COVID-19 live updates: Biden administration website to order free tests goes live

(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 851,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 62.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 18, 4:03 pm
No ICU beds left in Oklahoma City: ‘We are struggling to keep up’

All intensive care units are full in Oklahoma City, where 117 patients are in emergency rooms waiting for an open bed, Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical Officer of INTEGRIS Health, said Tuesday.

Some patients have been waiting more than 24 hours for an available ICU bed, Watson said.

“Our emergency departments are overflowing. Our health care professionals are exhausted. We’ve been working nearly nonstop for over two years now,” Watson said at a news conference. “Omicron cases are rising faster than previous variants and we are struggling to keep up.”

“We aren’t able to care for patients the way we normally do,” she continued. “It feels, and sometimes even looks, like a war zone. … We have to care for patients in hallways, sometimes closets.”

Oklahoma City hospitals are also experiencing staffing shortages and supply chain shortages.

“Some days we don’t have syringes, or saline or chest tube setups,” she said.

-ABC News’ Katherine Carroll

Jan 18, 3:23 pm
Kansas to end contact tracing

Kansas will end its contact tracing program at the end January due to an overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases and a “diminished” willingness of people to take part, the state health department announced Tuesday.

“As we enter the third year of this pandemic, public health has to begin to adjust the level of response to help alleviate the strain on the Public Health system,” Janet Stanek, acting secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement. “The pandemic is far from over, but this step is a move toward managing COVID-19 as an endemic disease. The responsibility of protecting yourself and others belongs to all of us.”

-ABC News’ Will McDuffie

Jan 18, 2:50 pm
Stephen A. Smith opens up about illness: ‘I didn’t know if I was gonna make it’

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith is opening up about his intense COVID-19 battle.

After Smith tested positive in December, he said he had a 103 degree fever every night.

“Woke up with chills and a pool of sweat. Headaches were massive. Coughing profusely,” Smith said, according to The New York Post.

Smith said he was admitted to the hospital over New Year’s with pneumonia in both lungs.

“They told me, had I not been vaccinated, I wouldn’t be here. That’s how bad it was,” he said.

Smith is now back to work, but he said, “two-and-a-half, three weeks ago, I didn’t know if I was gonna make it.”

-ABC News’ Will Gretsky

Disney is the parent company of ABC News and ESPN.

Jan 18, 2:05 pm
New York cases down 75% from early January

New York state, hit hard by the omicron surge over the holidays, is seeing COVID-19 cases down 75% from early January, state officials said.

New York reported 22,312 new cases Tuesday, according to state data. On Jan. 7, New York state recorded 90,132 daily cases.

The seven-day average of new cases is down 38.9% from the previous week and the seven-day average of hospital admissions dropped 13.6% from the previous week, according to state data.

“We hope to close the books on this winter surge soon,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday.

-ABC News’ Will Gretsky

Jan 18, 12:30 pm
Biden administration website to order free tests goes live

The Biden administration’s website to order four free at-home rapid tests per household is now live at covidtests.gov.

The tests won’t ship for another seven to 12 days.

-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett

Jan 18, 11:45 am
Omicron accounts for 99.5% of new cases in US: CDC

Omicron is estimated to account for 99.5% of new cases in the U.S. as of Saturday, according to new forecast data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

In early-December, omicron was estimated to account for just 0.6% of all new cases. The delta variant now accounts for only 0.5% of new U.S. cases, forecasters estimate.

These percentages are calculated using modeling and should be considered estimates, not exact figures.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 10:42 am
COVID-19 patient at center of life support battle transferred from Minnesota to Texas

A Minnesota man severely ill with COVID-19 was transferred to a Texas hospital over the weekend, after his wife was granted a temporary restraining order against the Minnesota hospital where doctors informed her they would take him off a ventilator.

Scott Quiner, 55, of Buffalo, Minnesota, tested positive for COVID-19 in late October and was initially admitted to Waconia Hospital before being transferred to the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids on Nov. 6, according to a GoFundMe page in support of the Quiner family and an article by the StarTribune, which was first to report the story.

A court order, issued last Thursday and obtained by ABC News, prohibited Mercy Hospital from disconnecting the ventilator that had been supporting Scott Quiner for months while his wife, Anne Quiner, searched for a new facility to continue his care. An Anoka County judge granted the order after health care providers advised Anne Quiner that they “intend[ed] to take actions on Thursday, January 13, 2022, that [would] end [her] husband’s life.”

According to court documents, Anne Quiner told doctors that, as her husband’s health care proxy, she “vehemently disagree[d]” with these actions, and did not want her husband’s ventilator turned off.

Over the weekend, Scott Quiner was subsequently moved to a facility in Texas for treatment, according to the Quiner family’s attorney, Marjorie J. Holsten.

“A doctor evaluated him and determined that he was severely undernourished. Scott has been receiving much-needed nourishment and hydration and medications that were not given by Mercy,” Holsten told ABC News in a statement Monday. “He is being weaned off of the sedating drugs and has already been able to follow with his eyes movements the doctor made with his hands. He is making progress in the right direction, though he has a long road ahead of him and continued prayers are appreciated.”

Representatives for Allina Health, which operates Mercy Hospital, said they wish the patient and his family well and have “great confidence” in their team’s work.

“Allina Health has great confidence in the exceptional care provided to our patients, which is administered according to evidence-based practices by our talented and compassionate medical teams. Due to patient privacy, we cannot comment on care provided to specific patients,” the health system told ABC News in a statement Monday. “Allina Health continues to wish the patient and family well. Any information regarding the patient’s on-going care should be directed to his current medical provider.”

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 18, 7:30 am
Hong Kong to cull 2,000 small animals after hamsters test positive

Some 2,000 hamsters and other small animals will be culled in Hong Kong amid fears over possible animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19, authorities announced Tuesday.

The move came after an employee at the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district tested positive for the highly contagious delta variant on Monday. Further testing revealed at least 11 hamsters in the shop, imported from the Netherlands, were also infected, according to authorities.

The store has been shuttered and its hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas will all be tested and euthanized. Anyone who visited the shop since Jan. 7 is being urged to get in touch with authorities. Although officials said there is no evidence animals can transmit the virus to humans, they are not ruling out the possibility.

As a precautionary measure, authorities said they will seize all hamsters in Hong Kong’s 34 licensed stores for testing before putting them down in a humane manner. Residents who purchased hamsters after Dec. 22 are being urged to hand them over to be tested and culled. The customers themselves will be subject to mandatory testing and quarantine.

Hong Kong will also cease the sale and import of small mammals, including hamsters. All shops selling hamsters in the city have been ordered to stop doing so immediately, according to authorities.

“We have assessed the risks of these batches are relatively high and therefore made the decision based on public health needs,” Dr. Leung Siu-fai, director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, told a press conference Tuesday. “We urge all pet owners to observe strict hygiene when handling their pets and cages. Do not kiss or abandon them on the streets.”

-ABC News’ Britt Clennett

Jan 17, 2:31 pm
Moderna working on combined COVID, flu booster

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Davos Agenda Monday that the company is working on a combined COVID-19 and flu booster shot, which could, in a “best case scenario,” be made available by fall 2023.

Bancel said the company’s goal is to be able to provide a single annual booster.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 2:16 pm
Fauci: Unclear whether omicron will lead world into an ‘endemic’ phase

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it’s an “open question” as to whether the omicron variant will lead the globe into a new endemic phase of the pandemic.

“We were fortunate that omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless, is not as pathogenic but the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity,” Fauci said at the Davos Agenda, a virtual event held by the World Economic Forum.

But Fauci said it’s still unclear if omicron’s reduced severity will translate to the virus gradually becoming less prevalent.

“I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if you don’t get another variant that alludes to the immune response to the prior variant,” Fauci said, adding that it is “very difficult” to calculate how the globe could reach herd immunity.

When the globe does enter an endemic phase, Fauci said there will be a “new normal.”

“It’s not going to be that you’re going to eliminate this disease completely. We’re not going to do that. But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn’t disrupt our normal, social, economic and other interactions with each other,” Fauci said. “To me, that’s what the new normal is. I hope the new normal also includes a real strong corporate memory of what pandemics can do.”

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Jan 17, 11:40 am
Growing evidence suggests COVID surge may be receding in parts of US

Growing evidence suggests the omicron surge may be beginning to recede in the parts of the U.S. that were first hit by the variant.

Although new case rates remain high across much of the Northeast, daily totals are slowly beginning to fall. New York City reported a 17% drop and New Jersey reported a 17.6% drop in new cases over the last week. Washington, D.C., reported a nearly 25% decline and Vermont saw a nearly 22% decline in cases in the last week.

But health officials caution the latest surge has yet to peak for much of the U.S. The nation is still reporting nearly 800,000 new cases a day — a record high and a more than eight-fold increase compared to six weeks ago.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that Americans should not expect a decline in the days to come.

“This is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates… we’re also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country,” Murthy said. “The next few weeks will be tough.”

Nearly 1,800 Americans are dying from COVID-19 each day – an approximately 52.6% jump since Jan. 1.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

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