Coronavirus update: Omicron variant creates drag on economic growth

Photo (c) Yuichiro Chino - Getty Images

The FDA is limiting the use of two antibody treatments

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

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 72,912,405 (72,179,527)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 876,078 (872,128)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 363,316,221 (359,300,717)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,628,898 (5,618,434)‌

Omicron variant hurt fourth-quarter economy

The U.S. Commerce Department reports that the nation’s economy grew at a 6.9% rate in the fourth quarter of 2021 as it bounced back from the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the fast-spreading Omicron variant kept it from growing even faster, economists say.

The variant proved to be a drag on growth in several ways. It limited gains by some businesses, such as restaurants. It also caused illnesses among workers, making supply chain problems worse.

But Jonathon Silver, CEO of data-tracking firm Affinity Solutions, told the Wall Street Journal that U.S. consumers appear to remain in a strong position, which bodes well for the future. “They’re not viewing Omicron as much of a threat,” Silver said. “They’re willing to spend.” 

FDA limits two COVID-19 treatments

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidance this week that limits the use of two monoclonal antibody treatments – bamlanivimab and etesevimab (administered together) and REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab) – to COVID-19 patients who are not infected with the Omicron variant. The agency said the data it reviewed shows that the treatments are unlikely to be effective against the Omicron variant.

“In the future, if patients in certain geographic regions are likely to be infected or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments, then use of these treatments may be authorized in these regions,” the agency said in a statement.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attacked the decision, accusing the agency of “medical authoritarianism” that limits the options of those infected with COVID-19.

Denmark ‘declares victory’ over COVID-19

Cases of the coronavirus have dropped sharply in Europe over the last couple of weeks. As a result, Denmark has dropped most of its COVID-19 restrictions and is returning to life as it was before the pandemic.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that his country would discontinue most of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, on February 1. However, masks will still be required in health care facilities.

"We say goodbye to the restrictions and welcome the life we knew before," Frederiksen said. "As of Feb. 1, Denmark will be open."

Around the nation

  • Kentucky: Will Beshear, the 12-year-old son of Gov. Andy Beshear, has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor announced. Beshear said his son was "generally asymptomatic" and is fully vaccinated and boosted. The rest of the family tested negative.

  • New Jersey: New cases have fallen sharply in the state, but Gov. Phil Murphy is not letting up on his pleas for citizens to get vaccinated. He went a step further this week, telling a media briefing that he thinks people who refuse to be vaccinated are “selfish” and akin to drunk drivers.

  • Texas: Elton John, who has just recovered from COVID-19, has canceled two dates in Dallas on his Farewell Tour. "It's always a massive disappointment to move shows and I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," he announced on Instagram.

  • New Mexico: Even with COVID-19 cases rising, health officials are no longer using the state’s Rapid Response COVID-19 Watchlist to close businesses. “We haven’t looked toward closure of a business really since the early part of 2021,” said Bob Genoway, bureau chief of New Mexico Environment Department‘s OSHA Bureau. “Our efforts, instead of broad spread closure, we’ve decided to focus more on engaging employers where necessary.”

  • Illinois: Illinois is one state where serious cases of COVID-19 are down but deaths are rising. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that the state has averaged 132 COVID-related deaths per day over the last week. That number is the highest that Illinois has seen since Dec. 2020.

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