(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 803,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 61.2% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dec 17, 3:44 pm
NFL games pushed back

Due to a “substantial increase in cases across the league,” the NFL announced that several weekend games have been pushed back.

Saturday’s game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns has been moved from Saturday to Monday.

The Washington Football Team vs. Philadelphia Eagles matchup and Seattle Seahawks-Los Angeles Rams game have both been moved from Sunday to Tuesday.

Dec 17, 3:29 pm
New York state reports over 21K cases setting new pandemic record

New York state reported 21,027 cases Thursday, setting a new single-day high, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said.

“The winter surge in COVID-19 cases is a reminder that the pandemic is not over yet and we must take extra care to keep ourselves and each other safe,” Hochul said in a statement. “The vaccine is still our best weapon to defeat the virus.”

-ABC News’ Josh Hoyos

Dec 17, 2:56 pm
Southwest CEO tests positive after Senate hearing

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has tested positive for COVID-19 after testifying at a Senate hearing Wednesday alongside other airline executives, a Southwest spokesperson said.

He was not masked during the hearing.

Kelly, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, has mild symptoms, the spokesperson said.

ABC News reached out to the airlines whose executives were next to Kelly at the hearing.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and Delta operations chief John Laughter tested negative Friday.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker plans to test Friday afternoon, according to the airline. Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said she will test Friday and in the coming days.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell told ABC News that committee members will “follow the protocols” for testing.

-ABC News’ Mina Kaji, Allison Pecorin and Sam Sweeney

Dec 17, 2:00 pm
National Guard to help Ohio with strained hospitals

More than 4,700 COVID-19 patients are in Ohio hospitals, the highest number of all of 2021 — and hospitalization numbers are quickly approaching an all-time high, Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said.

DeWine said he’s calling up 1,050 National Guard members to help overwhelmed hospitals beginning on Monday.

Dec 17, 1:44 pm
Vaccine timeline pushed back for kids under 5 

The potential timeline for when children under 5 may have an authorized vaccine is now being pushed back.

Data for a two-shot vaccine was initially expected by the end of the year, but now Pfizer/BioNTech say they hope to have data with a third shot in the first half of 2022.

Pfizer/BioNTech said they “will amend the clinical study evaluating the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in children 6 months to under 5 years of age. The study will now include evaluating a third dose of 3 µg at least two months after the second dose of the two-dose series to provide high levels of protection in this young age group.”

An early look into the study data suggested that the two doses at a smaller volume was not as effective for kids ages 2 to 5 as it was for the 16 to 25 population, so scientists are going to add a third dose and see if the vaccine is as effective. There were no safety issues reported in the early data analysis.

Pfizer/BioNTech added in a statement, “The decision to evaluate a third dose of 3 µg for children 6 months to under 5 years of age reflects the companies’ commitment to carefully select the right dose to maximize the risk-benefit profile. If the three-dose study is successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to submit data to regulators to support an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children 6 months to under 5 years of age in the first half of 2022.”

-ABC News’ Eric M. Strauss

Dec 17, 12:55 pm
Americans in their 30s have highest case rate

Americans in their 30s are accounting for the highest case rate of any age group, according to federal data.

The U.S. is now reporting nearly 120,000 new cases each day. The daily case average has surged by nearly 86.3% since late October, according to federal data.

Thirty-three states, as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City, have seen at least a 10% jump in daily cases over the last two weeks.

New Hampshire currently holds the nation’s highest case rate, followed by Rhode Island, Maine, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Massachusetts, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 17, 12:40 pm
White House: Unvaccinated are ‘looking at a winter of severe illness and death’

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients warned Friday that the unvaccinated are “looking at a winter of severe illness and death — for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.”

CDC director Rochelle Walensky said she expects omicron to become the dominant variant in the coming weeks.

Asked whether the CDC will change its guidance on vaccinated people quarantining after exposure, which they currently don’t have to, Walensky said, “We are actively following the science in that area, with regard to how the viral burden is both among vaccinated people and unvaccinated people, and the natural history of that viral burden with regard to isolation.”

“And as that science emerges, we will update our evidence if need be,” she said.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 17, 11:53 am
UK reports highest daily cases ever

The United Kingdom reported 93,045 new cases in the last 24 hours, breaking a daily record for the third day in a row.

The total number of cases over the last week now stands at 477,229, a 38.6% increase from the previous week.

-ABC News’ Guy Davies
 

Dec 17, 11:39 am
Rockettes canceled due to breakthrough cases

Friday’s four Radio City Rockettes shows have been canceled due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases in the New York City production.

Plans for future shows haven’t been determined.

-ABC News’ Aaron Katersky
 

Dec 17, 11:35 am
CDC studies find schools can test kids rather than quarantine 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday endorsed a practice in schools called “test-to-stay,” which allows unvaccinated kids and staff to test instead of quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.

The CDC says the practice can be employed in addition to other mitigation measures, such as vaccination and at least 3-feet of physical distance among students wearing masks.

The new guidance follows two studies out of Los Angeles County, California, and Lake County, Illinois. Both studies found no significant transmission in school when test-to-stay was used.

The studies were conducted before the omicron variant was detected in the U.S.

-ABC News’ Anne Flaherty
 

Dec 17, 11:01 am
Hospitals stretched thin in Wisconsin, Michigan

In Wisconsin, only 4% of ICU beds are available.

“This is getting really scary,” Dr. Jamie Hess, an emergency physician at the University of Wisconsin, told ABC News.

“We’re really reaching a crisis point where we have more patients to take care of then we have beds in the hospital or staff to care for them,” Hess said.

Michigan has been struggling through a similar surge for nearly three months, with the state reporting more than 6,500 new cases each day. On average, more than 500 patients are being admitted to hospitals each day.

“Where we are right now feels a lot like the first surge back in March of 2020,” Erin Dicks, a nurse manager at MICU Henry Ford Hospital, told ABC News. “We don’t have enough beds to be able to manage this.”

Dicks said so many patients are young.

“I think one of the biggest frustrating pieces for my staff is that they look at this as, this is preventable — people don’t have to die here,” Dicks said.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos
 

Dec 17, 9:01 am
Harvard joins list of universities mandating boosters

Harvard University will require boosters for all eligible members of the community, school officials said Thursday.

Earlier this week, Harvard warned of an increase in cases, saying the rise can be contributed to social events following the Thanksgiving break.

Omicron is likely already on campus, university officials added.

Harvard joins a growing list of colleges and universities moving to require third doses next semester for those eligible. Other schools include Stanford, NYU, University of Notre Dame, Syracuse, Smith College and Wellesley College.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos
 

Dec 17, 8:13 am
Illinois reports highest case number of the year

In Illinois, 11,858 new cases were reported on Thursday — the highest daily case number of all of 2021, ABC Chicago station WLS reported, citing state health officials.

Illinois confirmed its second omicron case Wednesday, detected in a suburban Chicago resident. That person is asymptomatic and vaccinated, WLS reported.
 

Dec 16, 8:52 pm
CDC recommends opting for Pfizer or Moderna over J&J when there’s a choice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on its advisory committee’s recommendation that people who have a choice should get an mRNA vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, over the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The updated recommendation comes after a review of new CDC data on rare blood clots linked to the J&J vaccine.

“Today’s updated recommendation emphasizes CDC’s commitment to provide real-time scientific information to the American public,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I continue to encourage all Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Dec 16, 7:54 pm
Omicron now makes up nearly 100% of strains found in Orlando wastewater samples

The new omicron variant makes up nearly 100% of the strains found in wastewater samples in Orlando, Florida, officials said Thursday.

“It escalated rapidly,” Orange County Utilities spokeswoman Sarah Lux told ABC News.

In its first test for the variant last Thursday, the department found no evidence of omicron in the community’s wastewater, she said. On Saturday, it represented about 30% of the strains found in the samples, and by Tuesday, nearly 100%.

“So, we’re talking about zero to nearly 100 in a matter of a week,” Lux said.

All parts of the county are seeing an increasing presence of the omicron variant, she said. The southern area, home to the theme parks, has seen the highest amount of virus remnants, followed by the eastern area, which is home to the University of Central Florida.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 16, 3:53 pm
CDC committee recommends opting for Pfizer or Moderna over J&J if given choice

The CDC’s advisory committee recommended Thursday that people who have a choice should get an mRNA vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna, over the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a review of new CDC data on rare blood clots linked to J&J.

The vote was unanimous.

The rare blood clots are not a new safety concern and the vaccine has already become far less common in the U.S. after it was given an FDA warning label about the clotting condition. But more data that confirmed a slightly higher rate of clotting cases and deaths than was previously reported caused the CDC and FDA to take another look at the data this week.

The CDC has confirmed nine deaths and 54 cases from the severe clotting event, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia.

There could also be more cases and deaths because TSS is under-diagnosed and could be underreported, the CDC said.

The clotting is more common among women in their 30s and 40s but has been seen in adult men and women of all ages.

The experts said J&J should not be taken off the shelves and is still far more beneficial than not getting any vaccine at all.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Dec 16, 3:22 pm
Several Northeast states nearing peak levels

Maine and New Hampshire are now averaging more new cases than at any other point in the pandemic, while daily cases in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are nearing peak levels, according to federal data.

Five of those states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont — have the highest full vaccination rates in the country.

In Florida, which has been largely spared from the latest COVID-19 wave, daily cases have increased by 92% over the last two weeks, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 16, 2:47 pm
NYC cases have tripled in the last month

COVID-19 cases in New York City have tripled in the last month, officials warned Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a six-point plan to fight the surge, including increasing testing capacity, doubling down on business inspections and distributing 1 million KN95 masks and 500,000 rapid home tests.

“We need to stop this variant,” the mayor said. “This variant moves fast. We need to move a lot faster.”

-ABC News’ Aaron Katersky

Dec 16, 8:04 am
Omicron will be dominant variant in US ‘very soon,’ Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, warned Thursday that omicron will become the dominant variant of the novel coronavirus in the United States “very soon.”

“It has an extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently and spread,” Fauci, the chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America.

“It has what we call a doubling time of about three days and if you do the math on that, if you have just a couple of percentage of the isolates being omicron, very soon it’s going to be the dominant variant,” he explained. “We’ve seen that in South Africa, we’re seeing it in the U.K. and I’m absolutely certain that’s what we’re going to be seeing here relatively soon.”

Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged Americans to “absolutely” get vaccinated against COVID-19, if they haven’t already, and to also receive a booster shot when they become eligible.

“At this point, we don’t believe you need an omicron-specific boost,” he added. “We just need to get the boost with what you got originally for the primary vaccination.”

Dec 16, 6:14 am
France to ban non-essential travel with UK over omicron surge

France announced Thursday that it will ban non-essential travel to and from the United Kingdom due to the country’s surge in cases of the omicron variant.

Starting Saturday, France will require people to have “a compelling reason” to travel between the two countries. Travel for tourism or work will not be allowed. French citizens, however, can return to France, according to a statement from the French prime minister’s office.

All travelers from the U.K. will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 24 hours before departure. Upon arrival in France, they must self-isolate for a week, but that period can be ended after 48 hours if they test negative for COVID-19 again.

The new rules apply to people regardless of their vaccination status.

“Faced with the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the Government has chosen to reinstate the need for an essential reason for travel from and to the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for tests on departure and arrival,” the French prime minister’s office said in the statement Thursday. “The Government is also calling on travelers who had planned to visit the United Kingdom to postpone their trip.”

Dec 16, 4:24 am
Indonesia confirms 1st case of omicron variant

Indonesia announced Thursday its first confirmed case of the omicron variant.

The case was detected in a janitor who works at the COVID-19 Emergency Hospital of Kemayoran Athletes Village in Jakarta, according to a statement from Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

The hospital’s cleaning staff are routinely tested and the results for three people were positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 10. Those samples were then sent to a genome sequencing lab, which identified the omicron variant in one of the samples on Wednesday, according to the statement.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has also identified probable cases of omicron among five travelers who were in quarantine — two Indonesian citizens who had just returned from the United Kingdom and the United States, and three foreigners from China. Their test samples are being sequenced and the results will be known in a few days, according to the statement.

The health minister urged Indonesians “not to panic and to remain calm,” and to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven’t already.

“The arrival of new variants from abroad, which we identified in quarantine, shows that our defense system against the arrival of new variants is quite good, we need to strengthen it,” Sadikin said. “So it’s normal to stay 10 days in quarantine. The goal is not to make it difficult for people who came, but to protect the people of Indonesia.”

Dec 15, 4:46 pm
Forecast: US could see up to 845,000 deaths by early January

Forecast models used by the CDC suggest weekly death totals and hospital admissions will rise over the next four weeks.

The U.S. could reach a total of 845,000 deaths by Jan. 8, according to the forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst.

The COVID-19 Forecast Hub team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. They then create an ensemble, usually with a wide cone of uncertainty. Nicholas Reich, a biostatistician who runs the forecasting model, told ABC News Wednesday that he doesn’t think the forecasts included omicron in their predictions because the majority of data isn’t publicly available yet in a format that can be easily incorporated into a model.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 15, 4:20 pm
US cases up 45% in the last month

The U.S. is now reporting nearly 118,000 new cases each day — up by 45% in the last month, according to federal data.

Daily COVID-19-related hospital admissions have leapt by 46% in the last month.

Maine and New Hampshire are now averaging more new cases than at any other point in the pandemic, according to federal data.

New Hampshire currently holds the nation’s highest case rate, followed by Rhode Island, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

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