COVID Omicron News: New cases still averaging 250,000 a day in the US

COVID-19 Live Updates, News and Information
NEW YORK (WABC) -- As mask mandates end in some parts of the country, 99% of counties in the US are still seeing high COVID transmission.

New infections are averaging nearly 250,000 a day, and health experts warn that cases are still higher than the nation's previous surges.

"We still have hospitalization rates that are higher than they ever were during the peak of our Delta wave," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. "And similarly for deaths, still at 2,300 a day."

New CDC data shows the sub-variant of omicron known as BA-2 is becoming more prevalent, accounting for nearly 4% of new infections in the U.S.

So far, there's no evidence the variant makes the virus more severe. Omicron still accounts for the rest of the new cases, the same way delta used to just two months ago.

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

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

NY lifting mask-or-vax requirement for indoor businesses; school mask mandate remains
Governor Kathy Hochul announced the end of the indoor mask mandate in New York State effective Thursday, but the city mandate will remain in place. The state mandate had required masks to be worn inside businesses where vaccination status was not being checked. The mandate will remain in effect at homeless shelters, healthcare centers, state-run nursing homes, schools and childcare centers, and correctional facilities. The school mask mandate, however, will remain in place for now.

"We saw it coming, it happened, we hit our peak on January 7, but now we've noticed a 93% drop in cases," Hochul said. "That is exactly what we've been waiting for."

Hoboken repeals indoor mask requirements
Hoboken's executive order requiring face masks in indoor locations of public accommodation ended Wednesday, as Hudson County's positivity rate fell below 5% as of Monday, February 7, which provided the basis for the order's repeal.

"Since the very first decision to shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, Hoboken has used science and data to guide decisions on keeping the public safe," Mayor Ravi Bhalla said. "In recent days, the numbers make it clear that cases are significantly falling in the region, which is welcome news. This data point, combined with Hoboken's high vaccination rate, robust testing options, and low hospitalizations, make it possible for us to lift our indoor mask requirement. I thank the many residents and businesses who adhered to this safety precaution as we navigated through the Omicron phase of the pandemic."

Local Hoboken businesses will continue to have the option to require face masks for entry into their business.

As even Dem states ease, Biden begins rethinking COVID rules
The White House says it is beginning to prepare for the next less-restrictive phase of the pandemic response amid growing impatience for the federal government to ease up. Even Democratic states are moving to roll back mask mandates in a push toward post-COVID-19 normalcy. White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that officials have started consultations with state and local leaders and public health officials "on steps we should be taking to keep the country moving forward." His comments come as states have moved to ease restrictions and guide the nation back toward life unencumbered by the virus.

Canadian provinces lift COVID restrictions, protests remain
A rapidly growing list of Canadian provinces moved to lift their COVID-19 restrictions as protesters decrying vaccine mandates and other precautions kept up the pressure with truck blockades in the capital and at key U.S. border crossings, including the economically vital bridge connecting the country with Detroit. The Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Prince Edward Island announced plans this week to lift some or all COVID-19 restrictions soon, with Alberta removing its vaccine passport for places like restaurants immediately and masks at the end of the month. Alberta opposition New Democrat leader Rachel Notley says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is allowing an "illegal blockade to dictate public health measures."

Can you get long COVID after an omicron infection? Many doctors believe it's possible
Can you get long COVID after an infection with omicron? It's too early to know for sure, but many doctors believe it's possible to have long-term effects from the omicron variant of the virus. Long COVID is usually diagnosed many weeks after a bout with COVID-19. Any long-lasting effects typically appear about 90 days after symptoms of the initial infection go away, Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization said this week. Overall, some estimates suggest more than a third of COVID-19 survivors will develop some symptoms of long COVID. Symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, anxiety and other problems. The lingering illness is more likely if you've been hospitalized with COVID-19, but research shows it can happen even after a mild infection.

Didn't receive advance child tax credit payments? How to claim full amount on 2021 tax returns
Millions of Americans who have never filed a tax return will need to do so this year in order to claim what's coming to them under the enhanced child tax credit. Previously, only people who earned enough money to owe income taxes could qualify for the full credit. But as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, President Joe Biden expanded the program, increasing the payments to up to $3,600 annually for each child aged 5 or under and $3,000 for those who are ages 6 to 17. The monthly payments have amounted to $300 for each child 5 and younger and $250 for those between 5 and 17. Here's everything you need to know.

Don't expect grocery store prices to come down anytime soon
Grocery store prices will probably stay elevated this year, according to economists at Goldman Sachs, continuing a COVID trend that has contributed to the high cost of living. In a report to clients on Monday night, Goldman Sachs projected the food-at-home category of the consumer price index will increase by another 5% to 6% this year. The Wall Street bank cited a 6% jump in food commodity prices so far this year and "soaring costs" of some farming inputs, including a quintupling of some fertilizer prices.

"The stage has been set for further substantial increases in retail food prices this year," Goldman Sachs economists wrote in the report.

How many times can I reuse my N95 mask?
How many times can I reuse my N95 mask? It depends, but you should be able to use N95s and KN95s a few times. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says health care workers can wear an N95 mask up to five times. But experts say how often the average person can safely wear one will vary depending on how it's used. Using the same mask to run to the grocery store, for example, is very different than wearing it all day at work.

When am I contagious if infected with omicron?
When am I contagious if infected with omicron? It's not yet clear, but some early data suggests people might become contagious sooner than with earlier variants - possibly within a day after infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the few days before and after symptoms develop. But that window of time might happen earlier with omicron, according to some outside experts. That's because omicron appears to cause symptoms faster than previous variants - about three days after infection, on average, according to preliminary studies. Based on previous data, that means people with omicron could start becoming contagious as soon as a day after infection.

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