Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

Restrictions Return as COVID-19 Cases Increase

Dec. 19, 11:45 a.m.

Local governments, businesses, and universities are imposing COVID-19 safety protocols again as cases increase across the U.S. due to the Omicron variant.

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New York set records for reporting the highest number of infections in a single day during the pandemic, with 21,000 cases on Friday and 22,000 on Saturday, according to The New York Times.

The surge is a “reminder that the pandemic is not over yet and we must take extra care to keep ourselves and each other safe,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Friday.

The National Football League has postponed three games, and nine National Basketball Association players entered safety protocols, according to ABC News. The National Hockey League also announced that at least six teams would have games postponed.

Entertainment venues and restaurants in several states are closing again as staff and customers test positive, according to The Washington Post, including spots in New York, Texas, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota. Some restaurants are taking precautions by canceling indoor dining for the holidays or shifting to to-go service for the rest of the year.

Major workplaces are beginning to consider fully remote options again as well. CNN is closing its U.S. offices to all nonessential employees, the network said Saturday in an internal staff memo seen by The Wall Street Journal. CNN, which is part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia division, will close for all employees who don’t have to work in the office.

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The network, which returned to using full-scale studios for its shows, will use “flash studios” again that can be operated remotely by fewer people. The network will also make changes to studios and control rooms to reduce the number of people needed on site.

“We are doing this out of an abundance of caution,” Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, said in the memo. “And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there.”

President Joe Biden will address the country on Tuesday to discuss the Omicron variant and new steps the administration will take to help vulnerable communities, The New York Times reported. He’s expected to encourage vaccinations, booster shots, and testing.

The WHO reported Saturday that the Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission, according to The Associated Press. Some countries are returning to tougher measures to slow the spread of the virus, particularly in Europe.

The Netherlands began a nationwide lockdown on Sunday, with all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants closed until Jan. 14 and schools closed until Jan. 9. The lockdown will affect holiday celebrations as well, the AP reported. Residents in the Netherlands will only be allowed to have two visitors except for Christmas and New Year’s, when they can host four people.

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Officials in Austria and France have tightened travel restrictions, and Paris canceled its New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, and museums, and Ireland imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and limited attendance at events.

“None of this is easy,” Micheal Martin, the prime minister for Ireland, said Friday night.

“We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires,” he said. “The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with.”

Radio City Rockettes Cancel Christmas Shows Because of COVID

Dec. 18, 2021, 11:55 a.m. ET.

The Radio City Rockettes abruptly cancelled four performances of their “Christmas Spectacular” show on Friday morning because of the spread of COVID-19. By the end of the day, the Rockettes cancelled the rest of the show’s run.

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The show was scheduled to run through Jan. 2 with multiple performances each day. People who bought tickets for canceled shows will receive refunds, the Rockettes said, adding that they look forward to performing again in 2022.

The New York Times reported that some employees had worried about COVID protocols at Radio City Music Hall. All “Christmas Spectacular” employees were required to be vaccinated but COVID testing was not required. Masks were recommended but not required for employees and audience members, The Times said.

The Madison Square Garden Entertainment company, which produces the show and owns the theater, says the COVID protocols were safe and developed in conjunction with health and safety experts.

COVID and the rapidly transmitted Omicron variant have been blamed for other cancellations on Broadway.

Seven of 32 shows on Broadway canceled performances on Friday, including “Hamilton,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Tina,” and “Moulin Rouge!” It was unclear when the shows might reopen.

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“At the end of the day, we’ll follow the science, and the science will say, ‘You need to shut down this performance,’” Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We anticipated that because they were telling us all along that if more people didn’t get their shots, that new variants would arrive and new variants would have cases. And guess what? It’s called Omicron.”

More Than 100 Marines Dismissed for Refusing COVID-19 Vaccine

Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m.

The Marine Corps has dismissed 103 active-duty service members for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Politico.

Those who have been dismissed are receiving general honorable discharges, which retains post-military benefits, the news outlet reported. The Marines have approved 1,007 exemptions, with 3,144 requests for religious accommodation still pending.

Military officials announced Thursday that the vast majority of service members in all branches have gotten vaccinated. The Army and Navy are each at about 98%, followed by the Air Force at 97.5%, and the Marine Corps at 95%.

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At the same time, some troops will be relieved of duty. The Army, for instance, released six active-duty leaders — including two commanding officers — due to vaccine refusal, Politico reported. In addition, nearly 3,000 active-duty soldiers have received reprimands for refusing the vaccine order.

Among the Army’s 478,000 active-duty soldiers, 6,200 have requested temporary or permanent exemptions, including 641 medical requests and 1,746 religious requests, the news outlet reported. So far, no religious exemptions have been approved by any of the military branches.

“Vaccinating our soldiers against COVID-19 is first and foremost about Army readiness,” Christine Wormuth, the secretary of the Army, said in a statement.

“To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine,” she said. “If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”

The deadlines for National Guard and Reserve members come next, and some governors are seeking exemptions for their troops, according to The New York Times. On Thursday, after military officials announced their latest vaccination numbers, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott publicly released a letter that he sent to the Pentagon saying his state wouldn’t impose a vaccine mandate on National Guard members.

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Five other Republican governors — in Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wyoming — wrote a joint letter this week, also asking that their National Guard troops be exempted from the federal vaccine mandate. The Pentagon hasn’t yet responded to the letter, the newspaper reported, though the Department of Defense rejected a bid last month from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to exclude National Guard members from the mandate.

CDC Supports ‘Test-to-Stay’ Policy for Students Exposed to COVID-19

Dec. 17, 5:20 p.m.

The CDC announced Friday that students who are exposed to the coronavirus can still attend school as long as they continue to test negative for the virus in the following days.

The new guidance, known as the “test-to-stay” protocol, would reduce the number of children who are expected to stay home as a close contact to someone who tested positive for the virus.

“Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to keep our children in schools,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, said during a White House press briefing.

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When a COVID-19 case is identified in a school, the test-to-stay strategy allows schools to implement regular testing rather than quarantine close contacts. If the contacts don’t experience symptoms and test negative at least twice in a seven-day period, they can continue in-person learning. If they test positive, then they are required to isolate.

“CDC is updating our materials to help schools and parents know how to best implement this promising and now-proven practice, along with our multi-layer prevention strategies that will help keep our children in the classroom safely,” Walensky said Friday. “These studies demonstrated that test-to-stay works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely.”

In one study, researchers analyzed data for public schools in Los Angeles County between Aug. 16 and Oct. 31, where 432 schools implemented test-to-stay and 1,635 did not.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that COVID-19 cases did not increase among the schools that used the protocol, as compared with schools that didn’t.

Before test-to-stay was implemented, the average daily number of cases was 10 cases per 100,000 students in districts that later adopted the protocol and 20 cases per 100,000 students in districts that didn’t. After the program was implemented, average daily case rates declined in all school districts but remained lower in test-to-stay districts, with 6 cases per 100,000 students as compared with 11 cases per 100,000 students in districts that didn’t do the protocol.

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In addition, schools that didn’t use the test-to-stay program “lost substantial in-person school days,” researchers wrote. At the same time, implementing the program “requires resources that might be currently unavailable for some schools,” they added, noting that “a higher percentage of disadvantaged schools” didn’t do the protocol.

The program requires personnel who can track which students need to be tested, their results and when they can come off the list of close contacts, officials told CNN. This can be a challenge for overstretched school nursing staff.

The Lake County Health Department examined the number of close contacts that later tested positive and whether the virus further spread from the close contacts to other people. They found that 16 of the close contacts tested positive and that these were all students. No one appeared to transmit the virus to others at school, but nine cases were identified among household contacts.

Overall, study authors wrote, the test-to-stay protocol preserved in-person learning days for students. In addition, regular testing, masking, and physical distancing led to lower virus transmission in school.

“The test-to-stay-programs are really good at balancing the costs and benefits,” Zoe McLaren, a health policy expert at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, told The New York Times.

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“What the test-to-stay program does is help us keep COVID cases down, while also trying to make sure we keep kids in school as much as possible, which I think is really important,” she said.

NFL Changes COVID Protocols After Outbreaks

Dec. 16, 6 p.m.

With an increasing number of players testing positive for COVID-19, the National Football League has changed its health and safety protocols in negotiation with the NFL Players Association.

Effective immediately, mandatory mask-wearing in all team facilities is back, along with social distancing, grab-and-go meals in team cafeterias, virtual meetings, and limits on how many people can be in the weight room at once, ESPN reported.

The NFL will make it easier for fully vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 but who do not have symptoms to return to play, ESPN said.

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Previous rules said a player who tests positive had to have two negative tests 24 hours apart. The new rules say a vaccinated player may be able to return after one negative test, which could occur on a game day.

Teams already in “intensive protocols” because of recent outbreaks will continue daily testing, whether the employees are vaccinated or not. On other teams, vaccinated players will test weekly, and unvaccinated players will test daily. Booster shots will be encouraged for players but not required.

The NFL Players Association wants to see all players tested daily, ESPN reported.

"The NFL decided to take away a critical weapon in our fight against the transmission of COVID-19 despite our union's call for daily testing months ago," the NFL Players Association said. "We're talking to our player leadership and to the NFL about potential changes to the protocols so that we can complete the season."

"All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community," the league said in a statement issued to

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The COVID wave is hitting the league at a critical time. The playoffs are scheduled to begin in one month.

"We're entering a new phase of the pandemic, different than we've seen before," said the NFL's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills. "We can't apply 2020 solutions to the 2021 problems we're having."

CDC’s First COVID Tests had Design Flaw, Report Says

Dec. 16, 5:40 p.m.

An internal review sheds new light on what went wrong with the first COVID tests distributed by the CDC during the early days of the pandemic.

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Previous investigations said contamination was the major reason tests shipped to health labs in early 2020 produced inconclusive reports and false positives.

The test kits were designed to detect the virus with primers, which bind to and copy targeted sequences, and with probes that emit a fluorescent signal when copies are made, The New York Times reported. The fluorescent signal means the virus’s genetic material is present.

The probes and primers were not supposed to touch or bind to each other, but that happened sometimes in the faulty kits. And this created the false positives, The New York Times said.

“Since the rollout of the initial Covid-19 test, C.D.C. has implemented corrective measures and remains dedicated to the highest quality laboratory science and safety,” the CDC said in a statement.

But the setback hurt the agency’s reputation as the threat from COVID spread across the world.

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“It’s something that should have been caught in the design phase,” Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, told The New York Times. “That’s one thing that you check for.”

The Plos One review also said some tests were probably contaminated by synthetic fragments of the coronavirus’s genetic material used at the same lab where the testing kits underwent analysis, The New York Times reported.

Chicago Bulls Postpone 2 Games Because of COVID-19

Dec. 14, 2021, 5:50 p.m. ET.

The Chicago Bulls postponed two upcoming games after 10 players, plus other members of the organization, entered health and safety protocols because they’d tested positive or been exposed to somebody who may have COVID-19.

These were the first NBA games postponed this season because of COVID. The team will reschedule a Tuesday game against the Detroit Pistons and a Thursday game against the Toronto Raptors, ESPN reported.

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ESPN said that as of Tuesday morning, 51 players have entered protocols since the season started around Oct. 20, with 41 players missing games. Over the last two weeks, 36 players have entered protocols.

Players must quarantine for 10 days or produce two negative PCR tests 24 hours apart when they enter the league’s health and safety protocols.

NBA team executives say they expect more players will be forced to enter protocols after Christmas because cold weather and the holidays bring people together, ESPN reported, citing unnamed sources. So far, no cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in the NBA, ESPN said.

The NBA reports that 97% of players have been vaccinated, according to ESPN. Players who don’t get a booster shot by Dec. 17 will face stricter safety measures, such as game day testing. Team members other than players will face restrictions on interaction with players if they don’t get a booster by Dec. 17.

The situation is not as concerning as last season, though, when 31 NBA games were canceled or postponed because of COVID-19, ESPN said.

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One of the league’s biggest stars, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, has sat out all season because he won’t get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Supreme Court Upholds N.Y. Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

Dec. 14, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET.

The U.S. Supreme Court says New York state can continue to enforce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers and doesn’t have to offer an exemption for religious reasons.

Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers had filed an emergency appeal to the court, arguing that the state was violating their constitutional rights by not offering a religious exemption. They also complained that the state’s vaccine mandate has exemptions for medical reasons, but not religious reasons.

The court turned down the medical workers request on Monday, though Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented.

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In his written dissent, Gorsuch noted that two of the doctors who sought the emergency action aren’t opposed to all vaccines but that their religious beliefs should be respected, CNN reported.

"Even if one were to read the State's actions as something other than signs of animus, they leave little doubt that the revised mandate was specifically directed at the applicants' unorthodox religious beliefs and practices," Gorsuch wrote.

New York Attorney General Letitia James argued that the vaccine mandate is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, which can lead to a "vicious cycle of staff shortages and deterioration of patient care,” CNN reported.

Thousands of New York state health care workers have lost their jobs for not getting vaccinated.

Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in New York state, fired 1,400 employees for not complying with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

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The health care worker mandate, which was drawn up while Andrew Cuomo was governor included a religious exemption. After Kathy Hochul became governor, the state dropped the religious exemption.

Major COVID-19 Case Growth Expected in Coming Weeks

Dec. 12, 10:40 a.m.

Most of the U.S. will see significant growth in COVID-19 cases during the next four weeks, according to the latest forecasting models by the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Large metropolitan areas, especially those in the Northeast, are already seeing a major increase in cases following Thanksgiving, and that trend is expected to continue.

“Why? Simply stated, the large amount of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings undermined the nation’s pandemic footing and has elevated disease burden in areas of the country that were fortunate to have lower case rates before the holidays,” the forecasters wrote.

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Overall, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising across the U.S. but remain below levels seen during the summer and last winter’s surges, according to The New York Times. The increase is still being driven by the Delta variant, though it remains unclear how the Omicron variant, which has been detected in 27 states, could affect the trends in coming weeks.

During the past week, the U.S. has reported an average of more than 120,000 new cases each day, the newspaper reported, which is an increase of 38% from two weeks ago.

The daily average of COVID-19 hospitalizations is around 64,000, which marks an increase of 22% from two weeks ago. More than 1,300 deaths are being reported each day, which is up 26%.

Numerous states are reporting double the cases from two weeks ago, stretching across the country from states in the Northeast such as Connecticut and Rhode Island to southern states such as North Carolina and Texas and western states such as California.

The Great Lakes region and the Northeast are seeing some of the most severe increases, the newspaper reported. New Hampshire leads the U.S. in recent cases per capita, and Maine has reported more cases in the past week than in any other seven-day period during the pandemic.

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Michigan has the country’s highest hospitalization rate, and federal medical teams have been sent to the state to help with the surge in patients, according to The Detroit News. Michigan’s top public health officials described the surge as a “critical” and “deeply concerning” situation on Friday, and they requested 200 more ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile.

Indiana, Maine, and New York have also requested aid from the National Guard, according to USA Today. Health officials in those states urged residents to get vaccines or booster shots and wear masks in indoor public settings.

The Omicron variant can evade some vaccine protection, but booster shots can increase efficacy and offer more coverage, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday.

“If you want to be optimally protected, absolutely get a booster,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

In addition, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced a statewide mask mandate, which will take effect on Monday. Masks will be required in all indoor public spaces and businesses, unless the location implements a vaccine requirement instead, the news outlet reported.

Deadly COVID Wave Could Hit the UK, Computer Models Show

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Dec. 11, 2021, 10:35 a.m. ET.

British-based scientists say an Omicron-dominated wave of COVID-19 cases could cause between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths in the United Kingdom in the next few months if the government doesn’t impose more restrictions.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) used new computer models to come up with predictions based on “the latest experimental data on the antibody-evading characteristics of the Omicron variant.” They stressed that new data could change their predictions.

This scenario involves low “immune escape” of Omicron, high booster effectiveness, and the re-imposition of control measures such as limits on indoor hospitality.

This scenario assumes high immune escape, low booster effectiveness, and no additional control measures.

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Rosanna Barnard, MD, one of the researchers, pointed out that nobody knows exactly how Omicron will behave.

"In our most optimistic scenario, the impact of Omicron in the early part of 2022 would be reduced with mild control measures such as working from home,” she said. "However, our most pessimistic scenario suggests that we may have to endure more stringent restrictions to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed. Mask-wearing, social distancing and booster jabs are vital, but may not be enough.”

The Omicron variant was detected last month in South Africa. Early research indicates it spreads faster than the Delta variant but doesn’t cause as much severe illness.

U.S. health authorities are closely watching because COVID trends that start in the UK, such as the spread of the Delta variant, often end up occurring in the U.S.

Between Dec. 1-8, 43 Omicron cases were detected in the United States with no deaths, the CDC stated Friday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Additionally, Worldwide, no Omicron-related deaths have been reported, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told Prevention this week.

“There is still not enough information to make a definitive evaluation of the variant, but each day we learn more,” he says. “It’s unclear how ‘deadly’ this variant is, because there have not been any reported deaths thus far, but deaths lag.”

Hundreds of Fake Vaccine Cards Seized at U.S.-Canada Border

Dec. 10, 4:50 p.m.

Border officials in Canada and the U.S. have seized hundreds of fake vaccine cards and COVID-19 tests, according to The Toronto Star.

Although the Canada Border Services Agency has reported more than 300 fraudulent cards and tests, only a small number of people have faced consequences, the newspaper reported. The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued 17 fines related to the reports so far.

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In the U.S., a woman was caught by American border guards with her sister’s passport and proof of COVID-19 vaccination as she was trying to enter the U.S. from Canada. She hasn’t been charged, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the newspaper.

Law experts told The Star that using forged or false documents when trying to cross the border is a serious offense with extensive penalties, which could include possible jail time, travel bans, and thousands of dollars in fines.

At the same time, citizens have right of entry, Canadian border officials told CBC. That means those who show fake COVID-19 records are still allowed into the country. But border officials then pass their information to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which can investigate and issue fines.

Health experts have voiced concerns about what the fraudulent records could mean for the pandemic, particularly as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

“I do wonder what percentage that segment represents of the total number of people who are coming in without being vaccinated and/or tested,” Lorian Hardcastle, a health policy expert at the University of Calgary, told the CBC.

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“We need to keep these enforcement efforts up and make sure that we are weeding out as many fraudulent and falsified records as possible,” she said.

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus worldwide, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 274.38 million cases and more than 5.35 million deaths worldwide.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 50.79 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19 and more than 806,340 deaths, according Johns Hopkins University.

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