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COVID-19 live updates: 91% less risk of death with omicron: Study

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 842,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.6% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 12, 7:00 pm
Chicago teachers accept deal to reopen classes

Chicago teachers voted Wednesday to accept the deal made by the union and city to re start in-person classes.

The deal ended the five-day standoff after the union voted to switch to remote learning due to the omicron surge.

Union leaders made a tentative agreement on Monday and urged teachers to back the deal despite frustration that the district wouldn't grant demands for widespread coronavirus testing or commit to districtwide remote learning during a COVID-19 surge.

The final agreement will expand COVID-19 testing and create standards to switch schools to remote learning.

The deal also resulted in the purchase of KN95 masks for students and teachers and bigger incentives to attract substitute teachers. The city also agreed to give teachers unpaid leave related to the pandemic.

Jan 12, 6:07 pm
96% of Army members fully vaccinated

The U.S. Army released an update on the vaccine status of its members.

As of Jan. 11, 96% of members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 97% have at least one dose, according to the Army.

All armed service members are mandated to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Around 18,000 members remain unvaccinated, the data showed.

The Army has chosen not to discharge unvaccinated soldiers but instead "flag" them so they’re not promoted and are not allowed to re-enlist.

"To date, Army commanders have relieved a total of six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 2,994 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for refusing the vaccination order," the Army said in a news release.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Jan 12, 4:41 pm
Feds buy more monoclonal antibody drug for pre-exposure

The U.S. government has purchased an additional 500,000 doses of Evusheld, AstraZeneca's monoclonal antibody drug, to be given before exposure to COVID-19, the company announced. This is on top of the 700,000 Evusheld doses already purchased.

White House officials previously said over 500,000 doses would be stockpiled in January and "significantly more" would be purchased by March."

Evusheld was authorized in December 2021 and is the first monoclonal therapy meant to be used in advance of an eligible person's exposure to COVID-19.

However, it's not meant for a wide group of people: this therapy is only authorized for immunocompromised people who may not have developed an optimal immune response to their vaccine. This therapy is also for people with a history of severe adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine and thus aren't recommended to get vaccinated.

Evusheld is not authorized as a way to treat COVID-19 after testing positive.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Jan 12, 2:32 pm
More than 15 million new cases reported globally last week

More than 15 million new COVID-19 cases were reported globally last week, according to the World Health Organization.

"By far the most cases reported in a single week, and we know this is an underestimate," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

He said this "huge spike" is driven by omicron.

"While omicron causes less severe disease than delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated," Tedros warned.

WHO officials said new vaccines may be needed for different variants, and until those vaccines are developed, the current vaccines may need to be updated.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

Jan 12, 1:59 pm
White House considering making high-quality masks available to all

The White House is considering making "more high-quality masks" available to all Americans, according to White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.

"We're in the process right now of strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans," he said at Wednesday's briefing.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 12, 1:35 pm
Rhode Island reporting nation's highest new case rate, California reaches pandemic case high

Deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. The average now stands at more than 1,600 new COVID-19-related fatalities each day -- up by about 48% in the last two weeks, according to federal data.

Out of the 3,220 U.S. counties, just 26 counties are not reporting high transmission, according to federal data.

In the last week alone, the U.S. has reported more than 5.2 million new cases -- that averages out to nearly nine Americans testing positive for COVID-19 every second.

Rhode Island is reporting the nation's highest new case rate, while California is now averaging more than 100,000 new cases every day -- a pandemic high for the Golden State.

But, according to experts, the surging national case numbers may not be indicative of what is happening in every region, and the nation's overall continued increase does not necessarily mean that some areas will not see a decline.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 12, 1:12 pm
91% less risk of death with omicron: Study

At Wednesday's White House briefing Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked if people are protected from getting omicron again, and he said the information isn't available yet.

But CDC director Rochelle Walensky outlined a study from Kaiser Permanente Southern California that showed, compared to delta, omicron had a 53% reduction in adjusted risk of symptomatic hospitalization, a 74% reduction in adjusted risk of ICU admission and a 91% reduction in adjusted risk of death.

"The data in this study remain consistent with what we are seeing from omicron in other countries, including South Africa and the U.K., and provide some understanding of what we can expect over the coming weeks as cases are predicted to peak in this country," Walensky said.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 12, 1:00 pm
CDC will update mask 'information' but won't tell Americans which ones to wear

At Wednesday's White House briefing, when asked about changing the CDC's mask guidance CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the guidance won't change but the CDC will update its website to reflect which masks work best, without telling Americans which one to wear.

"CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID 19. And that recommendation is not going to change," Walensky said.

"We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available … and the different levels of protection different masks provide. And we want to provide Americans the best and most updated information to choose what mask is going to be right for them," she said.

"The best mask that you wear is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long that you can tolerate in public indoor settings and tolerate where you need to wear it," Walensky said. "We will provide information on improved filtration and that occurs with other masks such as N95s and information that the public needs about how to make a choice, which mask is the right one for them. But most importantly, we want to highlight the best mask for you as the one that you can wear comfortably."

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 12, 12:34 pm
Quebec considering health tax for unvaccinated residents

COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing in Quebec and Quebec Premier François Legault says the biggest challenge is staffing.

"To get through the next few weeks, we're going to need 1,000 more employees in hospitals and 1,500 more employees" at one of Quebec's long-term care facilities, Legault wrote on Facebook.

About 10% of adults in Quebec are unvaccinated, but they make up half of the COVID-19 ICU hospitalizations.

"This means that unvaccinated adults are nine times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated adults. This is a huge burden on our health network," he said. "This is why we are considering a payable health contribution for all adults who refuse, for non-medical reasons, to get vaccinated," he said.

"The amount has not been decided yet, but it will be a significant amount," he added.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

Jan 12, 11:55 am
COVID is leading killer of law enforcement for 2nd year in a row

The vast majority of law enforcement deaths last year -- 301 out of a total 458 deaths -- were due to COVID-19, the second year in a row COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths, according to a new report from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.

"Law enforcement officers nationwide continue to be exposed to the Covid-19 virus in the course of their daily assignments; therefore, the number of line-of-duty deaths is sadly ever-increasing," the report said.

The vaccination status of the 301 officers who died is not known.

Jan 12, 10:22 am
CDC says it will update mask guidance

The CDC says it plans to update its mask guidance to “best reflect the multiple options available to people and the different levels of protection they provide.”

The CDC did not say when its guidance will be updated. In the meantime, the CDC said in a statement, “any mask is better than no mask, and we encourage Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Since the arrival of omicron, health experts have urged Americans to upgrade their cloth masks to an N95 or KN95 because the new variant is so highly transmissible. But these higher-grade masks are costly and hard to find.

Prior to omicron, CDC director Rochelle Walensky resisted suggesting N95 masks for the average American because the CDC didn’t want to discourage people from wearing any mask.

Dawn O’Connell, a top official at the Health and Human Services Department, said Tuesday that the Biden administration plans to increase production of N95s. There are already 737 million N95 masks in the strategic national stockpile available for medical workers.

-ABC News' Anne Flaherty

Jan 12, 9:50 am
22,000 more Americans may die from COVID over next 2 weeks

Forecast models used by the CDC suggests COVID-19-related deaths will significantly increase over the next four weeks.

The model forecasts that 22,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19 in just the next two weeks.

The CDC obtains these forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst, where a team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. The team then creates an ensemble -- displayed like a hurricane forecast spaghetti plot -- usually with a wide cone of uncertainty.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 12, 9:50 am
22,000 more Americans may die from COVID over next 2 weeks

A forecast model used by the CDC suggests COVID-19-related deaths will significantly increase over the next four weeks.

The model forecasts that 22,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19 in just the next two weeks.

The CDC obtains these forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst, where a team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. The team then creates an ensemble -- displayed like a hurricane forecast spaghetti plot -- usually with a wide cone of uncertainty.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 12, 8:51 am
British prime minister apologizes for attending lockdown party

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized Wednesday for attending a party during England's strict lockdown in 2020.

It was the first time that Johnson acknowledged he went to a garden party at his official residence and office on London's Downing Street in May 2020. He is facing growing anger and calls for his resignation over claims he and his staff flouted COVID-19 restrictions by holding a "bring your own booze" party. At the time, Johnson's government had imposed restrictions barring people in England from meeting more than one individual outside their household.

During the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons in London on Wednesday, Johnson said he had considered the garden party to be a work event to thank his staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

"I want to apologize," Johnson told lawmakers. "With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside."

The prime minister urged people to await "the full conclusion" of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government staff. Gray will report her findings by the end of the month.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson's defense was "the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road" and demanded he "do the decent thing and resign."

The prime minister declined to resign and didn't explicitly admit that he had broken any rules, but said he understood "the rage."

"I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months," he added. "I understand the anger, the rage that they feel at the thought that people in Downing Street were not following those rules."

-ABC News' Guy Davies, Ian Pannell and Joseph Simonetti

Jan 12, 7:56 am
Russia sounds alarm over imminent wave of omicron infections

Russian officials are warning that an omicron-fueled wave of COVID-19 infections will soon hit, amid fears about how deadly a surge of the highly contagious variant -- even if milder -- might be in a country with a low vaccination rate.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova, who is overseeing the COVID-19 response, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said Wednesday that the situation could be "more critical" than previous waves of infections in Russia -- a worrying prospect since earlier waves led to a high number of deaths.

Russia has reported more than 312,000 fatalities from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, the country registered just under 1 million excess deaths in 2021.

The Russian government has said the country will soon see six-figure daily cases. Less than 50% of Russians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, amid widespread reluctance across the nation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has largely tried to downplay the scale of his country's COVID-19 outbreak, warned Wednesday of the imminent increase in infections. Putin said Russia is "on the threshold of possible new outbreaks."

Meanwhile, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the country is at a "turning point," which will decide how bad the wave will be. Russian authorities are calling for people to take precautions and observe social distancing measures. However, there are relatively few restrictions in most parts of the country.

Denis Logunov, deputy director of Russia's Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, said Tuesday that the nationwide number of omicron cases is expected to rise considerably in late January and early February. The World Health Organization's regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, also warned Tuesday that omicron is expected to infect more than half of Europe's population within the next two months.

-ABC News' Patrick Reevell

Jan 12, 5:00 am
US government to send schools millions more COVID-19 tests

As U.S. President Joe Biden vows to keep all schools safely open for full-time in-person learning amid the pandemic, his administration announced Wednesday that it will provide schools with an additional 10 million COVID-19 tests per month.

The federal government will send 5 million more rapid tests and 5 million more lab-based PCR tests to schools nationwide each month, at no cost. The rapid tests will be delivered starting later this month, while the PCR tests will be available immediately. The additional tests every month will allow the country's schools to "more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November," according to a fact sheet from the White House.

Moreover, as the Biden administration continues to surge testing sites to hard-hit and high-risk communities, the federal government will also "consider how these sites can support the safe operations of K-12 schools," the White House said.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also help connect schools with testing providers so they can use money allocated to them last year through the $1.9-trillion COVID-19 stimulus package. Later this week, the CDC will provide new training, resources and materials to help schools implement "test-to-stay" policies, according to the White House.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Jan 12, 4:21 am
West Virginia's governor says he feels 'extremely unwell' after testing positive for COVID-19

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday evening that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing moderate symptoms.

Justice, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has received a booster shot, said he has started a course of monoclonal antibody treatment, as recommended by his physicians. Everyone who has been in close contact with the governor over the past few days is being notified. His wife, Cathy Justice, tested negative for the virus on Tuesday evening, according to a press release from the governor's office.

The governor was scheduled to deliver his State of the State address that night but was forced to do so via a written statement to the West Virginia Legislature instead.

"I feel extremely unwell at this point, and I have no choice but to postpone my State of the State address to the Legislature," Justice said in a statement Tuesday evening. "I woke up this morning with congestion and a cough. A little while later, I developed a headache and fever, so I decided to get tested right away."

"The rapid test that I took came back negative, but by the late afternoon, my symptoms were still getting much worse," he continued. "My blood pressure and heart rate were extremely elevated, and I had a high fever. Finally, my PCR test results this evening confirmed I was positive. Because of all this, I began receiving my antibody treatment and I hope this will lessen these symptoms."

Jan 12, 3:53 am
'Most people are going to get COVID,' FDA head warns

The acting head of the Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday that most people in the United States will contract COVID-19, as the country grapples with record levels of infections and hospitalizations.

"I think it's hard to process what's actually happening right now, which is most people are going to get COVID," Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the FDA, said while testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. "What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, [and] transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens."

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