Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)
Total U.S. confirmed cases: 58,489,268 (57,779,286)
Total U.S. deaths: 833,996 (832,169)
Total global cases: 300,616,122 (298,139,610)
Total global deaths: 5,474,752 (5,468,069)
Pandemic slams job growth
Economists have once again been taken by surprise by lackluster growth in the job market, and the blitzkrieg spread of the Omicron variant may be responsible. Instead of the nearly half-million new jobs economists expected in December, the Labor Department reports that the economy produced only 199,000.
That’s even below November’s surprisingly low number. Analysts point out that the jobs survey ended in mid-December, before Omicron’s spread picked up lightning speed. The unemployment rate, however, declined to 3.9%.
Sectors showing the biggest job gains last month were leisure and hospitality, business and professional services, and manufacturing. There was little to no change in retail trade, information, financial activities, health care, and government.
Fourth shot may be needed, Moderna CEO says
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel says COVID-19 boosters are effective but that their effectiveness may not last forever. He says people may need a fourth shot later this year to increase their protection.
Speaking at a health care CEO conference, Bancel expressed confidence that people who have already received a booster have enough protection to last through this winter. But he said health officials should be thinking now about providing additional shots in the fall.
“I will be surprised when we get that data in the coming weeks that it’s holding nicely over time, Bancel said. “I would expect that it’s not going to hold great.”
White House readies launch of free test program
The Biden administration is reportedly getting ready to launch its program to provide free rapid COVID-19 tests to Americans who request one. The program was announced late last year before the Omicron variant led to an increase in demand for testing.
The plan calls for the government to purchase up to 500 million of the test kits and make them available to people who request one. Under the preliminary plan, the government would send the tests to consumers by U.S. Mail.
“As soon as there are more details to report, we will let you all know,” said White House News Secretary Jan Psaki said. “That’s what we’re working on right now. We don’t want to put the website up before we know we can provide – even through pre-orders – tests, as people want to request them.”
Around the nation
Ohio: One health expert believes the state is getting close to “herd immunity.” The statement was made in spite of the spreading Omicron variant – or perhaps because of it. “In the aftermath of a lot of Omicron, also in the context of people being vaccinated and receiving boosters, we’re going to be ending up with much more significant part of our population with immunity,” said Ohio Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Joseph Gastaldo.
Texas: Officials say the rapid spread of the Omicron variant is causing problems for businesses in Central Texas. Stores have reduced services and hours because of staff shortages. Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, canceled 20% of its flights on Thursday.
Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan has announced that the state will open 10 new COVID-19 testing sites at hospitals across the state as demand for tests rises and supplies continue to fall. Hogan said he expects all 10 sites to be operational by the end of next week.
Washington: State health officials have released a study of COVID-19 reinfection rates across the state, finding that 4,404 people out of more than a quarter-million people have gotten COVID-19 a second time. Of those, about 5% required hospital treatment.
Missouri: The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has temporarily suspended its program of handing out free COVID-19 tests because demand has exceeded supply. "In order to improve the ordering system and allow our contractor to continue shipping kits in a timely manner, DHSS will be making a limited supply available each day through January," the agency said in a press release.