COVID-19 STATS FOR December 5, 2021

Dec 5, 2021 | Uncategorized

Debra Schrishuhn for PDA National Staff

*Source: WHO

**Reporting delay.

***Germany surpasses Iran

****Source: Johns Hopkins

*****Source: Johns Hopkins; unable to confirm claim of 800K deaths to date

******Now 42 countries report more than one million cases of COVID-19, with the remainder being, Spain, Italy (surpassing Colombia), Colombia, Indonesia, , Mexico, Ukraine, Poland, South Africa, Philippines, Netherlands (surpassing Malaysia), Malaysia, Peru, Czechia (surpassing Thailand), Thailand, Iraq, Belgium (jumping Japan, Chile, Romania, and Canada), Canada, Romania, Chile, Japan, Bangladesh, Israel, Vietnam (surpassing Sweden, Serbia, and Pakistan), Pakistan, Serbia, Slovakia (surpassing Sweden), Sweden, Austria (surpassing Portugal), Portugal, Hungary, Kazakhstan.and newcomer Switzerland. 

Top Ten states with COVID-19 cases: 

  • California 5,088,770 Pennsylvania
  • Texas 4,331,900
  • Florida 3,693,516
  • New York 2,737,932
  • Illinois 1,821,002
  • Pennsylvania 1,744,526
  • Ohio 1,699,161
  • Georgia 1,631,742
  • N Carolina 1,539,320
  • Michigan+ 1,492,148

Top Ten states with COVID-19 deaths:

  • California 74,758
  • Texas 77,244
  • Florida 61,548
  • New York 57,107
  • Pennsylvania 33,521
  • Georgia++ 29,446
  • Illinois 29,432
  • New Jersey 28,409
  • Ohio 26,587
  • Michigan+++ 25,766

+Still 14 states post more than 1M cases, the remainder being Tennessee, Arizona, New Jersey, , and Indiana.

++Georgia surpasses Illinois in COVID-19 deaths.

+++Now 25 states with more than 10K COVID-19 deaths, the remainder being Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky, Oklahoma, , Mississippi, and newcomer Wisconsin.

CNN, 12/5: For the first time in two months, the US is averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases each day, shortly after millions of Americans traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday. The seven-day moving average of new cases was 121,437 as of Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Prior to this week, the US last topped the 100,000-cases-a-day mark in early October.

Also on the rise is the number of Covid-19 deaths, with a seven-day average of 1,651 people dying from the virus each day as of Saturday, the JHU data showed. Average daily deaths haven’t been this high in more than a month. The vast majority of new cases in the US continue to be from the Delta variant, but US health officials have detected the new Omicron coronavirus variant in at least 16 states as of Saturday. 

The first case was found in California on Wednesday, and by the weekend the variant had been identified in 15 other states: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. The Omicron variant has been alarming officials because early indications show it could be more contagious than the original strain, and the significant number of mutations it carries poses a potential risk of reducing some of the effectiveness the current vaccines provide. Scientists are working to determine the severity and transmissibility of Omicron — but that could take weeks, officials have said. 

Washington Post, 12/4: “The omicron variant is likely to have picked up genetic material from another virus that causes the common cold in humans, according to a new preliminary study, prompting one of its authors to suggest omicron could have greater transmissibility but lower virulence than other variants of the novel coronavirus.”

New York Times, 12/3: “Underscoring growing concerns about Omicron, scientists in South Africa said on Friday that the newest coronavirus variant appears to spread more than twice as quickly as Delta, until now the most contagious version of the virus. Omicron’s rapid spread results from a combination of contagiousness and an ability to dodge the body’s immune defenses, the researchers said, but the contribution of each factor is not yet certain.”

The Guardian, 12/3: “An Italian man is facing charges of fraud after turning up for his Covid-19 vaccine wearing a fake arm. So determined was he to dodge the jab but still obtain a health pass, the anti-vaxxer may have paid hundreds of euros for the silicone prosthetic.”

Washington Post, 12/3: “President Biden explained Friday that his cough and raspy voice is due to a grandson who had a cold and not the coronavirus. He is tested for the virus every day and recent results were negative.”

Times of London, 12/3: “Booster jabs ‘massively’ strengthen the body’s defenses against Covid, according to key results that have raised hopes of strong protection from the Omicron variant. A third dose not only increased antibody levels thirtyfold, but roughly tripled levels of T-cells, a part of the immune system that experts believe could be the critical weapon against the heavily mutated Omicron strain.”

New York Times, 12/3: “People looking for a booster shot of a Covid-19 vaccine probably don’t need to fret about what brand it is: Many combinations of shots are likely to provide strong protection, according to a large new study.”

Wall Street Journal, 12/3: “Scientists in South Africa tracking the spread of the Omicron variant said Thursday they are seeing a rise in reinfections in people who had recovered from Covid-19 as the country reported another sharp daily rise in new cases. The scientists’ conclusions suggest previous infection provides less protection against the new variant than against earlier versions. They also offer a possible explanation of why Omicron has been able to spread so quickly in the country, outpacing even the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is currently dominant in much of the rest of the world.”

AP, 12/3: “It’s clear that Republicans have decided that the fate of the Biden presidency is tied to Covid. And Republicans have chosen to be on the side of the virus.”— Democratic strategist Eric Schultz

Politico, 12/3: “President Joe Biden has staked his presidency on defeating the pandemic. But nearly a year into his term, the administration is crashing into the limits of its power to end the nation’s fight against Covid-19. And in the few places where it could go further, it seems unwilling to do so, as of now.”

Axios, 12/2: “South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we’re facing. South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country’s top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.”

Nature, 12/2: Barely a week has elapsed since scientists in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world to a fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variant now known as Omicron. Researchers worldwide are racing to understand the threat that the variant — now confirmed in more than 20 countries — poses to the world. Yet it might take scientists weeks to paint a more complete picture of Omicron, and to gain an understanding of its transmissibility and severity, as well as its potential to evade vaccines and cause reinfections….

Omicron’s rapid rise in South Africa is what worries researchers most, because it suggests the variant could spark explosive increases in COVID-19 cases elsewhere. On 1 December, South Africa recorded 8,561 cases, up from the 3,402 reported on 26 November and several hundred per day in mid-November, with much of the growth occurring in Gauteng Province, home to Johannesburg.

Epidemiologists measure an epidemic’s growth using R, the average number of new cases spawned by each infection. In late November, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg determined that R was above 2 in Gauteng. That level of growth was last observed in the early days of the pandemic, Richard Lessels, an infectious-disease physician at KwaZulu-Natal University in Durban, South Africa, told a press briefing last week. Gauteng’s R value was well below 1 in September — when Delta was the predominant variant and cases were falling — suggesting that Omicron has the potential to spread much faster and infect vastly more people than Delta, says Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Based on the rise in COVID-19 cases and on sequencing data, Wenseleers estimates that Omicron can infect three to six times as many people as Delta, over the same time period. “That’s a huge advantage for the virus — but not for us,” he adds.

Researchers will be watching how Omicron spreads in other parts of South Africa and globally to get a better read on its transmissibility, says Christian Althaus, a computational epidemiologist at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Heightened surveillance in South Africa could cause researchers to overestimate Omicron’s fast growth. But if this pattern is repeated in other countries, it would be very strong evidence that Omicron has a transmission advantage, adds Althaus. “If it doesn’t happen, for example, in European countries, it means things are a bit more complex and strongly depend on the immunological landscape. So we have to wait.”

Although genome sequencing is needed to confirm Omicron cases, some PCR tests can pick up a hallmark of the variant that distinguishes it from Delta. On the basis of this signal, there are preliminary indications that cases, although extremely low in number, are rising in the United Kingdom. “That’s certainly not what we want to see right now and suggests that Omicron could indeed also have a transmission advantage in the UK,” Althaus adds.

The variant’s swift rise in South Africa hints that it has some capacity to evade immunity. Around one-quarter of South Africans are fully vaccinated, and it’s likely that a large fraction of the population was infected with SARS-CoV-2 in earlier waves, says Wenseleers, based on heightened death rates since the start of the pandemic.

In this context, Omicron’s success in southern Africa might be due largely to its capacity to infect people who recovered from COVID-19 caused by Delta and other variants, as well as those who’ve been vaccinated. A 2 December preprint1 from researchers at the NICD found that reinfections in South Africa have increased as Omicron has spread. “Unfortunately, this is the perfect environment for immune-escape variants to develop,” says Althaus.

How well the variant spreads elsewhere might depend on factors such as vaccination and previous infection rates, says Aris Katzourakis, who researches viral evolution at the University of Oxford, UK. “If you throw it into the mix in a highly vaccinated population that has given up on other control measures, it might have the edge there.”

Researchers want to measure Omicron’s ability to evade immune responses and the protection they offer. For instance, a team led by Penny Moore, a virologist at the NICD and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, is measuring the ability of neutralizing, or virus-blocking, antibodies triggered by previous infection and vaccination to stop Omicron from infecting cells. To test this in the laboratory, her team is making ‘pseudovirus’ particles — an engineered version of HIV that uses SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein to infect cells — that match Omicron, which harbours as many as 32 changes to spike.

Another South Africa-based team, led by virologist Alex Sigal at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, is conducting similar tests of virus-neutralizing antibodies using infectious SARS-CoV-2 particles. So is a team led by Pei-Yong Shi, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who is collaborating with the makers of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine to determine how it holds up against Omicron. “I was really very concerned when I saw the constellation of mutations in the spike,” he says. “We just have to wait for the results.”

Previous studies of Omicron’s spike mutations — particularly in the region that recognizes receptors on human cells — suggest that the variant will blunt the potency of neutralizing antibodies. For instance, in a September 2021 Nature paper2, a team co-led by Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City, engineered a highly mutated version of spike — in a virus incapable of causing COVID-19 — that shares numerous mutations with Omicron. The ‘polymutant spike’ proved fully resistant to neutralizing antibodies from most of the people they tested, who had either received two doses of an mRNA vaccine or recovered from COVID-19. With Omicron, “we expect there to be a significant hit”, says Bieniasz.

If Omicron can dodge neutralizing antibodies, it does not mean that immune responses triggered by vaccination and prior infection will offer no protection against the variant. Immunity studies suggest that modest levels of neutralizing antibodies may protect people from severe forms of COVID-19, says Miles Davenport, an immunologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Other aspects of the immune system, particularly T cells, may be less affected by Omicron’s mutations than are antibody responses. Researchers in South Africa plan to measure the activity of T cells and another immune player called natural killer cells, which might be especially important for protection against severe COVID-19, says Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Madhi, who has led COVID-19 vaccine trials in South Africa, is also part of efforts to conduct epidemiological studies of vaccines’ effectiveness against Omicron. There are anecdotal reports of breakthrough infections involving all three vaccines that have been administered in South Africa — Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer–BioNTech and Oxford–AstraZeneca. But Madhi says researchers will want to quantify the level of protection against Omicron provided by vaccines, as well as by previous infection. He suspects that the results will be reminiscent of how the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine performed against the Beta variant, an immune-evading variant that was identified in South Africa in late 2020. A trial led by Madhi found that the vaccine offered little protection against mild and moderate disease, while a real-world analysis in Canada showed greater than 80% protection against hospitalization.

If Omicron behaves similarly, Madhi says, “we’re going to see a surge of cases. We’re going to see lots of breakthrough infections, lots of reinfections. But there’s going to be this unhinging of the case rate in the community compared to the hospitalization rate”. Early reports suggest that most breakthrough infections with Omicron have been mild, says Madhi. “For me, that is a positive signal.”

The threat of Omicron has prompted some rich countries, such as the United Kingdom, to accelerate and broaden the roll-out of COVID vaccine booster doses. But it’s not yet clear how effective these doses will be against this variant. Third doses supercharge neutralizing-antibody levels, and it’s likely that this will provide a bulwark against Omicron’s ability to evade these antibodies, says Bieniasz. His team’s work on the polymutant spike found that people who had recovered from COVID-19 months before receiving their jabs had antibodies capable of blocking the mutant spike. To Bieniasz, those results suggest that people with repeated exposure to SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, be it through infection or a booster dose, are “quite likely to have neutralizing activity against Omicron”.

Early reports linked Omicron with mild disease, raising hopes that the variant might be less severe than some of its predecessors. But these reports — which are often based on anecdotes or scant scraps of data — can be misleading, cautions Müge Çevik, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of St Andrews, UK. “Everyone is trying to find some data that could guide us,” she says. “But it’s very difficult at the moment.” A major challenge when assessing a variant’s severity is how to control for the many confounding variables that can influence the course of disease, particularly when outbreaks are geographically localized. For example, reports of mild disease from Omicron infection in South Africa could reflect the fact that the country has a relatively young population, many of whom have already been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

During the early days of the Delta outbreak, there were reports that the variant was causing more serious illness in children than did other variants — an association that dissolved once more data were collected, Çevik says.

Researchers will be looking for data on Omicron infections in other countries. This geographical spread, and a larger sample size as cases accrue, will give researchers a better idea of how generalizable the early reports of mild disease might be. Ultimately, researchers will want to conduct case-controlled studies, in which two groups of participants are matched in terms of important factors such as age, vaccination status and health conditions. Data from both groups will need to be collected at the same time, because the number of hospitalizations can be influenced by overall hospital capacity in a region. And, crucially, researchers will need to control for the level of economic deprivation. A rapidly spreading new variant may reach vulnerable groups more rapidly, Çevik says, by nature of their work or living conditions. And such groups often experience more severe disease. All of this will take time. “I think the severity question will be one of the last bits that we’ll be able to untangle,” she says. “That’s how it happened with Delta.”

More countries are detecting the Omicron variant, but the capacity to rapidly sequence viruses from positive COVID-19 tests is concentrated in wealthy countries, meaning that early data on Omicron’s spread will be skewed.

Surveillance efforts in Brazil and some other countries are taking advantage of a distinctive result on a particular PCR test that could allow them to pinpoint potential Omicron cases for sequencing, says virologist Renato Santana at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. The test looks for segments of three viral genes, one of which is the gene that encodes for the spike protein. Mutations in Omicron’s spike gene prevent its detection in the test, meaning that samples containing the variant will test positive for only two of the genes.

Even so, not everyone uses that test and it could take some time before Omicron’s spread is fully mapped. Despite some guidelines urging countries to sequence 5% of their samples that test positive for SARS-CoV-2, few can afford to do so, says computational virologist Anderson Brito at the All for Health Institute in São Paulo, Brazil. And Brito worries that the travel bans enacted by some countries against South Africa, and other southern African nations, in the wake of its Omicron discovery could discourage governments from sharing genomic surveillance data. “We are punishing those who did a good job,” he says.

In Bangladesh, which sequences about 0.2% of positive coronavirus samples, researchers would be eager to ramp up sequencing to keep tabs on Omicron and other emerging variants, says Saha. But resources are limited. Bangladesh is recovering from a large dengue outbreak, she adds. “In the global south, we are all worried about COVID, but let’s not forget our endemic diseases,” Saha says. “We can only do so many.”

NJ Advance Media, 12/2: A number of Republican members of the state Assembly openly defied a new COVID-19 vaccine policy at the New Jersey Statehouse on Thursday and took their seats to cast votes anyway — a surreal scene that at one point included a 15-minute standoff between indignant conservative lawmakers and State Police troopers who tried to stop them from entering the chamber. The policy, installed Wednesday to combat the coronavirus pandemic, calls for all people to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test to enter the Statehouse.”

New York Times, 12/2: “President Biden, confronting a worrisome new coronavirus variant and the potential of a winter surge, laid out a new pandemic strategy on Thursday that includes hundreds of vaccination sites aimed at families, boosters for all adults, new testing requirements for international travelers and free at-home tests that will be covered by private insurers or available at community health centers. The push to expand access to at-home testing is a tacit acknowledgment by the White House that vaccination, which the president has touted as the path out of the pandemic, is not enough on its own.”

Washington Post Opinion, Greg Sargent, 12/2: “Everyone around Trump was apparently told he was potentially contagious, and he even appeared potentially symptomatic, even as Trump roared into the debate as if the opposite were true. If this is right, then what happened at the debate is even worse than you thought. That’s because multiple people around Trump, including his wife, Melania Trump, and his kids Donald Jr. and Eric, all sat maskless at the Sept. 29 debate, according to contemporaneous reports, despite the fact that debate attendees were required to wear masks.”

The Hill, 12/2: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ripped into the Republican lawmakers threatening a government shutdown over President Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate. Said Pelosi: “How do they explain to the public that they’re shutting down government because they don’t want people to get vaccinated?” She added: “This is so silly that we have people who are anti-science, anti-vaccination saying they’re going to shut down government over that.”

Stat, 12/2: “When Covid-19 variants arise, the accepted wisdom is that the constellation of mutations they contain developed in an immunocompromised person who contracted the virus and couldn’t shake the infection. But some scientists have an alternative theory for where the latest variant of concern, Omicron, may have acquired the unusual mutations that stud its spike protein. They speculate the virus could have evolved in another animal species. The theory goes that some type of animal, potentially rodents, was infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus sometime in mid-2020. In this new species, the virus evolved, accumulating roughly 50 mutations on the spike protein before spilling back over into people.”

AP, 12/1: “A Republican election official who caused controversy by initially refusing to certify 2020 Detroit-area results in favor of President Joe Biden has died after being admitted to a hospital with Covid-19.”

Political Wire, 12/1: Former President Donald Trump issued a statement denying he tested positive for Covid-19 before his president debate with Joe Biden, calling it “fake news.” Of course, the news comes from his own chief of staff’s new book. And the New York Times has confirmed it with two more sources.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12/1: Marcus Lamb, founder of evangelical television network Daystar and an outspoken opponent of Covid-19 vaccines, has died after being hospitalized with the virus.

New York Times, 12/1: The CDC plans to “toughen coronavirus testing and screening of international fliers to the United States by requiring them to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours of departure. The move to strengthen the testing regime reflects growing concern about the Omicron variant, a highly mutated form of the virus that was first documented by researchers in South Africa and detected in more than a dozen countries around the world.”, 12/1: Every single House Republican voted against Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan in February and every Republican senator (except one who didn’t vote) voted against it as well. The bill provided for payments to people who were out of work as a result of pandemic-induced closures of businesses. The Republicans felt that giving people free money would make them lazy and not look for work. Republicans don’t like giving people free money.

Until now, that is. In Florida, Iowa, Kansas, and Tennessee, state officials have changed the rules to provide unemployment benefits to people who were fired or quit because they refused to be vaccinated. Normally, people who quit their jobs don’t get unemployment benefits, but lawmakers in these states are apparently not worried that these people will become lazy and not seek work. So now people in those states who don’t like their jobs can just quit, claim they are anti-vaxxers, and be supported by the state. Nice work if you can get it.

Nine states have passed laws banning private companies from requiring vaccinations or else requiring the companies to exempt anyone claiming a religious or philosophical objection to vaccination, even without proof. One category of exemption is “anticipated future pregnancy,” even though most public health officials now recommend the vaccine for women who are already pregnant and certainly for women who might possibly become pregnant in the future. These laws will soon collide head-on with OSHA regulations requiring companies with 100 or more employees to require them. As usual, the Supreme Court will get to decide this.

The legal uncertainty is affecting companies. For example, Florida’s new laws caused DisneyWorld to suspend its vaccine mandate. If enough companies do this, the pandemic will continue to rage. Although this is not our Friday schadenfreude item, it will be mostly Republicans who get sick and die as a result of these new laws. We wonder if the state legislators took that into account when passing them. (V), 12/1: While most states are scared to bring the hammer down on unvaccinated people, it is interesting to note that in other countries they are not scared at all. Greece, in particular, has announced that vaccination against COVID will be mandatory for everyone over 60 starting Jan. 6. The fine for noncompliance will be €100 ($114) per month. That’s about $1,368 per year, with no end date. The fine will be collected by the tax authorities. The government softened the blow by calling the fine a “health fee.”

The focus of the new law is on older people because they get sick at a higher rate than younger people and thus take up more space in hospitals, preventing people with other diseases from being treated. In terms of public health (e.g., use of hospital resources), vaccinating one 70-year old is equivalent to vaccinating 34 young people.

Would such a scheme be legal in the U.S.? Absolutely. In the early 1900s, 11 states had compulsory vaccination-against-smallpox laws with a fine for noncompliance. Massachusetts pastor Henning Jacobson refused vaccination and was fined. He appealed and the case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that the state’s duty to safeguard its citizens overrode Jacobson’s desire not to be vaccinated. So based on existing jurisprudence, a state could require vaccination for all residents (and probably a subset of them—for example, seniors, as in Greece) and it would pass constitutional muster. Whether the federal government could do this is another matter, though. That has never been tested in court. But under current case law, states clearly can mandate vaccines. 

Germany may go even further than Greece. Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to mandate the vaccine for all Germans, regardless of age. He also supports prohibiting unvaccinated people from entering public places except food stores. Many other German leaders support him.

While the U.S. federal government can’t do anything like this, there are things it can do, short of ordering the population to be vaccinated. Joe Biden signed an executive order on Sept. 9 instructing all federal agencies to fire employees who refuse to be vaccinated. However, Biden is a kind fellow, so he is allowing OMB to tell agencies to reserve December for “counseling” employees about the new reality in order to avoid firing them just before the holidays. However, if they still don’t have the message by January, they will be out. So the new move just delays execution for a month. And if they are Eastern Orthodox, Christmas will still be ruined. Still, some employees may talk to friends and family over the holidays and decide that getting vaccinated is better than hunting for a new job, especially if the one they have now is a good one.

The number of employees affected is fairly small. Across the board, 96.5% of federal employees have already had one shot of some vaccine. The department with the highest compliance is the Dept. of Transportation, with 99.6% compliance. The worst is the Dept. of Agriculture, with only 86.1% compliance. We bet Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg could beat Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at arm wrestling, too. (V)

New York Times, 11/30: “A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday to halt the start of President Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers, which had been set to begin next week. The injunction effectively expanded a separate order issued on Monday by a federal court in Missouri. The earlier one had applied only to 10 states that joined in a lawsuit against the president’s decision to require all health workers in hospitals and nursing homes to receive at least their first shot by Dec. 6 and to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.”

Washington Post, 11/30: “Senior White House officials have in the last few days studied how much funding they have available to respond to the omicron variant, as the Biden administration makes contingency plans to deal with the next potential stage in the pandemic.”

New York Times, 11/30: Approximately 150,000 unvaccinated people in the United States have died of Covid-19 since June 1, despite an effective vaccine being widely and freely available.

Oklahoman, 11/30: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) that members of the Oklahoma National Guard “must get vaccinated against Covid-19 regardless of their duty status or personal beliefs. 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.”

Washington Post Opinion, Catherine Rampell, 11/30: “Once upon a time, states debated whether to pay people to get vaccinated. Now, some red states are paying people not to get vaccinated, by cutting checks to workers who quit or are fired because they refuse covid-19 shots.”, 11/29: Viruses were raging on television yesterday. Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Anthony Fauci said that the new omigod—scratch that—omicron variant is sure to hit the U.S. before long. It has already spread to half a dozen countries, so the U.S. can’t be far behind, as people who don’t even know they are infected are likely to have already entered the U.S. He also said that travel bans may help slow down transmission a little bit, but in the end they don’t work. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said it would take weeks for scientists to understand how well the current vaccine protects against the new variant. The big question is whether the antibodies created by the vaccine will stick to the spike of the new variant, which is somewhat different from the spike on the older variants.

On the other hand, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was more optimistic. He told CBS’ Face the Nation that Pfizer, on whose board he now sits, believes that people who have had three shots of their vaccine are protected against the new variant. But he added that it will take a week or two before the data are in on that.

Some people aren’t taking chances, though. For example, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) has declared a state of emergency in her state, even before the first case has shown up there. Among other things, this allows nonessential hospital procedures to be postponed until Jan. 15 so hospitals will have enough beds for the expected surge in cases. She also encouraged (but did not mandate) state residents to wear masks, get vaccinated if not already so, and get boosters if already vaccinated.

How will this play out politically? It’s obviously a bit early to know for sure, but a lot of people voted for Joe Biden in 2020 because he promised to make everything normal again. They expected that he would beat down the virus by taking whatever measures were necessary and get the economy back on track again. If there is another surge now, due to a new and nastier virus, many people will be disappointed and perceive him as a failure, as in “He promised us ‘back to normal’ and didn’t deliver.”

Of course, Biden has limited ability to stop a new variant, but there are things he can do that he isn’t doing. He could make vaccination mandatory with no exceptions for every government employee, member of the armed forces, employee of every government contractor, inmate of every federal prison, and everyone else where he has a good claim to the authority to do that. He could also make proof of vaccination a requirement for anyone to enter any federal property, from post offices to national parks.

What he could also do is address the nation from the Oval Office at least once a month to give a status report on how the country was doing, along with a gentle request for everyone to please get vaccinated for their own sake and for the sake of people they love. If he did all these things people would at least see he was trying and not sitting back passively and doing nothing. Establishing an image of “we are doing everything we can” surely wouldn’t hurt in the midterms. Right now he is rarely in the news. He should be dominating it, every day.

Biden should also be doing everything possible to get people in poorer countries vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, there has been much talk of “herd immunity,” but that was a national concept, as in “herd immunity among Americans.” However, the virus does not take notice of national borders. The real goal should be “global herd immunity.” Only when that is achieved will the emergence and spread of new variants be blunted. (V)

CBS News, 11/30: “Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday that they found the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa.”

Wall Street Journal, 11/30: “Preliminary tests indicate the Covid-19 antibody drug cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. loses effectiveness against Omicron, a sign that some products in an important class of therapies might need modifying if the new strain becomes widespread.”

Politico, 11/30: “President Joe Biden was elected a year ago to manage an out-of-control pandemic, and he secured some undeniable early triumphs by steering a massive Covid relief bill through Congress while ramping up a vaccine distribution program to get shots into the arms of tens of millions of Americans. But right as the president was celebrating progress in the pandemic fight over the summer, the Delta variant sent cases surging, rattling the nation’s economy, and sending the president’s poll numbers tumbling. Now the sudden emergence of the Omicron variant has sparked fears of another devastating wave of the virus, one that could endanger the White House’s plans to focus on Biden’s legislative agenda and efforts to battle inflation and a bottlenecked supply chain.”

WGBH, 11/29: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) told WGBH that he is considering implementing vaccine passport requirements for residents soon.

Washington Post, Philip Bump, 11/29: “It is red America, Donald Trump-voting America, that has seen the worst effects of the pandemic. With divergent vaccination rates, with the unvaccinated population that’s most at risk being made up of Republicans at three times the rate of Democrats, that gap is poised to grow. If we break down monthly case and death figures by county vote in 2020, we see that Trump counties have been hardest hit by the pandemic on a per capita basis since last year. If we throw in vaccination rates, we see that it is those same counties that have been the slowest to get vaccinated.”, 11/29: According to at least one source, Worldometer, the number of American deaths from the coronavirus will pass 800,000 sometime today. It was 799,414 when we posted this in the morning and it is growing by about 1,600 per day, so by the afternoon we will pass 800,000. There have been 49 million cases so far and 39 million people have recovered. The rest are still sick. As of this morning, California is leading the pack, with 74,393 deaths, but Texas is nipping at its heels with 74,017 deaths. Florida (61K), New York (57K), and Pennsylvania (33K) round out the top five. The state with the fewest deaths is Vermont, with 406.

It is not surprising that giant California has more total deaths than tiny Vermont. But when we look at deaths per million people, the picture changes radically. California drops to 35th place and Texas to 19th. The top five in deaths per million people are Mississippi (3,448/M), Alabama (3,287/M), New Jersey (3,191/M), Louisiana (3,179/M), and Arizona (3,054/M). The state with the lowest deaths per million is—Vermont again, with 651 deaths per million.

The new COVID variant may work to the detriment of states like Mississippi and Alabama that are doing the least to stop the virus and to the advantage of states like California that have many measures in place to stop the spread. If the new variant proves to be more transmissible than the older ones, the number of deaths per day could go up from its current number of about 1,600 per day to much more.

New York Daily News, 11/29: Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) says omicron is just the latest deep state plot to distract America. The former White House physician claimed the worrisome variant is a hoax that Democrats will use to impose new Covid-19 mail-in ballot rules. Said Jackson: “Here comes the MEV — the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election — but we’re not going to let them!”

USA Today, 11/29: “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.”

Axios, 11/29: The World Health Organization said Monday in a new risk assessment that it believes the Covid-19 Omicron variant poses a “very high” risk to the globe because it may be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

“Many vaccination clinics and local officials are reporting long lines and delays in booking vaccination appointments recently, the product of expanded eligibility on booster shots and fears of the Omicron variant,” the New York Times reports,

“The stresses on the U.S. vaccination program are also worsened by the broader labor shortage that is affecting many sectors, including health care.”

Two years ago Wednesday, the first case of a mysterious new respiratory disease was discovered in Wuhan, China, Axios reports.