Latest US vaccine updates
Joe Biden gives an update on federal surge response to Omicron
In a blow to the president’s push to get more Americans vaccinated, the ruling comes as health experts believe that the US may be approaching the peak of the latest wave of Covid brought on by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, a number of Republican politicians have vowed that they will defy Washington, DC’s own proposed vaccination mandate for businesses.
The mandate, which was announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser in December, requires many establishments — from gyms and theatres to bars and restaurants — to require that patrons over the age of 12 show proof of vaccination before entering. Such requirements have been adopted in several cities across the US.
Last month, New York City became the first municipality in the US to extend its vaccine requirements to all employees within the private sector.
The Biden administration also will begin offering up to four free at-home rapid tests for Covid-19 next week through a website portal, to be delivered within seven to 12 days. The move comes as the administration expands free testing options and mandates that private insurance companies cover their costs.
CDC updates mask guidance: N95s offer the best protection
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the clearest guidance yet suggesting that N95 masks offer the strongest protection against Covid-19, though the agency has stopped short of telling Americans to use such masks over cloth face coverings or surgical masks.
The new guidance ranks the levels of protection from different masks and how they should be used for best results.
“Loosely woven cloth coverings” offer the least protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95 masks offer more protection, and well-fitting respirators like N95s “offer the highest level of protection.”
The agency’s key message: “Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.”
Health experts however have urged Americans to upgrade their masks to KN95 or higher, and President Biden has suggested the government could provide Americans with higher-quality masks for free.
Americans likely to wait nearly two weeks for free rapid tests
An idea that White House press secretary Jen Psaki once appeared to mock is going live next week – a federal government website that allows Americans to order at-home rapid tests for Covid-19 at no cost to be sent to their homes.
But it could take up to 12 days to receive them, a senior Biden officials told reporters.
Widely available rapid testing in the US has become a vital component, along with vaccines and face coverings, to help control infections during the public health crisis, and results have become an integral part of the nation’s “reopening” as millions of Americans balance a pandemic with the demands of school and work for themselves and their families.
The website is live now, and orders can begin on 19 January.
How does the cost of rapid testing in the US compare to other countries?
The Biden administration is ordering 500 million at-home Covid-19 testing kits to be distributed to Americans in addition to 500 million tests the administration announced last month.
The federal government also plans to launch a website next week for Americans to order such tests to be delivered to their homes at no cost.
Those moves follow a plan to require private health insurance providers to cover the costs of up to eight over-the-counter tests per month.
At-home tests can be relatively expensive – tests can range from $10 to $35 – with out-of-pocket costs quickly adding up for families or people who require results for work and other activities.
And they can also be free, depending on demand and availability, at public health centres and other sites.
Here’s how the costs of rapid testing in the US stacks up to other countries:
Before Biden’s plans for more at-home tests, over-the-counter kits cost several times more than similar tests in other countries
Government may take back millions in Covid aid from Arizona over mask policies
Federal officials are threatening to claw back billions in coronavirus aid from Arizona, accusing the state of promoting Covid education programmes that undermine efforts to stop the spread and penalise districts that require masks or shut down in-person schooling.
Josh Marcus reports.
The governor of Arizona has pushed back against mask and vaccine mandates
Number of countries that may have seen Omicron peak grows
Johns Hopkins data shows that other countries in addition to the US and UK that were hit hard by the sudden wave of the highly transmissible Covid-19 Omicron variant may also be turning the corner.
Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, and Canada appear to have also seen the peak of case numbers according to their seven-day rolling averages.
Canada demanding US truckers are vaccinated
Canada plans to start turning away unvaccinated US truckers at the border this weekend, a move that threatens to upend the flow of everything from food to auto parts to building supplies between two of the world’s largest trading partners.
Only 50 per cent to 60 per cent of US truckers are vaccinated, according to an estimate from the American Trucking Associations. The rules will make thousands of drivers ineligible for cross-border shipments, exacerbating a shortage at a time when the transportation industry is already strained.
Shipping will get disrupted in both directions, as the US is set to impose its own vaccine mandate on foreign travelers on January 22. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government confirmed Thursday that truck drivers from Canada will be affected as well — forced into quarantine if they try to re-enter their own country and can’t show proof of vaccination.
DeSantis: Justices Roberts and Kavanaugh lack ‘backbone’ over medical vaccine mandate
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh lack a “backbone” following their decision regarding the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
Mr DeSantis criticised them during an appearance on the conservative podcast Ruthless on Friday.
“On the nurse mandate and the doctor mandate, Roberts and Kavanaugh joined with the liberals to allow the nurse mandate,” he said.
“So here’s what’s going on, think about how insane this is,” Mr DeSantis continued. “Now, in Florida, we protected the nurses, so we have people that are working. But in other states, they fired nurses who were not vaccinated.”
He said that in some hospitals in states where this was not the case they had allowed vaccinated but Covid-positive employees back to work as they were so short-staffed.
“So they have Covid-positive people back on, meanwhile the unvaccinated, likely immune through prior infection, healthy nurses are on the sidelines fired,” the governor said, again calling the policies insane.
“Roberts and Kavanaugh did not have a backbone on that decision,” he added. “That’s just the bottom line.”
The governor said he would continue to protect the right of unvaccinated medical staff to work.
‘Stunningly high’ 29 per cent positivity rate in US
Former CDC director Tom Frieden calls the current 29 per cent positivity rate in the US stunningly high and notes that many infections are being missed.
GE suspends COVID-19 vaccine or test requirement
General Electric Co on Friday said it has suspended Covid-19 vaccine or test requirement for employees after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses — a policy the conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans — while endorsing a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
Firms may still impose their own vaccination or testing requirements and the justice’s decision does not impact their ability to do so.
The Biden administration said it will continue to encourage this type of privately mandated measure.
With reporting from Reuters