COVID Omicron News: Officials consider reducing isolation period for fully vaccinated

COVID-19 Live Updates, News and Information

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Eyewitness News Special | Holiday Alert: Omicron Surge
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Joe Torres and Sandra Bookman co-host an Eyewitness News special presentation, 'Holiday Alert: Omicron Surge.'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- As the highly transmissible omicron and delta coronavirus variants continue to sweep across the United States, health officials warn that more people are expected to get infected -- even those who are fully vaccinated -- and they need to stay home and isolate themselves so they don't spread the virus to others.

Anyone who has COVID-19 should isolate for 10 full days, according to current guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But this holiday season, there has been growing debate around the number of days to isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 but don't have symptoms and are fully vaccinated -- or, better yet, got a booster dose.

This debate comes as COVID-19 cases rise across the United States. As of Tuesday, the nation is averaging 139,764 new cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University -- up 16% from a week ago.

"We should have as short of a time period needed for isolation as possible for a number of reasons," Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore City health commissioner, told CNN's Kate Bolduan on Tuesday.

RELATED: What are the symptoms of the COVID omicron variant?

Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:

Mayor of Newark tests positive for COVID

Newark mayor Ras Baraka announced that he tested positive for COVID-19. He said he is not experiencing symptoms and his wife and son have tested negative.

Supreme Court to decide fate of Biden vaccine mandates for hospitals, large businesses

As the omicron wave sweeps the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday night it will take up challenges to President Biden's federal vaccine mandates for health workers and large businesses early next month.

The court scheduled an expedited hearing for Jan. 7, 2022.

Test-to-stay keeping exposed Dutchess County students in the classroom

The CDC recently gave the green light to test-to-stay in schools across the country, which allows unvaccinated students who are exposed to COVID-19 to test rather than face mandatory home quarantines.

The agency says test-to-stay can be employed in addition to other practices, such as vaccination and at least 3-feet of physical distance among students wearing masks, and one district in Dutchess County is taking advantage with lots of success.

How to find and safely use at-home COVID tests

The demand for at-home COVID tests soared with the surge of new cases, as many people planning holiday family gatherings are seeking the rapid test to safely get together or travel.

Nina Pineda and 7 On Your Side have tips for how to find and safely use an at-home test.

Omicron delaying return-to-work for many New York City businesses

From Wall Street to Midtown, offices aren't just emptying out for the holidays, they're emptying because of fears of omicron.

So many businesses had plans to bring more employees back to the office in January, but those plans have been tabled.

Critics Choice Awards postponed

Officials with the Critics Choice Association released a statement that due to the rise in COVID cases in Los Angeles, the 27th annual show, originally slated for Jan 9, 2022, will be postponed.

NY, NJ set daily records for positive tests, but hospitalizations below this time last year

A whopping 9,711 positive cases reported Wednesday sets a new daily record in New Jersey, and the state has now surpassed 6,000 positive cases for the past seven days. The positivity rate of 16.82% is the highest statewide since last Christmas, when it hit 17.09%. Hospitalizations stand at 2,100, the highest since last April, but are still about 1,500 fewer than the same time last year. New York recorded a record 28,924 positive cases, the sixth straight day over 20,000. The 4,492 hospitalized patients in New York is also highest since April, but it is 2/3rds the hospitalizations compared to last year at this time.

Cirque du Soleil cancels 'Twas the Night Before...' through Christmas

Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment announced the cancellation of three days of shows for "'Twas the Night Before..." at the Hulu Theater at MSG. Production is set to resume as of the noon show on Sunday, December 26. All tickets for impacted shows will be fully refunded at the point of purchase.

Amazon, Walmart and pharmacies limiting number of at-home COVID tests you can buy

Amazon, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens are limiting the number of at-home COVID kits customers can buy due to huge demand. The rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant ahead of the holidays has sparked the surge -- and there has been anecdotal evidence over the past week of test shortages at stores across the country.

Pfizer pill becomes 1st US-authorized home COVID treatment

U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorized the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus. The long-awaited milestone comes as U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all rising and health officials warn of a tsunami of new infections from the omicron variant that could overwhelm hospitals. The drug, Paxlovid, is a faster, cheaper way to treat early COVID-19 infections, though initial supplies will be extremely limited. All of the previously authorized drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.

Biden administration extends pause on student loan payments until May 1

The Biden administration on Wednesday extended a student loan moratorium that has allowed millions of Americans to put off debt payments during the pandemic. Under the action, payments on federal student loans will remain paused through May 1. Interest rates will remain at 0% during that period, and debt collection efforts will be suspended. Those measures have been in place since early in the pandemic, but were set to expire Jan. 31. President Joe Biden said financial recovery from the pandemic will take longer than job recovery, especially for those with student loans.

NHL announces players won't be allowed to go to Olympics

NHL players will not be allowed to participate in the Beijing Olympics after the league pulled the plug amid a rash of postponements caused by positive COVID-19 test results. Commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement, making official what seemed inevitable in recent days when the list of postponed games quickly grew to 50. The league will use the previously scheduled Feb. 6-22 Olympic break to make up those games and others that need to be rescheduled.

Jets head coach Saleh tests positive

New York Jets coach Robert Saleh has tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced. TE coach Ron Middleton will coach practice today.

Congressman Antonio Delgado tests positive

Congressman Antonio Delgado confirmed he has tested positive for COVID-19. He said he is experiencing mild symptoms.

"I'm grateful for the protection of a safe and effective vaccine and booster and encourage all who are able to get both," he wrote on Twitter. "I'm sending love and a special thanks to all of our frontline health care workers who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe."

NYC adds more testing sites, deploys vans to pass out free at-home tests

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that NYC officials are adding eight additional city COVID testing sites, bringing the total to 119. In addition, the city is deploying five mobile units to distribute free rapid at-home tests, the mayor said. The moves come amid surging demand for testing, fueled by a dramatic spike in COVID cases across the city and the nation.

Paterson schools go fully remote until January 18

Paterson announced Wednesday that all public schools will switch to remote learning through at least January 18 as COVID cases continue to surge throughout New Jersey. After two large Paterson high schools -- Eastside and John F. Kennedy - closed early Tuesday and switched to remote learning through Thursday, the school district has opted to switch all schools to remote instruction.

"The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases due to multiple variants are cause for concern for all of us," Superintendent Eileen Shafer said. " A surge of new cases has occurred in northeastern New Jersey, and it is expected that the trend will continue through the holiday break."

Rikers positivity rate spikes to 17%

The Department of Correction reports that the COVID positivity rate at Rikers Island has spiked to 17% after hovering around approximately 1% for months. Only 45% of the incarcerated population has one vaccine dose, while 38% are fully vaccinated. Outgoing Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi asked judges, in a letter to public defenders to "consider every available option to reduce the number of individuals in our jail." In-person visits and religious services have obviously been halted at Rikers.

Another Nets game postponed

The NBA announced that the Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers game scheduled for Thursday, December 23 has been postponed. The Nets do not have the league required eight available players to proceed with the game against the Trail Blazers.

Greenwich High starts winter break early as COVID cases soar in Connecticut

Cases of COVID-19 fueled by the omicron variant are surging in Connecticut, prompting one high school to begin its winter recess early. Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones emailed families Tuesday to announce the decision, made in collaboration with the district's health advisors. She said the district has reported 114 cases this week, many from high school students and staff.

"The difficult decision has been made for Greenwich High School to start the December Recess tomorrow (Wednesday) due to a sharp rise in COVID-positive cases," she wrote. "As well as a shortage of non-teaching staff, including custodians."

CityMD temporarily closing 19 locations amid test surge

Just as demand for COVID testing is spiking amid a surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant, CityMD has announced it is temporarily closing 19 clinics in New York City, New Jersey and Long Island. The company says the temporary closures are happening to preserve its ability to staff other locations, most of which are currently operating at full capacity, and hopefully avoid future closures as the COVID surge continues.

As recently as Dec. 13, the city had been averaging fewer than 3,600 new cases of COVID-19 each day. But after nearly 63,500 people tested positive in just five days, the average daily number of infections had climbed to nearly 11,000 as of Monday - an increase of 207% in a week.

Several New Jersey schools close amid COVID surge

A handful of New Jersey schools have announced they are closing temporarily amid the current COVID surge. South Orange middle schools will be closed for the rest of the week, while Irvington schools will remain closed through January 10. In Chatham, schools will do early dismissal this week. Governor Murphy said he's looking into launching a "test and stay" program in the new year.

Mayor-elect Adams selects new NYC health commissioner, will start in spring 2022

Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced that in the spring, the city will have a new health commissioner. Dr. Ashwin Vasan will become the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner in March and will serve as Senior Advisor for Public Health in the interim. Dr. Dave Chokshi will continue to serve as Health Commissioner through March 15 of 2022. Adams said the appointments will ensure continuity and a seamless transition of leadership as New York City continues to combat the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

Broadway shows canceled by the omicron surge in New York City

Many stages on Broadway have been forced to go dark once more as the live theater community grapples with new backstage outbreaks of the coronavirus and its variants, and particularly the more virulent omicron.

"It reflects that our protocols are working," said Charlotte St. Martin, the head of the Broadway League. "The shows have their tests. If they have any positive test cases, they do not go on that night. And they're very cautious, which is what allowed us to run for four months and serve 2.3 million theatergoers."

More than half a dozen theaters are dark due to breakthrough cases of COVID-19, including the announcement that "Jagged Little Pill" would close for good. But two dozen shows continue to raise the curtain. Here's what's open and what's canceled.

COVID rates climb on Long Island, Congressman Lee Zeldin rallies against mask mandate

COVID positivity rates are continuing to climb on Long Island, with the 14-day average in Nassau County at 7%. The daily average rate in Suffolk County is now up to 13.6%, the highest it has been in almost a year. Meantime, Congressman Lee Zeldin was joined by local elected officials, small business owners and employees Tuesday to voice opposition for Governor Kathy Hochul's indoor statewide mask mandate. Zeldin, who is running for governor against Hochul, says the measures are harming small businesses already struggling to recover from New York's "overly restrictive, early pandemic lockdown policies."

Omicron variant symptoms: What to know even if you are vaccinated

The omicron variant is leading to a significant surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States and across Europe. The World Health Organization said 89% of those with confirmed omicron infections in Europe reported symptoms common with other coronavirus variants, including cough, sore throat, fever. The variant has mostly been spread by young people in their 20s and 30s in the region, WHO Europe regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said. Although much remains unknown about omicron, Kluge said it appears to be more infectious than previous variants, leading to "previously unseen transmission rates" in countries with a significant number of omicron cases. In those countries, cases of the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days. Here's what to know.

What to know about rapid COVID at-home tests as demand for testing surges

President Joe Biden plans to announce on Tuesday that his administration will distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January to combat the surging omicron variant. Americans will be able to request the tests through a website that will launch next month and they will be delivered by mail. ABC News spoke with two infectious disease experts about the difference between lab tests and rapid tests and how they work.

What to know about breakthrough COVID infections as cases among vaccinated rise

As Americans brace for the possibility of another difficult winter ahead in the nation's fight against coronavirus, there is a renewed sense of urgency to get as many people inoculated and boosted as quickly as possible, given the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant -- now dominant in the U.S. An ABC News analysis of federal and state data found that since July, there has been an acceleration of the number of breakthrough coronavirus cases, thus, of individuals who test positive after being fully vaccinated.

What we know about the Omicron variant

Alarmed by a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the increasing prevalence of the omicron variant, New York City and the Tri-State are taking action to try to curb the spread. While only a few cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed so far in the city, federal health officials are estimating that it already accounts for around 13% of virus cases in the region that includes New York and New Jersey. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it's clear omicron is "in full force" and spreading. Here's what we know.

CLICK HERE for Tuesday's headlines.

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