Coronavirus Updates The latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The novel coronavirus, first detected at the end of 2019, has caused a global pandemic.

Coronavirus Updates

Latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic

The Norwegian Gateway cruise ship is moored at PortMiami on Jan. 7 in Miami. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its advisory warning Wednesday for cruise travel after more than two years of warning Americans. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Norwegian Gateway cruise ship is moored at PortMiami on Jan. 7 in Miami. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its advisory warning Wednesday for cruise travel after more than two years of warning Americans.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has lifted its risk advisory for cruise ship travel Wednesday following two years of issuing warnings to travelers about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 onboard a cruise.

In an update posted online, the agency removed its "Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice," a notice that recommended individuals against traveling onboard cruise ships. Three months ago, the CDC increased its travel warnings for cruises to Level 4 — the highest level — following investigations of ships that had COVID outbreaks.

While the CDC has lifted its travel health notice, officials say it's up to the passengers to determine their own health risks before going onboard a cruise ship.

"While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings," the agency said in a statement to NPR.

The agency says it will continue to provide guidance to the cruise ship industry in order for cruise lines to operate in a way that will provide "safer and healthier" environments for crews, passengers and communities.

News of the CDC's decision to remove its travel health notice was praised by the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's largest trade organization.

"Today's decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to altogether remove the Travel Health Notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020.

From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA's cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting."

The CDC emphasizes that travelers should make sure they're up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines before taking a cruise, in addition to following their ship's requirements and recommendations against the virus.

Travelers are urged to check their cruise ship's COVID case levels and vaccination requirements online before traveling, the agency says.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2022, in Washington. Psaki announced she recently tested positive for COVID-19. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

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Patrick Semansky/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2022, in Washington. Psaki announced she recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Patrick Semansky/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Tuesday that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Psaki said she had two "socially-distanced meetings" with Biden on Monday and said he is not considered a close contact by CDC guidance.

Biden tested negative with a PCR test on Tuesday, she said.

"Today, in preparation for travel to Europe, I took a PCR test this morning. That test came back positive, which means I will be adhering to CDC guidance and no longer be traveling on the President's trip to Europe," Psaki wrote on Twitter.

It's the second time that Psaki has tested positive for the virus, and the second time she will miss an international trip because of it. Last fall, the press secretary tested positive just ahead of Biden's trip to the G-20 summit in Rome.

Psaki, who is fully vaccinated, said she was experiencing "mild symptoms" and would work from home until the conclusion of her five-day isolation and a negative COVID-19 test.

President Biden is set to depart for Brussels and Warsaw on Wednesday.

During the White House press briefing Tuesday, deputy press secretary Chris Meagher filled in for Psaki.

Meagher said that members of the press who attended Monday's press briefing weren't considered to be close contacts. The White House is currently conducting contract tracing, he added.

A video message reminds Seattle Seahawks fans to wear masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic in October. The NFL has suspended all aspects of its COVID-19 protocols, citing recent trends showing that the spread of the coronavirus is declining. Ted S. Warren/AP file photo hide caption

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Ted S. Warren/AP file photo

A video message reminds Seattle Seahawks fans to wear masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic in October. The NFL has suspended all aspects of its COVID-19 protocols, citing recent trends showing that the spread of the coronavirus is declining.

Ted S. Warren/AP file photo

The NFL and the NFL Players Association announced Wednesday they have agreed to suspend all COVID-19 protocols going into the 2022 football season, effective immediately.

In a memo released by the league, both the NFL and the players' association announced the suspension, meaning the NFL will no longer conduct mandatory testing for any of its players and staff.

The league cites the "encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law and the counsel of our respective experts" as reasons for the change in COVID protocols.

With the change in protocols, players and staff will no longer have to wear face coverings at team facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Each club, however, can require face coverings "if they elect to do so."

Moving forward, the league says that players and staff must continue to monitor themselves for any COVID-19 symptoms "on a daily basis" prior to entering any NFL facility, according to the memo.

Anyone displaying symptoms must report it to the team and show proof of a negative test before entering any NFL facility. Those that test positive, however, must self-isolate for five days after their test.

League officials say they will continue to "prioritize the health and safety of players, coaches and staff" as they have done so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Should there be a reason to reimpose aspects of the Protocols or to take other measures, we will work closely with clubs, the NFLPA and our respective experts, and local, state and federal public health officials to continue to safeguard the health of the NFL community," the league said in its memo, according to NFL's Tom Pelissero.

The NFL continued the memo by emphasizing that teams must remain "in compliance with state and local law" and are "free to continue reasonable measures to protect their staff and players."

News of Thursday's memo from the league comes after two NFL seasons were played under the implemented protocols brought on by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While no NFL games were canceled during the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the COVID-19, many teams ended up moving games during the 2020 schedule, according to The Associated Press. Nearly 95% of NFL players and about 100% of NFL staff were fully vaccinated, the AP reported.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform during a parade as they pass by the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida. The theme park resort announced Tuesday that face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated visitors in all indoor and outdoor locations. John Raoux/AP hide caption

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John Raoux/AP

Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform during a parade as they pass by the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida. The theme park resort announced Tuesday that face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated visitors in all indoor and outdoor locations.

John Raoux/AP

The Walt Disney Company says it's lifting the majority of its indoor mask requirements for vaccinated guests at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks.

Starting Thursday, the company says face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated guests in its indoor and outdoor park spaces, according to Disney World and Disneyland websites.

Due to "recent trends and regulatory guidance," Disney said its California and Florida resorts will begin easing health and safety protocols. Disney World and Disneyland do not require proof of vaccination to enter.

However, the company said that guests who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear their face coverings in all indoor locations, such as indoor attractions and theaters.

"We expect guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, including indoor attractions and theaters," the company said.

Both Disney World and Disneyland required guests ages 2 and older to wear masks indoors since July 2021 — a precaution the parks took against the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Disney's change in its mask policy comes after Universal Orlando in Florida lifted its indoor and outdoor mask requirements for fully vaccinated guests. The new guidelines went into effect on Saturday. Guests who have not yet been vaccinated will be encouraged to wear masks while indoors, Universal Orlando said.

Disney theme parks closed in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. Disney World reopened in July 2020 with social distancing and mask requirements. Disneyland reopened in early 2021.

As of Wednesday, several states have elected to lift their statewide mask mandates as COVID cases and hospitalizations decrease.

In California, the state ended its indoor mask mandate for those vaccinated on Tuesday. Counties and municipalities in California are allowed to implement stricter rules than the state's.

Florida recommends face coverings for the general public but currently does not have a statewide mask mandate. Businesses, however, have the right to decide on their own mask requirements.

Diana Merchant self-tests for the coronavirus at a drive-through testing site in Whittier, Calif., on Jan. 25. The U.S. passed 900,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday. Damian Dovarganes/AP hide caption

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Damian Dovarganes/AP

Diana Merchant self-tests for the coronavirus at a drive-through testing site in Whittier, Calif., on Jan. 25. The U.S. passed 900,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

The U.S. has crossed yet another tragic landmark in the battle against COVID-19. On Friday, the country surpassed 900,000 deaths from the disease, two years after the first COVID-19 cluster was reported in Wuhan, China. Public health experts say coming close to the 1 million death mark from the coronavirus is "inevitable."

"It's absolutely staggering," said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, which has tracked the number of COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic. "It's unreal, frankly. And what makes it an even ... greater heartbreak — as if the loss of 900,000 souls weren't enough of a heartbreak — is the fact that it's probably an undercount of the number of people that we've lost."

University of Texas at Austin professor and epidemiologist Lauren Ancel Meyers said the "horrible milestone" didn't have to happen.

"It was not inevitable. There are things that we could have done and should have done ... to protect those who were most vulnerable," she said. "It's a very sad day."

President Joe Biden marked the "tragic milestone," recognizing the "emotional, physical and psychological weight of this pandemic" and urged Americans to do their part.

I urge all Americans: get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get your booster shot if you are eligible," Biden said in a statement. "It's free, easy, and effective — and it can save your life, and the lives of those you love."

Daily deaths remain high even as overall case numbers dip

The rolling seven-day average for daily COVID-19 deaths has been above 2,000 since Jan. 23, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's nearly three times higher than in November, when the agency was reporting a seven-day average of 700 daily deaths.

Vaccines are preventing most severe disease and death

As COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available for Americans, the number of those who have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues to increase.

However, the percentage of fully vaccinated Americans is still relatively low at approximately 64%. Amid the most recent surge of the now dominant omicron variant, unvaccinated people were 97 times more likely to die compared with those who were boosted, according to data cited this week by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

Public health experts note that broader vaccination and boosting would have reduced the number of deaths. "We would have at least 300,000 fewer deaths. Probably more ... than that," if the early pace of vaccination had been sustained, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. "But at least 300,000 Americans who have perished would still be with us. It's tragic."

According to the latest CDC data, 42% of eligible Americans have received a booster.

Sandra Castro vaccinates first-grader Kristen Cruz, 6, at KIPP Believe Charter School in New Orleans last week ahead of Tuesday's deadline for all students in the city's school system to be vaccinated. Ted Jackson/AP hide caption

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Ted Jackson/AP

Sandra Castro vaccinates first-grader Kristen Cruz, 6, at KIPP Believe Charter School in New Orleans last week ahead of Tuesday's deadline for all students in the city's school system to be vaccinated.

Ted Jackson/AP

NEW ORLEANS — As school systems across the U.S. struggle to keep classrooms open amid the pandemic, New Orleans is set to become the nation's first major district to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 and up, though state regulations will allow parents to opt out easily.

Ahead of Tuesday's deadline, many schools in the city have been holding vaccination events, including one at KIPP Believe school.

One by one, dozens of children presented their signed permission slips, pushed up the sleeves of their pale yellow school uniform shirts and — often wincing, but rarely with tears — received a shot. Then they got candy.

Some said they had loved ones who had gotten the coronavirus and wanted to do what they could to protect their families. Others said their parents decided. Eight-year-old Nyla Carey had talked to her mother.

"She said that the COVID shot was to protect you. And so now I want to be brave," the third-grader said before going back to class.

Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis said the requirement, announced in December in the district of nearly 46,000 students, won't lead to youngsters being kicked out of school come Tuesday.

Waivers for those opposed to vaccination are easy to obtain under state regulations, and schools will work with students who aren't inoculated, he said. But eventually everyone will have to be vaccinated or have a waiver.

New Orleans is a Democratic enclave in a red state, and the city and the district are outliers in the South, where many parents and elected officials have balked at measures to control the coronavirus.

In fact, Louisiana Health Department guidelines say parents can obtain waivers from any immunization simply by citing medical, religious or philosophical objections.

Tulane University epidemiologist Susan Hassig said that even with the waiver option, the mandate is a good way to get students vaccinated. She said parents who were a little unsure or hadn't gotten around to it will have a stronger motivation to get their kids' shots.

The New Orleans public school system consists entirely of charter schools, which are taxpayer-supported but independently operated. It has a mask mandate in place, and thousands of students are tested weekly. There's been little of the public controversy seen in other districts, where parents have berated school boards.

Henderson said the mandate was a bottom-up decision, with charter school operators across the district submitting letters of support, as opposed to district officials imposing the policy on their own.

About one-quarter of the district's schools were closed to in-person learning in mid-January as the omicron wave hit staff members and students, according to Henderson.

Christine Pitts of the Center on Reinventing Public Education suggested that the charter schools' habit of operating independently might have played a role in their support for the vaccine requirement.

The measure is also in step with others taken by the city at large to curb the virus, including a recently reinstituted mask mandate and vaccination requirements for everyone 5 and older to enter certain places, such as restaurants.

A few other school districts around the country have taken similar measures. Students in Washington, D.C., will be required to be vaccinated by March 1. The Los Angeles school system delayed a requirement that students 12 and up be vaccinated after it became clear that thousands of unvaccinated students who didn't meet the requirement would have to do online learning.

But many states have gone the other direction, in some cases banning schools from mandating the vaccine.

About 55% of all 5- to 17-year-olds in New Orleans have had at least one dose of the vaccine, according to city figures. Statewide the number is about 26%. That compares with 66% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 30% of 5- to 11-year-olds nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tulane's Cowen Institute, which studies education issues, surveyed New Orleans parents in October and found that vaccine mandates for students were opposed by 48% and supported by 44%. Black parents and parents in lower-income brackets were more strongly opposed.

About 60% of the city is Black and 24% of the city is in poverty, according to census figures.

But the report's author, Vincent Rossmeier, noted that in the rapidly changing pandemic, a few months can make a big difference. Since the poll was taken, vaccines have become available for 5- to 11-year-olds, and the omicron variant has caused widespread school disruptions.

Outside Bricolage Academy, Renee Price waited to pick up her 10-year-old son. He was vaccinated about a month ago, and she was glad. She doesn't want him missing any more school or having to go to Zoom classes again.

"They get vaccines for other things to go to school. So I don't see there's that much difference," she said.

At Warren Easton High School, Likithe McNeil was ready to lay down the law to get her 16-year-old vaccinated but didn't have to after they talked about how it would make it easier for the girl to get back to school and see her friends. McNeil said she does not have a problem with the mandate.

"We'll never get back to normal if we don't do what we need to do," she said.

But some parents are more concerned. Michel Palmer, who waited in a long line of cars at Lake Forest Charter to pick up her 8- and 10-year-olds, said she is a little hesitant about the vaccine and hasn't gotten herself or her kids vaccinated. She applied for and received a waiver.

"It's up to the parents to decide whether they want to get their kids vaccinated," she said.

Shown above are rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits ready to be distributed by the GreenRoots environmental protection organization and Chelsea Community Connections in Chelsea, Massachusetts. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Shown above are rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits ready to be distributed by the GreenRoots environmental protection organization and Chelsea Community Connections in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

If you live in New Hampshire and are having trouble getting an at-home rapid COVID-19 test, you might soon find them among the bottles at state-run liquor stores.

The New Hampshire Executive Council approved the request to sell 1 million at-home rapid COVID tests at liquor outlets across the state, Gov. Christopher Sununu said.

The governor said he expects the at-home tests to be available at liquor stores within the next two weeks.

"We will buy them for a certain price. We will put them on the shelves and sell them for that exact same price, approximately in the $13 range," Sununu said during a news conference this week.

The governor said federal dollars were used to secure the tests, which will be available for individuals to purchase in roughly 80 stores across the state.

Given the demand for at-home COVID tests, Sununu said New Hampshire made the move to purchase the test kits to help meet the high demand for residents.

"We [also] know that a lot of folks in New Hampshire might try to get some at stores. And we know that demand is still going to be there," he added.

News of New Hampshire's distribution of at-home COVID tests comes after the Biden administration announced that Americans can begin ordering free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests from the government.

Orders for up to four tests per household can be placed online. The administration also set up a phone number so those without access to computers or high-speed internet can order their free tests.

Details of the website were announced a day after President Joe Biden said the administration would purchase an additional 500 million at-home COVID tests for Americans — adding on to his plans detailed last month to order 500 million tests.

The tests should arrive in homes starting in late January.

A worker hands a nasal swab to a motorist at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in Denver on Jan. 13. David Zalubowski/AP hide caption

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David Zalubowski/AP

A worker hands a nasal swab to a motorist at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in Denver on Jan. 13.

David Zalubowski/AP

A Denver children's museum has temporarily closed after patrons directed anger at staff over its mask policy.

"We know the stress of the last two years has taken a toll on everyone in our community, but regrettably, some guests who object to the Museum's mask policy have been inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff," the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus said in a message on its website.

The museum remains closed through Feb. 4.

The museum requires patrons to wear masks inside, in accordance with a local public health order. The museum requires all patrons age two and older to wear masks indoors, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Masks must be cloth or disposable and are required to cover the nose and mouth. Face shields and mesh masks are not permitted.

Due to rising COVID-19 cases, the museum said it was not accepting medical exemptions, according to museum policies last updated on Jan. 13. New daily COVID-19 cases peaked in Denver on Jan. 6, according to reports on the city's dashboard.

Museum President and CEO Michael Yankovich told The Washington Post that the museum couldn't disclose details about the incidents that prompted the closure, but he called them "demoralizing" and said they have become intense and frequent.

On its website, the museum said it closed its doors in an effort to "bolster our policies with the hope of preventing this type of behavior in the future."

The museum thanked guests and members who have cooperated with the mask policy, adding: "We are sorry that the unacceptable behavior of others means you cannot enjoy the Museum at this time."


This story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Elton John performs during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour on Jan. 19 in New Orleans. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, John has contracted COVID-19 and postponed two farewell concert dates in Dallas. John "is experiencing only mild symptoms," according to a statement. Derick Hingle/AP hide caption

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Derick Hingle/AP

Elton John performs during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour on Jan. 19 in New Orleans. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, John has contracted COVID-19 and postponed two farewell concert dates in Dallas. John "is experiencing only mild symptoms," according to a statement.

Derick Hingle/AP

British singer and pianist Elton John says he is rescheduling his two farewell concert dates in Dallas after testing positive for COVID-19. The award-winning musician started back on his farewell tour entitled "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" last week.

"It's always a massive disappointment to move shows and I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," he announced on Instagram.

John added that he's fully vaccinated and boosted, experiencing only mild symptoms and expects to be able to perform at his scheduled show this weekend in Arkansas.

"As always, thank you for all your love and support and I can't wait to see you all soon," John wrote.

The 74-year-old singer was due to perform at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Tuesday and Wednesday and said those who purchased tickets for the two performances should hold on to them, as "they will be honored at the rescheduled dates to be announced soon."

In early 2018, John announced his intention to retire from touring, as he wants to spend more time with his family.

"And as much as I love playing, I want to be with my boys now. This is the new part of my life," the singer said in a 2019 interview with NPR.

News of John's rescheduled performances comes a week after British singer Adele announced the postponement of her Las Vegas residency due to COVID-related issues — just one day before it was slated to begin. Her residency, titled "Weekends With Adele," was scheduled to begin Jan. 21 at the Colosseum of Las Vegas' Caesars Palace Hotel.

The residency was expected to run through the middle of April, featuring her most recent album, "30," which was released last November.

Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, is pictured in 2004. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Samoa have announced rare COVID-19 lockdowns after dozens of international travelers tested positive for the virus. Richard Vogel/AP hide caption

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Richard Vogel/AP

Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, is pictured in 2004. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Samoa have announced rare COVID-19 lockdowns after dozens of international travelers tested positive for the virus.

Richard Vogel/AP

Kiribati and Samoa both implemented COVID-19 lockdowns on Saturday after international arrivals brought the virus with them, a rarity for the remote Pacific island nations.

This is the first pandemic lockdown in Kiribati, which had previously reported only two COVID-19 cases — both were people on a fishing ship in May 2021 who isolated on board. The country reopened its borders to international travel earlier this month for the first time in nearly two years.

Its government announced on Tuesday that 36 out of 54 passengers on a flight from Fiji had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, despite being vaccinated and testing negative three times during the pre-departure quarantine period. They were escorted to a quarantine center for further monitoring and testing. One of the frontline workers stationed outside the quarantine center also tested positive.

On Friday, the government confirmed a new case, this time from someone uninvolved with the quarantine center.

Based on the newest case, "there is now an assumption that COVID-19 is now spreading in the community on South Tarawa and Betio," the government wrote on Facebook.

South Tarawa is part of Kiribati's capital and home to about half of its population, or some 63,000 people.

A 24-hour curfew went into effect on Saturday and it's not clear how long the lockdown will last.

Residents can only leave their homes to access emergency or essential services including hospitals, police departments, grocery stores and banks. Essential providers can only operate during certain hours, public transportation will not run, social gatherings are banned and travel between the outer islands is prohibited.

The government also urged residents to get vaccinated. Only about 53% of adults had received two doses as of late December, according to Radio Kiribati.

In Samoa, officials announced a 48-hour lockdown after 15 out of 73 passengers who arrived on a Wednesday flight from Brisbane, Australia, tested positive.

Samoa had previously confirmed just two COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Some 62% of its population is fully vaccinated.

Between Saturday and Monday, all residents except for essential workers are required to stay at home and off the roads. Businesses, schools and restaurants will be closed, travel is prohibited and mass gatherings are banned.

Agafili Tomaimano Shem Leo, the chairman of the National Emergency Operation Center, said that the "day dreaded by authorities for COVID-19 to invade Samoa is here," according to the government statement.

"Our country is in a national emergency and our security is under siege from COVID-19," he said, urging members of the public not to be complacent.

The government said that failure to comply with lockdown restrictions could result in a $2,000 fine.

Staff members rehearse a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza last week. The venue will host some medal ceremonies at the upcoming winter Olympics. Ng Han Guan/AP hide caption

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Ng Han Guan/AP

Staff members rehearse a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza last week. The venue will host some medal ceremonies at the upcoming winter Olympics.

Ng Han Guan/AP

With the 2022 Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing in less than two weeks, NBC Sports announced Wednesday that it will not be sending any announcing teams to this year's Games — citing "COVID concerns."

"The announce teams for these Olympics, including figure skating, will be calling events from our Stamford (Connecticut) facility due to COVID concerns," an NBC Sports spokesperson said in an email to NPR.

The spokesperson confirmed that the network will still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing, saying its coverage of everything related to the Games will be "first-rate as usual."

"Our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics," the spokesperson said.

As first reported by USA Today, NBC Sports scheduled broadcasting teams to announce from Beijing covering figure skating, Alpine skiing and snowboarding. However, as of Wednesday, those plans have been canceled.

NBC's Olympic lead prime time host Mike Tirico will still be traveling to Beijing to cover the first few days of the Games before traveling to Los Angeles to cover Super Bowl LVI, USA Today reported.

The Olympic logo is seen on a hillside at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou in northern China's Hebei Province on Nov. 27, 2021. The venue will host the freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Mark Schiefelbein/AP hide caption

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Mark Schiefelbein/AP

The Olympic logo is seen on a hillside at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou in northern China's Hebei Province on Nov. 27, 2021. The venue will host the freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Officials with NBC Sports told USA Today the network's plan to cover the Olympics from its Stamford facility was a similar strategy used to cover the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics last year.

"We'll have more personnel there than in the host city," Molly Solomon, president of NBC Olympics Production, told USA Today.

Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee said no tickets will be sold for both the winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing due to the "grave and complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Instead, organizers announced this week that they would invite groups of spectators to attend the games in person.

"The organisers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event as pre-conditions for the safe and sound delivery of the Games," the Beijing 2022 organizing committee said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee previously said it only would sell tickets to spectators living in mainland China who met certain COVID-19 safety protocols.

The winter Olympics will take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, and the winter Paralympic Games are scheduled for March 4th through the 13th.

Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month, saying it was responding to last week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. David Zalubowski/AP file photo hide caption

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David Zalubowski/AP file photo

Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month, saying it was responding to last week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

David Zalubowski/AP file photo

Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a plan it announced earlier this month.

In a memo sent Tuesday to employees, the Seattle coffee giant said it was responding to last week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the Biden administration's plan to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.

"We respect the court's ruling and will comply," Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in the memo.

Starbucks' reversal is among the most high-profile corporate actions in response to the Supreme Court ruling. The company employs 228,000 people in the U.S.

Boston-based General Electric Co. also suspended its vaccine mandate last week, according to IUE-CWA Local 201, a union that represents machinists, electricians and other GE employees. GE, which employs 56,000 people in the U.S., had initially called for employees to get fully vaccinated no later than Feb. 11.

But other companies have kept their mandates in place. Citigroup Inc., one of the largest U.S. banks, announced in October that employees needed to be vaccinated or receive an accommodation by Jan. 14. New York-based Citi said Wednesday that 99% of its employees have complied so far.

Work clothing maker Carhartt also stuck to its vaccine mandate. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company, which has 3,000 U.S. workers, told employees in an email last Friday that the Supreme Court decision wouldn't impact its own mandate, which went into effect this month.

"Carhartt fully understands and respects the varying opinions on this topic, and we are aware some of our associates do not support this policy. However, we stand behind our decision because we believe vaccines are necessary to protect our workforce," the company said.

Carhartt said the "vast majority" of its employees have gotten vaccines. The company has also granted some medical or religious waivers.

Some big companies like Target and McDonald's stayed mum on their vaccination plans for frontline workers as the issue moved through the courts. Many companies, facing labor shortages, have been loathe to force requirements on workers, who might choose to go elsewhere.

A November survey of more than 500 U.S. companies by the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson showed that very few employers with vaccination requirements — 3% — had seen a spike in resignations. But nearly one-third of those planning mandates said they were very concerned that the mandates could cause employees to leave. On the other hand, nearly half of employers surveyed believe that vaccine mandates could help recruit and retain employees.

On Jan. 3, Starbucks said it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or face a weekly COVID test requirement, citing the Biden administration's rules. At the time, Culver said it was the responsibility of Starbucks' leadership "to do whatever we can to help keep you safe and create the safest work environment possible."

In Tuesday's memo, Culver said the company continues to strongly encourage vaccinations and booster shots. The company also told workers on Tuesday that they shouldn't wear cloth masks to work, and should instead use medical-grade surgical masks provided by the company.

Starbucks required workers to reveal their vaccination status by Jan. 10. The company said Wednesday that 90% have reported and the "vast majority" are fully vaccinated. Starbucks wouldn't say what percent of workers are not fully vaccinated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser and director of the NIAID, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill last week. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser and director of the NIAID, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill last week.

Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top White House medical adviser, says that the coronavirus pandemic won't end with the elimination of the virus. Instead, he says that a less dangerous and disruptive strain of the virus will likely take hold and become endemic.

Speaking Monday at the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda, Fauci said scientists don't know how exactly the pandemic will finally play out and that it's important "to be openly honest about that."

However, he said "if you look at the history of infectious diseases, we've only eradicated one infectious disease in man, and that's smallpox. That's not going to happen with this virus."

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"But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn't disrupt our normal social, economic and other interactions," said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"I think that's what most people feel when they talk about in endemicity, where it is integrated into the broad range of infectious diseases that we experience," such as the flu, he said.

Fauci said it may still be too early to tell whether the surge in cases driven by the omicron variant will push the pandemic toward a more manageable phase, "but I would hope that's the case."

"That would only be the case if we don't get another variant that eludes the immune response to the prior variant," Fauci cautioned.

Fauci's remarks come as the omicron variant of the coronavirus is causing a huge worldwide spike in new cases. The sheer number of people who have become infected with the variant has overwhelmed medical resources in many parts of the world, even though omicron has proved to be less deadly than its delta predecessor.

Some 5.4 million new cases of coronavirus infection were reported last week in the U.S. alone, according to data tallied by Johns Hopkins University. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 852,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Worldwide, the disease has claimed more than 5.5 million lives.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog

A man wearing a face mask to curb the spread of coronavirus, sits on a bench as pedestrians walk outside Evangelismos hospital in Athens, Greece, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Thanassis Stavrakis/AP hide caption

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A man wearing a face mask to curb the spread of coronavirus, sits on a bench as pedestrians walk outside Evangelismos hospital in Athens, Greece, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

ATHENS, Greece — Greece imposed a vaccination mandate Monday for people 60 and older, as the country's vaccination rate remains below the European Union average and a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.

Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro ($57) fine in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) after that.

About two-thirds of Greece's 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70%. But COVID-19 deaths and daily hospitalizations have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, though pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.

"The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service," Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.

Greece imposed a vaccination mandate for health care workers last year. And starting Feb. 1, vaccination certificates for adults will expire after seven months unless the holder receives a booster shot.

New infections surged sharply in early January but have eased over the past week.

The vaccination mandate for the 60 and older age group was announced in late December and, according to government data, 41.5% of the 530,000 people targeted by the measure are now fully vaccinated. Opinion polls suggest strong public support for the mandate, but some lawmakers across party lines have questioned the legality of singling out a specific group. The government defended the measure as constitutional, citing a 2020 high court decision allowing public day care centers to refuse children who had not been vaccinated for childhood illnesses.

Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said only people with legitimate health exemptions, those who had suffered a recent infection and applicants for home vaccination appointments that were delayed would be spared the fine.

"The law will be fully enforced," Oikonomou said.

Greece has the seventh oldest population in the world, as measured by share of residents aged 65 and over, according to the U.S.-based Population Reference Bureau. It has seen nearly 22,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic.

Trash sits out for collection on a Philadelphia street on Thursday. The omicron variant is sickening so many sanitation workers that waste collection in Philadelphia and other cities has been delayed or suspended. Matt Rourke/AP hide caption

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Trash sits out for collection on a Philadelphia street on Thursday. The omicron variant is sickening so many sanitation workers that waste collection in Philadelphia and other cities has been delayed or suspended.

Matt Rourke/AP

The omicron variant is sickening so many sanitation workers around the U.S. that some cities have had to delay or suspend garbage or recycling pickup, angering residents shocked that governments can't perform this most basic of functions.

The slowdowns have caused recycling bins full of Christmas gift boxes and wrapping paper to languish on Nashville curbs, trash bags to pile up on Philadelphia streets, and uncollected yard waste — grass clippings, leaves, branches — to block sidewalks in Atlanta.

"It's just a shame," said Madelyn Rubin, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where officials have halted recycling.

"You know that they could find the money to do it if they wanted to," she said. "If it was a business that wanted to come in here, they would dump money in to make it happen."

Cities including Atlanta, Nashville and Louisville are so shorthanded they have temporarily stopped collecting things like recyclable bottles, cans, paper and plastic, yard waste or oversized junk to focus on the grosser, smellier stuff. The delays are more than annoyance to residents, creating problems such as clogged storm drains and blocked sidewalks.

Nashville City Council member Freddie O'Connell was just as surprised as his constituents when he received notice before Christmas that the city was halting curbside recycling.

"I was just stunned there wasn't an alternative or a back-up plan," he said. "No hot line for people who are mobility impaired or don't have reliable access to a car" to carry their recyclables to a central drop-off site.

"It feels like a failure of governance," he added.

The garbage crisis is actually the third of the pandemic. The first happened in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. Problems arose again as the delta variant spiked over the summer.

The Solid Waste Association of North America warned government officials and trash haulers in December to "plan now for staffing shortages."

The highly contagious variant hit just when Americans were generating a lot of trash — over the Christmas holidays. Combine that with a relatively low vaccination level among front-line sanitation workers and you have a "perfect storm for delayed collection," the association's executive director, David Biderman, said this week.

In some communities, up to a quarter of the waste-collection workforce is calling in sick, Biderman said.

Garbage collection has become just another of the many basic services disrupted by omicron. Around the U.S., teachers, firefighters, police officers and transit workers have been out sick in large numbers.

"We're getting calls, emails, everything. People are understandably frustrated," said Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari.

Atlanta officials said Monday that because of the worker shortage, recycling and yard waste will be picked up "as staffing allows."

Los Angeles said delays in the collection of recyclables could continue through the month.

In Louisville, Kentucky, sanitation workers stopped picking up yard waste in early January until further notice. Residents can drop off branches and clippings at Christmas tree collection sites.

New York City, which boasts the largest municipal sanitation force in the world, had around 2,000 of its 7,000 workers out because of the latest round of the coronavirus, but the rest are working long hours to clear a backlog of waste. They city has not suspended any services.

Harry Nespoli, president of the union local representing the city's sanitation workers, said some are coming back after quarantining, while others are testing positive for the virus: "Right now it's a swinging door."

In Philadelphia, sometimes called Filthadelphia because of the condition of its streets, around 10% to 15% of the 900-person sanitation workforce is out on any given day, leading to delays in waste collection, according to Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.

"When people are out, we can't just hire to replace them," he said. "We have to give them time to get well."

To keep the trash from piling up, some municipalities are hiring temporary workers or contracting with private haulers. Some are offering signing or retention bonuses or pay raises.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, increased starting wages for drivers by more than 40%, from just over $31,500 to $45,000.

That allowed the city to restore recycling collection in November after halting it in July and continue routine pickups despite the omicron surge, said spokesperson Mary Beth Ikard.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, shown here celebrating his reelection in November 2020, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Chris Jackson/AP file photo hide caption

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Chris Jackson/AP file photo

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, shown here celebrating his reelection in November 2020, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Chris Jackson/AP file photo

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was supposed to deliver his State of the State address Wednesday but is instead feeling "extremely unwell" after testing positive for COVID-19.

Justice, 70, who said he is fully vaccinated and boosted, is experiencing moderate symptoms and is self-isolating at home.

In a statement from his office, Justice said he woke up Tuesday morning with congestion and cough. A little while later, the Republican governor said he developed a headache and fever.

By late Tuesday afternoon, his blood pressure and heart rate were elevated and he had a high fever, according to the statement.

Results from his rapid test in the morning came back negative. However, results from his PCR test came back positive, Justice said. The governor is receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment to help alleviate his symptoms.

"While I was surprised that my test results came back positive, I'm thankful to the Lord above that I've been vaccinated, I've been boosted, and that I have an incredible support system, especially my loving family," Justice said.

Everyone that the governor has been in close contact with over the past few days is being notified. West Virginia first lady Cathy Justice tested negative Tuesday evening, according to the statement.

Gov. Justice's office did not immediately respond to a request to comment on how the governor was feeling Wednesday.

"I ask everyone to continue praying for the 5,452 great West Virginians that we've lost. We need to keep pulling the rope together," Justice said. "We're going to get through this and put an end to this terrible pandemic once and for all."

West Virginia's COVID-19 czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, said he has "full confidence" that Justice will recover quickly because he was fully vaccinated and received a booster dose of the COVID vaccine.

"Without the immunity afforded by those vaccines, his outcome could be much worse. I continue to strongly encourage all West Virginians to take the COVID-19 vaccine and get boosted when it's time to do so," Marsh said in a statement.

Justice's positive COVID-19 test came a day before he was scheduled to deliver the annual State of the State address. The address was delivered as a written message, which state archivists say is a first in modern state history.

A woman checks in for her flight at a United Airlines counter at Dulles International Airport on December 27, 2021. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images hide caption

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A woman checks in for her flight at a United Airlines counter at Dulles International Airport on December 27, 2021.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Amid a flurry of flight cancellations, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby offered a window into the staffing challenges employers are facing due to the omicron surge.

"We have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID. Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick," he wrote in a memo to employees on Tuesday.

U.S. airlines have had to cancel tens of thousands of flights in recent weeks due to a combination of winter weather and staffing shortages, leaving travelers stranded and frustrated over the holidays. Now, Kirby said United is working to cancel flights early when necessary, before customers arrive at the airport, and is reducing flights to ensure there is enough staff on hand to handle customer needs.

In the memo, Kirby also took the opportunity to emphasize that the airline's vaccine mandate is working — despite the large number of employees testing positive.

He noted that among United's 3,000 employees who currently have COVID-19, zero of its vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized.

Moreover, he revealed that prior to the airline's vaccine mandate, which took effect in September, more than one United employee was dying from COVID-19 every week, on average.

"But we've now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees," he wrote, noting that based on available data, that means approximately eight to 10 lives were saved by the vaccine requirement.

"While I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives," Kirby wrote.

United was among the first companies in the U.S. to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all of its employees, rolling out its policy in early August. By late September, more than 97% of its 67,000 U.S.-based employees had gotten the shots and a couple thousand were granted religious or medical exemptions.

A woman gets her results after getting tested for COVID-19, outside a pharmacy in Mexico City on Monday. Marco Ugarte/AP hide caption

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Marco Ugarte/AP

A woman gets her results after getting tested for COVID-19, outside a pharmacy in Mexico City on Monday.

Marco Ugarte/AP

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's president announced Monday he has come down with COVID-19 a second time, as coronavirus infections spike in Mexico and virus tests become scarce.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wrote that he tested positive, after he had sounded hoarse at a morning news briefing. He contracted COVID-19 and recovered from it the first time in early 2021.

"Even though the symptoms are light, I will remain isolated and only work from the office and hold on-line meetings until further notice," the president wrote in his social media accounts. "In the meantime, Interior Secretary Adán Augusto López Hernández will take over for me at press conferences and other events."

Two of the president's Cabinet secretaries, the heads of the Environment and Economy departments, announced they had tested positive in recent days.

Earlier on in the day, the president told Mexicans to just assume they had COVID-19 if they had symptoms. The number of confirmed cases spiked by 186% last week. .

López Obrador claimed the Omicron variant is "a little COVID," noting hospitalizations and deaths had not increased at the same rate. However, experts say those are both lagging indicators that may not show up for weeks after infections spike.

Reading advice posted on Twitter, the president said Mexicans with symptoms should just stay at home, take paracetamol and isolate, rather than going out and trying to find tests.

Since Christmas, private pharmacies and the few available testing centers have been overwhelmed by long lines. The Twitter advice drew on guidelines from Mexico City and other health authorities.

López Obrador's administration has long refused to implement mass testing, calling it a waste of money. He called on companies not to require COVID tests for employees.

Mexico passed 300,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths last week, but so little testing is done in the country of 126 million that a government review of death certificates puts the real toll at almost 460,000.

The virus spike was largely responsible for the cancelation of 260 flights between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10, the president said, as airline employees got infected and had to isolate, causing staff shortages.

José Merino, the head of Mexico City's Digital Innovation Agency, said the capital had the same number of Covid cases as the peak of January 2020, but only 6% as many people hospitalized. he wrote in his Twitter account that 70% of those hospitalized were not vaccinated.

A health worker grabs at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out last month in Youngstown, Ohio. Since Saturday, private health insurers have been required to cover up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month for those on their plans, the Biden administration announced last week. David Dermer/AP hide caption

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David Dermer/AP

A health worker grabs at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out last month in Youngstown, Ohio. Since Saturday, private health insurers have been required to cover up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month for those on their plans, the Biden administration announced last week.

David Dermer/AP

Starting Wednesday, Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 tests online from the Biden administration, in a plan outlined last week. They're also now able to get reimbursements from their private insurance.

Individuals covered by a health insurance plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test that has been authorized, cleared or approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been able to have those test costs covered by their insurance since Saturday.

Insurance companies and health plans are now required to cover eight free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month, according to White House officials. For instance, a family of four all on the same plan would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month.

"We are requiring insurers and group health plans to make tests free for millions of Americans. This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp-up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra stated in a news release on Jan. 10.

This follows up on an announcement that the White House made last month.

During White House news briefing last week, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the administration will start to have free coronavirus tests "out the door in the coming weeks."

"The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week," Psaki said.

The Biden administration says it is "incentivizing" insurers and group health plans to set up programs that will allow Americans to get the over-the-counter tests (PCR and rapid tests) directly through preferred pharmacies, retailers or other entities with no out-of-pocket costs.

For people whose health care providers have ordered a COVID-19 test, the Biden administration said there will not be a limit on the number of tests that are covered — including at-home tests.

Currently, state Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs must cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing.

Americans who are covered by Medicare already have their COVID-19 diagnostic tests, such as PCR and antigen tests, performed by a laboratory "with no beneficiary cost-sharing when the test is ordered by either a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional," the Biden administration says.

At this time, those who are on Medicare will not be able to get their at-home COVID-19 tests reimbursed through the program, according to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services. Currently, Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program plans are required to fully cover the cost of at-home tests.

Last year, the Biden administration issued guidance saying that both state Medicaid and CHIP programs must cover all types of FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing.

A booster dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 29 in Lawrence, Mass. The FDA is now shortening the wait time between the second dose and the booster to five months from six months. Charles Krupa/AP hide caption

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Charles Krupa/AP

A booster dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 29 in Lawrence, Mass. The FDA is now shortening the wait time between the second dose and the booster to five months from six months.

Charles Krupa/AP

The period between getting the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the first booster shot has been shortened to five months from six for people ages 18 and up, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The FDA's announcement Friday comes as the highly contagious omicron variant is spreading rapidly around the country and immunity from the first round of vaccines is fading. Over the weekend, more than 1 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with COVID-19.

"Vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19, including the circulating variants, and shortening the length of time between completion of a primary series and a booster dose may help reduce waning immunity," said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement.

Marks also said the change in wait time provides some consistency among some of the vaccines. On Monday, the FDA shortened the interval between the second Pfizer dose and booster to five months as well. For those who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the time between getting the vaccine and booster remains at two months.

Moderna's first booster shot's efficacy is expected to last through the winter, the company's CEO said at a health care conference hosted by Goldman Sachs on Thursday, but by next fall the protection may start to dip again and a fourth shot of the vaccine would be necessary.

"I would expect that it's not going to hold great. ... I worry about next fall," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said.

A young person wears a mask while waiting in line at a COVID-19 testing site on the Martin Luther King Jr. medical campus on Monday in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP hide caption

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Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

A young person wears a mask while waiting in line at a COVID-19 testing site on the Martin Luther King Jr. medical campus on Monday in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

California announced it is extending its statewide indoor mask mandate until at least Feb. 15 due to the rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant, according to health department officials.

"We are and continue to be concerned about our hospitals," Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told The Associated Press Wednesday. "Some facilities are going to be strapped."

State officials reinstated the indoor mask mandate on Dec. 15 last year and it was originally due to expire on Jan. 15.

Currently, the state requires mask-wearing for everyone — regardless of vaccination status — in all indoor spaces, such as bars, restaurants and retail stores.

Many counties across California have their own indoor mandates, so the new statewide order primarily affects the counties that don't.

As Feb. 15 approaches, "we will again re-evaluate the condition across California, our communities and our health-care delivery settings to make sure that we are taking the latest information into account to determine if there would be another extension, or if we're prepared to lift that requirement across the state," Ghaly said, according to KABC-TV.

Over the last two weeks, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by "more than sixfold" as hospitalizations across the state have doubled, the California Health Department said.

"While the percentage of Californians fully vaccinated and boosted continues to increase, we continue to have areas of the state where vaccine coverage is low, putting individuals and communities at greater risk for COVID-19," the department said in a statement.

"Implementing a universal masking requirement not only has proven to decrease the rate of infections but is able to slow community transmission," the department continued.

As of Wednesday, nearly 65 million total COVID vaccines have been administered to those eligible.

So far, nearly 80% of Californians have been vaccinated with at least one dose, with close to 144,000 people a day are receiving a vaccine, according to health officials.

Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for a Starbucks employees union election on Dec. 9 in Buffalo, N.Y. Joshua Bessex/AP hide caption

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Joshua Bessex/AP

Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for a Starbucks employees union election on Dec. 9 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Joshua Bessex/AP

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Employees of a Starbucks store in upstate New York who voted to unionize last month walked off the job Wednesday, saying they lacked the staff and resources to work safely amid surging COVID-19 cases.

Six employees who had been scheduled to work formed a picket line outside the Buffalo store, leading Starbucks to close it for the day, the company said. Three other employees had remained inside.

"Pressure to go to work is being put on many of us, when some of us already have other health issues. The company has again shown that they continue to put profits above people," Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.

All of the Buffalo-area stores have been operating as "grab-and-go" locations since Monday, Starbucks said. More than 15,000 people have tested positive in Erie County over the past week, the highest seven-day total to date.

Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said the company has met and exceeded CDC and expert guidelines and offered vaccine and isolation pay.

"Over and above that, all leaders are empowered to make whatever changes make sense for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100% takeout only, which is the case in Buffalo," he said.

The employees said they will return to work when they feel the store is fully staffed and safe, possibly on Monday. About a third of the staff is out because of illness or exposure, the union said.

The novel coronavirus, first detected at the end of 2019, has caused a global pandemic.

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