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Covid-19 live updates: Biden expresses dismay after Supreme Court blocks workplace vaccination mandate

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/14/2022 Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis
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President Biden expressed dismay at the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to halt his administration’s efforts to impose a requirement for coronavirus vaccinations or testing on businesses with at least 100 workers.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” he said in a statement, adding that he would still push companies to immunize their employees. “The Court has ruled … but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing.”

“The good news is that many companies have moved forward anyway in implementing vaccine requirements, because they know again, it’s good for the workers, it’s good for customers,” said Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy during an appearance on CNN.

Biden welcomed the top court’s decision to uphold a vaccination requirement for most health-care workers at medical facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds. The policy would “save lives,” Biden said.

Here’s what to know

  • The Biden administration is buying 500 million additional coronavirus rapid tests, on top of the 500 million ordered for January, to distribute free of charge to Americans.
  • A study found that unvaccinated pregnant women were more likely to experience severe symptoms and lose their offspring.
  • Countries around the world are imposing coronavirus vaccine mandates. Here’s how they compare.
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9:50 AM: WHO recommends two new drugs for covid-19 treatment

The World Health Organization has recommended two new drugs for patients with covid-19, the oral medication baricitinib and the monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab.

A WHO panel “strongly recommended” baricitinib, by U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, for people with severe covid-19 to be given along with corticosteroids, and it “conditionally recommended” sotrovimab for non-severe patients who are at high risk of hospitalization.

The endorsements stem from evidence from seven trials including more than 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe and critical cases of covid-19, the WHO said in a statement released Friday.

While research is underway to determine the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against the omicron variant spreading worldwide, early lab studies show “sotrovimab retains its activity,” the statement said.

The two drugs, which both received emergency use authorization from the FDA, have been invited for WHO prequalification, a process that evaluates the efficacy and safety of priority health products to improve access in lower-income countries. “The extent to which these medicines will save lives depends on how widely available and affordable they will be,” the global health body added.

Amid concerns that the latest variant of the coronavirus can thwart many covid-19 treatments, the U.S. government has ordered hundreds of thousands of doses of sotrovimab, an intravenous infusion from Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline.

In a statement welcoming the new guidelines, Doctors Without Borders said baricitinib could present an alternative to monoclonal antibody treatments in short supply in a number of low- and middle-income countries. The medical charity urged governments to make sure patents “do not stand in the way of access.”

Merck’s pill for covid-19 treatment, molnupiravir, authorized in the United States and Britain, is under WHO review and could get a recommendation by early February, agency official Janet Diaz was quoted as saying Friday, adding that it also plans to review Pfizer’s pill.

By: Ellen Francis

9:19 AM: Unvaccinated pregnant women more likely to experience severe covid symptoms and newborn deaths, study says

Pregnant women who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus are not only more likely to be hospitalized for covid-19, but also at more risk of seeing their newborns die less than a month after birth, according to a peer-reviewed study in Scotland that was published Thursday.

The study was released in Nature Medicine, a monthly journal. The authors looked at more than 144,000 pregnancy records going back to March 2020, when the first coronavirus case was detected in Scotland.

But the authors focused on data between December 2020 and October last year because that was when vaccine shots and tests were more widely available. During that period, the unvaccinated made up 77 percent of all pregnant women who were infected and more than 90 percent who required hospitalization and critical care.

Read the full story

By: Andrew Jeong

9:18 AM: Retail sales slid 1.9 percent in December amid omicron surge

Shoppers walk through Macy's on Nov. 26, 2021, in New York. © Brittainy Newman/AP Shoppers walk through Macy's on Nov. 26, 2021, in New York.

U.S. consumers pulled back sharply in December, sending retail sales tumbling 1.9 percent as the omicron surge, inflation and supply chain disruptions put a chill on spending in the run-up to the holidays.

The drop in spending was far steeper than the 0.1 percent analysts had been expecting. Analysts say it remains to be seen whether December’s drop was a one-month blip in an otherwise strong holiday season or an indication of a broader slowdown.

The largest declines were reported by online retailers (where sales fell 8.7 percent from November), department stores (down 7 percent), and furniture and home goods stores (down 5.5 percent). Analysts say some of those declines may have been the result of Americans starting their holiday shopping earlier, in October and November.

Despite the month-over-month drop, December sales were up 16.9 percent from a year earlier.

By: Abha Bhattarai

8:34 AM: How often can you safely reuse your KN95 or N95 mask?

Surging coronavirus cases in the United States, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, have prompted renewed recommendations from health experts that the public should consider wearing more protective face coverings, such as N95 or KN95 masks.

President Biden said his administration is working on making such higher-quality masks more widely available. “Next week, we’ll announce how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free,” Biden said Thursday. “I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks. I get it. But they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmittable omicron variant.”

The administration noted this week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends Americans wear a well-fitting mask.” Biden acknowledged Thursday that “for some Americans, the mask is not always affordable or convenient to get.”

Health experts say while there are no hard and fast rules, there are best practices for safely getting multiple uses out of N95s or KN95s.

Read the full story

By: Paulina Firozi and Allyson Chiu

7:58 AM: Biden scrambles on testing amid forecasts that omicron may soon peak in the U.S.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded sarcastically last month when a reporter asked whether the administration would make coronavirus test kits free and distribute them to Americans.

“Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki said.

Now, the administration is doing something very much like that. President Biden announced in a speech Thursday that a federal website where Americans could request free rapid tests would be up and running next week. He also said the administration is purchasing 500 million additional tests to distribute free, on top of the 500 million ordered for January. Higher-quality masks will also soon be distributed free.

Experts commended those steps to encourage mask-wearing and begin to address Americans’ continuing frustration at their inability to find or, in some cases, afford scarce at-home test kits. But they said the website and related efforts are probably coming too late to significantly dampen the wave fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has infected a record number of people and torn through major metropolitan areas over the past six weeks.

Read the full story

By: Yasmeen Abutaleb

7:04 AM: Employers face patchwork of state policies on worker vaccination after Supreme Court order

The Supreme Court’s decision that large companies don’t have to force workers to get coronavirus shots or tests leaves employers facing a patchwork of clashing state policies over their role in protecting their workforces from the surging pandemic.

The court order Thursday lands on the polarized American landscape just three days after employers with at least 100 workers — apart from the relatively few that already required vaccines or testing — put into effect vaccine verification and other aspects of the rule. That was two months after it was announced by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The about-face affects 84 million employees, more than half the U.S. labor force, although with about 63 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, many workers are already immunized.

The decision by the court’s conservative majority was a relief for some firms that had regarded the federal rule as overreaching and burdensome. Complying with the requirements “would have been infeasible in some respects and onerous in others,” said Eric Hobbs, a lawyer at Ogletree Deakins, who added that many of the companies with which the firm works will be glad to be unfettered from the federal edict.

Other employers said that, with an ideologically divided workforce, they were disappointed to be deprived of a convenient justification for requiring coronavirus shots or weekly tests.

Read the full story

By: Amy Goldstein, Eli Rosenberg and Jacob Bogage

6:20 AM: Yet another Downing Street lockdown party comes to light in Britain

The prime minister's former director of communications James Slack in November. © Stefan Rousseau/AP The prime minister's former director of communications James Slack in November.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former director of communications apologized Friday for the “anger and hurt” caused after it emerged that staffers at Downing Street held a party during lockdown and on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April.

Yes, another lockdown party.

It can be difficult to keep track of the mounting claims of gatherings at the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence and of other government offices allegedly flouting the rules at the time.

This one is said to have occurred the night before the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, who died at age 99. To abide by covid restrictions at the time, the queen had to sit alone throughout the service and wear a mask.

The night before the funeral, there were two gatherings in Downing Street that merged into a group of about 30 people, according to reports in the Daily Telegraph. The event included drinking and dancing, and at one point, someone was sent to a grocery store with a suitcase to buy bottles of wine, the paper said.

Johnson is not thought to have attended this time.

“I wish to apologize unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused,” said James Slack, Downing Street’s former communications chief. “This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”

According to the British media reports, the party was a send-off for two colleagues, including Slack, who left Downing Street to become deputy editor in chief at The Sun newspaper.

The revelation of the gathering is just the latest development in the “partygate” scandal that has rocked the British government and renewed speculation about Johnson’s premiership. Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for attending a “bring your own booze” garden party at his home in May 2020, during the height of the first national lockdown.

So far, five Conservative lawmakers have publicly admitted to submitting letters of no confidence in Johnson. Letters from at least 54 Conservative members of Parliament are required to trigger a leadership change.

By: Karla Adam

5:49 AM: Key coronavirus updates from around the world

Here’s what to know about the top coronavirus stories around the globe.

  • Hong Kong will suspend passenger transit flights from more than 150 countries as part of the territory’s tightening pandemic precautions. The city has kept up some of the tightest restrictions in the world during the pandemic as part of a strict “zero covid” policy.
  • France’s health minister tested positive for the virus as the country grapples with a rise in infections fueled by the omicron variant. Sweden’s prime minister also tested positive Friday.
  • The omicron surge that has swept through Africa is flattening after nearly six weeks, according to the World Health Organization.
  • South Korea will extend social distancing rules for three more weeks in a bid to contain the spread of the omicron variant ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. Health officials have warned that omicron could become dominant within two weeks unless stricter curbs are introduced.
  • England will cut the duration of mandatory isolation for people with covid-19, allowing them to end it after five days and two negative rapid tests, the British health secretary announced. Data showed that about two-thirds of people with covid are not infectious at the end of day five, he added.

By: News Services and Staff Reports

5:01 AM: Australia cancels Djokovic’s visa again, upending his quest for record 21st Grand Slam title

SYDNEY — Australian authorities canceled the visa of Novak Djokovic on Friday, reigniting the legal battle over the unvaccinated tennis star’s controversial entry into the country and renewing doubt over whether he will be able to pursue a record-breaking Australian Open title.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal power to cancel the Serb’s visa for the second time this month, citing health and good-order grounds, amid questions over whether Djokovic lied on an immigration form about contracting the coronavirus and his travel in the two weeks before arriving in Australia last week. The top-ranked men’s player apologized earlier this week for what he said was “human error” on the travel declaration, which he attributed to an agent, and for attending a Dec. 18 interview with a French sports publication despite learning he had tested positive for the virus.

“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr. Djokovic,” Hawke said in a statement, adding that the decision was in the public interest. Australia’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the covid-19 pandemic,” Hawke said.

Read the full story

By: Michael E. Miller and Frances Vinall

4:14 AM: Schools are facing dire staff shortages. Some are asking parents to step in.

Some schools desperate for substitute teachers and other staff members are turning to an unusual group of candidates: parents.

At Austin Jewish Academy, Principal Chris Aguero said he is relying exclusively on parents to fill in, as teachers call out sick during the latest surge in coronavirus cases and as the pool of substitutes dries up.

“It’s people reprioritizing what they want to do with their time,” Aguero said. “So if they’re not afraid to be in a building full of children, then they have to decide, is this how they want to spend their time?”

The Texas school isn’t alone.

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By: Marisa Iati

4:07 AM: CDC will let cruise rules expire as omicron surges on ships

Cruise lines that sail in the United States will soon be allowed to decide whether they want to follow pandemic-era guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The “conditional sailing order,” a mandatory set of rules that cruise companies have had to follow since 2020, expires Saturday. After that, the agency will transition to a “voluntary COVID-19 risk mitigation program” for ships that are registered in foreign countries and operate in U.S. waters.

These rules have included requiring vaccination for a certain percentage of passengers and crew members, tests before boarding for passengers and regular testing for crews, and mask-wearing indoors unless eating or drinking.

The shift to a voluntary program comes after the CDC raised its health notice level for cruise ships, warning all travelers to avoid cruising as the omicron variant sent case numbers skyrocketing. According to the agency, cruise ships reported 14,803 coronavirus cases between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. That’s about 95 times the number of cases reported — 155 — between Dec. 1 and 14.

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By: Hannah Sampson

4:04 AM: Amid omicron and flight cancellations, earnings begin to shed light on health of airline industry

Delta Air Lines on Thursday offered an upbeat assessment of its prospects in 2022, saying that despite a temporary slowing of its recovery due to the omicron variant, travel demand will fuel strong ticket sales this spring and into the rest of the year.

“While the downturn in demand has been quick, we expect an equally rapid improvement once U.S. case counts begin to decline,” said Delta chief executive Ed Bastian. “We remain confident in a strong spring and summer travel season given significant pent-up demand for consumer and business travel, both domestically and internationally.”

Bastian’s comments offered an early indication of how air carriers view the year ahead following a fourth quarter marked by the emergence of omicron and extensive flight cancellations around the busy Christmas travel period. Delta was the first carrier to report earnings. American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and others will follow over the next two weeks.

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By: Lori Aratani

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