Joe Biden gives an update on federal surge response to Omicron
The Supreme Court has tossed out a Biden administration vaccine mandate that would have required 80 million workers to either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.
In a blow to the president’s push to get more Americans vaccinated, the ruling comes as health experts believe that the US may be approaching the peak of the latest wave of Covid-19 brought on by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
While the political right is praising the decision, there is an outcry from the medical community, and from the left. MSNBC host Joy Reid called the justices who chose to strike down the mandate “right-wing ideologues”.
Meanwhile, a number of Republican politicians have vowed that they will defy Washington, D.C.’s own proposed vaccination mandate for businesses.
The mandate, which was announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser in December, will force many establishments — from gyms and theatres to bars and restaurants — to require that patrons over the age of 12 show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before entering.
We’re closing live coverage of the latest from the Biden administration on vaccine mandates and Covid-19 response. Stay tuned with The Independent.
Chicago students protest
At least 500 students in Chicago walked out of schools on Friday to protest inadequate safety measures and lack of resources to combat Covid-19, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The walkout led by the Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance demanded laptops for virtual learning, better social distancing requirements in schools, among other concerns.
The group’s list of their demands calls for better vaccine resources and additional staff support as teachers and staff struggle to balance the demands of reopening against a surge of infections and a lingering public health crisis.
Citigroup to maintain vaccine requirements for its workers after SCOTUS rulng
Nearly all of Citigroup’s employees are vaccinated or in the process of getting their vaccines to protect against Covid-19, the bank’s head of human resources announced via LinkedIn on Thursday.
The company has reached 99 percent compliance with its mandate before Friday’s deadline, which will remain in place following a Supreme Court decision that struck down Biden’s policy requiring large businesses to mandate vaccinations for their workers.
Citigroup previously announced it would fire workers who resisted vaccinations.
GOP attacks Biden for ‘failing’ to get Covid-19 ‘under control' then celebrates SCOTUS decision that would
Republicans cheered the Supreme Court’s decision to block the Biden administration’s vaccination requirements for large employers, despite public health experts arguing that the ruling could lead to more infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
GOP officials have repeatedly criticised Biden for what they characterise is his failure to get the pandemic “under control” while deliberately undermining recommended public health guidance that would, from masks and distancing to vaccines.
Among them: Republicans Steve Scalise and James Comer, who sent a letter to members of Congress demanding an investigation into the president’s response, accusing him of failing to meet a string of promises to combat the pandemic.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Comer said his “authoritarian mandates aren’t going to get us out of the pandemic.”
CDC updates mask guidance: N95s offer the best protection
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the clearest guidance yet suggesting that N95 masks offer the strongest protection against Covid-19, though the agency has stopped short of telling Americans to use such masks over cloth face coverings or surgical masks.
The new guidance ranks the levels of protection from different masks and how they should be used for best results.
“Loosely woven cloth coverings” offer the least protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95 masks offer more protection, and well-fitting respirators like N95s “offer the highest level of protection.”
The agency’s key message: “Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.”
Health experts however have urged Americans to upgrade their masks to KN95 or higher, and President Biden has suggested the government could provide Americans with higher-quality masks for free.
Americans likely to wait nearly two weeks for free rapid tests
An idea that White House press secretary Jen Psaki once appeared to mock is going live next week – a federal government website that allows Americans to order at-home rapid tests for Covid-19 at no cost to be sent to their homes.
But it could take up to 12 days to receive them, a senior Biden officials told reporters.
Widely available rapid testing in the US has become a vital component, along with vaccines and face coverings, to help control infections during the public health crisis, and results have become an integral part of the nation’s “reopening” as millions of Americans balance a pandemic with the demands of school and work for themselves and their families.
The website is live now, and orders can begin on 19 January.
How does the cost of rapid testing in the US compare to other countries?
The Biden administration is ordering 500 million at-home Covid-19 testing kits to be distributed to Americans in addition to 500 million tests the administration announced last month.
The federal government also plans to launch a website next week for Americans to order such tests to be delivered to their homes at no cost.
Those moves follow a plan to require private health insurance providers to cover the costs of up to eight over-the-counter tests per month.
At-home tests can be relatively expensive – tests can range from $10 to $35 – with out-of-pocket costs quickly adding up for families or people who require results for work and other activities.
And they can also be free, depending on demand and availability, at public health centres and other sites.
Here’s how the costs of rapid testing in the US stacks up to other countries:
Before Biden’s plans for more at-home tests, over-the-counter kits cost several times more than similar tests in other countries
Government may take back millions in Covid aid from Arizona over mask policies
Federal officials are threatening to claw back billions in coronavirus aid from Arizona, accusing the state of promoting Covid education programmes that undermine efforts to stop the spread and penalise districts that require masks or shut down in-person schooling.
Josh Marcus reports.
The governor of Arizona has pushed back against mask and vaccine mandates
Number of countries that may have seen Omicron peak grows
Johns Hopkins data shows that other countries in addition to the US and UK that were hit hard by the sudden wave of the highly transmissible Covid-19 Omicron variant may also be turning the corner.
Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, and Canada appear to have also seen the peak of case numbers according to their seven-day rolling averages.
Canada demanding US truckers are vaccinated
Canada plans to start turning away unvaccinated US truckers at the border this weekend, a move that threatens to upend the flow of everything from food to auto parts to building supplies between two of the world’s largest trading partners.
Only 50 per cent to 60 per cent of US truckers are vaccinated, according to an estimate from the American Trucking Associations. The rules will make thousands of drivers ineligible for cross-border shipments, exacerbating a shortage at a time when the transportation industry is already strained.
Shipping will get disrupted in both directions, as the US is set to impose its own vaccine mandate on foreign travelers on January 22. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government confirmed Thursday that truck drivers from Canada will be affected as well — forced into quarantine if they try to re-enter their own country and can’t show proof of vaccination.
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