The latest on coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant: Live updates – CNN

4 hr 12 min ago

US CDC adds Sweden, Malta and Moldova to high risk travel list

From CNN’s Forrest Brown

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added three European destinations to its highest-risk category for travel on Tuesday, including Sweden.

In its weekly update of Covid-19 travel advisories, the CDC also added Malta and Moldova to its “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” category.

The CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days.

Last week, the CDC added eight destinations to the Level 4 category.

Separately on Tuesday, President Biden revoked a proclamation put in place last month that enacted travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

3 hr 20 min ago

Here’s a guide to CDC’s new Covid-19 quarantine and isolation recommendations

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday released new isolation and quarantine guidelines for people infected with or exposed to Covid-19.

Important to note: These are guidelines, not mandates, but many industry groups and organizations use them to set their own policies. While these guidelines offer more detail, the old adage applies: If you feel sick, stay home.

Here is a list of basic things to know:

For people who test positive for Covid-19:

  • Stay home and isolate for five days, regardless of whether you have symptoms. For symptomatic people, Day 1 is the first full day after symptoms developed.
  • If you have no symptoms OR if symptoms are resolving after five days, you can leave isolation but should wear a mask around others — even at home — for five more days.
  • If you have a fever — even a low fever that is going down — you should continue to isolate until your temperature is normal. 
  • There’s no need to test out of isolation after five days; tests can remain positive for months after Covid-19 infection, although you are no longer infectious. 

For people exposed to Covid-19:

These are based on what studies show about how and when people are likely to infect others.

If you are boosted, have received your first two Pfizer or Moderna doses in the last six months or your single J&J dose in the last two months: 

  • No need to quarantine at home after exposure.
  • Always wear a mask around others for 10 days.
  • Test if you develop symptoms, or five days after exposure. People can be infected even without symptoms.
  • If you test positive, you should begin to follow isolation guidelines.

If you are unvaccinated, or are eligible for a booster and haven’t received one: 

  • Quarantine at home for five days, and continue to wear a mask around others for five more days to be sure you don’t infect someone else.
  • Test if you develop symptoms or five days after exposure.
  • If you test positive, you should begin to follow isolation guidelines.
4 hr 34 min ago

Biden issues proclamation revoking southern Africa travel restrictions

From CNN’s Betsy Klein

Travelers wait in line inside the departures terminal at Cape Town International Airport on December 3.
Travelers wait in line inside the departures terminal at Cape Town International Airport on December 3. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation on Tuesday revoking a proclamation put in place last month that enacted travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including; South Africa, as the Omicron variant began to spread. 

CNN had previously reported Biden’s intent to lift the restrictions.

The travel restrictions had come under fire across the globe, described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “travel apartheid.”

Biden administration officials repeatedly defended the move as an action to give the US more time to understand the variant and its spread.

“The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health,” Bide said in the new proclamation.

Tuesday’s proclamation noted that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against Covid-19 “are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant.”

It also said that the variant is now in over 100 countries and is “prevalent” in the US, where cases have been rising for weeks. It said that “substantial progress” has been made in understanding the Omicron variant.

The previous proclamation will be lifted at 12:01 am EST on Dec. 31.

5 hr 38 min ago

New York City schools plan to reopen as scheduled on Jan. 3 despite rise in cases citywide

From CNN’s Taylor Romine

New York City public schools, the largest public school system in the country, will reopen as planned on Jan. 3 following a winter recess, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday. 

The city is revamping its Covid-19 testing policies in an attempt to keep more students in school during the latest surge, de Blasio said. 

Schools will be provided at-home testing kits for classrooms when a student has tested positive, and students will take two tests per day over seven days, he said. With this new policy, any student who doesn’t have symptoms and tests negative after one day of two rapid tests will return to school the next day, he continued.  

The previous policy mandated that fully vaccinated students identified as close contacts did not have to quarantine if they were symptom-free and tested, but unvaccinated students had to quarantine for 10 days or test out.

While he emphasized that New York City schools are some of the safest places in the city, the city will adjust its testing process to catch cases sooner and keep more students in school. 

The city will also double the amount of PCR Covid-19 tests they do at schools per week and will include both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, de Blasio said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams joined Tuesday’s news conference to show support for the adjusted school testing plan. 

“We must reopen our city, and we can do that,” Adams said. “And so, you and the governor and I are sending a clear message to New Yorkers, and to this entire country, that we are together to fight this real battle we have. Two clear messages we are saying, loud and clear. Your children are safer in school, the numbers speak for themselves. And we are united to make sure that they will continue to be safe.”

The announcement comes after Hochul said on Monday that two million testing kits, which contain two tests each, are going to New York City schools by Friday. An additional 3 to 3.5 million testing kits are expected to be sent to schools throughout the rest of the state, she said. 

CNN’s Elizabeth Stuart and Melanie Schuman contributed reporting.

6 hr 26 min ago

Covid-19 vaccines help prevent breakthrough infections even in immune-compromised people, study shows

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

The Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a pop-up clinic in the international arrivals section of Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California on December 22, 2021.
The Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a pop-up clinic in the international arrivals section of Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California on December 22, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Covid-19 vaccines help prevent breakthrough infections even among immune-compromised people such as organ transplant recipients and rheumatoid arthritis patients, researchers reported Tuesday. 

But these patients are at higher risk of breakthroughs than other vaccinated people and should take extra precautions, the researchers reported.

Dr. Jing Sun, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues studied the records of 660,000 people who received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine through Sept. 16.

“Compared with partial vaccination, full vaccination was associated with a 28% reduced risk for breakthrough infection,” they wrote in a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine. “Despite full vaccination, persons with immune dysfunction had substantially higher risk for COVID-19 breakthrough infection than those without such a condition,” they added.

“Overall, the incidence rate for COVID-19 breakthrough infection was 5.0 per 1,000 person-months among fully vaccinated persons but was higher after the Delta variant became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain,” they said. Before June, the rate of breakthrough infections was 2.2 per 1,000 people per year. That rose to 7.3 afterward, as Delta spread.

“People with a breakthrough infection after full vaccination were more likely to be older and women. People with HIV infection, rheumatoid arthritis, and solid organ transplant had a higher rate of breakthrough infection,” they wrote.

People with other types of immunocompromising conditions did not have higher rates of breakthrough infections, they found.

Vaccination protected everyone, the researchers reported. But they said those getting immune-suppressing drugs for rheumatoid arthritis or because of organ transplants, as well as HIV patients, should take care to wear masks and avoid situations where they might be exposed.

Dr. Mary Nakamura, an immunologist at the San Francisco VA Health Care System, and rheumatologist Dr. Alfred Kim of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the findings should encourage the immune-compromised to get vaccinated and boosted.

“SARS-CoV-2 vaccine clinical trials did not initially include individuals with immune dysfunction conditions, which has led to some hesitancy in using the available vaccines in this population,” they wrote in an accompanying commentary.

“However, several recent retrospective studies have reported reassuring data regarding the safety of these vaccines in immunocompromised patients, and the general consensus is that the potential benefits of vaccination substantially outweigh the risks,” the said.

6 hr 40 min ago

CDC lowers estimates of Omicron prevalence, saying the variant caused under 60% of Covid-19 cases last week

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman

President Joe Biden and the White House COVID-19 Response Team participate in a virtual call with the National Governors Association from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House Complex on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke to governors about their concerns regarding the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus and the need for more COVID-19 tests.
President Joe Biden and the White House COVID-19 Response Team participate in a virtual call with the National Governors Association from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House Complex on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke to governors about their concerns regarding the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus and the need for more COVID-19 tests. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

The Omicron variant caused 58.6% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week, which is significantly lower than previously thought, according to estimates posted Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, the agency estimated Omicron accounted for 73.2% of cases the week ending Dec. 18.

A CDC spokesperson told CNN last week there was a broad range of uncertainty for those numbers — as low as 34% and as high as 95%. She added agency would “adjust based on additional sequencing.” The agency has adjusted the estimate for that week even lower, from 73.2% to 22.5%.

Over the past four weeks, Omicron has risen rapidly in estimates – accounting for 0.6% of cases ending December 4, to 6.9% the following week, then 22.5% and now 58.6%. The Delta variant makes up nearly all of the rest.

More on the CDC estimates: Not every Covid-19 test is sent for the extra genetic sequencing needed to detect which variant has infected someone. The CDC works off samples and extrapolates its estimates based on that extra testing. 

Omicron’s estimated prevalence varies widely based on geography. For example, in the region that includes New York and New Jersey, as well as the region covering Texas and its bordering states, Omicron was estimated to have caused upwards of 86% of cases last week.

5 hr 38 min ago

Low-cost and easy-to-make Covid-19 vaccine invented by Texas hospital team wins authorization in India

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

A new Covid-19 vaccine designed to be cheap and easy to manufacture has won emergency use authorization in India, Texas Children’s Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine said Tuesday.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine specialist and co-director of Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, and co-director Maria Elena Bottazzi, designed the vaccine, and made it using traditional vaccine technology.

The idea is to distribute the technology so developing countries can make the vaccine themselves.

“This announcement is an important first step in vaccinating the world and halting the pandemic. Our vaccine technology offers a path to address an unfolding humanitarian crisis, namely the vulnerability the low- and middle-income countries face against the Delta variant,” Hotez said in a statement.

“Protein-based vaccines have been widely used to prevent many other diseases, have proven safety records, and use economies of scale to achieve low-cost scalability across the world,” Bottazzi said in a statement.

“Our decade-long studies advancing coronavirus vaccine prototypes has led to the creation of this vaccine, which will fill the access gap created by the more expensive, newer vaccine technologies and that today are still not able to be quickly scaled for global production,” she added.

Hotez told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that they were “over the moon this morning” after the authorization was announced by the Indian regulators alongside the vaccine producer partners.

“This is the first Covid vaccine specifically for global health, for the world’s low and middle-income countries. It’s a recombinant vaccine that uses similar technology that makes the Hepatitis B vaccine,” he added.

“They have now 150 million doses ready to go and are now producing 100 million doses a month with plans to produce a billion doses. As of today, our Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor has equaled or doubled the US government commitment to global health equity. It’s so exciting for us,” Hotez told CNN.

More on the vaccine: The vaccine, called Corbevax, was tested in 3,000 volunteers in two trials, the hospital said. No serious adverse events were seen, the hospital said, and the trials showed people developed an immune response that should be expected to correlate with 90% protection or better against the original coronavirus strain and 80% against the Delta strain for preventing symptomatic illness. 

It’s made using a genetically engineered piece of coronavirus grown in yeast, combined with immune-stimulating compounds called adjuvants. It’s been licensed by BCM Ventures, Baylor College of Medicine’s commercialization team, to Biological E. Limited based in Hyderabad, India. 

See Bottazzi’s tweet about the vaccine:

6 hr 57 min ago

Finland announces new Covid-19 restrictions for those entering the country

Passengers wear face masks at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Vantaa, Finland on July 13, 2020 as Finnish Government eased COVID-19 pandemic in and out travel restrictions with several EU countries.
Passengers wear face masks at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Vantaa, Finland on July 13, 2020 as Finnish Government eased COVID-19 pandemic in and out travel restrictions with several EU countries. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland announced Tuesday it is tightening entry into the country, requiring proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or full recovery from the virus within the past six months.

“Internal border control will be reinstated at Finland’s borders starting on Tuesday 28 December. There will also be other changes to the restrictions on entry, and as of 28 December, the same restrictions will apply to everyone arriving in Finland from abroad,” the Finnish interior ministry said in a news release, adding that the new measures will be implemented until Jan. 16, 2022.

“Internal border control will be reinstated for traffic between Finland and all Schengen countries. In addition, entry restrictions and health security measures will be tightened so that from Tuesday 28 December onwards, all passengers arriving in Finland from abroad will be required to present proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or proof of recovery from COVID-19 within the past six months, along with a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 48 hours prior to arrival,” the statement continued.

At least 78.8% of Finland’s population has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and received at least two doses of the vaccine, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. 

7 hr 38 min ago

US is seeing a “very rapid” rise in child hospitalizations from Covid-19, doctor says

An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a Covid-19 positive girl, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a Covid-19 positive girl, age 2, to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Dr. Adrienne Randolph, a pediatric critical care physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, told CNN that children are “one of our most vulnerable populations” for infection from the more transmissible Omicron variant.

“Now with Omicron, it may be more transmissible than Delta, that still has to be shown. But we are seeing a very rapid number of hospitalizations in children, they are one of our most vulnerable populations and have the lowest vaccination rates currently,” Randolph said.

The doctor noted that while the transmissibility of Omicron is part of the problem, the low vaccination rate is driving the increase in the hospitalizations of children as well.

“It is highly, highly contagious and it is spreading very quickly. And the other issue is that even children who are eligible for the vaccine in many areas, the actual vaccinated rate is not that high. So, you know, it varies between 10% and 50% across the United States for even the 12-to 18-year-olds… and then the 5 to 11s, you know, some states it is less than 6% have taken the opportunity to get vaccinated. And these children who are getting admitted … are either not vaccinated, or they have underlying medical conditions that puts them at risk,” she said.

The doctor offered parents advice, including urging them to get vaccinated and boosted because “if they get sick, they can’t take care of the children who get sick.”

“Most of these healthy children are going to do fine, have a mild illness. It is supportive care. Also they need to try to isolate them as best you can to keep others from getting infected because children are contagious when they have the virus as much as adults, so it is important to prevent the spread further,” Randolph said.

“But most healthy children will do fine with Covid, and have a mild cold. And some don’t have any symptoms at all,” she added.

Here’s what we know about children and Covid-19 hospitalizations: Nearly 2,000 children across the US right now are hospitalized with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases. That is up from around 700 just last month. In New York City, pediatric hospital admissions have jumped nearly five-fold over a three-week period. 

In Washington, DC, nearly half of Covid-19 tests at Children’s National Hospital are coming back positive. In Chicago, hospitalizations have quadrupled over the past week.