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Surgeon general defends Biden’s response to steep COVID-19 surge

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 36 mins ago Globe staff
Nurses care for patients at the short-staffed Brooklyn Hospital Center, in New York, Jan. 12, 2022. © VICTOR J. BLUE Nurses care for patients at the short-staffed Brooklyn Hospital Center, in New York, Jan. 12, 2022.

COVID-19 cases have sharply risen again across the US and around the world, with the new Omicron variant accounting for most new cases. 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. 16, 2022  

Some colleges loosen rules for a virus that won’t go away — 2:23 p.m.

By New York Times

As the omicron surge spreads across the country, sending COVID-19 case counts to new heights and disrupting daily life, some universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic — one that acknowledges that the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus.

Schools are asking: Should there still be mass testing? Does there need to be contact tracing? What about tracking the number of cases — and posting them on campus dashboards? And when there is a spike in cases, do classes need to go remote?

Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California, Davis have begun to discuss COVID in “endemic” terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.

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At many churches, pandemic hits collection plates, budgets — 1:49 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or less — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy.

Attendance has been a persistent challenge. As faith leaders moved to return to in-person worship, first the highly transmissible delta variant and now the even faster-spreading omicron have thrown a wrench into such efforts, with some churches going back online and others still open reporting fewer souls in the pews.

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Surgeon general defends Biden’s response to steep COVID-19 surge — 1:23 p.m.

By Bloomberg

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration’s response to the surge of Covid-19 infections caused by the omicron variant, conceding though that health officials need to “close that gap” in the severe shortage of testing.

“We have more to do,” Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the spike in infections outstripped what he said was an eight-fold increase in testing over the last month.

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Denmark lifts COVID restrictions, opens many public venues — 7:18 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Denmark lifted a number of coronavirus restrictions and allowed the reopening of certain venues Sunday despite the spread of the omicron variant in the country.

Cinemas, zoos, museums, and theaters were among the places that could welcome visitors again. Limited numbers of spectators also were allowed to attend indoor and outdoor sports events.

Visitors are required to wear masks at most of these places and provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have recovered or recently tested negative for COVID-19.

The government is planning to relax coronavirus restrictions further in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million, on Jan. 31.

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COVID program delivers 1 billion doses to poorer countries — 5:22 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization said Sunday that an UN-backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries.

A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.

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Saudi Arabia starts vaccinations in children from five years old — 4:50 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia will begin vaccinating children aged from 5 to 11 against coronavirus, the Ministry of Health said in a tweet.

People in Saudi Arabia can now take the third vaccine dose, or booster, three months after the second dose. In December, Saudi Arabia advised citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel outside the country amid rising coronavirus cases and the new omicron variant.

Omicron exposes inflexibility of Europe’s public hospitals — 3:57 a.m.

By The Associated Press

A World Health Organization official warned last week of a “closing window of opportunity” for European countries to prevent their health care systems from being overwhelmed as the Omicron variant produces near-vertical growth in coronavirus infections.

In France, Britain, and Spain, nations with comparatively strong national health programs, that window may already be closed.

The director of an intensive care unit at a hospital in Strasbourg is turning patients away. A surgeon at a London hospital describes a critical delay in a man’s cancer diagnosis. Spain is seeing its determination to prevent a system collapse tested as omicron keeps medical personnel off work.

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Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia — 2:41 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Novak Djokovic’s hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed Sunday after a court dismissed the top-ranked tennis star’s appeal against a deportation order.

Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.

Djokovic awaits deportation decision as hearing adjourned — 12:21 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is awaiting a decision on whether he’ll be allowed to stay in Australia after the Federal Court adjourned a hearing on a government deportation order.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying it was in the public interest to do so. The court will likely indicate its decision to the parties on whether to quash his second visa cancellation later Sunday, with full reasons published at a later date, Chief Justice James Allsop said.

  Jan. 15, 2022  

COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes — 10:56 a.m.

Associated Press

COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.

Nursing homes were the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback.

Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 645 COVID-19-related deaths among residents were recorded during the same week, a 47% increase from the earlier period. And there are fears that deaths could go much higher before omicron is through.

Despite the rising numbers, the situation is not as dire as it was in December 2020, when nursing home deaths per week topped out at about 6,200. Experts credit the high vaccination rates now among nursing home residents: About 87% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

England lowers COVID booster shot age to 16 — 9:56 p.m.

By Bloomberg

England will lower the age threshold for booster shots to 16 from tomorrow. The change will mean that around 40,000 teenagers in England will now be eligible for the shot.

Previously, only those over 18 could get the third shot. More than four in five adults in England have received the booster, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement announcing the change.

New Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin cuts COVID restrictions — 8:27 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Glenn Youngkin, sworn in Saturday as Virginia’s governor, issued executive orders rolling back Covid-19 regulations.

The Republican governor signed 11 executive orders outlining priorities for his new administration, including rescinding the vaccine mandate for all state employees and allowing parents to decide whether a child wears a mask in school, WTOP news reported.

After a rough first year, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky tries to correct course — 6:59 p.m.

By Jess Bidgood and Felice J. Freyer, Globe Staff

A star physician and scientist from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Rochelle Walensky was chosen by President Biden to take the helm of an agency that had been sidelined in the pandemic fight by the previous administration, with promises to restore its credibility. With an ever-evolving virus still raging, and the country still deeply polarized over the best tools for fighting it, it would not be easy.

But Walensky has made a series of stumbles that exacerbated an already difficult task, according to multiple experts, making statements that had to be walked back and issuing guidance that vexed some outside scientists.

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CVS and Walgreens temporarily shut some stores as Omicron cases soar — 6:44 p.m.

By New York Times

CVS and Walgreens, two of the biggest pharmacy chains in the United States, are temporarily closing some stores this weekend because of staff shortages complicated by the soaring number of people infected with the omicron variant.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesperson for CVS, said the “vast majority” of stores were operating with normal hours this weekend. There are more than 9,900 CVS stores across the United States.

Rebekah Pajak, a spokesperson for Walgreens, said closures were at a “small percentage” of the company’s more than 9,000 stores, and in most cases, the affected stores would be open at least one weekend day.

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COVID-19 vaccine mandate begins in Boston amid demonstrations by opponents — 5:40 p.m.

By Laura Crimaldi and Andrew Brinker, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent

A new COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Boston imposing a vaccination requirement on municipal employees and requiring people to show proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor spaces took effect Saturday amid protests by hundreds of demonstrators who marched from a Fenway neighborhood to Newbury Street to show their opposition to the new rules.

Mayor Michelle Wu, whose home in Roslindale has become the site of early-morning demonstrations by people who oppose the policies, addressed the protests Saturday on Twitter and during a midday news conference at a health center. The protests, she said, are a byproduct of widespread misinformation that the city seeks to neutralize with its vaccine mandates.

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In less vaccinated Western Mass., overwhelmed hospitals, but progress on vaccinations — 5:39 p.m.

By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Globe Staff

In the early days of the rollout of COVID vaccines, Hampden County in Western Massachusetts lagged.

Now many months later, as the highly contagious Omicron variant storms across the state, Hampden — home to Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke — remains the least vaccinated county in Massachusetts. Here, 65 percent of residents eligible for COVID shots are fully vaccinated, compared with 81 percent in most of Eastern Massachusetts.

There is a price to be paid for that.

The combination of a less protected population and the extremely transmissible Omicron variant means this part of the state is being battered especially hard by the current surge of infections.

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Health care workers and hospitals confront the fallout from Supreme Court vaccine mandate — 4:52 p.m.

By New York Times

Just days after the Supreme Court’s decision requiring health care workers to be vaccinated, the nation’s health care systems braced for the possibility of some resistance and more staff shortages — particularly in the states that banned mandates or had none.

The ruling lands not long after the anniversary of widespread vaccine distribution in a country still largely split over how best to protect Americans during a pandemic that has produced multiple surges. In upholding the Biden administration’s requirement for millions of health care workers, the decision could wedge health care workers between opposing state and federal policies.

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Another COVID surge, another desolate winter in downtown Boston — 4:40 p.m.

By Diti Kohli, Globe Staff

All fall we hoped, we prayed that 2022 would mark the moment when downtown Boston bounced back as pandemic fears waned.

It was a vision of something we now barely remember: Come January, offices would be teeming with workers, hiking through the cold in “hard pants,” filling restaurants in the evenings. Boutiques and bars would turn a profit. Life would feel more normal.

Instead, the city is suffering through a another deep lull, a “holiday hangover,” said Cameron Labeck, a manager at M.J. O’Connors, an Irish pub in the Park Plaza building near Boston Common.

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Omicron deepens bus driver shortage, frustrating passengers as transit agencies pare back service — 3:20 p.m.

By The Washington Post

A surging omicron variant has sent ailing transit agencies into a heightened sense of crisis, prompting a fresh round of service cuts that have left passengers unsure whether they have a ride to work or school.

Throughout the pandemic, bus operators have transported essential workers to jobs and riders who lack other alternatives to their destinations. But in recent weeks, the fast-spreading virus has proliferated throughout transit agencies across the country, sickening more drivers than at any other point in the pandemic as frustrated riders wonder whether their bus will arrive.

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US vaccine push weakens, with fewer people receiving shots — 2:35 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The number of new people getting the Covid-19 vaccine is at one of the lowest points since the rollout began, according to a review of the latest U.S. government data.

While millions of doses are being administered each week, the majority of those are now booster shots for people who have already gotten their first round of injections. Vaccination rates are high in many major cities, but remain low in other parts of the country—with little sign of increase. And the Biden administration’s most potent tool to push vaccinations has been wiped out by the Supreme Court.

Significant errors in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccination data mean that any analysis is likely inexact. But the broad trend points to a decline in new vaccinations and a large share of people not fully vaccinated in vast parts of the country.

What the Omicron wave looks like at one Brooklyn ER — 2:19 p.m.

By New York Times

Like many hospitals in New York City, the Brooklyn Hospital Center is straining under the biggest surge of COVID patients since the spring of 2020, when ambulance sirens filled the air and more than 20,000 city residents died.

In the pandemic’s early days, doctors and nurses looked out on emergency rooms filled with patients who were desperate for oxygen. Today, COVID patients’ symptoms are generally milder — stomach aches, fainting, dizziness, nausea, some shortness of breath — and far fewer people are dying.

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A digital divide haunts schools adapting to virus hurdles — 1:43 p.m.

By The Associated Press

As more families pivot back to remote learning amid quarantines and school closures, reliable, consistent access to devices and home internet remains elusive for many students who need them to keep up with their schoolwork.

Home internet access for students has improved since the onset of the pandemic with help from philanthropy, federal relief funding and other efforts — but obstacles linger, including a lack of devices, slow speeds and financial hurdles.

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As COVID-19 vaccine mandate begins, Wu describes toll of protests at her home — 1:06 p.m.

Laura Crimaldi, Globe Staff

s the city’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate took effect Saturday, Mayor Michelle Wu described how early-morning demonstrations outside her home in Roslindale against the news rules have impacted her neighbors and family.

Wu posted several tweets about the toll using her original Twitter handle, @wutrain. She established a second handle, @MayorWu, when she was sworn into office in November.

Her first tweet came in response to a Twitter user who wrote about music the demonstrators played outside Wu’s home Saturday morning.

“I’m so sorry you’re dealing with these daily sunrise protests after late-night hospital shifts,” she wrote at 7:53 a.m. “It takes someone special to appreciate heavy metal/grunge Saturday at 7am.”

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Expect more worrisome variants after Omicron, scientists say — 10:07 a.m.

Associated Press

Get ready to learn more Greek letters. Scientists warn that omicron’s whirlwind advance practically ensures it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.

Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and omicron has an edge over its predecessors: It spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.

That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don’t know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there’s no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.

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Beijing reports Omicron case 3 weeks before Winter Olympics — 8:26 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Beijing reported the city’s first case of the omicron variant of Covid-19, adding pressure on authorities to stem a potential outbreak less than three weeks before the Winter Olympics begin.

Officials confirmed the detection of the highly contagious strain at a press conference on Saturday. People who’ve had contact with the patient are being tested, and those who were at locations that the infected person visited must report to authorities, they said.

Omicron cases were confirmed earlier Saturday in Shanghai and Guangdong province, as the National Health Commission warned of possible outbreaks in those areas.

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Omicron cases confirmed in Shanghai, Guangdong Province — 7:31 a.m.

By Bloomberg

China said the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was confirmed in infections in Shanghai and Guangdong province, adding additional pressure on authorities to contain the highly contagious strain ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Two patients were in Zhongshan and Zhuhai in south China’s Guangdong province, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said in a briefing in Beijing. A case in Shanghai reported on Thursday was also confirmed to have been infected with omicron, he said, without giving details.

Tokyo COVID cases top 4,000 again as Omicron spreads over Japan — 5:13 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Tokyo reported 4,561 coronavirus cases on Saturday, topping 4,000 for a second day, with the highly contagious omicron variant spreading across Japan.

It’s the highest number of cases since Aug. 26, when the capital was in the virus emergency. The seven-day average jumped to 2,427.1 from 502.1 a week ago, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The recent surge prompted the Japanese capital to raise its Covid alert to the second-highest of four levels this week. Japan has also put three other areas under a quasi-emergency, allowing local authorities to place restrictions on businesses like bars and restaurants.

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Medical professionals urge Spotify to crack down on COVID misinformation — 3:11 a.m.

By The New York Times

Hundreds of scientists, professors, doctors, nurses, and other public health professionals have urged Spotify to crack down on misinformation about COVID-19 on its streaming platform.

In an open letter published online this week, the experts singled out an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” that featured Robert Malone, an infectious disease researcher who claims to have created the mRNA technology used in some coronavirus vaccines but has become an outspoken vaccine skeptic. They said Rogan had a “concerning history” of advancing inaccurate claims on his podcast, particularly about the pandemic.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter said. It also called on the company “to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

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Pop-up COVID test sites have ballooned as demand surges. Officials warn consumers to be cautious. — 1:20 a.m.

By The Washington Post

First, there were bootleg hand sanitizer, counterfeit KN95 masks, and vaccine cards. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the scam variant of concern involves testing.

Attorneys general in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Oregon have issued consumer alert warnings in recent days about questionable coronavirus tests and pop-up sites. Complaints include markups on at-home test kits and sites in New York that wrongfully billed patients for tests that are free; fake at-home tests being sold in Michigan; and testing centers in Illinois that return dubious results - or none at all.

The surging demand for tests recalls the shortages seen in the summer of 2020 and is a stark reminder that the United States continues to struggle with its coronavirus testing strategy. Even before the omicron variant surfaced, tests were in high demand as students returned to classrooms, workers to offices and many to leisure activities like concerts and cruises requiring proof of a negative test.

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Biden team regroups after court loss on COVID shots-or-test — 12:31 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing ahead to prod people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court put a halt to the administration’s sweeping vaccinate-or-test plan for large employers.

At a time when hospitals are being overrun and record numbers of people are getting infected with the omicron variant, the administration hopes states and companies will order their own vaccinate-or-test requirements. And if the presidential “bully pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

While some in the business community cheered the defeat of the mandate, Biden insisted the administration effort has not been for naught. The high court’s ruling on Thursday “does not stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” he said.

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  Jan. 14, 2022  

Novak Djokovic’s fight to stay in Australia lives another day — 11:40 p.m.

By The New York Times

Novak Djokovic, the top men’s tennis player in the world, was detained by border authorities in Australia Saturday, the latest turn in a legal dispute over his travel visa that has drawn global interest and inflamed tensions during a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, the Australian minister for immigration revoked Djokovic’s travel visa for the second time because of concerns that Djokovic had violated the country’s rules intended to limit the spread of the virus, arguing that his high-profile status could harm the nation’s battle against the coronavirus.

The matter could be resolved in a courtroom showdown Sunday at 9:30 a.m. local time. If the decision to cancel the visa is upheld, Djokovic, 34, could be forced out of the Australian Open tennis tournament and deported, a stunning development should it unfold that way. Then again, if the court rules in favor of Djokovic and allows him to remain, that would be equally shocking to many people who feel the player has already received preferential treatment.

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Can cannabis really prevent COVID? Not quite, but new study shows promise — 10:11 p.m.

By Dan Adams, Globe Staff

Naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant appear to prevent the coronavirus from binding with human cells, scientists in Oregon said this week, potentially pointing the way toward a hemp-based supplement that could lower both the risk and severity of COVID-19 infections.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack the bong and cancel your vaccine booster appointment.

Researchers behind the discovery stressed they have so far only observed the effect in laboratory cultures, not in human subjects, and that the most common methods of consuming cannabis — including smoking, vaping, and eating edibles that have been cooked with heat — destroy the potentially therapeutic molecules in question.

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Chicago students stage walkout, say COVID protocols lacking — 9:22 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Hundreds of Chicago students staged a walkout Friday, saying there weren’t enough precautions in place to protect them from COVID-19 despite an agreement between the teachers union and school district to return to classrooms.

The walkout at schools across the city culminated outside district offices downtown, where the students waved signs, chanted and briefly blocked traffic.

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Hospitals postponing thousands of surgeries amid onslaught of COVID and other patients — 8:49 p.m.

By Kay Lazar and Hanna Krueger, Globe Staff

The state’s largest health care system, Mass General Brigham, starting Monday, will be slashing thousands of surgeries it performs each week as it strains to stay ahead of the tsunami of patients pouring into its hospitals.

And on Thursday, UMass Memorial Medical Center, the largest health system in Central Massachusetts, suspended all surgeries and medical procedures for conditions not considered life-threatening until further notice.

The situation is so bad that it’s forcing hospital administrators to make heartbreaking choices to limit all but the most urgent surgeries and procedures. This extends even to some cancer surgeries, forcing doctors to weigh which tumors are growing faster and which slow enough to postpone a procedure.

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Biden forms task force for new threats — 8:33 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Biden administration has assembled a group that will prepare new countermeasures for the emergence of future Covid-19 variants and other pandemic threats, after the arrival of the omicron strain led to tumult in the U.S. economy and health-care system.

The Pandemic Innovation Task Force, formed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, will focus on developing vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other tools, said officials familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity as the details aren’t yet public. That will help prepare the country in case new versions of the virus surface, and for future biological threats beyond Covid-19, they said.

Fewer groceries, more debt: Families brace for first month without child tax payments — 8:26 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The check would’ve arrived right around now, helping tide Melissa Roberts over until the end of the month. At $550, her monthly child tax payment wasn’t extravagant, she says, but enough to cover groceries and utilities.

Roberts, who lives in Marks, Miss., left her job as an insurance agent at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when her employer wouldn’t let her work from home. She’s applied for dozens of administrative and customer service positions since then but has yet to be hired.

“This tax credit is the only way we’ve kept food on the table,” said Roberts, who is raising a 5- and 7-year-old.

The extended benefit, part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan passed last year, distributed as much as $300 per child every month to millions of American families starting in July. The extra pay lasted only six months before it lapsed in late December.

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Why so many empty shelves at your local supermarket? It’s complicated. — 7:18 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman and Matt Yan, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent

Grocery stores across the United States are seeing empty shelves that once held products ranging from bread to produce to meat, as a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant adds another layer of complication to a system already strained by supply chain issues and worker shortages.

While the sparser selection may be reminiscent of spring 2020, when toilet paper and cleaning supplies were hard to come by, there are additional issues at play this time around, industry organizations and experts said. Nearly two years into the pandemic, snags in the supply chain continue, but worker absences due to the broad reach of Omicron have played a significant role in the shortage of goods at stores.

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Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who has a thigh injury, placed in COVID protocol — 7:15 p.m.

By Gary Washburn, Globe Staff

Just when the Celtics looked close to being 100 percent, the cruel fate of COVID-19 struck again, this time with guard Marcus Smart.

As he was healing after missing Wednesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers with a bruised thigh, Smart was placed in the league’s Health and Safety protocol and could miss the next week.

Smart, who was the first Celtics player diagnosed with COVID-19 in March 2020, needs two consecutive negative tests to be eligible to play. He joins a full list of Celtics who have been placed in protocol the past few weeks.

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CDC encourages more Americans to consider N95 masks — 6:27 p.m.

By The Associated Press

U.S. health officials on Friday encouraged more Americans to wear the kind of N95 or KN95 masks used by health-care workers to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Those kinds of masks are considered better at filtering virus from the air. But they previously were in short supply, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials had said they should be prioritized for health care workers.

In updated guidance posted late Friday afternoon, CDC officials removed concerns related to supply shortages and more clearly said that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks provide the most protection.

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12,864 confirmed cases and 64 deaths. See today’s COVID-19 data from Mass. — 6:00 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe staff

Massachusetts on Friday reported 12,864 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 41,990 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 64 new confirmed deaths.

The state said in an e-mail after Friday’s numbers were released that the data are incomplete due reporting issues experienced by state agencies on Thursday.

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Saturday marks first vaccination deadline for Boston’s city workforce; most complying so far — 5:07 p.m.

By Danny McDonald and Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

During the immediate run-up to Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its 18,000-strong workforce, the vast majority of city employees were in compliance with the new requirement, Mayor Michelle Wu’s office said Friday.

As of Thursday, 16,470 workers verified they are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received at least two shots, while 345 confirmed that they are partially vaccinated, according to the mayor’s office. To be in compliance with Saturday’s deadline, city workers must have at least one dose.

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Biden team regroups after Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for large employers — 4:41 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing ahead to prod people to get COVID-19 shots after the Supreme Court put a halt to the administration’s sweeping vaccinate-or-test plan for large employers.

At a time when hospitals are being overrun and record numbers of people are getting infected with the omicron variant, the administration hopes states and companies will order their own vaccinate-or-test requirements. And if the presidential “bully pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

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Baker administration issues new emergency orders as Mass. hospitals struggle amid COVID-19 surge — 4:38 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

The Baker administration on Friday announced several emergency orders aimed at easing hospital capacity concerns and staffing shortages amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

In a statement, the state Department of Public Health said the measures are “intended to ensure acute hospitals can serve those in need of acute care.” The state healthcare system, DPH said, faces a “critical staffing shortage” that’s been a factor in the loss of about 700 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds.

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With MLK breakfast called off due to COVID, R.I. ministers pivot to acts of service — 4:15 p.m.

By Brian Amaral, Globe Staff

The numbers were looking good: COVID-19 was easing and, for the first time since 2020, the Rhode Island Ministers Alliance was going to have its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day scholarship breakfast in-person.

But then the numbers went up again: COVID-19 spiked, hospitalizations rose, and the Ministers Alliance made the tough call to cancel the event.

Instead they will focus on community service, with a food and shoe distribution event around Providence and other communities.

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Federal rapid testing website launches next week, and will allow four tests per home — 3:56 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The federal website where Americans can request free COVID-19 tests will begin accepting orders on Wednesday as the White House looks to address nationwide shortages, but supplies will be limited to just four free tests per home.

Starting on Jan. 19, the website COVIDTests.gov will provide tests at no cost, including no shipping fee, the White House announced Friday.

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What we know about the COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5 — 3:54 p.m.

By Diti Kohli, Globe Staff

Time and time again, New England states are among the most protected against COVID-19.

Over 70 percent of Massachusetts residents are armed with a full vaccine regimen. Two million people here have received an additional booster shot. In addition, Boston, Salem, and Brookline have enacted proof-of-vaccination mandates for indoor spaces, in an effort to use immunizations as a community weapon against the Omicron variant and rising case numbers.

But the youngest people remain ineligible for the shots. None of the three approved vaccines in the US are authorized for children under 5. And that has parents anxious.

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GE halts vaccine rule after Supreme Court rejects mandate — 1:31 p.m.

By Bloomberg

General Electric Co. is suspending implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the federal rule.

The maker of jet engines, wind turbines, and medical scanners confirmed the decision Friday via email. GE is the first major company to announce a halt after the court’s decision Thursday to block the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s push to boost COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Conn. House member tests positive for virus a 2nd time — 11:13 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Connecticut US Rep. Jahana Hayes says she has tested positive for the coronavirus after taking a routine test before traveling. It’s the second time she has contracted the virus.

A statement that the Democrat’s office posted on her Twitter account Thursday night says that Hayes is fully vaccinated and has received a booster shot. She is not currently experiencing any symptoms and has been advised to quarantine, according to the statement.

It urges people to “take the necessary precautions to keep our communities safe.”

The 48-year-old democrat is serving her second term. She represents Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, in the western portion of the state. She previously contracted COVID-19 in September 2020.

Mayor Wu: Vaccine mandates for city workers, businesses, not meant to ‘punish’ people — 10:30 a.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu said Friday that Boston’s proof of vaccine requirement taking effect Saturday for certain businesses is meant to protect public health, stressing that that policy and a separate vaccine mandate for city workers aren’t intended “to punish anyone.”

Wu made the comments during an appearance on the “Notorious In The Morning” program on 87.7 FM.

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Omicron lowers sales and threatens bankruptcy for US restaurants — 10:17 a.m.

By Bloomberg

US restaurants stayed afloat during the pandemic thanks to outdoor heaters, elaborate patio spaces, and to-go drinks. But the creative workarounds weren’t enough to stem the losses from the recent Omicron-fueled surge of COVID cases.

Sales decreased at 98 percent of restaurants across the country in December, according to a poll of 1,169 restaurants conducted by the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Sales dropped by at least half at 58 percent of those surveyed, while 80 percent of restaurant owners said omicron impacted their operating hours.

The sharp hit to restaurants nationwide demonstrates the pandemic’s continuing blow to the industry, despite national efforts to avoid economic pitfalls from shutdowns this winter.

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Omicron linked to higher hospitalization rate for babies in UK — 9:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Omicron has resulted in a higher hospitalization rate for babies in the U.K. than seen for previous variants of COVID-19, though most hospital stays were short, researchers said.

Infants under the age of one accounted for 42 percent of children hospitalized during the Omicron wave, compared with thirty percent in May to mid-December when the Delta variant was prevalent, the research team said in data presented on Friday. Outcomes for the hospitalized babies have been positive, however, with no deaths, less need for oxygen and proportionally fewer intensive-care admissions than during the Delta wave.

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Boston students to walk out this morning, calling for remote learning and stronger COVID-19 safety measures — 9:32 a.m.

By Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

Students across the Boston Public Schools system are planning to walk out of class this morning in an effort to urge officials to provide remote learning options and stronger COVID-19 safety measures.

The walkout is planned for 10:30 a.m., with a webinar at 11:30 a.m. where students, teachers, nurses, and families will make speeches, according to a flyer released by the Boston Student Advisory Council.

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Russia backs away from unpopular anti-coronavirus measures — 7:46 a.m.

By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian government on Friday decided to delay adopting unpopular legislation restricting access to public places for the unvaccinated, despite surging coronavirus cases and warnings from top officials about the spread of the highly-infectious omicron variant.

Russia reported 23,820 new infections Friday, a 12% increase from the previous day, and 739 deaths.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the legislation was postponed due to the “high uncertainty” as the draft bill was originally prepared in response to the delta variant but “new challenges” have arisen.

The bill required Russians willing to access certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19, or a medical exemption from immunization.

The initiative, along with another bill proposing a similar system for both domestic and international planes and trains, was met with high resistance amid a largely vaccine-skeptical population. The transport bill was withdrawn from Parliament last month, but the one on public places passed the first reading.

Golikova said the bill will be amended to allow Russians with negative tests to get short-term QR codes.

Hong Kong bans transit flights from over 150 countries — 6:58 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Hong Kong International Airport said Friday that it would ban passengers from over 150 countries and territories from transiting in the city for a month, as it sought to stem the transmission of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Passengers who have stayed in over 150 places deemed “high risk” in the last 21 days, including the United States and Britain, will be banned from transiting in Hong Kong from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15, according to a notice posted by the airport.

The ban comes as the city grapples with an omicron outbreak, with most of the cases traced to two crew members of Cathay Pacific who had broken isolation rules and dined at restaurants and bars in the city before testing positive.

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Anti-coronavirus measures tightened across China — 5:30 a.m.

By The Associated Press

China further tightened its anti-pandemic measures in Beijing and across the country on Friday as scattered outbreaks continued ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in a little over two weeks.

The actions appear to reflect nervousness about a possible surge in cases ahead of the Beijing Games.

Beijing has ordered children at international schools to be tested starting next week and is barring air passengers who transited via a third point. Citizens are being told only to travel if absolutely necessary, with no guarantee they will be permitted to return if found to have visited a city or region where an outbreak occurred.

The city of Tianjin, about an hour from the capital, has ordered a third round of mass testing starting Saturday morning to be completed within 24 hours.

A port and manufacturing center with 14 million people, Tianjin is one of a half dozen cities where the government is imposing lockdowns and other restrictions as part of a policy to track down every virus case.

It’s proximity to Beijing is particularly worrying and authorities have cut off all travel links between it and the Olympic host city following the discovery of 126 cases in recent days, all apparently of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Elsewhere, more than 20 million people are under lockdown, many restricted to their homes amid concerns over supplies of food and other daily necessities. Factories have been closed, affecting supplies of computer chips and other products.

Djokovic faces deportation after Australia revokes visa — 4:21 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin.

Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.

It is the second time Djokovic’s visa has been canceled since he arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title.

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Marine Corps becomes first branch of military to grant religious exemptions to COVID vaccines — 1:27 a.m.

By The New York Times

Two members of the US Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.

According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.

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Worst COVID outbreak could be nearing its peak in Australia — 12:56 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Australia’s most recent COVID-19 wave could peak within weeks, say government officials, potentially easing pressure on crowded hospitals and businesses struggling with supply issues.

The country is experiencing its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic with more than 100,000 cases being posted daily, fueled by the now dominant omicron strain. The variant makes up about 90% of cases and two-thirds of ICU admissions in its most populous state, New South Wales.

Australia’s Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said he expected to see an easing in new cases as soon as late January or early February, adding that infections in NSW may have already topped out.

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  Jan. 13, 2022  

Some COVID patients could spread virus after 10 days, study says — 11:30 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Some people with COVID were able to transmit the virus to others after the 10-day mark, at least in the early days of the pandemic, a new UK study shows.

That’s according to research by the University of Exeter, which used an adapted test that can detect whether the virus remains active in those with previously confirmed infections. It found that 13% of 176 people studied had levels high enough to be potentially infectious even after 10 days.

This evidence comes as many countries, including England, are cutting isolation times for those who test positive to as little as five days to help relieve workplace staff shortages that have been fueled by the spread of the omicron variant.

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Unvaccinated women with COVID are more likely to lose fetuses and infants, Scottish data shows — 10:10 p.m.

By The New York Times

Researchers in Scotland reported Thursday that pregnant women with COVID-19 were not only at greater risk of developing severe disease, but also more likely to lose their fetuses and babies in the womb or shortly after birth, compared with other women who gave birth during the pandemic.

The risk of losing a baby through stillbirth or the first month of life was highest among women who delivered their babies within four weeks of the onset of a COVID-19 infection: 22.6 deaths for every 1,000 births, four times the rate in Scotland of 5.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

All of those deaths occurred in pregnancies among unvaccinated women, the researchers found. “Quite strikingly, no baby deaths occurred in women who had SARS-CoV-2 and were vaccinated,” said the paper’s first author, Dr. Sarah J. Stock, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Edinburgh Usher Institute in Exeter.

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Mass. Dept. of Public Health closes 3 unlicensed COVID-19 testing sites — 10:04 p.m.

By Madison Mercado, Globe Correspondent

Three COVID-19 testing sites in Massachusetts were ordered to close Thursday because they do not have the proper license and residents have complained about delays in receiving results, the state Department of Public Health said.

Testing sites in Dartmouth, Needham and Worcester operated by the Center for COVID Control Testing, a private company based in Illinois, were issued cease and desist orders, according to the state.

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New virus cases begin to slow in US cities where Omicron hit first — 9:28 p.m.

By New York Times

At another bleak moment of the pandemic in the United States — with nearly 800,000 new cases a day, deaths rising and federal medical teams deploying to overwhelmed hospitals — glints of progress have finally started to emerge. In a handful of places that were among the first to see a surge of the omicron variant last month, reports of new coronavirus infections have started to level off or decline.

Daily case reports have been falling rapidly around Cleveland; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C., each of which sustained record-shattering spikes over the past month. There were also early signs in Chicago, New York, Puerto Rico and hard-hit ski resort towns in Colorado that cases were hitting a plateau or starting to drop.

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UK set to abandon COVID passes — 9:25 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has decided Covid-19 certification is no longer needed as the Omicron wave subsides in the U.K., the Times reports, citing an unidentified government source.

There was always a very high threshold for the policy of requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter large events in England, and it appears that within a couple of weeks that threshold will no longer be met, according to the government source.

With Boston’s proof-of-vaccination mandate set to begin, businesses worry — 8:46 p.m.

By Anissa Gardizy, Globe Staff

Last month, when Mayor Michelle Wu announced a plan to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for people to enter restaurants, gyms, or entertainment venues in Boston, it was hailed as a much-needed move to blunt the surge of Omicron.

Now, though, with the rules set to take effect Saturday, some retailers say the mandate is starting to feel like yet another COVID-related burden on the backs of businesses the pandemic has hurt the most.

Some are even scaling back their operations in response.

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Businesses react to ruling against Biden vaccine mandate — 7:38 p.m.

By The Associated Press

For companies that were waiting to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court before deciding whether to require vaccinations or regular coronavirus testing for workers, the next move is up to them.

Many large corporations were silent on Thursday’s ruling by the high court to block a requirement that workers at businesses with at least 100 employees be fully vaccinated or else test regularly for COVID-19 and wear a mask on the job.

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How COVID-19 and staffing issues took Rhode Island Hospital ‘from bad to terrible’ — 5:36 p.m.

By Brian Amaral, Globe Staff

It is the state’s biggest hospital, with a name that suggests how important it is to the health care system here: Rhode Island Hospital.

And it is in crisis right now.

Sick and injured patients line the emergency department hallways in stretchers, begging for help that doesn’t always come right away. Frustration in the waiting room is so high that assaults have been reported. From ambulance triage to the intensive care units, nursing is short, but so are supplies, everything from needles to medicines to bedside urinals. Nurses sit in their cars after work and wonder, did I do everything I can today? Everyone’s burned out, and nobody knows where or when this all ends.

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Bruins place defenseman Matt Grzelcyk on COVID list — 5:34 p.m.

By Matt Porter, Globe Staff

COVID-19 has slowed Matt Grzelcyk’s roll.

The Charlestown-bred defenseman, who has six points in his last two games, landed on the protocol list before Thursday night’s date with the Flyers.

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18,721 confirmed cases and 36 deaths. See today’s COVID-19 data from Mass. — 5:32 p.m.

By Peter Bailey-Wells, Ryan Huddle, Daigo Fujiwara and Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Thursday reported 18,721 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 41,430 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also reported 36 new confirmed deaths.

The state also reported that 3,180 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. On Thursday, the seven-day percent positivity was 20.34 percent.

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Hundreds of doctors, scientists sign petition demanding Spotify take action against COVID misinformation, sparked by Joe Rogan podcast — 3:35 p.m.

By Brittany Bowker, Globe Staff

A petition signed by more than 200 scientists and medical professionals is calling on the music streaming service Spotify to monitor misinformation promoted on its platform. The petition specifically takes aim at its most-popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, for peddling “misleading and false claims” about COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” the petition reads. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

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Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses, allows mandate for most health care workers — 2:49 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

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Teachers confront half-empty classrooms as COVID-19 surges — 2:18 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Teachers around the U.S. are confronting classrooms where as many as half of students are absent because they have been exposed to COVID-19 or their families kept them at home out of concern about the surging coronavirus.

From New York City to Seattle, the widespread absences have only added to the difficulty of keeping students on track in yet another pandemic-disrupted school year.

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50Kitchen in Fields Corner joins the list of Boston-area restaurants to close amid COVID-19 — 1:53 p.m.

By Kara Baskin and Brittany Bowker, Globe Correspondent and Globe Staff

An Asian-Southern food spot in Fields Corner from chef Anthony Caldwell, who learned to cook in prison and went on to line-cook positions around the city before becoming a sous chef for Harvard University’s dining services, will close. He won funding through a neighborhood small-business contest for minority and women-owned businesses.

The restaurant will sign off on Feb. 12.

“A small restaurant in Dorchester was able to be part of some really big things, and give back in some really important ways. It is thanks to this community that we were able to share our story with thousands of people, whether at our restaurant, in interviews, or on Chopped. It was thanks to our customers that we were able to stay open and help provide meals to those in need throughout this pandemic. We want to say thanks to every article writer, food blogger, social media sharer, and every single customer and supporter that kept coming into our restaurant to share a smile and enjoy some good food,” they wrote on social media.

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US nursing home workers are getting COVID at record pace — 1:16 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Covid-19 cases among U.S. nursing-home workers jumped almost tenfold in recent weeks as the omicron variant raced through America’s senior-care facilities.

A record 57,000 nursing-home workers tested positive for Covid during the week ending Jan. 9, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from about 6,000 the week ending Dec. 19.

Cases are also spiking among nursing-home residents. About 32,000 residents tested positive last week, close to the previous peak in late 2020. While deaths have also increased, much of the nursing-home population is vaccinated, and the death rate is about one-tenth what it was last winter.

Nursing-home industry groups called on the federal government to provide tests, booster shots, treatments and other support.

“We’re extremely concerned how this surge will impact our already dire labor crisis as caregivers must isolate if they test positive,” David Gifford, chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, said in a news release.

Vermont’s largest hospital operating under emergency plan due to staff out with COVID — 1:03 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Vermont’s largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center, is operating under an emergency staffing plan because 422 staff members are out of work for COVID-19 related reasons.

Staff will be sent “to areas of highest need,” the hospital said in a news release on Wednesday.

The emergency staffing plan is expected to last for several weeks and services at outpatient clinics may need to be “adjusted,” the hospital said.

Chief Nursing Officer Peg Gagne said in a statement that staff has been extremely dedicated throughout the entire pandemic and will continue to work together to provide needed care “in the face of yet another challenge.

That said, it has been a long haul, and we have asked a lot from each of them — they are tired, and like all of us, want this to be over,” she said.

She urged people to please get vaccinated, wear a mask, and get tested when necessary.

‘Just about everybody’ will become exposed to Omicron COVID variant, Fauci says — 12:50 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

The nation’s top infectious disease expert is warning that almost everyone will become exposed to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and among those who become infected, people who are unvaccinated will have more severe outcomes.

During a conversation with the Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Omicron will “find just about everybody.”

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COVID hospital admissions show Omicron spreading to West Coast — 12:36 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Covid-19 burden on U.S. health-care facilities is spreading from the Northeast to parts of the West Coast, as well as rural states across the country.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions with confirmed Covid-19 is up 76% in Alaska, 59% in Idaho and 53% in Arkansas in the past week, according to Department of Health and Human Services data. Oregon and California round out the worst five states by momentum, with admissions up 52% and 51%, respectively.

The omicron surge in the U.S. has produced record levels of cases, and experts agree that the official figures are an undercount -- with home test kits, asymptomatic infections and test-site bottlenecks all working to artificially drive down the reported numbers. Although the ratio of severe outcomes to cases is lower, the sheer number of infections is so high that hospitalizations and intensive-care unit admissions have shot up as well.

Some parts of the Northeast are flashing signs that the wave itself may have crested, echoing the experience of South Africa, where the surge was intense but ultimately short-lived. Hints of that have started to show in the moderating uptick in new hospital arrivals. Yet intensive-care unit bed utilization and ultimately deaths significantly lag infections, which means even the Northeast probably still faces grueling weeks ahead.

In New York and New Jersey, the seven-day average in admissions was up 7% and 5% in the period, respectively, following bigger increases the week before. President Joe Biden said Thursday he is deploying military doctors, nurses and others to six hospitals in six states, including New York and New Jersey, to ease pressures on medical staff.

The intensity of the viral peaks can be particularly challenging in rural parts of the country, where hospital staffing is more limited and facilities are farther apart.

Everything you need to know about masks: What kind to get, where to buy them, and how often you can reuse them — 12:07 p.m.

By Shannon Larson, Globe Staff

With the highly contagious Omicron variant driving a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, the discussion over the most effective face coverings to stave off infection has again been elevated in the headlines.

Between its apparent ability to evade immunity to a greater degree than previous mutations of the virus to warnings from public health experts that “just about everybody” will become infected with the variant, Omicron has fueled a manhunt for the most optimal protection.

But shifting guidance and shady online retailers marketing masks that turn out to be counterfeit have left many scratching their heads. Here we try to break down some of the most common questions surrounding masks — from learning how to detect frauds to knowing when to toss them out.

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Mayor Wu: No need for systemwide shutdown of Boston schools due to COVID-19 — 12:01 p.m.

By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday she didn’t think the entire Boston public school system would need to shut down and switch to remote learning due to COVID-19 staffing shortages, but left open the possibility that individual schools might have to.

“So far we do not anticipate the need to have a district-wide remote situation because of staffing. We do have plans in place school by school,” she said at a news conference. She said that as of a couple of days ago, 1,200 teachers and other school staff were out with COVID-19.

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Biden to double number of free COVID-19 tests and add N95 masks to fight Omicron — 11:44 a.m.

By Zeke Miller, Globe Staff

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with the most protective N95 masks, as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.

Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.

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R.I. health director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott stepping down — 10:43 a.m.

By Brian Amaral, Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state Department of Health, is stepping down, the state announced Thursday.

Alexander-Scott, an appointee of former governor Gina Raimondo who led the department through two pandemic years and two administrations, said she’ll continue to serve for the next two weeks as the state looks for a replacement. Alexander-Scott has served in her role since 2015, staying on after Governor Dan McKee took over when Raimondo became US Commerce Secretary in March 2021.

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Biden to send military medical teams to Rhode Island as COVID-19 surges — 10:36 a.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — President Joseph Biden is expected to announce Thursday that six states, including Rhode Island, will be getting medical military personnel to help alleviate staffing shortages in hospitals.

Medical teams made up of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers will be sent to Rhode Island Hospital, which is the state’s only Level 1 Trauma center. It’s unclear how many health care workers Biden is sending to Rhode Island, but the White House said the first 1,000 medical professionals will be deployed to states next week.

Officials said the teams are expected to help triage patients arriving at hospitals to offset staffing challenges at emergency departments.

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Mass. joins nationwide effort to test white-tailed deer for COVID-19 — 10:22 a.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

Massachusetts has joined a nationwide effort to test white-tailed deer for COVID-19, after prior studies detected virus antibodies in the animals, officials said.

The state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife said in a statement Wednesday that 571 white-tailed deer samples were recently collected for testing as part of a 41-state effort run by the USDA. The samples, the statement said, are sent to USDA Wildlife Services to process and analyze, and results aren’t expected for at least a month or two.

Most Mass. samples, officials said, were collected during the first week of shotgun deer season in early December, a period when deer hunters are required to bring their kills to game check stations for biological data collection.

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Goldman Sachs delays its return to office in order to wait out the COVID surge — 9:35 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Goldman Sachs Group delayed its return to office for staff in the US by another two weeks as it looks to wait out the COVID-19 surge nationwide.

Goldman’s employees were told they could delay returning to Feb. 1, according to a person familiar with the matter. The bank’s management, aggressive champions of having its offices filled, had to check their desire after backtracking last month amid a deluge of Omicron cases sweeping across New York and beyond.

Anyone entering the bank’s offices must get a booster by Feb. 1 if they’re eligible for the injections by that date, Goldman had previously told its workforce.

A spokesperson for the bank declined to comment.

Russia sees sharp rise in virus cases amid new surge fears — 6:42 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Russia on Thursday recorded a sharp increase in coronavirus cases amid warnings by government officials that another surge in infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant could be on its way.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 21,155 new contagions on Thursday, 18% more than the previous day and 33% more than on Monday. The task force also recorded 740 new deaths.

The new spike in infections comes after a steady decline of new cases over several weeks following an earlier record-setting surge.

Biden highlighting federal ‘surge’ to help weather Omicron — 5:45 a.m.

By The Associated Press

President Biden is highlighting the federal government’s efforts to “surge” military medical personnel to help overwhelmed medical facilities weather the spike in coronavirus cases and staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin arriving to help mitigate staffing crunches at hospitals across the country. Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.

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France eases UK border restrictions for vaccinated people — 4:35 a.m.

By Bloomberg

UK travelers will no longer need an essential reason to enter France from Friday as long as they are vaccinated, the French government said.

France is also lifting the requirement to self-isolate for people who have had the Covid vaccine, according to a statement from Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office on Thursday. All travelers will need a negative test less than 24 hours old.

The French government said the travel restrictions were no longer needed given the omicron variant was now widespread in both countries.

China shuts hospitals after harsh pandemic rules led to deaths — 4:26 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Xi’an has temporarily closed two scandal-hit hospitals after their strict adherence to pandemic rules led to deaths, slashing medical capacity in the city battling China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since Wuhan.

Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital and Xi’an International Medical Center Hospital will close for three months, the city’s Health Commission said in a Thursday statement, during which time they will undergo a “rectification” process.

“They had a weak sense of responsibility and failed to perform their duty of saving lives,” the commission said. Poor management led to delays in the diagnosis and treatment of critically ill patients that attracted “widespread public attention and had a bad social impact,” it added.

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French teachers go on strike over handling of pandemic — 3:36 a.m.

By The Associated Press

On Thursday, French teachers are walking out in a nationwide strike organized by teacher’s unions to protest virus-linked class disruptions and ever-changing isolation rules.

France is at the epicenter of Europe’s current fight against COVID-19, with new infections topping 360,000 a day in recent days, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Teachers are upset and want clarifications on rules and more protections, such as extra masks and tests to help with the strain.

“The month of January is a tough one (for schools),” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer acknowledged on France 2 television. His ministry counted 50,000 new COVID-19 cases among students in “recent days” and a huge number of classes shut down due to the virus: 10,553. The figures are expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

The SNUIPP teacher’s union says discontentment is rising among French teachers. Since Jan. 6, authorities have already imposed two changes to the rules on testing schoolchildren, leaving many with whiplash. The union expects that some 75% of teachers will go out on strike, with half of the schools closed across the country.

Wear two masks to keep Omicron at bay, Hong Kong experts say — 1:09 a.m.

By Bloomberg

High-risk people should consider wearing two face masks to guard against contracting the Omicron variant, two Hong Kong virus experts said, as the city attempts to stamp out an outbreak of the highly infectious virus.

Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask can “tighten the gap not covered by the surgical mask, which is often very loose,” said David Hui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s scientific committee. He recommended the measure for high-exposure groups, people in outbreak areas and on public transport.

Yuen Kwok-Yung, a renowned microbiologist, told local radio that people with chronic diseases or who can’t receive Covid vaccines, along with high-risk workers such as airport staff, could also consider double-masking, which helps boost filtering capabilities.

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China finds Omicron in another port city, further threatening supply chains — 12:02 a.m.

By Bloomberg

China detected omicron in a second major port city, deepening concern of a wider outbreak at Beijing’s doorstep and raising the prospect that more foreign businesses might follow Toyota Motor Corp. in halting operations along the northeastern coast.

Chinese officials said Thursday that at least one person has the more transmissible omicron variant in Dalian, a city of seven million. The patient showed no symptoms, but tested positive after returning from their college in the nearby city of Tianjin, where at least 137 other cases were traced as of Wednesday. A second person in Dalian has also tested positive with the virus, but the variant is unknown.

Dalian joins Tianjin as the second crucial port city with confirmed omicron cases. Their ports are among the twenty largest in the world -- processing a combined total of 25 million TEU in 2020 -- and serve as major production hubs for foreign companies such as Airbus and Volkswagen. Amid Covid-induced delays near Beijing and elsewhere, ships are heading for Shanghai, causing growing congestion there and delaying schedules for container ships by about a week, according to freight forwarders. The delays could ripple as far as the U.S. and Europe.

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  Jan. 12, 2022  

Delta extends life of expiring travel vouchers from pandemic — 11:32 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday it will extend through 2023 the window for customers to rebook credits earned when they purchased but then canceled flights during the pandemic.

Before the announcement, Delta flight credits were set to expire at the end of 2022. The new date will also apply to all tickets bought in 2022. Customers will be able to use the credits throughout 2024 if the trip is booked by Dec. 31, 2023, the airline said.

The move was not immediately matched by American Airlines or United Airlines, where credits are set to expire March 31 and Dec. 31, respectively.

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Australian open ticket limits imposed as COVID cases rise — 10:01 p.m.

By The Associated Press

imits on ticket sales have been introduced for the Australian Open because of surging COVID-19 cases four days before the first tennis major of 2022 is set to begin.

The Victoria state government announced Thursday that ticket sales for Australian Open will be capped at 50% for any sessions that have not already sold to that level.

All tickets already sold will remain valid, the statement said, with no changes or cancellations expected.

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Omicron waves on in New York City, other major metropolitan areas — 9:17 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The explosion of omicron cases along the I-95 corridor from the Mid-Atlantic to New England is showing signs of slowing down, according to health officials and epidemiologists, offering reason for cautious optimism that the turning point could be near and that the variant’s U.S. trajectory is similar to that of other countries.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said Tuesday that the rates of tests returning positive and case increases seem to be slowing - particularly in New York City, which emerged as an early epicenter of the highly contagious variant.

“They’re still high, but we are not at the end, but I want to say that this is, to me, a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope in a time when we desperately need that,” Hochul said at a news conference.

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Protests on Michelle Wu’s doorstep over vaccine mandate are the latest example of political demonstrations hitting close to home — 9:09 p.m.

Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff

In the fragile light of sunrise on a frigid morning, a group of five protesters stepped in front of Mayor Michelle Wu’s Roslindale home with bullhorns. It was just past 7 a.m.

“Good morning! Good morning!” blared their music, a piercing children’s song that built to an abrasive chorus. A passing runner stopped in her tracks and confronted the demonstrators, who have rallied this week against Boston’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees.

“You’re waking her kids up,” said the runner, who later identified herself as Kelly Gallagher, a mother of two who lives around the corner. “If you want to go protest, you can go to City Hall.”

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Mass. will report hospitalizations in a different way to highlight patients primarily fighting COVID — 9:04 p.m.

Kay Lazar, Globe Staff

Massachusetts hospitals, sagging under a tsunami of patients and an unprecedented shortage of workers to care for them, are facing a fresh challenge: a new data reporting method that some worry may obscure the toll that COVID-19 is taking on the health care system.

The Baker administration said that beginning next week, it will break the hospitalization numbers it publishes into two sets: one that records those patients being treated primarily for COVID-19, and a second for those patients who were hospitalized for other reasons but happened to test positive upon admission.

Recent reports increasingly suggest that the proportion of COVID-positive patients hospitalized across the country primarily because of the virus is decreasing, particularly among vaccinated and boosted individuals. The Baker administration hopes the new data will provide a more exact count of how many people are sick enough with COVID to require hospitalization.

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As Boston schools grapple with COVID surge, Cassellius says they’re taking every step to avoid remote learning — 9:00 p.m.

James Vaznis, Globe Staff

Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said on Wednesday the district is taking every step possible to avoid moving learning online amid a surge in coronavirus cases, while student leaders announced they are planning a walkout.

“We’re working on exhaust fumes these days, but they must be the hydrogen kind I think because everyone’s got a lot of energy,” Cassellius told the School Committee.

Xyra Mercer, the student representative on the School Committee, said during Wednesday’s School Committee meeting that students have organized a walkout on Friday to advocate for remote learning. Students said they are concerned about the safety of everyone in the school buildings as well as those they interact with outside of school.

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GOP congressman compares D.C. vaccine mandate to Nazism, drawing condemnation — 7:07 p.m.

Washington Post

A Republican member of Congress drew swift condemnation Wednesday after comparing D.C.’s upcoming vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany - marking the latest instance in which a GOP lawmaker has chosen to compare measures intended to quell a public health emergency to Nazi practices that culminated in the genocide of millions of Jews.

Rep. Warren Davidson, Ohio, made the comparison while responding to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s, D, reminder on Twitter that, beginning Saturday, patrons will need to show proof of coronavirus vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, theaters or other places where people congregate indoors. Religious and medical exemptions are allowed.

Jewish organizations described his Nazi comparison as “disgusting” and exploitative of modern history’s darkest tragedy. The Auschwitz Memorial responded directly to Davidson condemning his comments.

“Exploiting of the tragedy of all people who between 1933-45 suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany in a debate about vaccines & covid limitations in the time of global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay,” the museum wrote to Davidson.

Chicago teachers accept COVID deal, keeping kids in school — 6:33 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Chicago teachers backed an agreement dictating COVID-19 safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district Wednesday, after classes were cancelled for five days due to a standoff over remote learning and virus testing.

The Chicago Teachers Union full membership vote followed tentative approval on Monday by union leaders, who 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.

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Vermont’s 175,000 free rapid test kits snatched up within hours — 6:05 p.m.

By The Associated Press

All 175,000 free rapid COVID-19 test kits that became available Wednesday for Vermonters to order online were taken by the afternoon, Gov. Phil Scott’s office said.

Households were allowed to order two kits containing a total of four tests that will be delivered to 87,500 households over the next one to two weeks, Scott’s office said. The rapid test delivery program is a partnership with National Institutes of Health and Amazon and comes at a time when the state, with a population of more than 645,000, has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases. The website for ordering opened at 10 a.m. and the supply of tests was snatched up by 2:45 p.m., officials said.

“As expected, demand was very high and shows how much Vermonters understand the importance of testing as a way to protect their health and the people around them,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott said he knew the limited supply would go quickly and said the pilot project will help inform future decisions. Another 75,000 test kits are expected to become available in a second phase of the program but a timeline has not been announced. The administration will continue to work to get more tests for Vermonters as supply allows, his office said.

Scott has said he hopes rapid tests will be readily available at local pharmacies for lower prices in the near future.

West Virginia governor tests positive for COVID-19 — 6:02 p.m.

By The Associated Press

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, his office announced.

Justice said in a statement he woke up with a cough and congestion, then developed a headache and high fever. The 70-year-old governor said he initially took a rapid test for the coronavirus, which came back negative.

The governor then was administered a PCR test that was positive. A test by a state laboratory confirmed the initial result and an additional test was being administered Tuesday night. Justice was isolating at home, the Republican governor’s office said in a news release.

Justice, who is fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, had been scheduled to give his sixth State of the State address to the Legislature on Wednesday night. The address will now be delivered by written message to lawmakers to fulfill constitutional requirements and Justice will address them at a later date, the statement said.

“For this to happen just one night before the State of the State — knowing I won’t be able to be there — saddens me,” Justice said. “There are so many great things happening in West Virginia right now.

“I’ll be back in front of you in-person before you know it.”

The governor is scheduled to receive a monoclonal antibody treatment, as recommended by his physicians. Among the physicians treating him is Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus expert.

Almost all teens needing ICU care for COVID are unvaccinated — 5:55 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Almost all teenagers who needed intensive care for Covid-19 were unvaccinated in a study that bolsters the use of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot in youths.

The vaccine prevented 98% of ICU visits and 94% of Covid-related hospitalizations in the real-world study of more than 1,000 adolescents ages 12 to 18 in 23 states published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

While adolescents can develop severe Covid complications, it’s relatively rare that they do, making it harder to study vaccine efficacy than among older adults, and leading to some controversy about the use of the shots in younger people. For example, the trial data Pfizer submitted for authorization of its shot for 12- to 15-year-olds didn’t include enough cases to assess efficacy in preventing severe Covid.

The research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a network of 31 hospitals is one is one of the most detailed yet showing that vaccines can prevent severe Covid complications in teenagers.

The results show that “nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in this population could have been prevented by vaccination,” Vanderbilt University Medical Center pediatrics professor Kathryn Edwards wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

The study compared 445 adolescents hospitalized with Covid to a control group of 777 admitted for other reasons, including those with Covid-like symptoms who tested negative. It ran from July 1, 2021 through Oct. 25, 2021, when the Pfizer shot was widely available for adolescents and the delta strain was dominant. Most of the kids hospitalized with Covid in the study were in the South, where the delta wave first hit the U.S.

Overall, the researchers found that 96% of the adolescents hospitalized with Covid and 99% of those who received life support had not been fully vaccinated. All seven patients who died of Covid and all of the 13 patients who received a last-ditch treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation were unvaccinated, according to the findings.

MOCA Los Angeles bans cloth masks — 4:09 p.m.

By Brittany Bowker, Globe staff

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has updated its mask policy and will no longer allow cloth masks.

”Please wear a surgical, KF94, KN95, or N95 face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Cloth masks are no longer acceptable,” the museum said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The museum said the new policy is meant to “keep everyone safe at MOCA.”

The policy change comes as Los Angeles and other cities across the country grapple with the Omicron surge. On Monday, the CDC said it was considering updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by health-care professionals.

Judge rejects public safety unions’ bid to block enforcement of Mayor Wu’s Jan. 15 vaccine mandate — 3:50 p.m.

By John R. Ellement and Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

A Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday rejected a request from three public safety unions to block enforcement of Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID vaccine mandate when it takes effect Jan. 15.

The unions had argued that the policy couldn’t be enforced until Wu’s team bargains with unions for firefighters, police supervisors, and detectives, but Judge Jeffrey Locke said from the bench that he was siding with the city.

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Trump supports booster shots and criticizes politicians who won’t state their vaccine status — 3:09 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Former President Donald Trump is slamming politicians who refuse to say whether they have received COVID-19 booster shots as “gutless.”

“You gotta say it. Whether you had it or not, say it,” Trump said in an interview that aired Tuesday night on the conservative One America News Network.

Trump, who was booed last month by supporters after revealing he had gotten a booster shot, has become increasingly vocal in calling out those who have questioned the vaccines’ efficacy and safety. It’s a change in posture for Trump as he eyes another run for the White House and faces potential competition from a long list of possible Republican challengers.

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Biden increasing focus on testing amid widespread shortages and confusion — 1:42 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The Biden administration is redoubling its efforts to expand supply and accessibility of COVID-19 testing as it faces mounting criticism over long lines and supply shortages for testing nationwide and confusion about when to get tested amid the Omicron surge.

The White House announced Wednesday that a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting this month to ease supply shortages and promote the safe reopening of schools.

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Judge to hear arguments on Boston public safety unions’ challenge to Michelle Wu’s Jan. 15 vaccine mandate — 1:21 p.m.

By John R. Ellement, Globe staff

Three public safety unions will ask a Suffolk Superior Court judge Wednesday to block Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID vaccine mandate from taking effect Jan. 15 — until she bargains with unions for firefighters, police supervisors, and detectives.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke is set to hear arguments via Zoom on the request for an injunction sought by Firefighters Local 718, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society - a legal effort the Wu administration is opposing.

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Brazilian president calls Omicron a ‘welcome’ variant amid surge — 12:58 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said the Omicron strain that’s causing a surge in COVID cases at home and abroad could be called a “vaccine virus” and is a “welcome” variant.

“Some studious and serious people -- and not linked to pharmaceutical companies -- say that Omicron is welcome and can in fact signal the end of the pandemic,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday in an interview with Gazeta Brasil website.

Bolsonaro has stood out globally for his defiant stance in the face of the pandemic, repeatedly dubbing it “a little flu” despite the more than 600,000 Brazilians who have died from the virus in the past two years. The president, who is up for re-election this year, has been digging in to his position against vaccines. He vowed to not allow his daughter to receive the shot and promised to continue to fight against lockdowns, even as Omicron makes landfall in the country, causing cases to surge past 70,000 a day. For most of December, daily infections rarely surpassed the 10,000 mark.

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R.I. reports 47 COVID cases at state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital — 11:31 a.m.

By Brian Amaral, Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE – The state-run hospital system for people with complex medical and psychiatric conditions has had 47 positive cases of COVID-19 among patients in the last 10 days.

“The hospital continues to monitor the conditions of these patients very closely,” Randal Edgar, spokesman for the hospital’s parent agency, said in an email Wednesday morning. “In most cases these patients have exhibited relatively mild symptoms.”

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COVID-19 was leading cause of death among US police officers in 2021, report says — 11:14 a.m.

By The New York Times

For the second year in a row, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for U.S. law enforcement officers, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

A total of 458 officers died in the line of duty in the country last year, making it the deadliest year in more than 90 years and a 55% increase from 2020, according to preliminary data compiled by the organization. Of those, it found that 301 federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers had died because of COVID-19.

“It has been reported to NLEOMF that these officers have died due to direct exposure to the virus during the commission of their official duties,” the report said.

Felony assaults were responsible for the deaths of 84 officers last year, including 62 officers killed with firearms, the report said. Fifty-eight were killed in traffic-related incidents while working the roadways. Both the number of deaths from firearm assaults and traffic-related fatalities had risen from the previous year.

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Fall in London COVID cases raises hopes Omicron is in retreat — 10:28 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

COVID infection rates are falling in London, raising hopes that the omicron outbreak is in retreat.

Infections for the U.K. increased to 4.3 million in the first week of January, up from 3.7 million a week earlier, the Office for National Statistics said. England accounted for the bulk, at just over 3.7 million, and the highest infection rate one in 15.

But cases in London, which has been at the epicentre of the U.K. outbreak, dropped from one in 10 to one in 15. The hot spots are now the North West of England and Yorkshire and the Humber, where one in 10 people have COVID.

Signs that the virus may be retreating in the capital provide some hope that the worst may soon be over. A short, sharp surge in cases echoes the experience in South Africa, where omicron was first reported.

The U.K. government has gambled on omicron being highly transmissible but less lethal, particularly for those vaccinated. For the moment, the bet has paid off. Infections have risen to record levels but the number of people on ventilators or dying has remained steady.

Infections have been highest among the young but are now creeping up among the older, more vulnerable age groups, however. One in 30 people in England aged 70 or over tested positive in the latest week, up from one in 45.

Coronavirus levels in Boston-area waste water are falling — 9:52 a.m.

By Christina Prignano, Globe staff

After seeing massive spikes in coronavirus levels over the last several weeks, there’s a hopeful trend emerging in waste water data collected from the Deer Island water treatment plant: Levels of coronavirus are falling.

The most recent readings from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s plant found that the seven day average of coronavirus levels in the waste water from the southern sample have fallen to 6,810 RNA copies/mL as of Monday. That’s down sharply from a high of 11,446 RNA copies/mL on Jan. 3. Levels have fallen even lower in samples from the northern half of the system: The seven day average was 5,091 RNA copies/mL as of Monday, down from a high of 8,644 on Jan. 5.

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Boston will roll out a vaccine certificate app on Jan. 15 — 9:46 a.m.

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff

While Massachusetts introduced an online service this week to help residents prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, the city of Boston is preparing to roll out a vaccine certificate app of its own.

The state system uses a website called My Vax Records, where people can download digital proof of vaccination from the Massachusetts Immunization Information System. Boston is going with a smartphone app called B Together that lets the user simply display a photograph of the white CDC card issued at the vaccination center.

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UK’s Boris Johnson apologizes for attending lockdown party — 7:56 a.m.

By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized Wednesday for attending a garden party during Britain’s coronavirus lockdown in 2020, but brushed aside opposition demands that he resign for breaching the rules his own government had imposed.

Johnson is facing a tide of anger from public and politicians over claims he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing when it was banned. Some members of his Conservative Party have joined in the criticism, saying he must quit if he can’t quell the furor.

Johnson acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he went to a May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said that he had considered it a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

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New York City high school students stage walkout, citing inadequate COVID measures — 6:54 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Students walked out of schools across New York City around lunchtime on Tuesday to protest what many called inadequate protections against the coronavirus - and demand an option to learn remotely until they improve.

It’s the latest flash point in an increasingly tense national debate about in person versus remote learning, as the United States grapples with an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant.

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Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in Britain, US — 6:51 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming Omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the US, at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.

The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

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Biden sending 10 million free COVID tests to schools to keep them open — 6:33 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Biden administration is increasing federal support for COVID-19 testing for schools in a bid to keep them open amid the omicron surge.

The White House announced Wednesday that the administration is making a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests available to schools starting this month to ease supply shortages and promote the safe reopening of schools. That’s on top of more than $10 billion devoted to school-based tests authorized in the COVID-19 relief law and about $130 billion earmarked in that law to keep kids in school.

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WHO says COVID-19 cases rose by more than 50 percent, deaths stable — 5:41 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The number of new coronavirus infections in the last week jumped by about 55%, although the number of deaths remained stable, the World Health Organization said in its latest pandemic report.

In the weekly report issued Tuesday night, the U.N. health agency said there were about 15 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths. Every world region reported a rise in COVID-19 cases except for Africa, where officials saw an 11% drop.

Last week, WHO noted a pandemic record high of 9.5 million new infections in a single week, calling it a “tsunami” of disease.

WHO said the extremely contagious omicron variant continues to define the pandemic globally and is now crowding out the previously dominant delta variant. It said omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa in late November, accounts for nearly 59% of all sequences shared with the largest publicly available global database of viruses. WHO said omicron had now proven to have a shorter doubling time, with increasing evidence it was able to “evade immunity.” It also noted there were numerous studies that it is less severe compared to previous variants.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice tests positive for COVID-19 — 1:09 a.m.

By The Associated Press

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, his office announced.

Justice said in a statement he woke up with a cough and congestion, then developed a headache and high fever. The 70-year-old governor said he initially took a rapid test for the coronavirus, which came back negative.

The governor then was administered a PCR test that was positive. A test by a state laboratory confirmed the initial result and an additional test was being administered Tuesday night. Justice was experiencing moderate symptoms and was isolating at home, the Republican governor’s office said in a news release.

Justice, who is fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, was scheduled to give his sixth State of the State address to the Legislature on Wednesday night. The address will now be delivered by written message to lawmakers to fulfill constitutional requirements and Justice will address them at a later date, the statement said.

“For this to happen just one night before the State of the State — knowing I won’t be able to be there — saddens me,” Justice said. “There are so many great things happening in West Virginia right now.

“I’ll be back in front of you in-person before you know it.”

The governor is scheduled to receive a monoclonal antibody treatment, as recommended by his physicians. Among the physicians treating him is Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus expert.

Omicron wave prompts media to rethink which data to report — 1:02 a.m.

By The Associated Press

For two years, coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations have been widely used barometers of the pandemic’s march across the world.

But the Omicron wave is making a mess of the usual statistics, forcing news organizations to rethink the way they report such figures.

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Models show Omicron cases may peak in Mass. within two weeks, while hospitalizations could continue to surge — 12:04 a.m.

By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

Massachusetts should gird for about two more weeks of skyrocketing COVID-19 case increases fueled by the Omicron variant before a steep decline toward the end of this month, according to experts and pandemic models.

Recent forecasts from influential modeling groups suggest that the peak of cases is approaching fast. Experts also cautioned that high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths will continue for several more weeks after cases crest. The numbers are not definitive, but best guesses, offering an indication of where the Omicron wave is headed.

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  Jan. 11, 2022  

Why COVID testing is falling short in many schools across the US — 11:36 p.m.

By The New York Times

In California, storms over the winter break destroyed 1 million coronavirus test kits that were meant to help schools screen returning students. In Seattle schools, children waited for hours for virus testing, some in a driving rain. In Florida this month, an attempt to supply tests to teachers in Broward County turned up expired kits.

And in Chicago, a labor dispute, partly over testing, kept students out of school for a week.

As millions of American students head back to their desks — Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, started classes Tuesday — the coronavirus testing that was supposed to help keep classrooms open safely is itself being tested. In much of the country, things are not going well.

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Health officials defend administration’s response to Omicron variant — 8:05 p.m.

By The New York Times

Top federal health officials Tuesday defended the Biden administration’s efforts to protect Americans against the highly contagious Omicron variant as they faced withering accusations from lawmakers about scarce coronavirus tests and confusing guidance on how people who tested positive for the virus could return to normal life.

Joined by the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, called the wave of Omicron cases a “massive, unprecedented surge.”

“This is an extraordinary virus, the likes of which we have not seen even close to in well over 100 years. It is a very wily virus,” one that has “fooled everybody all the time, from the time it first came in, to Delta, to now Omicron,” he said.

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Mass. reports 82,466 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, raising total to 5.1 percent of fully vaccinated people — 6:17 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 82,466 more COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people since last week, a sharp jump that brings the total since the beginning of the vaccination campaign to 262,060 cases, or 5.1 percent of all fully vaccinated people.

The Department of Public Health also reported 112 more COVID-19 deaths among fully vaccinated people, bringing the total to 1,054 deaths among those fully vaccinated. The number of breakthrough deaths represents a tiny fraction of all vaccinated people and underscores the protection the vaccines provide against severe illness and death.

The deaths accounted for 0.02 percent of the 5,120,310 people in Massachusetts who were fully vaccinated, the department said in its weekly update on breakthrough COVID-19 metrics, which included data reported through Saturday.

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Mass. reports 17,802 coronavirus cases and 116 deaths — 5:40 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 17,802 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 28,649 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 116 new confirmed deaths were reported on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The state also reported that 2,970 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. On Tuesday, the seven-day percent positivity was 22.78 percent.

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COVID-detecting dogs are visiting some schools to help sniff out the virus on surfaces — 4:51 p.m.

By Steve Annear, Globe Staff

Huntah hasn’t been attending school for very long — but she understands the assignment.

On a recent afternoon in a schoolroom in Fairhaven, the 14-month-old Labrador retriever kept her nose to the ground, sniffing around for signs of something amiss. Soon, she “got a hit,” said Captain Paul Douglas, an officer with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, and Huntah’s handler.

The black lab sat down in front of an empty chair, her signal that she had picked up a scent. She had found what she was looking for: possible signs of COVID-19.

The sheriff’s office has launched a program that enlists two young dogs — Huntah and her counterpart, Duke, a yellow lab — to scour nooks and crannies in 15 Bristol County schools where the odor of the virus may have been left behind.

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Here’s how to get a QR code to prove your COVID-19 vaccine status through the state’s new website — 4:48 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe staff

Massachusetts on Monday launched an online website where residents can obtain a QR code to show proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The QR code can be scanned at various establishments that may require proof of vaccination to enter.

While Massachusetts does not have a statewide vaccination mandate to enter certain establishments, some individual businesses might require proof of vaccination before entering. In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu announced last month that the city will require proof of vaccination at venues like restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters. That measure goes into effect on Saturday.

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Baker says getting kids vaccinated is proving harder than he thought — 1:53 p.m.

By Matt Stout and Sahar Fatima, Globe Staff

Getting people to vaccinate their children is proving more difficult than Governor Charlie Baker anticipated, he told lawmakers Tuesday at an oversight hearing on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The kid thing in particular is a more difficult sell for many folks than I thought it would be, and I think it’s because there’s so much noise out there about vaccines, generally,” Baker told the Legislature’s Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “I’ve been in some really intense conversations with people I know who have kids, and honestly, sometimes I can make the sale and sometimes I can’t.”

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When should you get a COVID test? Mass. issues new COVID-19 testing guidance — 1:25 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday issued new guidance on when residents should seek COVID-19 testing, aligning the state with measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidance was updated as Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced that the state has secured an order to get 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests over the next three months.

Here’s a look at the Department of Public Health’s new guidance on COVID testing:

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China locks down 3rd city, raising affected to 20 million — 11:35 a.m.

By The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — A third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of a COVID-19 outbreak, raising the number confined to their homes in China to about 20 million people.

The lockdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million people, was announced late Monday after two cases of the omicron variant were reported. Residents are not allowed to go out and stores have been ordered shut except those selling necessities.

Another 13 million people have been locked down in Xi’an for nearly three weeks, and 1.1 million more in Yuzhou for more than a week. It wasn’t clear how long the lockdown of Anyang would last, as it was announced as a measure to facilitate mass testing of residents, which is standard procedure in China’s strategy of identifying and isolating infected people as quickly as possible.

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Mass. to get 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests in coming months, Baker says — 9:38 a.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that Massachusetts has received an order to get 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests over the next few months.

“We expect to receive rolling shipments from this contract beginning this week,” Baker said during a State House briefing. “We’ll provide more details on how we plan to distribute these tests ... shortly.”

He also said DPH is advising people to get a COVID-19 test if they have symptoms or if they’re a confirmed closed contact of someone who’s infected.

Baker said rapid tests “in most situations” are sound alternatives to PCR tests.

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Baker to testify before Legislature as COVID-19 rips through Massachusetts — 9:00 a.m.

By Matt Stout, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday is set to testify before lawmakers scrutinizing the second-term Republican’s leadership amid the Omicron variant surge, which continues to tear through Massachusetts and stretch its already depleted hospitals.

Baker and his top health aide, Marylou Sudders, are scheduled to appear this afternoon in a virtual oversight hearing held by the Legislature’s Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. The committee’s leaders, as well others including Senate President Karen E. Spilka, have urged Baker to go further, and faster, in helping to quell the rise of coronavirus infections, including through a renewed mask mandate and a more aggressive testing regime.

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Head of Serbian Orthodox Church tests positive for virus — 7:47 a.m.

By The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Patriarch Porfirije, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has tested positive for COVID-19, the church said Tuesday, amid a surge in infections in the country and elsewhere in the Balkan region.

Porfirije has developed “very mild symptoms of the virus infection” and remains in home isolation, said the statement. It added that Porfirije is carrying out administrative duties entirely without problems.

The 60-year-old patriarch became the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the previous patriarch, Irinej, died in November 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.

WHO: 7 million new omicron COVID cases in Europe last week — 5:59 a.m.

By The Associated Press

There were more than 7 million new cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 across Europe in the first week of January, more than doubling in just two weeks, the World Health Organization said.

WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said at a media briefing on Tuesday that 26 countries in its region reported that more than 1% of their populations are being infected with COVID-19 each week, warning there is now a “closing window of opportunity” for countries to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed.

He cited estimates from the Institute of Health Metrics at the University of Washington that projected half of the population in Western Europe will be infected with COVID-19 in the next six to eight weeks.

“Omicron moves faster and wider than any (previous) variant we have seen,” he said. Kluge called for countries to mandate the use of masks indoors and to prioritize vaccination, including booster doses, of at-risk populations, including health workers and older people. WHO’s Geneva headquarters has previously pleaded with rich countries not to offer booster doses and to donate them instead to poorer countries where vulnerable groups have yet to be immunized.

Kluge said he was greatly concerned that as omicron moves east across the European continent, the variant will take a much higher toll on countries with lower vaccination coverage rates. In Denmark, he noted the coronavirus hospitalization rate was six times higher in people who weren’t vaccinated compared to those who had been immunized.

Mexico’s president tests positive for coronavirus a second time — 5:58 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday evening that, for the second time in a year, he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

López Obrador was visibly ill at a Monday morning news conference, and without a mask as he spoke to reporters. When one reporter commented on his apparent symptoms, López Obrador, known by his initials, AMLO, responded that he “woke up hoarse.”

“I’m going to take the test later, but I think it’s the flu,” he said.

He later tweeted that he had tested positive.

“I inform you that I am infected with #COVID19 and although the symptoms are mild, I will remain in isolation and will only do office work and communicate virtually until I get better,” he wrote. The secretary of the Interior Department, Adán Augusto López Hernández, will fill in for him at daily news conferences and other appearances, the president added.

Spain calls for debate to consider COVID as endemic, like flu — 4:16 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Spain is calling on Europe to debate the possibility that Covid-19 can now be treated as an endemic illness, setting a model to monitor its evolution akin to the one used for flu.

“It’s a necessary debate; Science has given us the answer to protect ourselves,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in interview yesterday with radio station Cadena Ser, adding that the virus’s lethality has been dropping since the beginning of the pandemic. “We have to evaluate the evolution of covid from pandemic to an endemic illness,” he said.

Sanchez’s comments come as omicron, the latest variant dominating large swathes of Europe, has seen lower rates of hospitalizations and deaths than previous strains even as infections have soared.

Sanchez said there may be reasons now, “with precaution,” to assess the disease with different parameters than those used so far.

The Spanish government has been working on a new monitoring approach in the last weeks and Health Minister Carolina Darias has brought the matter up with her European counterparts, said Sanchez.

Record 46 percent of all COVID tests in Philippines come back positive — 3:00 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The percentage of positive Covid-19 tests reached a record high in the Philippines, fueling fears of a return to stricter curbs on movement and triggering a selloff of stocks as hopes fade for a swift economic recovery.

Positivity rates are rising across Asia, a warning sign as countries brace for the highly infectious omicron variant to take hold after delta ripped through the region last year. The positivity rate surged to 46 percent in the Philippines on Monday, more than four times the level at the end of 2021.

Cases jumped with the spread of Omicron during the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. With infections continuing to spike and more than half of the beds in hospitals’ intensive care units now occupied, anticipation is building that the government may soon impose fresh restrictions.

Poland marks 100,000 COVID-related deaths as Omicron wave nears — 2:41 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Poland’s COVID-related death toll reached 100,000 on Tuesday, with the country still bracing for the outbreak of the Omicron variant.

Average excess mortality in Poland during the pandemic has exceeded 20 percent, according to Eurostat data, one of the worst results in the European Union. In the last two years, Poland registered 190,000 more deaths than the annual average for the three years before the pandemic, civil registry data showed.

The high ratio of deaths is most likely a result of health-care system gaps amid looser restrictions kept in place for much of last year and a full vaccination rate of 55 percent. That’s below the EU average but higher than other eastern EU states such as neighboring Slovakia or Bulgaria, which has the lowest rate in the 27-member bloc.

The government has been reluctant to introduce new pandemic restrictions, fearing a public backlash. Poland’s de facto leader and the head of the ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski said last month that authorities are struggling to enforce existing virus rules, including mask-wearing in closed spaces.

Even though Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said new restrictions are needed, as he expects hospitals to be overrun with new infections, his appeal is likely to be ignored with weak political backing in the cabinet.

China says Omicron outbreak isn’t affecting Olympic plans yet — 12:59 a.m.

By Bloomberg

China’s Olympic organizers say they are not changing their preparations for the Winter Olympics just over three weeks away as the Omicron variant ripples across parts of the country.

“Unless there are large-scale cases in the competition zones, we don’t plan to adjust the Covid-19 countermeasures yet,” Huang Chun, a top virus-control official on the Chinese committee organizing the event, said at a briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

Read more

  Jan. 10, 2022  

Japan keeps border controls as it prepares for Omicron surge 11:45 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Japan will keep its borders closed to most foreign citizens through February as it attempts to accelerate coronavirus booster shots for elderly people and expand hospital capacity to cope with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

Japan briefly eased border controls in November after COVID-19 cases rapidly declined, but quickly reinstated a ban on most foreign entrants after the highly transmissible new variant emerged.

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China locks down second city amid Omicron threat — 11:29 p.m.

By Bloomberg

China locked down a city of five million people a day after detecting Omicron in the central Henan province, its second shut down in as many months, underscoring the nation’s commitment to eliminating COVID as two highly transmissible variants circulate.

Authorities in the city of Anyang told residents not to leave their homes and banned use of all vehicles after two people were reported with the more contagious Omicron variant on Monday. Another 58 cases were disclosed Tuesday morning, according to the local health authorities, though they didn’t say whether the infections were caused by Omicron.

The Omicron flareups in Henan and the northern port city of Tianjin pose major challenges for officials already grappling with a delta outbreak, one of China’s most protracted since the virus emerged more than two years ago. Both are adjacent to Hebei province, which is hosting snow sport competitions during the Winter Olympics in Beijing that start in less than a month.

China reported 110 locally transmitted COVID infections on Tuesday. Henan province is the latest epicenter, accounting for 87 of the new cases.

All companies in Anyang were required to suspend operations, other than for essential activities, until the virus risk in the city is completely eliminated, officials said. Tickets sales for travel to Beijing were also halted.

Chicago schools will reopen as teachers and the city reach a deal over virus safeguards — 11:02 p.m.

By The New York Times

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration on Monday announced a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union that would return students to classrooms Wednesday after a dispute over coronavirus safeguards canceled a week of classes in the country’s third-largest school district.

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CDC weighs recommending better masks against Omicron variant — 10:55 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by health-care personnel, if they can do so consistently, said an official close to the deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly.

With the highly transmissible Omicron variant spurring record levels of infections and hospitalizations, experts have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to recommend the better-quality masks rather than cloth coverings to protect against an airborne virus, and to underscore the importance of masking.

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Hong Kong to close primary schools, plans to vaccinate kids — 9:35 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong will suspend in-person classes for kindergartens and primary schools from Friday until after Chinese New Year, as the city reimposes pandemic curbs to stem an outbreak of the contagious Omicron variant.

COVID-19 infections among young children prompted the move, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a regular press briefing Tuesday. The city will expand its vaccination program to children between the ages of 5 and 12, she added. Secondary schools will continue in-person classes, Lam said.

“It’s a very difficult decision to make,” Lam said, on closing some schools, “because on the one hand, we want to protect children from infection. But then if we suspend classes, we know there will be drawbacks in relation to their mental and physical development.”

The school closures are the latest in a raft of strict new pandemic curbs imposed over the past week as the city rushes to stop a local outbreak of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant. Last week, Lam closed gyms, stopping dine-in services at restaurants after 6 p.m. and banned residents from returning from eight countries including the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

For BPD sergeant leading push against vaccination mandate, a mixed work history — 9:34 p.m.

By Danny McDonald and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

The Boston police sergeant who has spearheaded the resistance to Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees has a complicated history on the force that includes multiple internal affairs complaints sustained against her, one involving a drunken altercation, as well as documented instances of heroism, including helping an injured woman to the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

Shana Cottone, a 14-year veteran of the department, is currently on leave during an internal affairs probe. Her gun and badge were taken by internal affairs officers over the weekend, and Cottone is convinced the investigation is connected to her role in leading Boston First Responders United, a group that organized marches and demonstrations against the city’s vaccination mandate. The group says it has about 250 members, including police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers.

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With Omicron surging, Passim’s annual Boston Celtic Music Festival goes virtual — 7:59 p.m.

By Lauren Daley, Globe Correspondent

As we’ve learned in these last years, the best-laid plans of mice and men fall victim to COVID.

With the Omicron variant spiking, Club Passim made a last-minute pivot from a ticketed, live four-day event to streaming its 19th annual Boston Celtic Music Festival for free, Thursday through Sunday, via Facebook, YouTube, and its website.

“It’s not our first rodeo,” says lead festival organizer Summer McCall with a laugh, citing Passim’s other virtual pandemic-era events.

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US hospitals letting COVID-infected staff stay on the job — 6:23 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all.

The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the Omicron variant is causing.

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Virginia governor declares limited state of emergency aimed at helping hospitals in crisis — 6:05 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday issued a limited state of emergency for hospitals stretched dangerously thin amid historic surges in coronavirus caseloads.

The provisions of the targeted, 30-day state-of-emergency order will make technical changes to expand capacity and increase staffing at hospitals while they grapple with the pandemic, seasonal flu and a general increase in acuity after patients deferred care.

“It has been a long 22 months for all of us,” Northam, a Democrat, said during a news conference. “It has been a roller coaster, and we are not built for this kind of uncertainty for this long. It has been hard on everyone.”

Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, who takes office Saturday, could rescind the emergency order, but Northam expects it to have his support.

“The governor has spoken with the governor-elect, and we’re hopeful he will keep this in place for the full 30 days or as long as necessary,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Monday. “It’s very important given the fact that the transition’s taking place.”

Youngkin “supports the use of tailored executive action that removes staffing barriers and provides healthcare providers the flexibility in order to deliver high-quality care and give overworked medical professionals the relief they need,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement Monday.

The order waives certain regulations to increase bed capacity, allows providers with active licenses and in good standing to practice in Virginia, including through telemedicine, and allows physicians assistants with at least two years’ clinical experience to practice without written agreements. It grants more flexibility to those who can administer vaccines and activates price-gouging protections for at-home antigen test kits.

R.I. teachers union calls for distance learning until Jan. 18 — 5:46 p.m.

By Edward Fitzpatrick, Globe Staff

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the National Education Association Rhode Island on Monday came out in favor of allowing school districts to return to distance learning for at least another week.

The 12,000-member teachers union said superintendents need to be able to shift to distance learning when staffing levels undermine safety or student absenteeism undercuts productive in-person learning.

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CDC advises against traveling to Canada, citing coronavirus levels — 5:41 p.m.

By The Washington Post

U.S. health officials on Monday advised against travel to Canada, citing “very high” levels of the coronavirus in the country.

Canada joins scores of countries that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has grouped under a Level 4 travel advisory, its most severe, including most of Europe and nations in southern Africa. The agency has also urged unvaccinated people to avoid travel to 54 additional nations, including Mexico - by far the top international destination for U.S. citizens last year, according to federal data. The CDC also issued a Level 4 warning for Curaçao on Monday.

New coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Canada in the past few weeks, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, as the Omicron variant fuels a new global wave of infections.

“If you must travel to Canada, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel,” the CDC said in its travel alert for Canada, which indicates high prevalence of the virus. “Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.”

Health officials have emphasized that some vaccinated people will contract the virus, particularly as Omicron proves more resistant to existing vaccinations. Research shows that Omicron tends to cause milder illness than the delta variant, which became dominant last year. Vaccinations appear to protect against the most serious infections, experts say, especially for those who have gotten a booster shot.

For unvaccinated people who travel, the CDC recommends getting tested for the coronavirus one to three days before a trip. The agency says people should not travel if they are sick; are in isolation after testing positive; are awaiting test results; or are quarantining after a close contact with an infected person.

Canada has generally advised against nonessential international travel.

Baker says ‘the best place for kids is in school’ amid COVID surge — 5:00 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday reiterated that state officials are working to keep children in school for in-person learning amid the ongoing Omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19.

“We’ve said all along that we think the best place for kids is in school,” Baker told reporters at the State House following his regular meeting with legislative leaders. “And that is because in many respects, every respected public health expert in America has said” the safest place for children is school.

Baker said the state will do whatever it can to help school districts maintain in-person learning.

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R.I. will require nursing home visitors to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 — 4:56 p.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe staff

All visitors to long-term care facilities in Rhode Island must be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test, the governor’s office announced Monday.

Regardless of vaccination status, all visitors to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will be required to wear masks. Previously, mask mandates were tied to vaccination status.

The new regulations, which were implemented by the state health department, will go into effect immediately.

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Several COVID testing sites announce closure ahead of Tuesday’s frigid temperatures — 4:21 p.m.

By Christina Prignano, Globe staff

Several COVID-19 testing sites around Massachusetts will be closed on Tuesday as temperatures in Massachusetts plunge.

Officials in Worcester, Everett, New Bedford, and elsewhere said COVID testing would be canceled tomorrow at sites where people must often stand in lines outdoors to wait for a test.

New Bedford officials said in a press release that anyone with a Tuesday appointment at Project Beacon’s New Bedford testing center would be notified of their canceled appointment and asked to reschedule.

The huge surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has often meant hours-long waits outside testing sites around the state. In Boston, city officials added heated tents outside one Jamaica Plain testing center to make the wait more bearable.

Temperatures Tuesday are expected to drop into the single digits across much of Massachusetts, with wind chills below zero. Exposure to such temperatures without proper clothing can result in frost bite within 30 minutes.

Providence School Board urges state to allow distance learning, provide masks, offer mental health support — 3:35 p.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe staff

The pandemic-related hardships Providence schools have faced during the last three school years cannot be resolved with the state takeover alone, School Board president Kinzel Thomas has told the state.

While district students, teachers, school staff and administrators have been able to keep schools mostly open throughout the pandemic to ensure students receive in-person learning, Thomas said, the district had reached a pivotal point where human capital has been stretched thin.

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Home COVID tests will be covered by insurers starting Saturday. Here are the details — 3:11 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for people on their plans. The Biden administration announced the change Monday as it looks to lower costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid rising frustrations.

Under the new policy, first detailed to the AP, Americans will be able to either purchase home testing kits for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement, up to the monthly per-person limit. A family of four, for instance, could be reimbursed for up to 32 tests per month. PCR tests and rapid tests ordered or administered by a health provider will continue to be fully covered by insurance with no limit.

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Massachusetts unveils new proof-of-vaccination website — 3:05 p.m.

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe staff

Massachusetts on Monday joined 12 other US states in offering a digital certificate to show proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19. But the state said it’s not a first step toward mandatory “vaccine passports.”

While some states use a smartphone app to display a person’s vaccination status, Massachusetts is using an Internet site where people can look up the information. The website, called My Vax Records, checks a person’s name, phone number, and e-mail address against the vaccination records in the state’s public health database.

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Boston’s COVID hospitalization rate jumps 50 percent; officials working to protect schools, city says — 12:52 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe staff

Boston’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate has spiked dramatically in the past week, and the test positivity rate is hovering at 32 percent, as city officials work to minimize transmission in schools amid the ongoing Omicron-fueled surge of the virus, officials said Tuesday.

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, director of the Boston Public Health Commission, provided the data during a briefing Tuesday at City Hall, where Mayor Michelle Wu discussed the city’s efforts to address the crisis of homelessness at Mass. and Cass.

“Our hospitalizations have gone up about 50 percent in the last week,” Ojikutu said. “Our emergency department visits have also gone up about 30 percent in the last week. We’re seeing more than 2,200 cases per day.”

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Moderna says Omicron-specific vaccine won’t be ready before fall, data in young kids imminent — 12:50 p.m.

By Anissa Gardizy, Globe Staff

As cases of the Omicron variant surge in the US, Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel said the company is still working on a potentially new version of its COVID-19 vaccine, which wouldn’t be available until the fall.

The Cambridge biotech company is continuing to move forward a booster candidate that is specific to the Omicron variant and a booster that is tailored to multiple variants. Bancel said Moderna is working closely with scientists and public health leaders around the world to identity what variants would be important to include in a new version of the vaccine.

“We think, given that Omicron is really becoming the dominant variant everywhere, that providing an Omicron [component] in the potential fall 2022 vaccine ... is going to be important,” he said in a presentation at the virtual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

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When the pandemic began, some reconsidered getting pregnant. The result: 60,000 missing births — 12:00 p.m.

By Tara Bahrampour, The Washington Post

Kat Athanasiades and her husband had planned to have a second child right around when their daughter turned 2, which meant trying to get pregnant in March or April 2020. But then the world turned upside down.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the couple, who live in Washington, began to reassess. Both had switched to remote work, their nanny share was suspended, and the social network on which they relied had receded. The prospect of giving birth in a hospital during the pandemic also felt daunting; Athanasiades recalled stories of women “delivering solo with masks or being separated from your baby if you were positive.”

“We were isolating,” she said, “so we didn’t have any support at all. We furloughed our nanny, so it was my husband and I doing all the care for an active 18-month-old. Putting our daughter to bed one night, I said, ‘I don’t think we can have another right now. ... I don’t think I can do it when I’m so uncertain of what our future’s going to look like.’ "

She was not the only one. A recent Brookings Institution study shows 60,000 fewer births than expected between October 2020 and February 2021 in the United States, corresponding with fewer conceptions earlier in 2020. The largest number of missing births were in January 2021, which roughly corresponds to conceptions in April 2020, when many Americans began to process the magnitude of the pandemic.

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Should you report your rapid test? The state says no. — 11:28 a.m.

By Diti Kohli, Globe staff

Most at-home COVID tests in Massachusetts cannot be formally reported to public health authorities, sparking questions about whether virus cases are being undercounted in the Commonwealth and beyond.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health told the Globe in an e-mail that there is no avenue for residents to alert the state of positive results from antigen tests.

The majority of at-home tests “are not reportable,” the spokesperson wrote.

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R.I. launches $50 million homeowner assistance fund — 11:23 a.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — For Rhode Island-based homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments, a new government assistance program may be able to help.

The governor’s office and Rhode Island delegation Monday announced a new $50 million program that will help provide financial assistance to eligible Rhode Island homeowners who have struggled to pay their mortgage payments or other housing-related expenses due to the pandemic.

The program, Homeowner Assistance Fund Rhode Island (HAF-RI), is designed to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners that have experienced financial hardships.

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Mass. school officials extend school mask mandate through February — 10:18 a.m.

By Christina Prignano, Globe staff

Massachusetts school officials have extended a policy that requires most students and staff to wear masks in public school buildings through the end of February as the state continues to battle the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“The mask requirement remains an important measure to keep students, teachers and staff in school safely at this time. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in consultation with medical experts and state health officials, will continue to evaluate public health data,” the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a statement on Monday.

School districts can lift the mask mandate for certain schools if they can prove that at least 80 percent of the school community, including students and staff, is vaccinated.

School officials last week reported a huge number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and many school districts are battling staffing shortages as a result of teacher illness.

Cypriot scientist says ‘Deltacron’ COVID variant isn’t error — 9:18 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A strain of COVID-19 that combines delta and Omicron was found in Cyprus, according to Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology.

“There are currently Omicron and delta co-infections and we found this strain that is a combination of these two,” Kostrikis said in an interview with Sigma TV Friday. The discovery was named “deltacron” due to the identification of Omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes, he said.

Kostrikis and his team have identified 25 such cases and the statistical analysis shows that the relative frequency of the combined infection is higher among patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 as compared to non-hospitalized patients. The sequences of the 25 deltacron cases were sent to GISAID, the international database that tracks changes in the virus, on Jan. 7.

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Moderna says it has $18.5 billion in vaccine orders for 2022 — 8:18 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Moderna Inc. said it has signed vaccine purchase agreements worth $18.5 billion for this year, along with options for another $3.5 billion, including booster shots.

In a statement on Monday, the company also said 2021 product sales would be $17.5 billion, slightly higher than the average analyst estimate of $17 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Additionally, the company said that it shipped 807 million vaccine doses in 2021. Previously, it had said it would deliver between 700 milion and 800 million doses.

The advance purchase agreements for 2022 are up from $17 billion worth of commitments it had announced last year. Analysts were expecting $19.3 billion in Moderna COVID vaccine sales for 2022, according to a Bloomberg survey of analyst estimates.

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Should you swab your throat when testing at home for COVID-19? Experts are divided. — 8:01 a.m.

By Deanna Pan, Globe staff

You got your hands on a rapid antigen test to screen for COVID-19. The instructions are straightforward: Slide the swab up your nose and twirl it around for a few seconds. Pretty clear, right?

Maybe not. A new debate roiling the science community has cast doubt on the best way to detect a positive coronavirus infection using home testing kits. Some public health experts argue that swabbing your throat — in addition to your nose — will pick up the highly transmissible Omicron variant more quickly than swabbing your nose alone because the variant may replicate faster in your oropharynx, or middle part of your throat, than in your nose.

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Uganda reopens schools after two years — 5:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Uganda reopened schools Monday that were closed for nearly two years to slow the spread of COVID-19 as most educators have been partially inoculated against the virus and stringent safety measures have been put in place.

With one of the youngest populations in the world, Uganda had at least 15.2 million learners in education institutions by March 2020, when they were shut due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

Bangladesh to keep schools open amid surge — 4:15 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Bangladesh will keep schools open despite a fresh surge in cases, Education Minister Dipu Moni said Monday, adding that students 12 and above will require at least one vaccine dose to be allowed back to in-person classes.

Unvaccinated students will only be allowed to attend online classes, Moni said. The country reported 1,491 new virus cases on Sunday. Bangladesh opened up vaccinations for children above 12 in November.

India starts booster shots for vulnerable amid Omicron surge — 3:11 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Healthcare and front-line workers along with people above age 60 with health problems lined up Monday at vaccination centers across India to receive a third dose as infections linked to the Omicron variant surge.

The doses, which India is calling a “precautionary” shot instead of a booster, were given as new confirmed coronavirus infections rocketed to over 179,000 on Monday, nearly an eightfold increase in a week. Hospitalizations, while still relatively low, are also beginning to rise in large, crowded cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

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Hong Kong to add vaccination centers — 2:01 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The city will add 22 clinics administering Sinovac shots starting Jan. 21, the government said, adding it plans to open two more community inoculation centers at the end of January. The Asian financial hub found a new preliminary positive COVID-19 case linked to a scandal-hit birthday bash that’s ensnared a minister in government quarantine as the city rushes to contain an Omicron outbreak.

Australia’s Victoria state requires boosters — 1:58 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Australia’s Victoria state will force workers in critical service sectors to get a booster shot within the next month as it expects the latest surge in virus cases to peak by early February, health minister Martin Foley said Monday. Healthcare, emergency services and food distribution workers -- including truckers, meat processors, fisherman and dock hands -- will be required to have a third vaccine dose by mid-February, and other sectors are likely to follow, he said. The state recorded 34,808 new infections on Monday. COVID infected patients in hospitals have almost doubled to 818 in a week, with authorities expecting hospitalizations to peak next month.

Health authorities are wanting to “stretch out” and “top off” the infection and hospitalization curve to protect the state’s “extremely stressed” healthcare system, Foley said. While Omicron appears less severe, “the weight of numbers is what threatens the critical services like hospitals and GPs,” he said

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