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Fauci says omicron infections could peak by mid-February; Gonzaga banishes Hall of Famer John Stockton: COVID-19 updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/23/2022 John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
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The nation's top infectious disease expert is "as confident as you can be" that most states will have reached a peak of omicron COVID-19 cases by mid-February.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," said several states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest have seen cases peak and begin to decline sharply but that cases are still rising in the South and West.

"You never want to be overconfident when you're dealing with this virus," Fauci said, adding that the coronavirus "surprised us in the past."

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Fauci said there may be "a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations" in parts of the country where a higher percentage of people have not been fully vaccinated or have not received a booster shot.

Fauci said the goal is to get infections under control to where the virus isn't eliminated but the level is low enough that "it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections" that Americans have learned to live with.

Also in the news:

►Scott Quiner, 55, an unvaccinated patient flown from Minnesota to Texas during a legal battle over whether his ventilator should be turned off, died Saturday, the family’s attorney said.

►Arkansas reported almost 1,700 coronavirus hospitalizations Saturday, breaking the state's record for the fifth day in a row.

►New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is postponing her wedding after announcing new restrictions Sunday. The restrictions came after nine cases of the omicron variant were found in a single family that flew to Auckland to attend a wedding.

►Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in an interview with Israel's N12 News that he hopes COVID-19 boosters will be administered "once a year" and not once every four to five months, according to Reuters.

►Kiribati, one of the most isolated islands in the world, went into its first lockdown after the majority of passengers on the country's first international flight in months tested positive for COVID-19, the government said on Facebook.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 70 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 866,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 350.5 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 210 million Americans – 63.3% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: Long COVID-19 patients are still struggling to reclaim their lives – even many months after their infections. "I'm 29 years old and I feel like I'm 70," says one Georgia man. He's not alone. Read the full story.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Hall of Famer John Stockton, a mask and vaccine opponent, banished by Gonzaga

Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton, arguably the most famous alumnus of Gonzaga University, has been banished from home games of the nation's No. 1 college basketball team because of his refusal to wear a mask.

Stockton, who has espoused conspiracy theories about vaccines killing pro athletes in their prime, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that the school in eastern Washington has suspended his season tickets because he would not don a mask at games.

Besides COVID-19 vaccines, Stockton has publicly opposed mask mandates and shutdown measures aimed at curbing spread of the coronavirus.

Stockton, born and raised in Spokane, Washington, had his number retired by Gonzaga and went on to become the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals in 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz.

 Steve Gardner

Right-wing extremists trying to win over anti-vaxxers

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in near-freezing temperatures Sunday at the "Defeat the Mandates" rally in Washington. That's the kind of passion that makes them appealing to far-right groups.

Right-wing extremists are trying to take advantage of the raw feelings caused by the pandemic — "scamdemic,'' they call it — to lure anti-vaxxers to their cause, regularly spreading disinformation videos and false statistics about vaccines on social media.

“The far right has certainly seized on anti-vaccine ideology as an important new front in their ideological and cultural struggle,” said Brian Hughes, associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University.

“They see anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID denialism as a market that they can exploit for views, for clicks and for merchandise sales," Hughes added.

 Will Carless

COVID testing center searched by FBI

An Illinois COVID-testing company under federal and state investigations had its headquarters searched by the FBI on Saturday.

The Center for COVID Control and its main lab, which has been reimbursed more than $124 million from the federal government for coronavirus testing, was the subject of what an FBI spokesperson called "law enforcement activity.''

The company, based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, has been accused of providing inaccurate and deceptive test results. Authorities in Illinois and Oregon are investigating the Center for COVID Control, which according to its website had more than 300 locations across at least 26 states at one point.

The company has also been sued by the Minnesota Attorney General.

 Grace Hauck

Fourth vaccine dose at least doubles protection for those over 60, Israeli study finds 

Israeli health officials have argued in favor of a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for older people, and Sunday they presented evidence for their case.

A fourth shot, or second booster, provided three times as much protection against severe illness and twice as much against infection in people over 60 than three doses, Israel's Health Ministry said Sunday, according to Reuters.

On Monday, preliminary results from a study of health care workers at the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv indicated a fourth shot increased antibodies more than a third but not enough to prevent infections by the omicron variant. The ministry said the enhanced protection was still important for older folks.  

The latest study, conducted by the Sheba Center in collaboration with major Israeli universities, compared 400,000 people over 60 who got the fourth shot with 600,000 people in that age group who received a third dose more than four months before.

Omicron infections have been setting records in heavily vaccinated Israel, where hospitalizations have also been rising but deaths have not.

Beijing begins mass testing 2 million people ahead of Olympics

A Beijing district that is home to 2 million residents began mass coronavirus testing Sunday as China tightened restrictions ahead of the Winter Olympics. The government told people in areas of the Chinese capital deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere. The ruling Communist Party is stepping up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy aimed at isolating every infected person as Beijing prepares to open the Winter Games on Feb. 4 under intensive anti-virus controls.

The Chinese capital must “take the most resolute, decisive and strict measures to block the transmission chain of the epidemic,” a city government spokesman, Xu Hejian, told a news conference.

Non-US citizens entering country by land or ferry must be vaccinated

Non-U.S. citizens need to be fully vaccinated before entering the country by land or ferry, even if they are traveling for "essential" purposes. The change, which went into effect Saturday, was first announced in October

“These updated travel requirements reflect the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to protecting public health while safely facilitating the cross-border trade and travel that is critical to our economy,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Thursday.

Unvaccinated U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and U.S. nationals will still be able to enter the country via ferry or land port.

– Bailey Schulz

Virginia parent arrested after alleged threat over mask rules

A Virginia parent opposed to mask mandates has been charged with making an oral threat on school property after saying she would bring loaded guns to school Monday if her child was forced to wear a mask. Amelia King, 42, became upset after she was cut off during a public comment section of the Page County Public School Board meeting Thursday. 

“My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on. That’s not happening and I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” King said. Luray police issued a statement saying King later called and apologized for the remark. King was released on $5,000 unsecured bond. The school board ultimately voted to make masks optional for students beginning Monday. That followed an executive order by Gov. Glenn Youngkin giving parents the choice to send their children to school masked or unmasked.

– Patrick Hite, Staunton News Leader

North Carolina asks for FEMA support amid hospitalization surge

North Carolina hospitals are treating a record number of coronavirus patients, prompting state health officials to seek federal support in the Charlotte area. Atrium Health, the state’s largest health provider, along with Health and Human Services and Emergency Management officials are asking FEMA for staffing support, including additional nurses, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. To stretch capacity, Atrium Health said it has redeployed staff from urgent care and outpatient centers, limited non-urgent procedures, closed specialty centers and used state-provided flexibilities – but it's still above 95% capacity.

Unvaccinated people make up 72% of hospitalizations and 83% of COVID-19-related intensive care admissions statewide, officials said.

Contributing: The Associated Press. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fauci says omicron infections could peak by mid-February; Gonzaga banishes Hall of Famer John Stockton: COVID-19 updates

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