COVID Omicron News: US prepares vaccines for kids 6 months to 5 years old pending FDA, CDC

COVID-19 Live Updates, News and Information
NEW YORK (WABC) -- The White House says it's preparing to distribute more shots if and when the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children between 6 months and 5 years old.

White House COVID coordinator Jeff Zients says Pfizer is currently waiting for emergency-use authorization from the FDA.

The CDC will then have to sign off on the vaccine as well.

Once the administration gets the green light, Zients says it will only take days until shots can begin going into the arms of young kids.

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

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

CT crosses grim milestone
Connecticut reported an additional 175 COVID deaths since last week, bringing the state's total across the 10,000 threshold to 10,083. The state's positivity rate is currently 6.57%, with 869 current hospitalizations.

Palin resumes court battle with NY Times after COVID illness
Sarah Palin's libel suit against The New York Times went to trial Thursday in a case over the former Alaska governor's claims the newspaper damaged her reputation with an editorial linking her campaign rhetoric to a mass shooting. The trial is a rare example of a jury deciding the validity of a persistent refrain from Palin and other Republicans: That a biased news media is willing to bend the truth to make conservatives look bad. Palin, a onetime Republican vice presidential nominee, told journalists as she arrived at the courthouse that she was looking for "Justice for people who expect truth in the media." Opening statements to the jury were initially scheduled for last week, but were postponed when Palin tested positive for COVID-19.

"We come to this case with our eyes wide open and keenly aware of the fact we're fighting an uphill battle," Palin attorney Shane Vogt said. "Give us a fair shot. We're not here trying to win your votes for Governor Palin or any of her policies."

Medicare opens up access to free at-home COVID-19 tests
The Biden administration says people with Medicare will be able to get up to eight free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month, starting in early spring. It's seeking to fill a frustrating gap in coverage for coronavirus tests. Last month, the administration directed private insurers to cover rapid COVID-19 tests for people on their plans. But until now officials were trying to figure out what to do about Medicare, which covers older people particularly vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. Laws and regulations that govern the program stood in the way. Free tests will be available through participating pharmacies and other locations. AARP has praised Medicare's decision.

Russia mulls loosening restrictions amid record virus surge
The Russian president says his government is considering loosening some coronavirus restrictions, even as the country is facing a record-breaking surge of infections because of the highly contagious omicron variant. Vladimir Putin on Thursday insisted that authorities are not planning any lockdowns or other additional restrictions because of the surge. Moreover, the government is considering lifting restrictions for those who come into contact with COVID-19 patients, "to give people the opportunity to continue working in peace." Existing regulations mandate that people who come in contact with someone with COVID-19 must self-isolate for seven days. On Thursday, the country's state coronavirus task force reported 155,768 new infections, a daily tally 10 times higher than a month ago.

Strained US hospitals seek foreign nurses amid visa windfall
Many American hospitals are looking abroad for health care workers, saying they're facing a dire shortage of nurses amid the slogging pandemic. It could be just in time as there's an unusually high number of green cards available this year for foreign professionals seeking to move to the United States. The reason is U.S. consulates were closed during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving tens of thousands of unused visa slots for eligible workers. The Biden administration has taken some steps to try to help foreign health care workers get here more quickly. But some hospitals say they're still waiting on consular interviews to bring in nurses.

Upper house of Austrian parliament approves vaccine mandate
Austria's planned COVID-19 vaccine mandate was approved by the upper house of parliament Thursday evening, clearing one of the final hurdles before it can take effect. The chamber voted overwhelmingly in favor of the mandate, 47 to 12, following a vote in the lower chamber of parliament on Jan. 20. It will now be sent to President Alexander van der Bellen for signing.

"Today is an important day," Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said during the parliamentary debate. With the vaccine mandate, he said Austria "isn't simply reacting, but we are taking a forward-looking and active step."

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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