January 18, 2022

Bill Gates: COVID-19 will soon be treated ‘like seasonal flu’; CDC messaging criticized. Live updates. – USA TODAY

The omicron variant should create a wealth of immunity for at least the next year and annual COVID-19 shots will probably be needed for “some time,” Bill Gates says.

“Once Omicron goes through a country then the rest of the year should see far fewer cases so COVID can be treated more like seasonal flu,” Gates tweeted during a Twitter QandA with Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, earlier this week.

Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said a “more transmissive variant” than omicron is not likely to emerge. But he acknowledged that COVID-19 has provided numerous surprises during the pandemic. 

Fueled by the omicron variant, the pace of newly reported COVID-19 in the United States is still rising. The country reported more than 5.5 million cases in the week ending Wednesday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Compared to a week before, 47 states had rising case counts, 38 states had rising death counts, and 49 states had more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds. The country now has more than 152,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, federal data shows, and about 25,200 people are in intensive-care beds.

Also in the news:

►New Jersey COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 28% since Jan. 2. And the number of people needing a ventilator rose to 500 Monday – a 71% jump in that period.

►Novak Djokovic acknowledged Wednesday that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information, and he also confessed to an “error of judgment” in taking part in an interview and photoshoot in Serbia last month after testing positive for COVID-19.

►The U.S. Army, for the first time, is offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to recruits who join for six years as the service struggles to lure soldiers into critical jobs amid the pandemic, according to The Associated Press.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 63.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 844,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 317 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we’re reading: Should you swab your throat with an at-home COVID test amid omicron? This is why experts say no.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Experts criticize CDC messaging

Many Americans navigating the COVID-19 pandemic during the latest virus surge say frequent changes in federal guidelines don’t make their lives any easier. And they aren’t alone in their frustration. Some prominent health experts who have stood by the CDC and its science-based decisions since the beginning of the pandemic are now criticizing the agency for poor communication.

On every policy update, the CDC must back up its decision with clear data and translate the science so the general public can understand it, said Thomas Hipper, associate director of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health. When announcing the new isolation guidelines on Dec. 27, CDC officials failed to specifically cite the science, Hipper said.

“Simply announcing the change and trying to explain it without the clear rationale leaves you exposed to questioning,” he said. “Letting the public see those imperfect choices helps justify why the decision was made.”

Health experts said the second issue contributing to the CDC’s messaging problem is that local health departments and national organizations feel left out of the agency’s decision-making. Finally, experts said, the CDC has left itself open to charges that it lacks accountability. The agency has reiterated the science of the pandemic is evolving, and although that is true, health experts say the CDC still needs to acknowledge its errors in that space of inherent uncertainty.

“It humanizes this effort, and it would go a long way in building back trust,” Hipper said. “There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging that, ‘Hey, we didn’t get everything right, but we’re committed to getting it as right as we can.’”

More kids being hospitalized, but cases generally not too severe

More kids in America are testing positive for the coronavirus as the nation hits records in cases and hospitalizations. Children have made up more than 7 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The U.S. has seen more than 60 million cases overall.

Given the “astonishing number of new infections” in children each day, University of South Florida epidemiology professor Jason Salemi expects to see more children being hospitalized for COVID-19 in the coming weeks. Fortunately, because of the relatively mild symptoms in most omicron patients, the vast majority of these cases won’t be too severe, experts say. You can find details and data on kids and COVID here.

Janie Haseman and Aleszu Bajak

COVID patients crowding out other patients in need

Just as a cresting wave of COVID-19 patients need care, hospitals are facing severe staffing issues because so many are either out sick themselves, caring for family members or quarantining because of an exposure. About one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. One in four anticipated critical shortages within the next week. Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and New Hampshire have less than 10% capacity remaining in their ICUs.

Physicians such as Chicago cancer surgeon Dr. Ryan Merkow must make wrenching decisions about who gets operated on and who must wait.  He said Northwestern Memorial Hospital is “full of COVID patients. Our surgical floors have been converted to COVID floors.” Some cancer patients go through chemo and fly in family members to help with recovery.

“And then we have to pull the rug out from under them,” he said. Read more here.

– Elizabeth Weise and Kristen Jordan Shamus

Biden sending medical teams to states overwhelmed by surge

The federal government is sending medical teams to six states – New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico – to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19, USA TODAY has learned.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce the deployments Thursday when discussing steps the administration is taking to address a surge in infections driven by the omicron variant, according to a White House official.

His remarks come as hospitalizations for COVID-19 are setting records. Some hospitals are delaying elective surgeries as states are deploying National Guard members to health care facilities.

Facing pressure from even members of his own party to do more to get the pandemic under control, Biden’s new actions are expected to center on additional manpower. 

— Maureen Groppe and Donovan Slack, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press