COVID-19 STATS FOR December 19, 2021
Debra Schrishuhn for PDA National Staff
**Spain surpasses Argentina. Now 44 countries report more than one million cases of COVID-19, with the remainder being Argentina, Italy, Colombia, Indonesia, Poland (surpassing Mexico), Mexico, Ukraine, South Africa, Netherlands, Philippines, Malaysia, Czechia, Peru, Thailand, Iraq, Belgium, Canada, Romania, Chile, Japan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Israel, Slovakia (surpassing Pakistan), Pakistan, Serbia, Sweden, Austria, Portugal, Hungary, Switzerland, Kazakhstan. Jordan, and newcomer Greece.
Top Ten states with COVID-19 cases:
- California 5,205,345
New York 2,928,229
N. Carolina++ 1,589,442
Top Ten states with COVID-19 deaths:
- California 75,917
New York 58,037
New Jersey 28,708
+Michigan surpasses N. Carolina.
++Now 17 states post more than 1M cases, the remainder being New Jersey (surpassing Indiana, Tennessee, and Arizona), Arizona, Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin, and newcomers Virginia and Massachusetts.
+++Now 27 states with more than 10K COVID-19 deaths, the remainder being Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Maryland, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and newcomers Minnesota and Colorado.
BBC News, 12/18: The Netherlands has announced a strict lockdown over Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Non-essential shops, bars, gyms hairdressers and other public venues will be closed until at least mid-January. Two guests per household will be allowed – four over the holidays. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the measures were “unavoidable”. Countries across Europe have been tightening restrictions as the heavily mutated variant spreads.
The new rules in the Netherlands – the strictest to have been announced over Omicron so far – come into force on Sunday. “I stand here tonight in a sombre mood. And a lot of people watching will feel that way too,” Mr Rutte told a news conference on Saturday. “To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow.”
Guardian, 12/18: The scale of the threat posed by the Omicron variant was laid bare by government scientists last night as they warned that there are now hundreds of thousands of infections every day. That daily number could reach between 600,000 and 2 million by the end of the month if new restrictions are not brought in immediately. The government’s SPI-M-O group of scientists, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), also warned that, based on their modelling, hospitalisations could peak between 3,000 and 10,000 a day and deaths at between 600 and 6,000 a day. Sage urged the government to reintroduce “more stringent measures … very soon”. The minutes of its meeting on Thursday stated: “The timing of such measures is crucial. Delaying until 2022 would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions and make it less likely that these would prevent considerable pressure on health and care settings.”
Seattle Times, 12/18: Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R), an outspoken critic of Covid-19 emergency orders, has apparently died of the disease at the age of 52, the Seattle Times reports. Ericksen had been reported missing after testing positive for the coronavirus while on a trip to El Salvador and then taken to a hospital in Florida.
Axios, 12/18: New COVID-19 cases detected with the Omicron variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in areas where there is community spread.
NBC News, 12/18: “President Joe Biden will deliver a speech on Tuesday to address the omicron variant and unveil new steps the administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance.”
Washington Post, 12/18: “As omicron drives a new phase of the pandemic, many are looking to Denmark — and particularly the government institute devoted to testing, surveillance and modeling — for warnings about what to expect. The emerging answer — even in this highly vaccinated, wealthy northern European country — is dire. For all the defenses built over the last year, the virus is about to sprint out of control, and scientists here expect a similar pattern in much of the world. Ever since the omicron variant emerged in November, the best hope has been that it might cause less severe sickness than the delta version it is competing with, which in turn might make this wave more manageable and help the transition of covid-19 into an endemic disease. But Denmark’s projections show the wave so fully inundating the country that even a lessened strain will deliver an unprecedented blow.”
New York Times, 12/18: “Of American adults who are fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster shot, only about 30 percent have received one… And among all Americans, only about one in six has received a booster.”
USA Today, 12/18: “Employers will be given more time to comply with a federal requirement that workers get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be regularly tested, the U.S. Department of Labor announced after a federal appeals court allowed the rule to go forward. Workers who are not fully vaccinated won’t have to be regularly tested until Feb. 9, more than a month after the original Jan. 4 deadline.”
New York Times, 12/18: “The latest surge of the coronavirus is another reminder for President Biden of how hard it is to get ahead of the pandemic. Vaccine effectiveness has waned in the onslaught of Delta and Omicron. A spike in demand for testing is straining the system. And masks remain a political issue across the country.
“Nearly a year into his presidency, Mr. Biden’s promise to ‘shut down the virus, not the country’ remains only partly fulfilled. Stubborn resistance to vaccines among millions and the arrival of the fast-spreading new variant have upended the president’s plans for a hopeful, end-of-the-year holiday season.”
Los Angeles Times, 12/17: Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and that she underestimated the role misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans,” Said Harris: “We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming. We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”
New York Times, 12/17: “The nation’s coronavirus testing capacity, already straining to keep up with demand, is facing enormous new pressure, with holiday travelers waiting in long lines to be tested, overworked laboratories struggling to keep up and rapid at-home diagnostics flying off pharmacy shelves as the Omicron variant fuels a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases.”
Washington Post, 12/17: “A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccination policy for large private businesses, reversing an earlier court ruling that had halted one of the White House’s signature efforts to reduce transmission and drive down case counts. The ruling by the Ohio-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is likely to have the final say over the rules set to take effect Jan. 4.”
Wall Street Journal, 12/17: “Officials worked to shore up testing and healthcare capacity, as new Covid-19 infections hit a daily record in New York state and the Omicron variant added new risks to the pandemic response across the U.S.”
Washington Post, 12/17: “The sudden surge of new coronavirus cases has jolted some parts of the U.S. economy that depend most on face-to-face interactions, while other businesses are preparing for record holiday seasons and so far appear unscathed by the spreading omicron variant. The impact is uneven but acute. It reflects how some American consumers and business owners have grown accustomed to making instant decisions to cancel their plans, while others are more undeterred after such a long period of setbacks and delays.”
NBC News, 12/17: The Trump administration engaged in “deliberate efforts” to undermine the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic for political purposes, a congressional report released Friday concludes. The report, prepared by the House select subcommittee investigating the nation’s Covid response, says the White House repeatedly overruled public health and testing guidance by the nation’s top infectious disease experts and silenced officials in order to promote then-President Donald Trump’s political agenda.
In August of last year, for example, Trump hosted a White House meeting with people who promoted a herd immunity strategy pushed by White House special adviser Dr. Scott Atlas. The subcommittee obtained an email sent ahead of that meeting in which Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Covid response coordinator, told the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, that it was “a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground common sense experience.” Birx also said in the email that she could “go out of town or whatever gives the WH cover” on the day of the meeting. A few months later in October, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins called for “a quick and devastating published take down” of the herd immunity strategy, according to emails obtained and released by the subcommittee.
In an interview with the subcommittee, Birx said when she arrived to the White House in March 2020 — more than a month after the U.S. declared a public health emergency — she learned that federal officials had not yet contacted some of the largest U.S. companies that could supply Covid testing. Birx also told the panel that Atlas and other Trump officials “purposely weakened CDC’s coronavirus testing guidance in August 2020 to obscure how rapidly the virus was spreading across the country,” the report said. The altered guidance recommended that asymptomatic people didn’t need to get tested, advice that was “contrary to consensus science-based recommendations,” it said, adding, “Dr. Birx stated that these changes were made specifically to reduce the amount of testing being conducted.
Altas did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
The subcommittee also found in its investigation that the Trump White House blocked requests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct public briefings for more than three months. That move followed a late-February 2020 briefing in which a top CDC official “accurately warned the public about the risks posed by the coronavirus,” it said. Another CDC official told the panel that the agency asked to hold a briefing in April 2020 on a recommendation to wear cloth face coverings and present evidence of pediatric cases and deaths from Covid, but the Trump White House refused. CDC officials also stated media requests to interview them were denied during that period, the subcommittee report said.
Documents obtained by the committee also show that Trump political appointees tried to pressure the Food and Drug Administration to authorize ineffective Covid treatments the president was pushing, like hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma, over the objections of career scientists, the report said. In addition, Dr. Steven Hatfill, an adviser to former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, “may have declined leads to purchase supplies like N95 masks in the spring 2020 solely because the products were not manufactured in the United States,” the subcommittee said. In a statement provided to NBC on Friday, Hatfill said that the administration began sourcing personal protective equipment in early 2020. He said “the most logical and efficient choice was to seek U.S.-based manufacturers’ help.”
“At the time, profiteers were peddling defective and fraudulent PPE at inflated prices directly to the public,” he said. “Even states such as California and New Mexico fell prey to these schemes, but we had no time to waste at the federal level. Even the shortest delay could cost thousands of lives. That was a risk we were not willing to take. Our choice to buy American goods saved lives and the United States taxpayer’s money.”
Dr. Jay Butler, a senior CDC official who helped supervise the agency’s coronavirus response during the spring of 2020, told the subcommittee in an interview that the Trump administration published guidance for faith communities in May of last year that “softened some very important public health recommendations,” such as removing all references to face coverings, a suggestion to suspend choirs, and language related to virtual services. Butler told the panel that “the concerns he had about Americans getting sick and potentially dying because they relied on this watered-down guidance ‘will haunt me for some time,’” the report said.
The revelations in the panel’s report come as Covid cases surge across the country as the U.S. battles the new omicron and the delta variants.
CNN, 12/17: Dr. Michael Osterholm said the coronavirus will hit millions of Americans in a “viral blizzard” within a few weeks as infections from the Omicron variant pile on top of Delta. Said Osterholm: “What you have here right now is a potential perfect storm. I’ve been very concerned about the fact that we could easily see a quarter or a third of our health care workers quickly becoming cases themselves.”
AP, 12/17: White supremacists and far-right extremists are deploying Covid-19 conspiracy theories on Telegram to “expand their reach and recruit followers,” The tactic has been successful: Nine of the 10 most viewed posts in the sample examined by the researchers contained misleading claims about the safety of vaccines or the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them. One Telegram channel saw its total subscribers jump tenfold after it leaned into Covid-19 conspiracy theories.
Washington Post, 12/17: “There has to be a resignation that there is something deeply broken in this country. The administration has done everything it can do. We’ll see how we respond this time. Virtually all these deaths have been preventable since April.”— A Biden administration official, on the new surge in Covid-19 cases.
Financial Times, 12/17: “There is at present ‘no evidence’ that the Omicron coronavirus variant is any less severe than the Delta strain, according to early findings from researchers at Imperial College London, which also highlighted the elevated risk of reinfection posed by Omicron and the need for booster shots to combat it,”
NBC News, 12/17: “The Biden administration will unveil a new strategy Friday to keep children in the classroom. The strategy includes a ‘test to stay’ approach: Instead of mandatory quarantines for students identified as close contacts of a Covid-positive peer, those students could remain in school if they test negative for the virus at least twice during the week after an exposure.”
New York Times, David Leonhardt, 12/17: “In the U.S., partisanship is the biggest factor determining vaccination rates. If Democratic voters made up their own country, it would be one of the world’s most vaccinated, with more than 91 percent of adults having received at least one shot. Only about 60 percent of Republican adults have done so. This vaccination gap has created a huge gap in death rates, one that has grown sharply during the second half of the year.”
Washington Post, 12/17: “With the omicron variant sending coronavirus cases spiking across the country, the pandemic is once again upending daily life and evoking the early days of the outbreak as scientists race to understand the still-unknown implications of this new type of coronavirus. The worrying signs suddenly seem everywhere: Professional sports leagues are canceling games. Colleges are sending students home from campus. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cut short his trip to Southeast Asia.”
New York Times, 12/16: “The vast majority of active-duty troops in the Army and Navy are vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the small number of those still refusing shots will soon be dismissed from the military. Army officials said that less than one percent of active-force members have refused the vaccination order without a pending or approved exemption. Thousands of troops requested religious exemptions, but none have been granted.”
New York Times, 12/16: “An expert panel to the CDC voted to recommend that Covid vaccines other than Johnson & Johnson’s should be preferred, citing increasing evidence that the company’s shots trigger a rare blood clot disorder now linked to dozens of cases and at least nine deaths in the last year.”
Political Wire, 12/15: A new Monmouth poll finds 60% of Americans feel worn out by pandemic-related changes they have had to make to their daily lives over the past 20 months. The poll also finds that 45% of the public feels angry about how Covid has impacted their daily lives. Republicans (64%) are no more likely than Democrats (63%) to say they feel at least a little worn out by pandemic-related changes to their lives, but they are much more likely to report feeling angry (63% and 34%, respectively).
Axios, 12/15: Dr. Anthony Fauci said that there is “no need for a variant-specific booster” at this time because research shows that the current U.S. booster vaccine programs are effective against Omicron. Said Fauci: “If you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of Omicron, if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot.”
New York Times, 12/15: “[Republican] Governors from five states have written a joint letter to Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary, asking that their National Guard troops be exempted from a federal coronavirus vaccine mandate, greatly escalating what had been a single state conflict over inoculations.”
Reuters, 12/15: A new study finds that all three U.S.-authorized Covid-19 vaccines “appear to be significantly less protective against the newly-detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection.”
Electoral-vote.com, 12/15: An unnamed Biden administration official has said that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is set to explode all over the U.S. and there will be plenty of hospitalizations. A study from South Africa, where the mutant virus was first discovered, shows that a two-dose regimen of the Pfizer vaccine—the gold standard— is only 33% effective against Omicron. In Denmark, where 80% of the population is vaccinated, three-quarters of Omicron cases are among fully vaccinated people. A big surge of new infections would overwhelm many hospitals. A third dose raises the effectiveness strongly, but not enough people have had a booster to keep the new variant from running amok.
What is going on in England may be a preview of what will soon happen in the U.S. The health minister said Omicron will become the dominant variant in London in the next 48 hours. He also said it is spreading at a phenomenal rate that has never been seen before. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need.”
The problem for the Democrats is that a lot of people voted for Joe Biden because he promised to beat back the coronavirus, fix the economy, and make everything normal again. If a surging new variant overloads the hospitals, forces shutdowns in sectors of the economy, and especially if it requires schools to end in-person instruction, people will be hopping mad. And when people are mad, they blame the president, even if there is not much that he can do.
Of course, there are some things he can do, but they would not be popular. A vaccine mandate—with no exceptions—for entry to any government property as well as to interstate airplanes, trains, and boats would be a start. He could order all federal contractors to mandate vaccinations for all employees. Having OSHA speed up its mandates for companies with 100 or more employees would also help. From a political standpoint, having him demand that just about everyone gets vaccinated would immunize him from some criticism, especially if red-state governors flouted his orders and hospitalizations and deaths went sky-high in their states. Also, if the Supreme Court ruled against mandates, Biden could blame the Court and ask Congress to pack the Court to protect the nation’s health. Biden doesn’t have to win the battle to survive. He only has to convince most people that he really tried hard but Republican governors and the Supreme Court are at fault for all the new deaths. He’s got the bully pulpit, but if he doesn’t use it, it will cost him dearly next year.
Beyond that, all is not lost for the Democrats. Pfizer has developed a pill that, if taken within five days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, reduces the risk of hospitalization by 88%. This could be a life saver—literally—for people who contract the disease and, along with vaccinations, could help end the pandemic. It appears to work against the Omicron variant, so there is some good news there. (V)
Axios, 12/15: “Health officials are stressing the importance of coronavirus vaccine booster shots as the Omicron variant spreads around the world, but millions of Americans aren’t yet eligible for another dose. Anyone 16 and older who got their second Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago is eligible for a booster shot in the U.S… But 58 million Americans received their second shots within the last six months. Children aged 5–11 just became eligible for vaccines last month, meaning none of them are yet eligible for a third shot.”
AP, 12/15: “The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 800,000 on Tuesday, a once-unimaginable figure seen as doubly tragic, given that more than 200,000 of those lives were lost after the vaccine became available practically for the asking last spring.”
Washington Post, 12/14: “Top federal health officials warned in a briefing Tuesday morning that the omicron variant is rapidly spreading in the United States and could peak in a massive wave of infections as soon as January. The briefing detailed two scenarios for how the omicron variant may spread through this country. The worst case scenario has spooked top health officials, who fear a fresh wave, layered on top of delta and influenza cases in what one described as ‘a triple whammy,’ could overwhelm health systems and devastate communities, particularly those with low vaccination rates. Officials stress that early data shows individuals who are fully vaccinated and received a booster shot remain largely protected against severe illness and death from omicron. But they worry about how few Americans have been boosted to date.”
Electoral-vote.com, 12/14: Some notable, and mostly grim, COVID milestones will be reached today (or, if not today, in close proximity to today). Namely:
- 800,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. According to WorldoMeters, that number was actually reached a bit over a week ago. According to Johns Hopkins, it will be reached today. According to the CDC, it will be reached tomorrow or Thursday. In truth, it was reached several months ago, and the real death toll is closer to 1 million.
- Roughly 1 in 100 senior citizens have perished from COVID-19. That’s about 514,000 reported deaths, or about three-quarters of the official total.
- Also according to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. had its 50 millionth diagnosed COVID infection yesterday. Again, the true number is certainly higher, likely north of 60 million or even 70 million.
- The very first COVID vaccinations were administered exactly one year ago today. Today, 60% of Americans are vaccinated.
In recognition of the 800,000 dead, Congress will hold a moment of silence this afternoon on the East Front Steps of the Capitol building. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be there, as will House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Other members will be in attendance, though it is not known if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be among them.
Any way you look at it, it’s absolutely stunning how much damage this disease has done. (Z)
The Atlantic, Matthew Walther, 12/14: “I don’t know how to put this in a way that will not make me sound flippant: No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true, because if it were, the articles wouldn’t be commissioned. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if Covid is over, and they have been for a long while. I don’t mean to deny Covid’s continuing presence…. What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of Covid-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.”
Wall Street Journal, 12/14: “Preliminary laboratory tests gave encouraging signs that Pfizer’s experimental Covid-19 pill for the newly infected could work against Omicron. Pfizer also said Tuesday that a final analysis of late-stage study results confirmed the drug, named Paxlovid, was 89% effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in adults at high risk of severe Covid-19.”
Colorado Public Radio, 12/13: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) told Colorado Public Radio that Covid-19 vaccines spell “the end of the medical emergency” and he will not implement a statewide mask mandate in response to the Omicron variant. Said Polis: “You don’t tell people to wear a jacket when they go out in winter and force them to wear it. If they get frostbite, it’s their own darn fault. If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. I respect that. But it’s your fault when you’re in the hospital with Covid.” He added: “The data we have so far shows that the vaccines do hold up well against the omicron variant. Obviously, if that changes, we want to look at what other techniques we could use to reduce the spread of the virus.”
AP, 12/13: The Supreme Court refused to block Covid-19 vaccination requirement for New York health care workers who seek religious exemption.
New York Times, 12/13: “As the coronavirus pandemic approaches the end of a second year, the United States stands on the cusp of surpassing 800,000 deaths from the virus, and no group has suffered more than older Americans. All along, older people have been known to be more vulnerable, but the scale of loss is only now coming into full view. Seventy-five percent of people who have died of the virus in the United States — or about 600,000 of the nearly 800,000 who have perished so far — have been 65 or older. One in 100 older Americans has died from the virus. For people younger than 65, that ratio is closer to 1 in 1,400.”
Washington Post, 12/13: “At least one person has died from the omicron variant, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday as he urged Britons to increase their protection with a booster shot. Said Johnson: “I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population.”
Axios, 12/12: The U.K. government raised its official coronavirus alert level, citing an increase in cases largely driven by the Omicron variant
“A growing body of preliminary research suggests the Covid vaccines used in most of the world offer almost no defense against becoming infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant,” the New York Times reports.
“All vaccines still seem to provide a significant degree of protection against serious illness from Omicron, which is the most crucial goal. But only the Pfizer and Moderna shots, when reinforced by a booster, appear to have success at stopping infections, and these vaccines are unavailable in most of the world.”
“The other shots — including those from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and vaccines manufactured in China and Russia — do little to nothing to stop the spread of Omicron, early research shows. And because most countries have built their inoculation programs around these vaccines, the gap could have a profound impact on the course of the pandemic.”
CNN: “Biden and his team have all but ruled out new lockdowns, and behind the scenes, administration officials have been debating how to shift public attention from the total number of cases — which appear likely to surge, even if many are mild — toward the number of severe infections that are overloading health systems and causing interruptions to normal life.”
“Some of Biden’s advisers are encouraging the administration to begin discussing publicly how to live alongside a virus that shows no signs of disappearing, a potentially stark shift in messaging for a White House that once touted ‘freedom from the virus.’”
“Steering public attention away from the total number of infections and toward serious cases only — as some Biden advisers have encouraged — could prove a challenge after nearly two years of intense focus on the pandemic’s every up and down. It is a part of a growing conundrum that Biden faces as the Covid-19 pandemic refuses to abate.”