Long Lines at Mobile Covid 19 Testing tent during Omicron surge, Queens, New York Long Lines at Mobile Covid 19 Testing tent during Omicron surge, Queens, New York. (Photo by: Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) UCG / Contributor
Photo by: Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Contributor/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

News

Federal Messaging Shifts On COVID

It’s Monday, January 3rd, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:

1) Federal Messaging Shifts On COVID

The Topline: As COVID cases surge nationwide, the White House has adopted new messaging on the virus.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Staff/Getty Images

President Biden

On Thursday, as the new, highly contagious Omicron variant continued to spread, the U.S. reported over 355,000 new daily cases, shattering the previous record. The virus is more prevalent now than ever, in spite of a year and a half of lockdowns and vaccines. 

Despite campaigning on the promise to “shut down the virus” if elected, President Joe Biden told a group of governors last week that “there is no federal solution” and “this gets solved at the state level.” 

Biden also shifted his view of the overall case count. Over the past year, he’s consistently referred to the total number of positive cases when talking about the pandemic, but last week as cases skyrocketed, he said the real way to judge an outbreak in a particular area was by looking at hospitalization rates, not the overall case count. 

Republican leaders said those comments were hypocritical because Biden had criticized them in the past for essentially saying states should be in control, and hospitalizations, not total cases, are most important. 

Dr. Fauci

Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci has played a key role in pushing mandatory lockdowns and mask mandates, but in the last two weeks he began to reverse course. 

Last week, he told MSNBC that renewed lockdowns weren’t feasible because “[w]e’re trying to have a good balance of preserving and protecting the public health, at the same time we don’t have to have the draconian decision of shutting down the country.” 

When Omicron proved to be less serious than the Delta variant, Dr. Fauci said it was because of the strength of natural immunity for many Americans, which appeared to be a different message than what he and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been publicly saying throughout the year.  

CDC

Throughout the pandemic, the CDC has said anyone who tests positive, including those who are asymptotic, should isolate themselves for ten days. Last week, they lowered the quarantine period to five days for asymptomatic cases. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told CNN those guidelines weren’t necessarily based on science, but instead “really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.” They’ve also revised their stance on masks, now saying cloth masks are largely ineffective.

Potential Reasons: The President and Dr. Fauci suggest the changes are because there is more data on COVID now, and Omicron is less dangerous than previous variants. Others say the shift has more to do with politics and lockdown fatigue from average Americans, especially with the upcoming midterm elections. 

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Contributor/Getty Images

2) Flights Cancelled Across U.S.

The Topline: Over the weekend, over 4,000 flights were cancelled across the U.S. — while thousands more were cancelled worldwide. 

Cancellations

Winter weather, specifically a New Year’s Day snowstorm in Chicago, caused massive flight cancellations. Over the weekend, 25% of flights out of O’Hare in Chicago, Illinois, were cancelled. Many airline workers also called off work due to COVID-19. 

Regarding confirmed Omicron cases, including those among airline workers, the majority are occurring in fully vaccinated individuals – a detail referenced in an internal memo from Delta Air Lines. Delta has reported a 90% vaccination rate. United Airlines, which has a vaccination rate of more than 99%, is also reporting extreme staff shortages due to COVID, as are several other airlines. 

According to a memo from United Airlines, pilots are being offered triple pay to pick up extra flights for the rest of January, and Spirit Airlines is paying flight attendants double their salary. 

Photo by John Moore/Staff/Getty Images

3) The Latest On Omicron

The Topline: With chaos at airports and controversy over changing COVID policies, Dr. Houman Hemmati, a physician and pharmaceutical entrepreneur, joined Morning Wire to discuss Omicron, the milder variant that’s driving the surge in cases. 

Quote Of The Day: “A couple of weeks ago, the CDC came out and said that very quickly the variant became 73% of all the COVID infections in the country, but then a week or so later, they backtracked on that. …the latest we have is that it was somewhere around 30 to 50, maybe 70%.”

– Dr. Houman Hemmati, a physician and pharmaceutical entrepreneur

Omicron

Dr. Hemmati said the Omicron Variant is called an escape variant. As a result, almost everyone is susceptible to infection, whether they are vaccinated or not. 

A recent study showed that immune response after Omicron infection is highly protective against the Delta variant. Antibodies from patients who were infected with the Omicron variant were able to neutralize or stop the Delta variant, as well. 

Dr. Hemmati said while the death numbers have gone down to a substantial degree, it isn’t certain that this is not going to be as deadly of a variant.

John Shearer/Contributor/Getty Images for Ryman Auditorium via Getty Images

Other Stories We’re Tracking

Morgan Wallen

After facing cancellation at the beginning of the year for a video showing him using a racial slur, country music star Morgan Wallen is now sitting atop the music world, closing out 2021 with the number one selling album and a chart-topping hip-hop song with rapper Lil Durk “Broadway Girls.” In response to the video, leaked in February, Wallen’s record label suspended him, iHeartMedia, Pandora, SiriusXM and CMT pulled his songs from their platforms, and the Country Music Awards refused to invite him despite being nominated for best new album.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Twitter has permanently suspended the personal account of U.S. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Twitter confirmed the suspension in a statement Sunday claiming the Republican was permanently banned due to spreading “misinformation” about COVID-19.

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