Coronavirus update: U.S. hospitalizations hit record high

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President Biden is ordering health insurance companies to pay for tests

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

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 61,652,393 (60,138,842)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 839,936 (837,773)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 310,981,515 (307,589,090)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,498,118 (5,490,655)‌

U.S. sets hospitalization record

Not only is the Omicron variant causing cases of COVID-19 to increase at a record rate, but it has also sent hospitalizations to a record high. The U.S. reported more than 142,000 patients being treated for the virus in hospitals on Monday, the most at any time during the pandemic.

Some health experts said the record number of patients suggests that the Omicron variant is not less severe than other variants, at least when it infects people who have not been vaccinated. 

“I think people have fixated on this idea that it’s mild,” New York University epidemiologist Céline Gounder told New York magazine. “Mild means mild — relatively mild — for the individual who’s infected. But it does not necessarily mean mild at a population level.”

Insurance companies order to pay for COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration has ordered health insurance providers to cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person, its latest effort to increase Americans’ access to testing.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether that plan was connected to the administration's earlier pledge to make 500 million tests available to the public at no charge. The White House said the first contracts have been signed with the test manufacturers.

Under the insurance provider mandate, the White House said health insurance companies will be required to reimburse consumers who purchase a COVID-19 test outside their network for as much as $12 per test.

Pfizer’s Omicron vaccine to be ready in March

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreads across the country, Pfizer is in the final stages of testing a vaccine specifically designed to prevent infection by the variant. In an interview with CNBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the vaccine would be ready in two months.

“This vaccine will be ready in March,” Bourla told CNBC. “We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.”

Bourla said the vaccine, which will be evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it can be administered, will be effective against the other variants that are circulating. Bourla also said scientists will need to determine whether the vaccine is needed.

Around the nation

  • Massachusetts: State officials have provided a way for residents to show their vaccination status. Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has issued a scannable code that links directly to the user’s documented vaccine history. The City of Boston plans to announce its own system later this week.

  • Missouri: Missouri is one of the states dealing with a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. State officials say the state could record more than a quarter-million COVID-19 cases in January, more than doubling the previous one-month record.

  • Nebraska: In Douglas County, 30% of people who took a COVID-19 test last week tested positive, the highest percentage during the pandemic. At the same time, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert rejected a proposed mask mandate for the city while noting that the surrounding counties do not have one.

  • Nevada: Officials have suspended visits to state prisons because of a spike in COVID-19 infections among inmates. Corrections officials report that 210 staff members and 209 inmates have tested positive so far this month, compared to 29 staff and 48 inmate cases in November.

  • New Hampshire: Fifty-five-year-old Fred Rutherford is the latest vaccine skeptic to change his mind after being hospitalized with the virus. “Get vaccinated, it's the only way to go. Only way to live,” Rutherford said.

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