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COVID-19 live updates: Airline says omicron surge may create significant disruptions

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 810,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 61.6% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Dec 22, 7:54 pm
Critics Choice Awards postponed amid COVID-19 concerns

The Critics Choice Awards, initially scheduled to be held in person in Los Angeles next month, will be postponed, the association behind the film and television awards show announced Wednesday.

“After thoughtful consideration and candid conversations with our partners at The CW and TBS, we have collectively come to the conclusion that the prudent and responsible decision at this point is to postpone the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards,” the Critics Choice Association said in a statement.

Organizers are working to find a new date during the upcoming awards season to hold the gala in person “with everyone’s safety and health remaining our top priority,” it said.

The Critics Choice Awards would have been the first major televised awards show of the season.

The announcement comes as the Los Angeles County health department reported 6,500 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, double the number from the day before and one of the steepest rises the county has seen during the pandemic.

The daily average case rate for the county has also more than doubled since last week, to 29 cases per 100,000 people. Test positivity has jumped to 4.5%, up from 1.9% last Thursday.

Health officials said new cases could reach over 20,000 by the end of the year due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

-ABC News’ Jason Nathanson and Nick Kerr

Dec 22, 7:36 pm
SCOTUS to decide fate of Biden vaccine mandates for large businesses, health care workers

The U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday it will take up challenges to the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandates for large businesses and health care workers, scheduling an expedited hearing for Jan. 7, 2022.

In a pair of orders accepting the cases, the high court put off immediate action on the mandates until after oral arguments next month.

Last week, a federal appeals court reinstated the emergency rule from the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations or conduct weekly testing to ensure workplace safety. Multiple Republican state attorneys general, business organizations and other groups appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Biden administration has since said masks among unvaccinated employees must be enforced starting Jan. 10 and proof of vaccination or testing compliance begins Feb. 9. The requirement remains in effect.

A separate rule by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring vaccinations of workers at facilities that receive funds to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients remains on hold. The Biden administration has asked the justices to reinstate it.

-ABC News’ Devin Dwyer

Dec 22, 7:07 pm
Biden on at-home testing: ‘Nothing’s been good enough’

In an exclusive interview with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir Wednesday, President Joe Biden said “nothing’s been good enough” when it comes to accessing rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests, and expressed some regret about not ordering them sooner.

“I wish I had thought about ordering” 500 million at-home tests “two months ago,” he told Muir.

The president did emphasize strides the country has made in vaccinations in the past year.

“We’re in a situation now where we have 200 million people fully vaccinated,” he said. “And we have more than that who have had one shot.”

Click here to read more from Muir’s interview with Biden.

Dec 22, 6:20 pm
Harris tests negative after COVID-19 exposure from staffer

Vice President Kamala Harris had close contact with a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday morning, her spokeswoman said.

The staffer was with Harris throughout the day on Tuesday after testing negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Monday “and every day last week,” but on Wednesday morning the staffer tested positive, Harris’ spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Harris had a negative antigen test Wednesday morning and a negative PCR test after being notified of the staffer’s positive test, according to Sanders.

The vice president will be tested again Friday and Monday and will “continue with her daily schedule,” including departing for Los Angeles Wednesday evening for a stay through the new year, Sanders said.

President Joe Biden tested negative again Wednesday morning following exposure to a staff member who recently tested positive for COVID-19, the White House said.

Both are fully vaccinated and have received their booster doses.

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Dec 22, 4:51 pm
New York state reports another record-breaking day 

New York state hit another record high with more than 28,924 new daily cases, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

The record-high numbers come as the state sees an increase in testing, with New Yorkers waiting in lines to test ahead of seeing family for the holidays.

Hospitalizations are increasing, Hochul said.

New York has 4,500 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, which is nearly double the total number of patients from one month ago, according to state data.

Hochul added, “We’re not panicking. We have the resources we need. We have vaccines, we have boosters, we have masks.”

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 22, 4:40 pm
US will have 265K doses of Pfizer pill in January: White House

Ten million treatment courses of Pfizer’s newly FDA-authorized COVID-19 pill have been purchased by the federal government, the White House announced.

The White House said 265,000 doses will be available in January and all 10 million will be delivered by late summer.

The White House said it also bought 3 million courses of Merck’s treatment, though that pill is not yet authorized.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 22, 3:47 pm
Fauci says he’d ask unvaccinated relatives not to attend holiday gatherings

Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC that he’d ask unvaccinated relatives not to attend a family holiday gathering this year due to the omicron surge.

Passengers are seen at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Dec. 20, 2021.

“I think we’re dealing with a serious enough situation right now that if there’s an unvaccinated person I would say, ‘I’m very sorry, but not this time. Maybe another time when this is all over,'” Fauci told MSNBC Tuesday night.

“It’s a problem when you’re dealing with [a variant] that’s spread so rapidly and you are unvaccinated. The virus is going to find you,” he said.

Ahead of the holidays, the best way to protect yourself and those around you is still to get vaccinated and boosted, Fauci said. Testing provides another layer of protection, though Fauci acknowledged that if people cannot get ahold of a test, given the increase in demand, they may need to make tough decisions, depending on their individual risk.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos, Josh Hoyos

Dec 22, 3:36 pm
California requiring booster for health care workers

California is requiring health care workers to get the booster shot by Feb. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced.

As of Wednesday, California has a 3.3% positivity rate, the lowest in the country, Newsom said. Newsom, however, warned that cases have nearly doubled in one week.

The governor also announced that the state bought 6 million rapid tests to be distributed to school children, so each student has about one or two tests. Students can test at home before returning to classrooms after the holidays, he said.

California is also working on expanding hours at test sites to provide more access, he said.

-ABC News’ Nicholas Kerr

Dec 22, 2:33 pm
Testing soon available at some NYC subway stops

For the first time, some New York City subway stations will offer walk-in PCR testing, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.

The initiative begins Dec. 27 at the Times Square-42nd St subway station from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Grand Central Terminal from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Testing will be seven days a week but not available on New Year’s Day.

Five other subway testing locations will open next week and will be announced when they’re finalized, the governor said.

New York also offers vaccinations at some subway stations. Boosters are now available at Times Square-42nd St and Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Av/74 St. Grand Central Terminal will offer boosters beginning Dec. 27, according to the governor’s office.

Dec 22, 1:58 pm
Omicron confirmed in all 50 states

Omicron cases have now been reported in all 50 states, according to an ABC News count.

The South Dakota Department of Health announced Wednesday that officials detected omicron in a young man in his 20s, making South Dakota the final state to confirm the highly transmissible variant.

The CDC on Monday said omicron was estimated to be the dominant variant in the U.S., representing more than 73% of new cases as of Dec. 18.

The CDC warned this week that models, which estimate the trajectory of coronavirus in the U.S., suggest that the number of new omicron infections will likely surge in the weeks to come and could exceed previous peaks.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos, Darren Reynolds

Dec 22, 12:45 pm
Pfizer COVID treatment pill authorized by FDA

Pfizer’s at-home pill treatment for COVID-19 was authorized by the FDA on Wednesday.

When taken early, Pfizer’s pill was 89% effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, according to the company.

It’s also effective against omicron, Pfizer said.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 22, 12:31 pm
Biden again tests negative after staff exposure

President Joe Biden received another PCR test Wednesday and again tested negative following exposure to a staff member who recently tested positive for COVID-19, the White House said.

Biden was near the staff member for about 30 minutes on Air Force One on Friday, during a trip to Philadelphia from South Carolina, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The staff member, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, tested negative Friday morning but tested positive Monday, according to the White House.

The president first received an antigen test Sunday and a PCR test Monday and both came back negative, Psaki said.

-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky

Dec 22, 12:01 pm
Delta says omciron surge may ‘create significant disruptions,’ asks CDC to shorten isolation period for the fully vaccinated

Delta Air Lines said the omicron surge “may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions.”

Delta is urging the CDC to shorten the time fully vaccinated people must isolate following breakthrough infections, saying the current 10-day period “may significantly impact [its] workforce and operations.”

Delta proposed a five-day isolation from symptom onset for those who experience a breakthrough infection.

“Our employees represent an essential workforce to enable Americans who need to travel domestically and internationally,” Delta said in a letter.

Ninety percent of Delta’s workforce is fully vaccinated.

-ABC News’ Amanda Maile

Dec 22, 11:19 am
UK records over 100K daily cases for 1st time

The United Kingdom recorded 106,122 new cases in the last 24 hours, surpassing 100,000 daily cases for the first time, according to government data.

That brings the total of cases over the past seven days to 643,219 — a 58.9% jump from the previous week.

Deaths, however, are not rising. This week’s death toll is down 2.7% from the week before.

-ABC News’ Guy Davies

Dec 22, 10:26 am
New York City, DC, Vermont averaging more daily cases than any other point of pandemic

The U.S. is now averaging nearly 150,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, up about 72% in the last month. Over the last week alone, the nation has recorded more than 1 million new cases, according to federal data.

Every state in the country except for one — Montana — is currently experiencing high community transmission, according to federal data.

New York City, Vermont and Washington, D.C., are now averaging more daily cases than at any other point in the pandemic.

Florida is now reporting its highest number of new cases in about three months.

Since early December, Georgia’s daily case average has more than doubled, while Hawaii’s average has quadrupled, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 22, 9:33 am
Ohio hospitals take out an ad in local paper pleading for people to get vaccinated

Six hospitals in Ohio have taken out a full-page ad in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer in a desperate plea for people to get vaccinated as the state faces a renewed surge.

The ad, which appeared in Sunday’s paper, says in big letters: “Help.”

“We need your help. We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before,” the ad says. “And the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated. This is preventable.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced last week that he would deploy the state’s National Guard to help with hospital strain. Ohio is now averaging more than 9,100 new cases every day — up 67.5% in the last month. Statewide, more than 5,200 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The best way to avoid serious illness is the vaccine,” the ad said. “So, get vaccinated and get your booster … we need you to care as much as we do.”

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 22, 8:48 am
Booster shots ‘will really help us’ with omicron: CDC director

About 73% of U.S. COVID-19 cases are now the omicron variant, but that number rises to 90% in areas like New York, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told “Good Morning America” Wednesday.

“Things are moving quickly,” she said. “The doubling times of this virus are very fast, around two days.”

But Walensky said the booster shot “will really help” with this variant.

“What we know about omicron is that it has a lot of mutations, and with more mutations we need more immune protection. And that’s really why this booster shot will really help us,” Walensky said.

Asked if President Joe Biden’s decision to mail 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans in January is too late to help the current surge, Walensky responded, “We have been ramping up testing.”

“We have much more testing now than we had just months ago,” she said. “And we were in the middle of a delta surge as omicron hit, so really right now there are so many things that we can do in addition to testing to keep safe — and that really does mean getting 40 million Americans who continue to be unvaccinated vaccinated and making sure that people get that booster shot.”

Dec 22, 3:46 am
Portugal bans outdoor drinking, large gatherings for New Year’s Eve

Portugal said it would limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people and prohibit outdoor drinking on New Year’s Eve.

The country, which has 52 confirmed omicron cases, will also require most people to work from home starting on Saturday, the president’s office told ABC News on Tuesday.

The new restrictions, which are set to expire Jan. 10, will require people to present negative COVID-19 tests as they enter sporting events, theaters, weddings and other large gatherings.

Bars, discos, and schools will close on Saturday, the president’s office said.

The country reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, but numbers were slightly down on Tuesday, with 2,752 newly diagnosed cases and 18 deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 dashboard. Portugal’s adult population is 87% fully vaccinated.

-ABC News’ Aicha El-Hammar Castano

Dec 21, 7:53 pm
California to require all health care workers to get booster

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Tuesday evening that he will require that all health care workers in the state to get their booster shot.

“With Omicron on the rise, we’re taking immediate actions to protect Californians and ensure our hospitals are prepared,” he tweeted.

More details about the order will be shared on Wednesday, according to Newsom.

Dec 21, 7:05 pm
Chicago to institute vaccine mandate for indoor events

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a vaccine mandate for most indoor events as the city grasps with a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Starting Jan. 3, anyone over the age of 5 will have to show proof that they are fully vaccinated to “to dine indoors, visit gyms, or enjoy entertainment venues where food or drink are being served,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Patrons 16 and older will also need to “provide identification that matches their vaccination record,” according to the statement.

Chicago is averaging more than 1,700 new COVID-19 cases a day — a 79% increase from one week ago, the mayor’s office said.

Dec 21, 4:36 pm
New Hampshire hospital seeing record-high number of patients

Elliot Hospital in New Hampshire is now seeing three to four times as many patients as it had at the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Laura McPhee told ABC News.

She said their ICU is full with COVID-19 patients and staff is running thin.

“We’re tired. It’s been extremely hard on everybody,” McPhee said, stressing that “most of the patients that we’re seeing are unvaccinated.”

“Most days I’ve been angry and frustrated. … Because this is preventable. It doesn’t have to happen,” she said. “I’ve not ever seen a patient here in the ICU who has been fully vaccinated with a booster.”

ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

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