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Latest COVID-19 update : Dutch officials found two omicron cases before South Africa alarm was raised 2021

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While South Africa first alerted global health authorities to the omicron variant last week, Dutch health officials said Tuesday that they have found two omicron cases from before the alarm was raised, indicating the new variant was already spreading in parts of Europe.

 

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Samples dated from Nov. 19 and Nov. 23 in the Netherlands were omicron variants, the country’s health officials said. South Africa reported the variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24.

France and Japan also reported their first cases of the variant Tuesday. The United States has not yet reported a case, but presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, ”inevitably it will be here.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended that all adults get a COVID-19 booster shot following the emergence of the omicron variant.

In the past, the CDC advised that people over 50 or living in a long-term care facility “should” get a booster, while all other adults “may” get boosters at least six months after their previous shots. Now all adults should get a booster, the CDC said.

President Joe Biden said he would release a plan Thursday on how his administration planned to combat COVID-19 this winter with vaccines, boosters, masks and testing rather than lockdowns.

It remains unclear exactly how transmissible or severe an omicron infection is, but the WHO said preliminary evidence raises the possibility the variant has mutations that could help it both evade an immune-system response and make it more transmissible. Many of the reported infections, however, were in college-aged people who tended to have milder cases, WHO said.

Also in the news:

► A Food and Drug Administration panel will meet Tuesday to discuss whether it will recommend use of Merck’s antiviral COVID-19 pill. An FDA analysis released last week found the pill was effective against the virus but identified several potential risks, including possible toxicity and birth defects.

► China plans to donate 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping said. Another 400 million doses will also be supplied through other means, including from Chinese companies operating in Africa

►The omicron variant will “bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control” for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday. But he said he was confident the games will be held.

► Greece announced Tuesday that it would mandate vaccination for all people 60 and older. Unvaccinated people will face a monthly 100 euro fine.

► A judge blocked the federal government on Monday from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for some health care workers in ten states.

► Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its booster shot for 16- and 17-year-olds in the next few days, The Washington Post reported.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 778,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 262.4 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. Nearly 196 million Americans – roughly 59.3% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: How serious is omicron? Is it more transmissible than delta? It will take weeks to understand COVID-19 variant.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Survey: Most employers will require workers to get COVID-19 shots

The majority of U.S. employers already have or will require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a national survey conducted in mid-November found.

The survey from Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory, brokering and solutions firm, also found that just 3% of employers said their vaccination mandates have resulted in a spike in resignations. Nearly half of the employers surveyed believe the mandates could help recruit and retain employees.

President Joe Biden in November issued vaccination-or-testing requirements for companies with at least 100 employees, but businesses and several Republican governors and attorneys general have sued the administration over the rules.

– Craig Harris, USA TODAY
Unvaccinated federal workers won’t be fired during holiday season despite missing deadline

Most federal workers who failed to meet the Nov. 22 deadline to get vaccinated against the coronavirus will not risk being suspended or losing their jobs until next year, the Biden administration said in enforcement guidance Monday.

Instead, managers will continue “with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” according to the guidance.

Ninety-two percent of federal workers received at least one dose of the vaccine by the deadline, the administration announced last week. The rest have either not complied with the president’s mandate or asked to be exempted for religious or medical reasons.

While some agencies may need to accelerate enforcement if there are workplace safety issues or performance problems, agencies were encouraged not to take actions beyond education, counseling or, at most, a letter of reprimand until January.

The next step after a letter is suspension for a period of 14 days or less. Workers who remain unvaccinated who have not received an exemption can ultimately be dismissed.

– Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Defense secretary says Oklahoma National Guard must get vaccinated

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard must get vaccinated against COVID-19 regardless of their duty status or personal beliefs, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday.

The Oklahoma governor sent a letter to the defense secretary earlier this month requesting that members of the Oklahoma National Guard be exempted from the Defense Department’s vaccination mandate, which covers active-duty personnel, Guard, Reserves and civilian workers.

Austin rejected the governor’s proposal and told him in a letter that guard members who don’t get vaccinated may be barred from participating in drills and training, and their status in the Guard could be jeopardized.

“To maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of protecting the American people, the immediate vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Oklahoma National Guard,” Austin said in a letter to Stitt dated Monday.

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Latest Updates: Yes, omicron has overtaken delta. No, it’s not March 2020.

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Although details about the omicron variant are still sketchy, a picture is starting to emerge – and it’s not all bad news.

As the omicron variant sweeps across the world and pushes out the delta variant that preceded it, scientists are rushing to understand how it might change the coronavirus pandemic, now entering its third year.

So far, it’s clear that omicron is highly contagious – roughly twice as contagious as delta and four times more than the original virus.

Experts worry that even if it’s less virulent, which isn’t yet clear, it could still cause enough hospitalizations to overwhelm health care systems here and abroad.

The latest COVID updates in your inbox:Sign up for Coronavirus Watch here.

But this is not 2020. Back then, only a handful of people on Earth had been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Everyone’s immune system was unprepared.
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Today, the vast majority of Americans have either contracted COVID-19 or been vaccinated once, twice or three times against it. That should – though there are still no hard numbers to confirm it – provide people protection against severe disease and death.

“I think we should reassure people that if they’ve been vaccinated with two doses or naturally infected, they’re likely protected against serious illness,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatric infectious disease expert and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

What’s not clear is how people who have never been vaccinated or contracted COVID-19, or whose protection has waned significantly over time, will fare if they catch omicron.
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An experiment in hamsters, which should see results as soon as Tuesday, will provide the first indication of how people far from an infection or vaccination may fare if they are infected, said Galit Alter, an immunologist and virologist at Harvard Medical School and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.

More previously vaccinated or infected people are contracting omicron than with earlier variants, data shows. But vaccinated people, and perhaps those who’ve already been infected, are probably less likely to pass the virus to others.
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It’s still the unvaccinated and unprotected who are providing opportunity for the pandemic to continue, Offit said.

“You have a critical percentage of the population who are unvaccinated and shedding this virus,” he said.
South Africa’s experience

Data out of South Africa, where omicron hit early and which has tracked cases carefully, are still incomplete but encouraging.

There, hospitalization rates are much lower than in previous waves of infection, and the people hospitalized are not as sick as those infected with the beta or delta variants, said Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and member of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness.

Only about 2% to 4% of infected people are ending up in hospitals this time, compared to about 20% during the previous beta and delta waves, Karim said. Before, two-thirds of those hospitalized were considered to have severe cases; now only about one-quarter meet that criteria. Death rates are one-tenth as high as they were with previous variants.

“The clinical picture we are seeing is one of substantially less severe disease,” he said.

Karim said he doesn’t yet have information on how many hospitalized patients had been previously infected or vaccinated, though he expects to get that soon.

Anecdotally, Karim said, “there’s a preponderance of unvaccinated” in hospitals, likelyabout 75% of patients. “Is it more severe in that group? What’s the picture? I can’t tell at this point because I don’t have that data.”

The department of public health in South Africa recently decided people exposed to an infected person but not yet infected themselves do not have to quarantine.

Karim said he recommended his government reinstitute mandates to minimize crowds. Officials didn’t take his advice. But the general public has followed with their feet.

“Theaters are empty. Restaurants are half-empty with just a handful of people,” he said. “People have come to that conclusion themselves … Indoor gatherings? No. No.”

Without question, omicron is more contagious than other variants, he said, with about 35,000 to 45,000 cases in South Africa in the first month of the beta and delta waves and 133,000 cases in the first month with omicron.

Other countries like Denmark have seen similarly high rates of transmissibility and low rates of serious disease.

But unlike other variants, which slowly made their way from country to country, omicron is exploding around the world simultaneously, said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious diseases staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“In prior waves, we had a few weeks to watch what was happening in western Europe and other places to know what we were in store for,” he said. Not this time. “We’re not going to have the luxury of watching what’s going to unfold in our country elsewhere in advance.”
The U.S. outbreak

Although it’s still early days in the American experience with omicron, the variant has already overtaken delta in the U.S. Modeling shows as of Saturday, the omicron variant accounted for 73.2 % of new COVID-19 infections in the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, up from 12.6 % the previous week.

“It’s clear we’re now waist-deep in the omicron wave,” Lemieux said. “The question is how severe is it going to be?”

It may follow South Africa’s pattern with the vast majority of people getting nothing worse than a bad head cold. Or it may cause more hospitalizations here, particularly among those who have waning or no protection, potentially overwhelming the health care system, which was already dealing with a wave of delta infections, he said.

At Texas Children’s Hospital, they’re still waiting to confirm how many cases are omicron versus delta, but pediatric COVID-19 hospitalization rates have more than doubled in just four days, with the number of patients now in the double-digits.
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The rate of positive tests also jumped from well below 5% five days ago to 15% Monday, according to James Versalovic, co-chair of the Texas Children’s Hospital COVID-19 Command and the hospital’s pathologist-in-chief.

“These are signals that tell us we have a surge beginning,” Versalovic said. “Every indication now is pointing in the same direction.”

It’s not yet clear whether children will react differently to omicron than they did to delta. Nor does the hospital yet know the vaccination status of the children over 5 (vaccinations are not yet authorized for those younger than 5), their parents’ vaccination status, or whether any of the children was previously infected with COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Eric Topol, of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said he’s hearing anecdotal descriptions that omicron infections differ from delta. People appear to not be losing their smell or taste the way they did with earlier variants.

If true, that would be extremely good news, Topol said, because it would mean this variant isn’t entering the brain and would take off the table the potential risk of neurological problems in the future.

Omicron also appears not to get into the lung cells, according to two studies from Hong Kong and the U.K. “That was the most distinguishing feature (of COVID-19) until now,” Topol said, and the reason it caused so much lung damage. “I know of a few people who had really high fevers (with omicron),” he said. “No one’s had pneumonia.”

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Assume omicron variant is ‘in our city,’ New York mayor says; 2nd US case confirmed

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U.S. and New York City health officials said Thursday that they were working closely with authorities in Minnesota after that state reported the nation’s second confirmed case of the omicron coronavirus variant.

The first U.S. case was reported in California on Wednesday. The variant was first discovered in South Africa last week and has now been found in about two dozen countries.

The Minnesota Department of Health said a state resident who recently traveled to New York City was found to be infected with the variant. The man experienced mild symptoms Nov. 22, was tested Nov. 24 and no longer has symptoms.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency has been monitoring and preparing for omicron and is working with public health officials in Minnesota.

“CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year,” she said in a statement.

Vaccines, boosters, masking in indoor public settings, washing hands frequently and physical distancing “work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, no matter the genetic sequence,” she said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said city public health officials are aware of the Minnesota case and its link with travel to New York. The conference the traveler attended required masks and complied with the city’s vaccination requirements, he said.

“We should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city,” de Blasio said.

Also in the news:

►A new study, which involved NBA players, their families and staff, found that people with breakthrough COVID-19 cases stopped producing the virus two days sooner than the unvaccinated.

►Vaccines have suddenly become scarce in some parts of Oregon after months of vaccine surplus in the state and across that nation, officials said.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 782,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 263.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 197 million Americans – roughly 59.4% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: The first case of the coronavirus omicron variant in the United States was confirmed on Wednesday. How did scientists find it?

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Antibody drug appears effective against omicron variant

GlaxoSmithKline says its COVID-19 antibody drug appears to be effective against the omicron variant based on initial laboratory testing. The British drugmaker said it hopes to complete testing by year’s end to confirm whether the drug is effective against all the various mutations seen with the variant. The announcement on Thursday is one of the first indications that at least some of the current COVID-19 treatments will retain their potency against the emerging strain.

On Tuesday, drugmaker Regeneron cautioned that its antibody cocktail appeared to lose effectiveness against omicron.
Germany cracks down on unvaccinated

Germans who aren’t vaccinated are to be excluded from nonessential stores and cultural and recreational venues, and Germany’s parliament is also considering a general vaccine mandate. Officials have also agreed to require masks in German schools, impose new limits on private meetings, slash outdoor sports attendance to a maximum of 15,000 people and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that the measures were necessary amid concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with COVID-19 patients. Infections are more likely to be debilitating in those who haven’t been vaccinated.

“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel said.
Even those who have recovered from COVID are at higher risk, study shows

Patients who have recovered from severe COVID-19 have more than twice the mortality risk within the year following their illness than people who have not contracted the virus, according to a study by University of Florida researchers published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. The researchers found that among patients who recovered from severe COVID-19 and later died, deaths attributed to cardiovascular, respiratory and clotting problems – common complications of COVID-19 infection – only accounted for 20% of deaths.

“These findings reinforce that the internal trauma of being sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 has a big consequence for people’s health,” said Arch G. Mainous III, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator. “This is a huge complication of COVID-19 that has not been shown before.”
Biden to unveil plan pandemic winter battle plan

Tighter travel rules, free at-home tests and booster shots are key elements of President Joe Biden’s latest strategy to combat the rapidly evolving coronavirus. Biden is scheduled to promote his plan during a visit to the National Institutes of Health on Thursday as people begin hunkering down for winter and gathering for the holidays. Some plan highlights:

Requiring travelers entering the country by air to test negative for COVID within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, instead of within three days.
Extending through March 18 the requirement that masks be worn on airplanes, trains and public transportation.
Requiring private health insurance companies to cover 100% of the cost of at-home tests for the coronavirus.
Launching a public education campaign to encourage 100 million adults to get boosters, with a special focus on seniors.

– Maureen Groppe
South Africa, some European nations see sharp rise in new infections

Global case counts are again exceeding 4 million per week, after spending most of October around 3 million per week. One of the biggest increases is in South Africa, where cases are being reported about 11 times faster than they were a month earlier. The country was the first to identify the omicron variant, which some experts worry could spread quickly.

Parts of Europe have also seen a strong resurgence of the virus, from relatively low rates before. Spain reported about 8,900 cases in the week ending Nov. 1, but nearly 63,000 cases in the week ending Dec. 1. France went from about 42,000 per week to 243,000. Germany’s case count tripled, to about 400,000 per week.

Limited access to testing in many developing countries means the global numbers are likely significantly undercounted and may hide regional trends.

– Mike Stucka
Tennessee signed $75M contact tracing deal with firm lacking epidemiology experience

With virtually no legislative oversight and largely shielded from the public’s eye, Tennessee state officials agreed to pay a medical billing company $20 million last summer to conduct the state’s contact tracing efforts. The price tag of that contract has now more than tripled to a total of $75 million, according to multiple amendments hashed out between the firm and the state Department of Health.

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The extension of the no-bid contract with Hendersonville company Xtend Healthcare – first reported by The Tennessee Lookout – has raised eyebrows among lawmakers from both parties. Workers at the company have called into question how well Xtend Healthcare – a medical billing company with no previous experience in epidemiology –has managed contact tracing in Tennessee. Several Xtend Healthcare workers told WPLN they experienced significant case backups, with some reaching infected patients after they had to quarantine.

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has defended the state’s emergency purchasing process, arguing state officials had to make decisions quickly to secure supplies such as personal protective equipment and other services during the pandemic.

– Yue Stella Yu, Nashville Tennessean
Indiana reports highest increase in cases since January

Indiana reported 6,164 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number of new cases added to the state’s dashboard in a single day since early January. Holiday weekends, like the long Thanksgiving weekend, can wreak havoc on COVID-19 numbers because of delays in testing. So the cases confirmed Tuesday could be partly an artifact of testing being less available over the weekend.

Suggesting this could be part of a new disturbing trend, Indiana reported more than 4,000 new cases Tuesday, and by Wednesday the seven-day average for new cases reached 3,245, the highest number since September.

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Latest News: Will vaccines stop omicron? Moderna, BioNTech CEOs have different perspectives: Latest COVID-19

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CEOs at two pharmaceutical giants whose double-shot COVID-19 vaccines are dominating the U.S. market are pitching different perspectives on the impact of the omicron variant.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said current vaccines for COVID-19 will likely be less effective against the new omicron variant. Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview published Tuesday that he has spoken to scientists who told him that omicron is “not going to be good.” He said it could be months before enough vaccines can be produced to crush omicron.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, however, told the Wall Street Journal the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective against severe illness from COVID-19 and would likely continue to be effective against the omicron variant.

“Our message is: Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same. Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” Sahin said.

Also in the news:

►There is “room for optimism” that fully vaccinated people are protected against the omicron variant, Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told the Jerusalem Post. “In the coming days we will have more accurate information.” .

►Pfizer has submitted a request to the FDA to expand the emergency use authorization of its adult COVID-19 booster dose to include 16- and 17-year-olds. “It is our hope to provide strong protection for as many people as possible, particularly in light of the new variant,” CEO Albert Bourla said on Twitter.

►226 omicron cases have been confirmed in at least 21 countries, including Britain, 11 European Union nations, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Canada and Israel.

►Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James was placed in NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and could miss several games. It was not known whether James tested positive.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 780,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 262.9 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. Nearly 197 million Americans – roughly 59.4% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: Are travel bans worth it? They could slow the spread of omicron but they have repercussions, experts say.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
CDC orders airlines to provide names of travelers from African nations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is directing airlines to hand over contact information for passengers coming from eight countries in Africa as part of the effort to combat the new omicron COVID-19 variant. The CDC’s Contact information Collection Order went into effect Tuesday and affects passengers who have been in the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa or the Republic of Zimbabwe within 14 days of departing for the U.S.

“CDC is issuing this directive to prevent the importation and spread of a communicable disease of public health importance,” the CDC said in a statement to USA TODAY.

– Eve Chen
WHO assembly hopes for ‘pandemic treaty’ by 2024

Saying it was necessary to keep future generations safe, the World Health Assembly on Wednesday pledged to begin work on a “pandemic treaty,” an international agreement to prevent and deal with future pandemics. The Assembly is the World Health Organization’s governing body. Wednesday’s meeting was only the second special session in its 73-year history.

“The significance of this decision cannot be overstated,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, at the meeting in Geneva. The agreement will “provide a platform for strengthening global health security,” he said. The agreement is to be presented in 2024.

“That may seem like a long process, and it is, but we should not be naive in thinking that reaching a global accord on pandemics will be easy,” Tedros said.

– Elizabeth Weise
US tightens testing requirements for international travelers

To combat the spread of the new omicron COVID-19 variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tightening testing requirements for international travelers. Currently, air travelers to the United States who haven’t recently recovered from the virus – including U.S. citizens – must have a negative viral test before boarding their flight. Fully vaccinated travelers are required to take tests no more than three days before departure. But the CDC says it is “working to modify” the global testing order to give all international air travelers just one day to take a pre-departure test.

“This strengthens already robust protocols in place for international travel,” the CDC said in a statement. The U.S. is also working to stem the spread of the virus with new travel bans against eight countries that went into effect Monday. The omicron variant has not yet been detected in the U.S.
Omicron variant’s spread shows need to vaccinate the world

As the new omicron coronavirus variant spreads across the world, advocates of more widespread vaccinations are having an “I told you so” moment. For a year since COVID-19 vaccines first became available, a small but vocal group has warned about the need to protect the most vulnerable around the world. People in richer countries will not be safe, even if fully vaccinated, until those in poorer nations – which make up more than half the world’s 8 billion population – also have the benefit of vaccines, they’ve argued.

“The emergence of the omicron variant has fulfilled, in a precise way, the predictions of the scientists who warned that the elevated transmission of the virus in areas with limited access to vaccine would speed its evolution,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, told a special session of the World Health Assembly this week. Read more here.

– Karen Weintraub
Evangelist, vaccine doubter Marcus Lamb dies from coronavirus

Marcus Lamb, CEO of the evangelical Christian-based Daystar Television Network who advocated against vaccines, has died following a bout with COVID-19.

“It’s with a heavy heart we announce that Marcus Lamb, president and founder of Daystar Television Network, went home to be with the Lord this morning,” the network tweeted Tuesday. “The family asks that their privacy be respected as they grieve this difficult loss. Please continue to lift them up in prayer.”

Lamb’s wife, Joni, said last week her husband was trying alternative treatments without success. Lamb’s son, Jonathan, had described his father’s illness as “spiritual attack from the enemy” because of his advocacy against vaccines and support for alternate treatments.
As some hospitals reach full capacity, elective surgeries could be halted

Officials from Rochester Regional Health and the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York state have joined a growing list of hospitals across the U.S. and around the world warning that their facilities had reached full capacity and that emergency departments are stressed. In the Rochester area, hospital leaders said they were weighing whether they could continue performing elective procedures and surgeries. Dr. Michael Apostolakos, Chief Medical Officer for Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals, said the majority of the COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization were unvaccinated.

“A significant number of people are refusing the vaccines, and our community is paying the price,” Apostolakos said. “Cases are continuing to rise with no end in sight.

– Sean Lahman, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Economy could take slight hit from omicron variant in 2022, experts say

The omicron coronavirus variant could have a moderate impact on the U.S. economy next year as it hurts consumer spending and worsens labor shortages and supply chain bottlenecks, intensifying already-high inflation, top economists say.

It’s too early to pinpoint how omicron will affect economic growth because scientists are just starting to assess the toll it could take on global health. But under one likely middle-ground scenario laid out by some top economists, the strain could be more infectious but not significantly more virulent than the delta variant. And it could lead to fewer government-imposed restrictions on businesses.

If that’s the case, omicron or another similar variant would cut economic growth next year by half a percentage point to 4.3% and lead to the creation of several hundred thousand fewer jobs, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

That would be less than Moody’s projected growth of 5.5% this year – highest since the early 1980s – but still a historically strong figure as the nation continues to dig itself out of the pandemic-induced downturn.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 905 points, or 2.5%, on Friday, largely on worries over omicron, but it closed up 236 points Monday before sliding again in mid-morning trading Tuesday.

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