for the better part now of almost two years. The hospitalization rates are also coming down. And we are now basically doing what I think is a pretty useful review of hospitalizations with our colleagues in the hospital community.”

Beware the other side of the COVID-19 curve: Pandemic models say thousands will still get sick in coming weeks. — 11:47 a.m.

By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

Many people will still get ill even as COVID-19 case counts decline from the peak of the Omicron surge in Massachusetts, experts caution, emphasizing the need to continue to take precautions.

And the numbers are enough to give you pause. Pandemic models suggest tens of thousands of cases will be reported in the next few weeks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ensemble model, updated weekly, predicts that in the four weeks from Jan. 22 to Feb. 19, there will be about 243,000 cases reported in the state, with the daily average sinking to 5,188 on Feb. 19. The model combines a number of models, created by a variety of research groups, that are both more and less pessimistic.

Sarah Palin dines in NYC restaurant after testing positive for COVID and defying vaccine requirements — 11:43 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is unvaccinated and revealed this week that she tested positive for coronavirus, dined again at a New York City restaurant Wednesday night, flouting local health and safety measures calling for positive cases to isolate.

Elio’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, has faced blowback after Palin dined indoors at the establishment on Saturday, in violation of the city’s dining mandate for people to show proof of vaccination. The Manhattan judge in Palin’s defamation trial against the New York Times revealed Monday that the proceedings would be delayed because the Republican tested positive for the virus. It’s unclear when Palin first tested positive.

Trudeau isolating after COVID exposure, says tested negative — 11:04 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is isolating for five days after being exposed to COVID-19, but has tested negative on a rapid test. In a tweet Thursday morning, Trudeau said he learned Wednesday night he had been exposed but didn’t specify when or where.

“I feel fine and will be working from home,” the prime minister said, adding his isolation is required by Ottawa’s local public-health guidance. “Stay safe, everyone -- and please get vaccinated.” Trudeau appeared alongside Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly and Defense Minister Anita Anand at an in-person news conference on Wednesday afternoon after concluding a three-day virtual cabinet retreat.

The prime minister’s office said the exposure happened later in the day, after the event. It wasn’t immediately clear if any other cabinet ministers are in isolation. Joly has likely already had COVID-19 recently, having tested positive on a rapid test Dec. 20.

US jobless claims decline for first time in four weeks — 9:23 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Applications for US state unemployment insurance fell for the first time in four weeks, partially unwinding a recent spike in claims due to the Omicron variant.

Initial unemployment claims totaled 260,000 in the week ended Jan. 22, down 30,000 from the prior period, Labor Department data showed Thursday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 265,000 applications.

Applications declined after a surge in recent weeks amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases across the country. Claims have largely been falling in the past year as companies are desperate to retain and attract talent amid ongoing labor shortages.

US economy grew 5.7 percent in 2021 in sharp rebound from pandemic recession — 9:14 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The US economy grew 6.9 percent last quarter and 5.7 percent for all of 2021 in sharp rebound from the pandemic recession of 2020.

Most COVID patients in England aren’t in hospital for the virus — 8:05 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More than half of COVID patients in hospitals across England are there largely for reasons unrelated to the virus, National Health Service data showed, providing further evidence that the omicron variant isn’t driving a surge in disease severity.

Out of the 13,023 patients in hospitals with confirmed COVID-19, more than 6,700 were admitted for other conditions -- think a broken leg or a heart attack -- on Tuesday, according to NHS estimates. Last weekend marked the first time that hospitalizations with COVID exceeded those driven by COVID since the data tracking started last year.

The UK is loosening restrictions put in place in December in an attempt to transition toward a phase of living with the virus. Despite cases hitting record highs at the beginning of January, deaths and hospitalizations have remained below those seen in previous waves.

The situation across regions mirrors the national picture. In London, 64 percent of 2,529 COVID patients were primarily being treated for reasons that weren’t virus-related, the data showed.

College students return to Providence to find high COVID-19 case counts, mixed levels of concern — 6:17 a.m.

By Colleen Cronin, Globe Correspondent

Robert Hollander, a junior at Providence College, had made it nearly two years into the pandemic unscathed.

Hollander didn’t test positive for COVID-19 when a spike in cases forced the campus into lockdown during the fall of 2020. H escaped the virus when most of his friends got it last spring. But last month, his luck ran out.

While the Omicron variant began causing record-breaking coronavirus surges across the globe, Hollander tested positive. Inoculated with only one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he hadn’t yet gotten his booster shot; while he didn’t feel any symptoms, his sister, who also tested positive, felt horrible.

Denmark declares COVID no longer poses threat to society — 4:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Denmark will end virus restrictions next week and reclassify COVID-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society, even as infections hit a record high.

The Nordic country won’t extend the pandemic measures beyond Jan. 31, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday.

Denmark’s decision on reclassifying the virus dramatically pushes forward an idea that’s emerged recently in Europe — that it’s time to start thinking about COVID as endemic rather than a pandemic. However, World Health Organization experts have warned against complacency.

The easing of curbs also echoes recent moves elsewhere — including Ireland and the UK — to scale back restrictions amid signs that Omicron is less dangerous than earlier variants of the virus.

There’s also a sense that restrictions just aren’t able to stop the highly transmissible Omicron strain. About one million Danes have been infected in the last two months alone, though hospitalizations in the country are declining. The nation of 5.8 million people has 44 COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units, down from 73 two weeks ago.

“The pandemic is still here but with what we know, we now dare to believe that we are through the critical phase,” Frederiksen said, calling the development “a milestone.”

The disease is spreading faster in Denmark after a sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, became the dominant version of the virus in the second week of the year.

US coronavirus hospitalizations slow, with the Northeast showing a steep decline — 2:14 a.m.

By The Washington Post

The winter surge of coronavirus hospitalizations that reached all-time highs in the United States is showing signs of slowing, reflecting sharp declines in states of the Northeast that were the first to be battered by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

But in some corners of the nation, hospitals continue to reel from waves of Omicron infections, creating chaos as droves of patients seek care during an already busy season, and front-line workers head to the sidelines in greater numbers than at any point in the pandemic. Some hospitals are finding valuable medical supplies harder to come by, even as the days of widespread shortages of personal protective equipment have passed.

Trouble enforcing mask policy leads Denver children’s museum to close for 10 days — 1:18 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Throughout the pandemic, unruly passengers and hostile customers have lashed out at workers for trying to enforce mask mandates in airplanes and restaurants. Now, the staff of a children’s museum in Colorado is feeling the wrath of Americans fed up with life in a pandemic.

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus announced Tuesday that it will close for 10 days so it can take a break from customers who have been resisting its mask requirements.

“We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably, some guests who object to the Museum’s mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff,” the museum said in a statement on its website.

In accordance with Denver’s public health order, masks are required inside the museum for patrons 2 years and older, no matter their vaccination status, per its website.

The museum won’t accept visitors from Jan. 26 through Feb. 4, the statement said, “so that we can support our staff and bolster our policies with the hope of preventing this type of behavior in the future.”

In an emailed statement, president and CEO Michael Yankovich said the museum cannot publicly disclose details about the incidents leading to the closure, but he called them “demoralizing” and said they have become increasingly intense and frequent. He added that specifics about updates to the museum’s policies will be posted on its website before it reopens.

The Children’s Museum of Denver said in its statement that all reservations are canceled during its temporary closure. The museum thanked and apologized to customers who have cooperated with staff and complied with the policy. “We are sorry that the unacceptable behavior of others means you cannot enjoy the museum at this time,” the statement said.


 

Jan. 26, 2022

 

Boston police union rejects city’s offer that would incentivize officers to get vaccinated — 11:15 p.m.

By Nick Stoico, Globe Correspondent

Members of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association strongly rejected a proposed agreement with the city Wednesday that would have established a new benefit providing mental health and wellness days for all vaccinated officers.

The agreement aimed to provide more incentives for patrol officers to get vaccinated, but it was turned down with more than 800 members voting against it out of about 900 who cast votes, union officials said.

Moderna begins testing Omicron-matched COVID shots in adults — 11:00 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Moderna has begun testing an Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster in healthy adults.

The company announced Wednesday that the first participant had received a dose. Earlier this week, competitor Pfizer began a similar study of its own reformulated shots.

It’s not clear whether global health authorities will order a change to the vaccine recipe in the wake of the hugely contagious Omicron variant. The original vaccines still offer good protection against death and severe illness. Studies in the US and elsewhere show a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding even a milder infection.

Moderna pointed to a small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday that showed antibodies able to target Omicron persisted for six months after a booster dose, although the levels were dropping.

Moderna’s new study will enroll about 600 people who already have received either two doses of the company’s original shots or two plus a booster dose. All the volunteers will receive a dose of the experimental omicron-matched version.

England lifts COVID restrictions as Omicron threat recedes — 9:15 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks were lifted in England on Thursday, after Britain’s government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

The government last week dropped its advice for people to work from home as well as guidance for face coverings in classrooms.

The so-called “Plan B” measures were introduced in early December to stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant from overwhelming health services and to buy time for the population to get its booster vaccine shot.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government’s vaccine rollout, testing and development of antiviral treatments combine to make “some of the strongest defenses in Europe,” allowing a “cautious return” to normality.

But he added that “as we learn to live with COVID, we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away.” While infections continue to fall, health officials said that Omicron remained prevalent across the country, especially among children and the elderly.

Officials said that almost 84 percent of people over 12 years old in the UK have had their second vaccine dose, and that of those eligible, 81 percent have received their booster shot.

Hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care units have stabilized or fallen, and daily cases have fallen from a peak of over 200,000 cases a day around New Year to under 100,000 in recent days.

Mostly educators of color could face termination due to vaccine mandate, Boston Teachers Union says — 7:00 p.m.

By Naomi Martin, Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools, already struggling to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of its students, could lose dozens of educators of color when the city’s new employee vaccine mandate takes effect Monday, according to the Boston Teachers Union.

The district’s potential loss of Black and Latino educators in the middle of the school year represents a significant potential unintended consequence of Mayor Michelle Wu’s policy aimed at achieving a fully vaccinated workforce and has raised questions about whether the district should have done more to coax hesitant educators toward vaccination. The loss could disrupt learning for many students and carry long-term implications in the district, where three-quarters of students are Black or Latino but only 42 percent of educators are. Studies show long-term academic benefits for students of color taught by people of their race.

“When I saw our numbers, I was very alarmed and started immediately raising the red flags,” said union president Jessica Tang. “We’ve worked so hard to increase teacher diversity in the first place.”

Massachusetts reports 7,918 coronavirus cases and 80 deaths — 6:09 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Wednesday reported 7,918 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 27,180 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 80 new confirmed deaths.

The state also reported that 2,617 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 10.37 percent.

Moderna says Omicron antibodies from its booster fall sharply from initial peak, but are still present after six months — 5:36 p.m.

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff

Virus-fighting antibodies that protect against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 persist six months after a booster of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, but decline from peak levels soon after the third shot, the Cambridge biotech said Wednesday.

A laboratory study found that the third shot of Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine caused antibody levels to climb 20-fold within four weeks, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Five months later, antibody levels had fallen 6.3-fold, but were still detectable.

The laboratory study used blood samples from people who had received the booster shot and tested the antibodies against the Omicron variant. The research took place at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the federal agency that helped Moderna develop its vaccine, and at Duke University Medical Center.

Japan’s strict COVID entry ban is criticized at home and abroad — 5:04 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Delia Visser had dreamed of moving to Japan since spending time there as a teenager in 2014. After the country’s borders again slammed shut to non-resident foreigners in November, she switched her destination to South Korea.

Visser, now 25, is one of an estimated 150,000 would-be foreign students left in limbo by the ban. The measure, which also affects workers and business visitors, is by far the strictest among among the Group of Seven advanced nations.

That’s attracting a fresh round of criticism from the business community as well as students, as domestic virus case numbers hit records -- undermining the significance of a policy Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says slowed the flow of omicron cases into the country. A series of polls in December showed overwhelming public support for the ban, though, a key consideration for the government months ahead of an upper house election.

The government’s dilemma comes after a years long campaign to attract more overseas students to Japan, which was meant to help “open the country to the world.” The foreign student population rose to more than 310,000 in 2019, almost double the 2011 figure, only to slump in 2020. A similar pattern has played out with the foreign workers Japan has sought to bolster its aging and shrinking population.

By The Associated Press

The Navy said Tuesday that it has discharged 23 active duty sailors for refusing the coronavirus vaccine, marking the first time it has thrown currently serving sailors out of the military over the mandatory shots. It comes as the number of service members being discharged across the services due to the vaccine begins to climb.

The Army is now the only service that has not yet discharged any active duty personnel due to vaccine refusal.

The Marine Corps, as of late last week, had discharged 334 Marines, and the Air Force, as of this week, had discharged 111 airmen for refusing to get the shots.

Local researchers are ‘cautiously optimistic’ but keeping an eye on a new COVID sub-variant — 2:26 p.m.

Gal Tziperman Lotan, Globe Staff

Researchers in Massachusetts said they are keeping an eye on a new version of the Omicron variant, but emphasized that, while much remains unknown, the virus seems not to diverge too much from the original Omicron.

While it’s too soon to know exactly what that means for people who have already been infected with Omicron, experts said it’s possible they may have some degree of protection.

Sub-variant BA.2 — which has not been assigned a Greek letter — shares many characteristics with the COVID variant commonly known as Omicron, also called BA.1. So far, it has been found in Texas, Washington State, California, and New Mexico, and has been spreading rapidly in Denmark, South Africa, India, and the Philippines.

Handful of unmasked people disrupts Boston City Council meeting — 2:22 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

A handful of people who refused to don masks at City Hall disrupted a Boston City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

In the middle of the meeting, the group of about a half-dozen people were asked by newly-minted Council President Ed Flynn to don masks, which are required in City Hall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When they refused, Flynn called a recess.

Flynn walked over to the group, seated in the first row of the gallery, try to reason with them, but they continued to heckle him. City Clerk Maureen Feeney and Councilor Frank Baker also spoke with the unmasked people, who continued to gripe about the city’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, including the city’s vaccination mandate.

Boston unions file appeal regarding vaccination mandate for city workforce — 1:59 p.m.

By Danny McDonald, Globe Staff

In the latest chapter of their fight against Boston’s vaccination mandate, a trio of municipal unions Wednesday filed an appeal of a recent court decision that rejected their attempt to block the enforcement of the Wu administration’s requirement for city workers.

“The city has not been collaborative with us,” said John Soares, president of Local 718, which represents Boston firefighters, at a news conference outside Dorchester’s Florian Hall Wednesday morning.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge earlier this month rejected a request from three public safety unions to block enforcement of Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Wu’s order eliminated the option for city workers to get regular COVID tests in lieu of the vaccine.

Virus count tops 70,000 new cases in Japan — 12:31 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Japan’s daily total of new novel coronavirus infections hit a record high on Wednesday, with the day’s figure exceeding 70,000, according to data being compiled by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Among prefectures that saw their own record highs on Wednesday, the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 14,086 new cases, rewriting its previous high of 12,813 new cases, set on Tuesday.

Osaka Prefecture confirmed 9,813 cases on Wednesday, up from 8,612 on Tuesday and a record high for the second day in a row.

Aichi Prefecture also saw a record-high tally for a second consecutive day, at 4,663 new cases, while Fukuoka Prefecture reported 3,615 new cases, the highest ever for the prefecture.

German soccer coaches banned for using fake vaccine passes — 11:31 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Two German soccer coaches have been suspended from working in the sport after it was ruled Wednesday they used fake coronavirus vaccination records.

A disciplinary panel at the German soccer federation ruled former Werder Bremen head coach Markus Anfang and his assistant Florian Junge had obtained fake passes last year identifying them as being fully vaccinated.

The federation said Anfang and Junge used the passes to be exempt from virus testing at the club and presented them to local health authorities to avoid going into isolation after contact with an infected player.

Over 10 billion COVID vaccine doses administered across globe — 10:14 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across the globe, according to the latest tally from the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

The total is more than enough to give a dose to every person on Earth. But the milestone hides substantial inequality: Just over 13 months since the first vaccines went into arms, many wealthy, developed nations have achieved deep levels of vaccination across their populations. Many less-wealthy places, particularly in Africa, have not.

The wealthiest 107 countries in the world -- including China, the U.S. and Europe -- comprise 54 percent of the global population, but have used 71 percent of vaccines. Less wealthy places such as India, much of Africa and parts of Asia make up almost half of people on Earth and yet account for less than 30 perfect of shots given.

Sweden extends COVID curbs to February to tackle rampant spread — 9:30 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Sweden will extend its current rules to curb COVID-19 transmission, as health authorities expect that as much as 10 percent of the population could be infected by the virus in the next two weeks.

The government expects to be able to remove most restrictions from Feb. 9, Social Minister Lena Hallengren said at a press conference on Tuesday. Transmission is rampant in the country of 10.4 million people and vaccinations are proceeding at a fast pace, leading health authorities to estimate cases will begin to decline next month.

“We estimate that about half a million people are currently being infected by COVID-19 every week, and we hope that another half a million people a week will accept the offer to get vaccinated,” said Karin Tegmark Wisell, director-general at the Public Health Agency. “That will lead to a decline as there are fewer individuals who can be infected.”

Denmark seeks to loosen restrictions as hospitalizations decline with Omicron — 8:18 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Denmark wants to end virus restrictions and reclassify COVID-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society, according to government documents seen by Bloomberg News.

The change is coming as the Nordic country registers record numbers of daily virus infections while hospitalizations are declining, indicating that Omicron is less dangerous than earlier variants of the virus.

2 women in Norway’s Olympic cross-country team have COVID-19 — 7:09 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Two members of Norway’s women’s cross-country ski squad have tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of next month’s Beijing Olympics, the team said Wednesday.

Heidi Weng and Anne Kjersti Kalvå contracted COVID-19 at a training camp in the Italian Alpine resort of Seiser Alm and are now isolating.

Norwegian cross-country manager Espen Bjervig said in a video call their participation in the Olympics was uncertain.

Team doctor Øystein Andersen said Italian rules mean that Weng and Kalvå will be in isolation for 10 days, until Feb. 3. The opening ceremony is on Feb. 4 and the Olympic cross-country skiing program starts the next day.

“This is a shocking situation,” Andersen said.

Weng is the top-ranked Norwegian and a five-time world champion.

“We have a reserve in the squad, and we also have other athletes who are accredited and can be ready,” Bjervig said of possible replacements. “But basically now the focus is on looking at the opportunities for those who have been taken out.”

Norway is the leading nation in cross-country skiing, with its women’s team winning three of the six events on the program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

The team had planned to leave for Beijing on Thursday but will now be delayed.

The entire men’s team is also in isolation in Seiser Alm after head coach Arild Monsen tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Norway on Monday.

All eight team members were defined as a close contact of Monsen and were awaiting the results of PCR tests. They are now scheduled to depart for Beijing on Monday.

Austria to end lockdown for unvaccinated people Monday — 6:39 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Austria will end a lockdown for unvaccinated people from Jan. 31 after the rate of infected people requiring hospitalization remained low during the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The easing measure, announced by Chancellor Karl Nehammer, coincides with the introduction of mandatory vaccinations next month, with imposition of fines on dissenters beginning in mid-March.

The government will continue to monitor the development of the virus as new cases rise, Nehammer said, adding that a reduction in infections would allow for further easing measures.

People who aren’t inoculated against the virus still won’t be able to enter restaurants or hotels, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said at the same briefing.

Record weekly COVID cases last week, but deaths stable, WHO says — 6:24 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization said there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week, the highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began. The number of deaths was largely unchanged, at more than 50,000.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5% and that the rate of increase appears to be slowing; only half of regions reported an increase in COVID-19. Earlier this month, the previous highest number of cases — 9.5 million — was recorded amid a 71% spike from the week before, as the hugely contagious omicron variant swept the world.

WHO said the biggest increase in cases was seen in the Middle East, with a 39% rise, followed by a 36% jump in Southeast Asia. Deaths increased in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, but fell in other regions.

On Monday, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against talk that the pandemic might be entering its “endgame,” warning that conditions remain ripe for new variants to emerge, with vast swathes of unvaccinated people in some countries amid rapid virus transmission. Still, Tedros said it might be possible for the world to exit the acute phase of the pandemic, if goals like immunizing at least 70% of each country’s population are met later this year.

Australia navy ship with infected crew offloads aid to Tonga — 5:18 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Australian navy’s largest ship docked at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, officials said.

Nearly two dozen sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears the mercy mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devasted by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on Jan. 15.

Most who test positive in UK COVID study had earlier infection — 3:56 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

About two-thirds of the participants in a large UK COVID-19 study who tested positive this month reported a previous infection with the virus, researchers found.

Another 7.5 percent said they suspected they’d had an earlier case, according to the React-1 study led by Imperial College London. Researchers looked at infections among some 100,000 volunteers from Jan. 5 to Jan. 20.

Cases in England reached a record early this month as Omicron became the dominant variant, the study also found. Infections among research participants rose to about 4.4 percent — a three-fold increase from December. The high proportion who reported earlier cases adds to evidence that Omicron can evade at least some of the defenses generated by infection with previous variants.

Deaths and hospitalizations were lower than in previous waves, even as the prevalence of the virus reached the highest level since the study began in May 2020. The peak of infections occurred around Jan. 5, before cases declined and then leveled off from the middle of the month.

The UK has been easing the “Plan B” COVID restrictions that were implemented across England in December when Omicron began spreading quickly through the population. People are no longer being asked to work from home, and rules forcing people to wear face masks in shops and on public transport will be dropped.

German lawmakers to debate possible COVID vaccine mandate — 2:48 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Germany’s parliament is set to hold its first debate Wednesday on a possible wide-ranging coronavirus vaccine mandate, with three options emerging: obligatory vaccinations for all adults or for everyone above 50, or no mandate at all.

German politicians of all stripes long insisted that there would be no vaccine mandate. But the tide turned late last year amid frustration that a large number of holdouts was hampering the fight against COVID-19.

Chinese mRNA vaccine may fall short of Pfizer, Moderna shots — 2:15 a.m.

By Bloomberg

A vaccine being developed in China using messenger RNA, the new technology that has become the backbone for immunizing much of the world, may fall short of the benefits generated by shots from Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.

The first published study of the experimental vaccine from Walvax Biotechnology Co., Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co. and the Chinese military generated twice the level of neutralizing antibodies seen in people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection, though only at an intermediate dose. People given slightly more or slightly less produced fewer of the protective antibodies than those who recovered from an earlier infection, the study found.

Beijing sees uptick in COVID cases ahead of Olympics — 1:03 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Chinese capital reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as it began a third round of mass testing of millions of people in the run-up to the Winter Olympics.

The mass testing announcement, made late Tuesday by Beijing’s Fengtai district on its social media account, prompted complaints from some residents who were asked to line up yet again outside as daytime temperatures hovered around freezing.

Beijing has stepped up China’s already strict pandemic response measures as it tries to quash any outbreaks ahead of the Olympics, which open in nine days. The city announced this week that anyone who buys fever, headache or two other types of medicine will be subject to a COVID-19 test within 72 hours.

All 2 million residents in Fengtai district, where most of the cases in Beijing have been found, are being tested for the third time since last weekend. Testing was also being carried out for residential communities and neighborhoods elsewhere in Beijing.

About 90 people commented online on the mass testing announcement, mostly making complaints. Some said the frequent testing wastes resources, disrupts work and daily life, and burdens health care workers and community officials.

China reported 24 new local cases in the latest 24-hour period, including the 14 in Beijing. That was up from five cases in Beijing and 18 nationwide the previous day.



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