Coronavirus update: Hospitalizations finally begin to fall

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A new vaccine targets the Omicron variant

Coronavirus (COVID-19) ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 71,720,055 (70,700,678)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 869,250 (866,541)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 356,366,271 (352,095,412)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,607,895 (5,598,349)‌

U.S. hospitalizations continue to fall

The number of Americans requiring hospital treatment for their COVID-19 symptoms continues to go down, according to federal health officials. The trend line for new cases of the virus also appears to be on a downward trajectory.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that the seven-day average of COVID-19 patients in the nation’s hospitals fell for a fourth straight day on Monday.

However, the decline is not evenly distributed across the nation. Some areas that were hit hard by the Omicron variant in early January have recovered the most. Meanwhile, serious cases are rising in a handful of states.

Omicron vaccine tested on humans

Pfizer and BioNTech, the companies that produced the first coronavirus vaccine, have begun a clinical trial testing their new Omicron vaccine on human subjects. They’ve begun enrolling people between the ages of 18 and 55 to take the vaccine.

The trial will test the vaccine for safety, tolerability, and immune response. It is being given both as a primary vaccine to subjects who have not been vaccinated and as a booster to those who have. 

“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future,” said Kathrin Jansen, senior vice president and head of Vaccine Research & Development at Pfizer. 

Scientists create new, cheaper COVID-19 test

With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the demand for tests to detect the virus is off the charts. In some areas, at-home antigen tests are in short supply. The backlog of PCR tests at laboratories is also growing.

Enter researchers from the University of Washington. They’ve developed a new COVID-19 test that they say is cheaper and, in some cases, faster than what’s available now.

“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere,” said Barry Lutz, a UW associate professor of bioengineering. “We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”

Around the nation

  • New York: It’s been a tumultuous month in New York. After hospitalizations surged with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, cases have fallen sharply in the last seven days. State health officials report that hospitalizations have dropped below 10,000, as the numbers are now moving in the right direction.

  • Indiana:  State health officials have eased COVID-19 quarantine rules for Indiana schools that require students and staff to wear masks. The health department says schools with mask mandates in place will be asked to self-monitor for symptoms instead of quarantining. 

  • Missouri: Attorney General Eric Schmitt is suing nine more school districts in an effort to overturn their mask mandates. “As we’ve made clear from the beginning, the power to make health decisions for their children should be in the hands of parents, not bureaucrats, Schmitt said.

  • California: State Sen. Richard Pan is introducing a bill that adds COVID-19 vaccines to California’s list of required inoculations for attending school. “We need to make sure schools are safe so that all parents are comfortable sending their children to school,” said Pan. 

  • Arkansas: The University of Arkansas has issued guidelines for COVID-19 testing. The university is “strongly encouraging” anyone that may be experiencing COVID-like symptoms, or may have come in close contact with anyone who has tested positive, to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible and to isolate or quarantine accordingly. It has provided two places on campus to get tested.

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