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

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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Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

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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Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

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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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.

Passengers look out from the Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship docked in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Thousands of passengers were being held on the ship for coronavirus testing after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to a recent omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back. Vincent Yu/AP hide caption

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Vincent Yu/AP

Passengers look out from the Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship docked in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Thousands of passengers were being held on the ship for coronavirus testing after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to a recent omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back.

Vincent Yu/AP

HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing Wednesday as the city attempted to stem an emerging omicron outbreak.

The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States will take effect Sunday and continue until Jan. 21.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be forbidden after 6 p.m. for two weeks starting Friday. Game arcades, bars and beauty salons must also close during that period.

"We have to contain the pandemic to ensure that there will not be a major outbreak in the community again," Lam said at a news conference, adding that the city is "on the verge" of another surge.

The measures came as new omicron clusters have emerged over the past week, many linked to several Cathay Pacific crew members who broke isolation rules and dined at restaurants and bars in the city before testing positive.

Hong Kong has reported 114 omicron variant cases as of Tuesday, with most being imported. On Tuesday, it reported its first untraceable case in nearly three months, which authorities said was likely caused by the omicron variant.

Hong Kong officials have moved swiftly to block the spread of the variant, locking down residential buildings where people have tested positive and mass-testing thousands of people.

That includes about 2,500 passengers who were being held Wednesday on a cruise ship in Hong Kong for coronavirus tests, after health authorities said nine passengers were linked to an omicron cluster and ordered the ship to turn back.

Authorities forced the Royal Caribbean's Spectrum of the Seas ship, which departed Sunday on a "cruise to nowhere," to return a day early on Wednesday, according to a government statement.

The ship returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday morning and passengers were held onboard for most of the day while they awaited testing.

One passenger, Claudy Wong, said Royal Caribbean had tried its best to follow pandemic regulations.

"The pandemic has gone on for so long, actually passengers like us who board the cruise are already prepared for such situations to happen," Wong said.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the nine guests were immediately isolated and all tested negative, and that the company was working closely with authorities to comply with epidemic prevention policies and regulations.

It said guests who were on the affected ship would receive a 25% refund on their cruise fare. The ship's next sailing on Thursday was also canceled because the crew must undergo testing, and those guests will receive a full refund.

The city has reported a total of 12,690 confirmed coronavirus infections as of Tuesday, including 213 deaths.

Things seem grim now. But America's COVID situation could get better in 6-8 weeks

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People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 test on Tuesday in New York. The U.S. recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 cases on Monday. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 test on Tuesday in New York. The U.S. recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 cases on Monday.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Things might seem pretty grim on the pandemic front right now. The U.S. is only a few days into the third calendar year of the pandemic and nearly 500,000 new COVID-19 cases are being counted daily.

The country hit another record high on Monday with 1,082,549 infections. So if it's hard to find a glimmer of hope, you're not alone. But Dr. Bob Wachter has a bit of hope to share.

Wachter chairs the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and took to Twitter last week to share his thoughts and predictions on how the country "could be in good shape, maybe even great shape in six to eight weeks."

He joined NPR's All Things Considered to talk about the current case rates and hospitalization rates and how they might trend, the new antiviral COVID-19 pills and what the omicron variant will likely mean for the unvaccinated population.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

Could the U.S. really be in "good shape" in terms of the pandemic in six to eight weeks?

Yeah, I think that's the likeliest outcome. I should always caveat it by the fact that over the past two years, every time things have started looking good, something bad happens. So it's possible that will happen again. There'll be another variant that will be a curveball. But if that doesn't happen, I think the likeliest outcome for February and March is that we'll be in pretty good shape.

This virus being so transmissible but now, as we understand it, being milder than the prior variants could turn out to be very good news after a very awful January.

What are you seeing in terms of case rates and hospitalization rates, and what might you hope to see there in the coming weeks?

What's happening now is the cases are exploding, as we've never seen before, and that really is a manifestation of how extraordinarily infectious omicron is. What we're not seeing is the same relationship between cases and hospitalizations. So the average case of omicron has about a 60% lower chance of landing you in the hospital than the average case of delta.

Now you might hear that and say that doesn't make sense. Why are the hospitals filling up? And the reason is, even if the average case is less likely to land you in the hospital, if there are twice or three or five times as many cases, then you will have more people laying in the hospital. So the short-term risk — and we're seeing it all over the country — is the hospitals will get filled with patients with omicron.

A fair number of doctors and nurses will be out sick with omicron. And so we have a pretty miserable month, even though the average patient has a lower chance of ending up in the hospital than he or she would have had if they had a case of delta, particularly if they're vaccinated.

But very importantly, for the people that chose not to be vaccinated — I think a very terrible choice, but who made that choice — there's a pretty good chance they're going to get a case of omicron, which will give them some immunity. And it's those two things combined — the fact that the average case is going to be milder, and more and more people are going to be immune to this virus — that gets us out of this pickle, I think, in February.

Antiviral COVID-19 pills are being rolled out. They're in small quantities so far, but what effect could these have in the coming weeks?

Yeah, it's an important new part of our armamentarium. Up till now, we've really just had monoclonal antibodies to give to people at very high risk who got COVID but were not sick enough yet to be in the hospital. But two new pills have come out. The Pfizer is a much bigger deal than the Merck. The Merck lowers the probability that someone who gets a case of omicron will land in the hospital by 30%, the Pfizer by 90%.

So, it's in short supply. The supply is growing. Within a month or two, there will be a decent supply. So that is another very important tool that we'll have.

You're the chair of medicine at a big hospital there in San Francisco. Can your high-risk patients get these COVID pills?

[They're] just starting to be available. We have them in some of our pharmacies, but we're having to triage them quite severely and be very selective about who gets them, but I think they'll become more and more available over time. It's a pretty tricky chemical compound to produce. So it is taking the company some time to produce them, but the supply should grow steadily over the next couple of months.

How are things looking for the unvaccinated? Where do you see their risks going in the next weeks and months?

If you are unvaccinated and you're not being super careful, by which I mean wearing an N95 mask all the time if you're going indoors, it's almost hard to believe that you will not get this virus.

The problem is, people who are unvaccinated are hearing that the average case of omicron is milder. It is milder, but it's particularly milder for people that are vaccinated. For the people that are unvaccinated, the best estimates from the science so far are that maybe it's about 25% less likely to land you in the hospital, and you might say, "That's OK, good, it's milder." But if it's 25% less likely to land you in the hospital and you have a five times greater chance of becoming infected in the next month, that math doesn't land you in a good place.

That means that there are going to be more and more unvaccinated people who get omicron. A lot of them will end up in hospitals. A lot of them unfortunately will end up in ICUs, and a fair number of them will be the ones who die over the next four to six weeks as this hurricane sort of rampages through our country.

People are also hearing that the vaccines and boosters aren't worth it. They don't work because everybody we know is getting sick anyway. What do you say about this?

Yeah, I can understand how people would feel that, but that's just not right. The vaccines and boosters are miraculous, and they are miraculous because what they do is markedly lower the probability that you will get very sick, go to the hospital, go to the ICU, end up on a ventilator and die.

There's no question that there are more breakthrough cases. This virus is very good at sidestepping some of your immunity, but the kind of case that you're going to have if you've had particularly three shots is so much more likely to be a mild case of a couple of days of cold or flu symptoms than it would be for the unvaccinated person. Those are the ones who are landing in the hospital, landing in the ICU, and ultimately, the deaths that we will have from omicron will be almost entirely in unvaccinated people.

Is there anything that could throw this prediction of hope off?

Sure. Two big questions going forward in terms of how rosy the future might be. One is, how good is the immunity that a case of omicron gives you against another case of either omicron or another variant? I'm sure it'll be fine for a while. But does it last for three months or a year? That will make a difference in terms of whether the risk goes up, let's say, next winter.

And the second, of course, is this great unknown, which is, will there be another variant? And anybody who tells you they can predict that is making it up because nobody I know predicted delta. Nobody I know predicted omicron. And all that means is there could be something even nastier than omicron on the horizon. And that will change the projections. But for now, I think things look pretty good.

Seth Meyers and host Jimmy Fallon appear on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 28, 2014, in New York City. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images hide caption

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Seth Meyers and host Jimmy Fallon appear on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 28, 2014, in New York City.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., both of NBC's late-night talk show hosts, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, have announced they've tested positive for COVID-19.

"The bad news is, I tested positive for COVID (thanks, 2022!)," Meyers said in a tweet Monday. "The good news is, I feel fine (thanks vaccines and booster!)."

Meyers said the network had canceled the remainder of shows scheduled from Tuesday to Friday.

"Tune in next Monday to see what cool location we will try and pass off as a studio!!!" Meyers added.

News of Meyers' positive case comes a day after Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus right before Christmas.

In his latest Instagram post, Fallon, who appears to have recovered, says he had received a COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot — and experienced only mild symptoms.

"Thank you to the doctors and nurses who work so hard around the clock to get everyone vaxxed," Fallon wrote. "Thank you to NBC for taking the testing protocols so seriously and doing a great job - and also thanks for putting me in the 'What 'chu talkin' about Willis?' isolation room when they told me the news."

Other celebrities who've recently tested positive for the coronavirus include Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Debra Messing and LL Cool J.

The U.S. reported a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University that probably includes numbers from the holiday weekend. The seven-day daily average for infections is currently 480,273.

A woman receives a booster shot at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Las Vegas on Dec. 21. Ethan Miller/Getty Images hide caption

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A woman receives a booster shot at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Las Vegas on Dec. 21.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

People who were initially immunized with two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should receive a booster shot after five months, rather than six, according to a new recommendation from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The move comes after the Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the change in the Pfizer booster interval, saying that a third shot after five months may "provide better protection sooner for individuals against the highly transmissible omicron variant."

In a statement, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said urged eligible Americans to receive a booster as soon as possible.

"As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to update our recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for the American people," Walensky said. "Today's recommendations ensure people are able to get a boost of protection in the face of omicron and increasing cases across the country, and ensure that the most vulnerable children can get an additional dose to optimize protection against COVID-19."

Recommendations for booster shots for those who initially received vaccines made by Moderna or Johnson & Johnson have not changed: Moderna recipients should seek their booster after six months; those who received Johnson & Johnson should get one after two months.

Although the FDA also authorized the use of Pfizer boosters for children ages 12 through 15, the CDC has not yet followed up with a formal recommendation. A committee of advisers to the CDC will meet to vote on that topic Wednesday, after which the agency is expected to act.

The move to shorten the Pfizer booster interval comes as the U.S. reported more than a million new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, an eye-popping new record that far exceeds the worst days of last winter's surge. (Hospitalizations and deaths are rising at much slower rates and have not reached the levels seen last winter.)

That case record is likely to be an undercount, experts say, given the widespread availability of at-home tests.

The CDC now estimates that more than 95% of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are caused by the omicron variant, which appears to be much more transmissible than previous variants — including among those who are vaccinated or have been previously infected with COVID-19.

Sheep and goats stand together on Monday in Schneverdingen, Germany, as they form an approximately 330-foot syringe to promote vaccinations against COVID-19. Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP hide caption

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Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP

Sheep and goats stand together on Monday in Schneverdingen, Germany, as they form an approximately 330-foot syringe to promote vaccinations against COVID-19.

Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP

BERLIN — Tasty bits of bread did the trick for about 700 sheep and goats to join Germany's drive to encourage more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The animals were arranged on Monday into the shape of a roughly 330-foot syringe in a field at Schneverdingen, south of Hamburg.

Shepherd Wiebke Schmidt-Kochan spent several days practicing with her animals, news agency dpa reported. But she said in the end, it wasn't difficult to work things out — she laid out pieces of bread in the shape of the syringe, which the sheep and goats gobbled up when they were let out into the field.

Organizer Hanspeter Etzold said the action was aimed at people who are still hesitating to get vaccinated.

Sheep and goats stand together in Schneverdingen, Germany, before they form an approximately 330-foot syringe to promote vaccinations against COVID-19. Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP hide caption

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Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP

Sheep and goats stand together in Schneverdingen, Germany, before they form an approximately 330-foot syringe to promote vaccinations against COVID-19.

Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP

"Sheep are such likeable animals — maybe they can get the message over better," he said.

The German government has made an accelerated vaccination campaign its top priority in attempting to beat back the latest wave of COVID-19 infections.

The percentage of the population that has received at least two shots stood on Monday at 71.2%. Those who have received a booster shot has increased much faster in recent weeks and now stands at 38.9% of the population.

Health Ministry spokesman Andreas Deffner said on Monday that the public debate over vaccinations in recent weeks appeared to have prompted some holdouts to change their mind.

In a more conventional contribution to the drive, Berlin nightclubs on Monday pitched in by offering vaccinations.

Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the Clubcommission, the association of Berlin nightclubs, said that half of the vaccination appointments have already been taken up. Sage Beach and several other clubs are offering about 4,500 shots in total this week.

Authorities in Germany have recently closed or put restrictions on clubs in order to slow the omicron variant's spread. Berlin authorities banned dancing, prompting many clubs to shut their doors.

"We all hoped that if you have such a high vaccination rate as we have in the club scene, that you can then also hold safe events, and that is unfortunately not the case," Leichsenring said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, pictured in Seoul, South Korea, in early December, has tested positive for COVID-19. Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, pictured in Seoul, South Korea, in early December, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has tested positive for COVID-19.

"I tested positive this morning for COVID-19. I requested the test today after exhibiting symptoms while at home on leave," Austin said in a statement late Sunday. "My symptoms are mild, and I am following my physician's directions."

"In keeping with those directions, and in accordance with CDC guidelines, I will quarantine myself at home for the next five days," he said.

Austin, 68, said that he is fully vaccinated and was boosted in October. He said that while he quarantines, he plans to continue with key meetings and discussions virtually, "to the degree possible" and that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks would represent him as necessary.

He said that his staff had begun contact tracing and testing anyone who he'd been in contact with over the last week.

"My last meeting with President Biden occurred on Tuesday, December 21st, more than a week before I began to experience symptoms," Austin said. "I tested negative that very morning. I have not been in the Pentagon since Thursday, where I met briefly — and only — with a few members of my staff. We were properly masked and socially distanced throughout."

Austin is the second high-profile Biden administration Cabinet member to get COVID-19. In October, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also tested positive. At the time, Mayorkas said he was fully vaccinated and that his symptoms amounted to only "mild congestion."


This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the CDC was considering adding testing negative to its recommendations for when people could stop isolating after testing positive. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images hide caption

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Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the CDC was considering adding testing negative to its recommendations for when people could stop isolating after testing positive.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering altering its recommendations for people with COVID-19 after it got pushback on its new guidelines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

President Biden's chief medical adviser said there was "some concern" that the CDC told people to isolate for five days but did not recommend that they get a negative test before leaving isolation.

"That is something that is now under consideration," Fauci said Sunday during an interview on ABC's This Week.

On Monday the CDC cut the number of days it recommends COVID-positive people remain in isolation from 10 days to five if they are no longer showing symptoms. People are urged to wear masks for another five days after that to avoid infecting others.

The CDC said transmission generally occurs one or two days before symptoms begin and two to three days after. Health officials were also concerned that the high number of people testing positive with the virus and being forced to isolate — particularly essential workers — could cause major disruptions to the economy.

But the agency did not include anything in its guidance about testing negative for COVID before leaving isolation, something critics say should be included in the updated recommendations.

"Looking at it again, there may be an option in that, that testing could be a part of that," Fauci said.

"I think we're going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC," he added.

Meanwhile, tests have been hard to come by for millions of people, with some waiting hours in long lines.

Travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on Tuesday. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 U.S. flights by midday on Saturday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on Tuesday. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 U.S. flights by midday on Saturday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In just a few weeks, the U.S. will mark two years since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country, and the number of new infections has never been higher.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 486,428 confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to agency data.

The spike — driven by the delta variant and the highly infectious but potentially milder omicron strain — has snarled holiday plans for many and presented a big question mark at the start of the new year, now the country's third in the pandemic.

Travelers face a wave of flight cancellations

One area that's been walloped by the recent surge in COVID cases is airline travel, and those attempting to fly during the holidays continue to face an uphill battle to get off the tarmac.

Airlines canceled more than 2,400 U.S. flights by midday on Saturday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. Chicago, which is also under a winter storm warning, was experiencing hundreds of cancellations at its two main airports.

There were another 2,000 delays impacting U.S. flights.

And more disruptions to air travel could be ahead. The Federal Aviation Administration warned that an increase in the number of air-traffic control staff testing positive for COVID could lead to more flight disruptions, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"To maintain safety, traffic volume at some facilities could be reduced, which might result in delays during busy periods," an FAA spokesperson told the newspaper.

It's not only airlines that have been impacted by the recent surge. The CDC said there's also been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise ship staff and passengers, and it's warning people to avoid cruise travel regardless of their vaccination status.

Colleges, universities switch to online classes to start the new semester

The list of universities opting to start the upcoming semester with remote instruction continues to grow, too.

Duke University, American University and Michigan State University were among those to announce this week that they were delaying the start of in-person classes to slow the spread of COVID on their campuses.

"I realize that students prefer to be in person, and so do I. But it is important that we do so in a safe manner," MSU president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in a statement. "Starting the semester remotely and de-densifying campus in the coming weeks can be a solution to slowing the spread of the virus."

They join other institutions of higher learning that had already announced plans for a remote start to the new school year earlier last month.

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

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