Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 15: CDC Warns of New Wave of Infections Led by Omicron

Major Corporations Begin to Lock Out Non-Vaccinated Employees from the Workplace

By Jonathan Spira on 15 December 2021
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning of two possible scenarios involving the omicron variant. The first is a “tidal wave” of infections of both the omicron and delta variants that would arrive in January just as influenza and other winter infections peak.  The second is a smaller surge of omicron-related infections in the spring.  The CDC could not say which scenario is more likely.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. told its non-vaccinated workers to stay home starting Tuesday.  “It seems unfair to require our vaccinated employees to wear masks all day at their desks,” the bank said in a memorandum to employees viewed by the Coronavirus Morning News Brief.  The bank also began to require proof of vaccination status for all employees and visitors entering any of its buildings.

Meanwhile, Apple announced that, effective immediately, all customers and staff would be required to don face masks in order to enter any of its stores in the United States.

“Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores,” the Cupertino-based company said in a statement.

Grocery chain Kroger announced it had removed paid emergency leave for non-vaccinated employees who contract the coronavirus and  add a $50 monthly health surcharge for some staff.

Final trial data for Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid show it reduced the risk of hospitalization among high-risk groups by close to 90%.  The company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, called it a “game changer” on Tuesday after the results were announced.

The Guardian reported that Amazon, through its AmazonSmile charitable program, donated over $40,000 to anti-vaccine groups in 2020.

Scientists in Hong Kong found that two doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine are inadequate against the omicron variant. The preliminary tests used laboratory samples of blood drawn from people with antibodies generated from Sinovac.

The Broadway show “Ain’t Too Proud” cancelled its performance on Tuesday, citing a breakthrough Covid case in the company. The news comes on the heels of a string of Broadway shows – “Chicago,” “Freestyle Love Supreme,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” – that have recently had to cancel one or more performances due to a member of the cast or crew testing positive.

Finally, Amtrak, the primary passenger rail carrier in the United States, said it would temporarily suspend its vaccine mandate for its employees to alleviate planned cuts in service that had been announced in January due to insufficient staffing.  The railroad said that 95.7% of its workers are in compliance with the policy.

As of Wednesday morning, the world has recorded 271.9 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.6 million new cases, and 5.3 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 244.5 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.6 million.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 121,687, a 49% increase.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,285, an increase of 40% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Wednesday, recorded 51.1 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 821,335. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 34.7 million, and a reported death toll of 476,135.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 617,121, and has almost 22.2 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Wednesday, 239.6 million people in the United States – or 72.2% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 61%, or 202.5 million people, are now fully vaccinated, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 486.6 million. Breaking this down further, 84.5% of the population over the age of 18 – or 218.2 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 72.1% of the same group – or 186.3 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 29.5% of that population, or 55 million people, has already received a booster shot.

Some 56.4% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, an increase of .3 percentage points from the prior day, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 8.55 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 7.3% 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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