Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Jan.15: CDC Updates Mask Guidance, Large Companies Move Ahead with Vaccine Mandate

Amtrak Reduces Service Amidst Absenteeism, Québec Fine Against Unvaccinated Goes Into Effect

By Jonathan Spira on 15 January 2022
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A mostly empty Amtrak Northeast Regional train

Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 15th day of 2022.

Large corporations in the United States are taking a divergent path after the Supreme Court ruled against the Biden administration vaccine mandate for companies with over 100 workers.

The ruling doesn’t bar companies from requiring its employees be inoculated against the coronavirus, and President Joseph Biden said he would encourage companies to do just that.

UNITED STATES

Citigroup, which owns Citibank and has 65,000 employees in the country, said it has no plans to change its vaccine mandate, adding that it had reached 99% compliance before a January 14 deadline that the bank had set for workers to either be vaccinated or request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

General Electric, with 56,000 employees, said Friday it had suspended its remaining requirements.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance, telling Americans to “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.”  It further said that cloth masks of any kind are not as effective as others, including surgical masks.

The agency said people “may choose” to wear N95 and KN95 masks because they offer the best protection against Covid.

Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail company, said that it would temporarily reduce service by 8% over the next ten weeks  because of staffing absences stemming from a surge of omicron-fueled coronavirus cases.  Although 97% of its workers are fully vaccinated, several hundred are out due to either breakthrough Covid-19 infections or exposures.

Starting Wednesday, the federal government will offer up to four rapid coronavirus test kits per residential address upon request, via a special website, covidtests.gov.  Orders will be delivered by the United States Postal Service and could take up to a week to arrive after an order is placed.

The governor of the state of West Virginia, Jim Justice, is “not doing well” according to his chief of staff.  In a statement released earlier in the week, the governor himself said he was feeling “extremely unwell.”  He woke up with congestion and a cough and, by late afternoon, his blood pressure and heart rate were elevated and he had a high fever.

GLOBAL

Teachers in France went on strike Thursday to protest what a union representing them said was “constant chaos” and “putting teachers’ lives in danger.” Thousands of teachers walked out of the classroom and 200 schools in Paris alone were closed as a result.

Officials in Québec said appointments for a first dose of vaccine were the highest in weeks, following the implementation of a “significant fine” to be imposed on individuals who refuse to get vaccinated.

“Right now, these people, they put a very important burden on our health care network, and I think it’s normal that the majority of the population is asking that there be a consequence,” said the province’s premier ministre, François Legault

TODAY’S STATISTICS

Now here are the daily statistics for Saturday, January 15.

As of Saturday morning, the world has recorded 324.7 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 3.4 million new cases in the preceding 24 hour period, and over 5.5 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 265.6 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 1.2 million.

Worldwide, the number of active cases as of Saturday is 53,576,929.  Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 53,480,568, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 96,361, are listed as critical.  The percentage of cases considered critical was largely unchanged over the past 24 hours.

The United States reported 924,342 new cases on Saturday for the previous day, compared with 889,613 on Friday, 851,910 new cases on Thursday, and 769,928 on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 806,157, a 113% increase, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,928, an increase of 55% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Saturday, recorded 66.2 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 872,068. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, almost 36.9 million, and a reported death toll of 485,780.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 620,847, and has 22.9 million cases.

VACCINATION SPOTLIGHT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Saturday, 248.3 million people in the United States – or 74.8% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 62.9%, or 208.8 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 525.6 million. Breaking this down further, 86.8% of the population over the age of 18 – or 224 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 73.5% of the same group – or 189.8 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 41% of that population, or 77.7 million people, has already received a third, or booster, dose of vaccine.

Over 59.7% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Saturday, a figure that is up 0.1 percentage point in the past 24 hours, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 9.63 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 9.5% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.

It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.

Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity.  Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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