COVID testing at Northride Middle School - during the Coronavirus pandemic. NORTHRIDGE, CA - AUGUST 11, 2021 - - Kaleigha Smith, 12, is tested for COVID-19 by medical assistant Laila Benamar, CNA/CMA, before she begins to attend classes on Monday at Northridge Middle School in Northridge on August 11, 2021. Some parents also received the test for COVID. LAUSD has the most robust COVID-19 testing protocol in California, is requiring all students and teachers to be tested weekly. California could be the first state in the U.S. with a teacher vaccine mandate. Gov. Newsom announced today that all teachers and school staff in the state will be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Genaro Molina / Contributor
Genaro Molina / Contributor / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


The Latest On COVID

It’s Wednesday, December 22nd, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:

1) The Latest On COVID

The Topline: New CDC guidance suggests kids should stay in school even if they’ve been exposed to COVID, and some are theorizing that the Omicron variant may actually help lead the world out of the pandemic by acting as nature’s vaccine. 

Quote Of The Day: “…in the past, the COVID mitigation efforts … have been prioritized over education, but given all the learning loss, all the depression, all the socioeconomic impact, all of the other major problems that are not medical … I think the regulators on a federal level have realized the importance of keeping kids in.”

– Physician and pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Dr Houman Hemati

Alex Wong/Staff/Getty Images

The Big News

New CDC guidance advises children to stay in school, rather than quarantine, even if they are exposed to COVID. A preliminary study suggests having faces covered and reduced interaction is causing children to have delays in some of their social learning, although there is no established causative relationship that has been determined.

Some are hypothesizing that Omicron may act as mother nature’s version of a live attenuated virus. While it currently appears to be far more mild than the Delta variant, the strain could potentially generate immunization by infection rather than by vaccination.

Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

2) Hospitals Pause Vaccine Mandates

The Topline: While the legal battle over COVID-19 vaccine mandates continues, some hospital systems are starting to walk back their staff vaccine mandates.

Quote Of The Day: “I was no problem working in the healthcare system over the last 18 months, without a vaccine, but now, all of a sudden, I’m a threat to public health?”

– San Diego nurse


Hospital groups such as Intermountain Healthcare, HCA Healthcare, Tenet Healthcare, and nonprofits like AdventHealth and the Cleveland Clinic are pausing their COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

HCA and Tenet have said employees must abide by local measures if they’re in states that do require vaccination, and the Cleveland Clinic said it would implement precautions like testing for employees who are unvaccinated and tend to patients.

Hospital leaders, public health officials, and nursing organizations have all said vaccine mandates have contributed to severe hospital staffing shortages. Reports also show the price of labor has increased, all while hospitals were already having a difficult time staying fully staffed at all levels as hospitalizations rose with the Delta variant. 

A study conducted with the CDC reported that as of September, 30% of hospital staff were unvaccinated at over 2,000 hospitals across the country.

Legal Battles

In late November, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, and put into place an injunction on the order across the country. 

Remember: The mandate for healthcare workers is separate from the OSHA mandate for private companies. The healthcare worker mandate requires all healthcare workers at places that accept Medicare and Medicaid to be vaccinated. 

Last week, a federal appeals court effectively restored the healthcare worker mandate in several states, but not all. The final verdict will likely come down to a Supreme Court decision. The Biden administration recently asked the high court to get involved. 

The Supreme Court recently upheld the New York vaccine mandate for healthcare employees, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a provision for religious exemption. However, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas disagreed. 

In his dissent, Gorsuch wrote, “The test of this Court’s substance lies in its willingness to defend more than the shadow of freedom in the trying times, not just the easy ones.” 

Fred Lee/Contributor/Getty Images

3) Peng Shuai Denies Accusing Chinese Official of Sexual Assault 

The Topline: Women’s tennis player Peng Shuai gave her first public statements after accusing a senior Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault in early November. 


On November 2nd, Peng posted a lengthy statement on Chinese social media platform, Weibo, detailing a sexual assault from a senior official in the Chinese Communist Party. Her post was deleted around 30 minutes after publication and Peng’s account on Weibo was subsequently blocked from searchers on the platform. 

Peng was not seen or heard from publicly until November 17th, at which point a statement attributed to Peng was shared on Twitter by CGTN, a Chinese state-affiliated media company. In the post, Peng denied her initial claim.


On Sunday, Peng spoke to a Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper and denied ever making the sexual assault allegations, calling it a “misunderstanding.” Peng said she had “never spoken or written about anyone sexually assault[ing]” her. She also told the paper she has been living at her home in Beijing and has “always been free.”

Sports World Responds

The Women’s Tennis Association suspended all WTA tournaments in China —  including Hong Kong — at the beginning of December until a “full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation” is completed. Following Peng’s initial denial of the sexual assault claims, the WTA reiterated that “these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”

Even the International Olympic Committee, which has held two calls with Peng over the past month, has walked back their statements that Peng appears to be “safe and well,” saying they can’t “provide you with absolute certainty on anything.” 

Both the United Nations and the White House have called for proof of Peng’s “whereabouts and wellbeing.” The calls came before the announcement that the U.S. will be diplomatically boycotting the Winter Olympics given the People’s Republic of China’s “ ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.”


Other Stories We’re Tracking


PETA criticized President Joe Biden this week when the First Family adopted a new puppy after giving up another dog, Major, who had reportedly bitten a few people. The animal rights group said in a tweet that getting a dog from a breeder rather than a shelter is “deeply disappointing” and irresponsible.

Jussie Smollett

A special prosecutor in Chicago found that State’s Attorney Kim Foxx misled the public in the Jussie Smollett investigation. The full report, released Monday, says there were possible ethics violations and several false and misleading public statements by Foxx and her office. The report also found that Foxx continued to text with Smollett’s sister after she publicly claimed to have cut off communication. 


Brandon Brown, the NASCAR driver behind the “Let’s Go Brandon” sensation, broke his silence in a recent op-ed. In the piece, Brown said while he has “no interest in leading some political fight,” he also understands why people have embraced the chant, saying, “I understand that millions of people are struggling right now and are frustrated. Struggling to get by and struggling to build a solid life for themselves and their families, and wondering why their government only seems to make it worse.” 

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