COVID Deaths Surpass Delta Peak; hospitals under strain: updates

Cases of the omicron variant coronavirus are declining across much of the country, but the massive wave of infections continues to drive up the US death toll from COVID-19 as hospitals across the country try again to follow.

Since mid-November, the seven-day rolling averages of new daily COVID-19 deaths nationwide have been rising. That figure hit 2,267 on Thursday, surpassing September’s peak of 2,100, when delta was the dominant variant.

While omicron’s symptoms tend to be milder than previous variants, its high transmissibility has caused more people to become infected and die of the virus. Experts have pointed out that omicron can still be deadly, especially for those who are not vaccinated.

In February, three military medical teams will be dispatched to support overwhelmed hospitals in Oklahoma City, where COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached an all-time high this week. Amid worsening staff shortages, the city’s four major health systems said they no longer had any intensive care unit beds open.

Understaffed hospitals in Florida’s Brevard County are also battling case numbers, despite declining infections.

And in Knox County, Tennessee, hospitalizations, deaths and case counts have all hit records over the past week, with the county reporting nearly 15,000 active cases this week, surpassing all previous surges. .

Hospital administrators said Knoxville-area facilities were under “unprecedented pressure” in a joint statement Wednesday.

“Our emergency departments are overwhelmed with these cases and other medical emergencies, resulting in longer than usual wait times as we strive to provide care to everyone who relies on us,” says the press release.

Also in the news:

►Canadian singer Joni Mitchell said she was removing her music from Spotify in solidarity with Neil Young, who wrote an open letter this week calling for her songs to be removed from the platform over the spread of false information about the vaccine COVID-19.

►One million home COVID-19 test kits will arrive at New Hampshire liquor stores over the next two weeks, Governor Chris Sununu said. “In addition to alcohol and tax-free lottery tickets, you can take a tax-free test!” he said on Twitter.

►Pope Francis on Friday denounced COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation, calling it an “infodemic” of spread, during a meeting with Catholic journalists who are part of a fact-checking network.

►Utah Senator Mitt Romney tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, according to a statement from his office. He is asymptomatic and has been fully vaccinated and strengthened, the statement said.

► At the Beijing Winter Olympics, 36 Games-related staff were infected with COVID-19 as daily COVID-19 infections rose to 19 on Friday among athletes and team officials, a reported Reuters.

►San Francisco will allow vaccinated office workers, gym members and other “stable cohorts” of people to stop wearing masks indoors on February 1.

📈Today’s numbers: The United States has had more than 74 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 883,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: Over 371 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths. More than 211 million Americans — 63.7% — are fully immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we read: The Biden administration’s tenure that began Jan. 15 calls for people with private health insurance to get a monthly stipend for free testing. Still, health experts say the ambitious federal plan to rapidly expand home testing will be difficult because of the country’s fragmented health care system.

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

Center for COVID Control closes Chicago headquarters amid FBI investigation

National chain with hundreds of coronavirus testing sites encourages site operators to break away from management of Center for COVID Control as the company suspends operations “indefinitely” and questions arise about two more Chicago-area labs.

The founders of the Center for Covid Control, Aleya Siyaj and Akbar Syed, this week “encouraged the independent operators” of more than 300 of its affiliated collection sites to seek “affiliations with other suppliers” and with a certified laboratory, said a spokesperson.

Closing the corporate name and forking leaves open the possibility that the company, which is subsequently investigated by the FBI, may not truly go extinct. The more than 300 test sites formerly managed by the CCC can start working with other suppliers and laboratories.

The news comes as the Center for COVID Control and its lead lab, Doctors Clinical Lab, are under investigation by state and federal authorities. The company and the lab “provide inaccurate and misleading test results”, fraudulently report negative results and “report to the federal government” that people with private or public insurance were in fact uninsured, the alleged Minnesota Attorney General’s office in a complaint.

—Grace Hauck

Suburban Seattle bar faces backlash over discounted tickets for people with COVID-19

A pirate-themed bar in the Seattle suburb of Lynwood faced a social media storm after announcing a show with reduced ticket prices for those infected with COVID-19.

“Come see the show, maybe catch the bug or just stay home and whine,” Vessel Taphouse posted on Facebook last Friday, according to the Daily Herald. “Tickets 10 dollars or 6 with proof of positive Omicron test!!”

The event, called the ‘I’m too sick to attend’ show, led to four employees quitting and three bands refusing to play another show over the weekend, bar owner Steve Hartley told the newspaper.

Vaccinated parents offer COVID protection to unvaccinated children, study finds

A A new study from Israel has found that unvaccinated children may gain indirect protection against COVID-19 from their vaccinated parents.

The researchers studied households consisting of two parents and unvaccinated children, estimating the effect of parental vaccination on the risk of catching COVID-19 in unvaccinated children. The research was conducted for two periods in 2021, corresponding to the variant alpha and delta waves.

The study found that, regardless of household size, having a vaccinated parent reduced the risk of an unvaccinated child catching COVID-19 by an average of 23.4%. Two vaccinated parents decreased the risk by an average of 64.9%, although the risk decreased only 58.1% during the delta wave, compared to 71.7% during the alpha wave.

60 million households have ordered home tests from the federal government

Sixty million households have ordered free COVID-19 tests from the federal government since the Biden administration launched COVIDtests.gov last week, White House Senior Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.

The website is part of the administration’s effort to make 1 billion rapid tests available as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to surge across the country. Americans are allowed to request four tests per household, which are supposed to be mailed within seven to 12 days of ordering.

Tens of millions of tests have been shipped, Jean-Pierre said. Many have already arrived.

Among Americans who tried to take a home test in the past month, 6 in 10 said it was difficult to find one, according to a survey released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research organization in non-partisan health.

Four in ten blamed President Joe Biden and test makers for the limited availability. A little more says the Food and Drug Administration deserves at least a fair amount of blame. The Jan. 11-23 investigation was still ongoing when Biden announced mid-month that free testing would be coming.

—Maureen Groppe

Health and social services fail in crisis, watchdog says

The main government health agency is failing to meet its responsibilities to lead the nation’s response to public health emergencies, including the coronavirus pandemic, extreme weather disasters and even potential bioterrorism attacks, a federal watchdog said Thursday.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said it was designating the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health emergency leadership and coordination as a “high risk” area for the government, signaling to Congress that lawmakers must grant particular attention to agency operations.

Longstanding “enduring deficiencies” at HHS “have hampered the nation’s response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and various past threats,” the GAO said in its report.

Gaps include managing the medical supply chain, coordinating with federal and state agencies, and providing clear and consistent communication to the public and the healthcare community, the GAO said.

– The Associated Press

FDA withdrew approval of monoclonal antibodies because they ‘did nothing’ against omicron

The Food and Drug Administration withdrew its approval of two of the most widely used monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 this week, leaving doctors with fewer options to help their patients avoid hospital.

Why did the FDA shut them down? Because both, from drugmakers Regeneron and Eli Lilly, don’t work against the omicron variant that now causes more than 99% of coronavirus infections in the United States.

“All of the data shows that these older antibodies are ineffective against omicron,” said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

It was clear that for patients with omicron infections, the monoclonals “didn’t do anything,” said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. “There is overwhelming data (that these) monoclonals are unable to bind to omicron,” he added.

— Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

Contributor: The Associated Press; Dana Branham, Oklahoman; Amira Sweilem, Florida Today; Vincent Gabrielle, Knoxville News Sentinel

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