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Biden says unvaccinated face 'winter of severe illness and death,' encourages Americans to get booster – The Washington Post

‘Omicron is here’: New surges of infections across northeast and Midwest fuel fears of impending fifth wave
Should healthy, vaccinated pro athletes who test positive play on? Not yet, experts say.
Biden says unvaccinated face ‘winter of severe illness and death,’ encourages Americans to get booster
New York City to distribute at-home tests, KN95 masks
Biden’s vaccine policy for private companies will be heard by three-judge panel
CDC advisers recommend Pfizer, Moderna vaccines over J&J, citing rare blood-clotting condition linked to 9 deaths
In lawsuit, fired employee of radio host Dave Ramsey says staff was told to ‘pray away’ covid
Army officials: 98 percent of soldiers vaccinated, but nearly 4,000 refusing shots
Germany seeks to buy additional vaccine doses from across Europe to battle omicron surge
Key coronavirus updates from around the world
Regeneron and AstraZeneca give mixed results on potency of coronavirus antibody cocktails against omicron
Colleges move exams online, urge boosters as cases rise and omicron fears grow
Omicron has ‘extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently,’ Fauci says
Analysis: Americans are united by their weariness over the pandemic
Britain’s queen cancels traditional pre-Christmas family lunch over omicron concerns
‘Omicron is here’: New surges of infections across northeast and Midwest fuel fears of impending fifth wave
Should healthy, vaccinated pro athletes who test positive play on? Not yet, experts say.
Biden says unvaccinated face ‘winter of severe illness and death,’ encourages Americans to get booster
New York City to distribute at-home tests, KN95 masks
Biden’s vaccine policy for private companies will be heard by three-judge panel
CDC advisers recommend Pfizer, Moderna vaccines over J&J, citing rare blood-clotting condition linked to 9 deaths
In lawsuit, fired employee of radio host Dave Ramsey says staff was told to ‘pray away’ covid
Army officials: 98 percent of soldiers vaccinated, but nearly 4,000 refusing shots
Germany seeks to buy additional vaccine doses from across Europe to battle omicron surge
Key coronavirus updates from around the world
Regeneron and AstraZeneca give mixed results on potency of coronavirus antibody cocktails against omicron
Colleges move exams online, urge boosters as cases rise and omicron fears grow
Omicron has ‘extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently,’ Fauci says
Analysis: Americans are united by their weariness over the pandemic
Britain’s queen cancels traditional pre-Christmas family lunch over omicron concerns
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President Biden, during a meeting of his coronavirus task force, issued a dire warning to Americans who haven’t yet received their vaccine as the nation prepares to battle the omicron variant.
“For [the] unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death,” Biden said.
Biden urged Americans to get their coronavirus shots, whether it is their first one or a booster. The omicron variant, he said, is in the nation, and it is “going to start to spread much more rapidly at the beginning of the year, and the only real protection is to get your shot.”
As the holidays near in many parts of the world, some countries are putting in place new restrictions to stem the tide and many people are taking new precautions.

What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus
Here’s what to know
States across the Northeast and Midwest are reporting an increasing number of new coronavirus cases, worrying officials as the country lurches into the holiday season amid fears about the omicron variant.
New York, the first epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, is recording an average of nearly 12,000 new cases per day — the most in the country, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post. On Thursday, the state reported 18,276 infections, its third-highest tally ever.
Health experts there have attributed the rise in part to the omicron variant, and New York City officials announced plans to distribute 500,000 at-home coronavirus tests and a million KN95 masks to combat the concerning trend.
“Omicron is here in New York City,” health commissioner Dave A. Chokshi said, “and it is spreading quickly.”
Elsewhere in the region, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and D.C. have all seen their per capita case rates increase by more than 10 percent. In the Midwest, Wisconsin and Illinois have seen significant spikes. And in Ohio, where officials are reporting the third-highest average of new cases in the United States, hospital leaders pleaded with residents to get vaccinated.
“Our organizations are now preparing for what could be the largest surge yet in covid-19 cases this winter,” the CEOs wrote in a letter to the Columbus Dispatch.
Some Southern states, especially Texas and Florida, are also beginning to see their case counts increase. In Harris County, home to Houston, hospital officials are bracing for another crush of infections after seeing cases skyrocket in recent days.
The state-level warnings echo those from national experts who have urged Americans to use caution when traveling and gathering during the winter holidays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the omicron variant could bring a massive influx of new cases by January. The newest numbers, however, are fueling fears that the pandemic’s fifth wave could arrive sooner.
Coronavirus cases have spiked this week across North American professional sports despite sky-high vaccination rates among players and staffs. Sidelined stars, postponed games and disrupted seasons have doused any promise that vaccines would restore normalcy to the sports world. One month away from the NFL playoffs and barely a week out from the NBA’s annual Christmas Day showcase, both leagues are again mired in covid-related obstacles.
Among the rash of players unavailable to play after testing positive, the vast majority are vaccinated and many are asymptomatic. So in a time of widely available vaccines and booster shots, would it be safe for sports leagues to allow vaccinated, asymptomatic players who test positive for the coronavirus to play in games?
That day may come, public health experts say, with improved testing capability allowing players to safely return to play sooner, but it is not here yet.
President Biden, during a meeting of his coronavirus task force, issued a dire warning to Americans who haven’t yet received their vaccine as the nation prepares to battle the omicron variant.
“For [the] unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death,” Biden said.
“Due to the steps we’ve taken, omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would have otherwise done,” he said. “But it is here now, and it’s spreading, and it’s going to increase.”
Biden urged Americans to get their coronavirus shots, whether it is their first one or a booster. The omicron variant, he said, is in the nation, and it is “going to start to spread much more rapidly at the beginning of the year, and the only real protection is to get your shot.”
There’s good news: If you’re vaccinated, you have your booster shot, you’re protected from severe illness and death, period,” Biden said. “Booster shots work. … Boosters are free, safe and convenient.”
“So go get your shot today,” he said. “If we do this, we’re going to keep schools and businesses open. … And I want to see everyone around enjoy that.”
New York City plans to give out 500,000 at-home coronavirus tests and a million KN95 masks amid a rise in infections sparked in part by the omicron variant, officials announced Thursday.
In recent weeks, the city has seen what health commissioner Dave A. Chokshi called “an alarming trend.” The seven-day average of new covid cases has tripled in the last month, and all boroughs are experiencing high transmission. Hospitalizations, which lag cases, have “gone up steadily but not radically,” Chokski said. The variant accounts for about 13 percent of cases, and experts expect the share to rise.
“Omicron is here in New York City,” he said during a news conference, “and it is spreading quickly.”
To combat the spread, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) outlined a plan that includes increasing testing capacity through the creation of new sites and extension of hours at existing ones. The city will also deploy inspectors to ensure businesses are adhering to vaccination and mask mandates. And it will launch a media campaign to encourage booster shots for all residents over the age of 16.
Distributing tests and masks is another part of the plan. The mayor said those items would be handed out through community-based organizations. He said those efforts would begin Monday, adding that “we’ll make sure that we can do this in time for the holidays.”
De Blasio characterized the steps the city is taking as bold measures needed to stem a surge in cases driven by omicron, which experts say spreads more rapidly than previously detected variants.
“What has worked for us as New Yorkers in the entire fight against covid is being aggressive, being assertive, taking bold measures,” he said. “We have been doing that. We’re going to do that a lot more because we need to stop this variant. This variant moves fast — we need to move faster.”
A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected requests to initially review the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine or testing requirements for large private companies with a full complement of judges and will instead handle the case with the usual three-judge panel.
The decision divided the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and drew sharp dissents from a pair of judges who used the opportunity to express deep concerns about the legality of the administration’s policy, which is set to take effect Jan. 4.
The policy requires companies with more than 100 employees to either mandate vaccinations or require weekly coronavirus testing and masks. The administration estimates the emergency rules will save more than 6,500 lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations.
Vaccine advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that people seeking the safest and most effective vaccines or boosters go with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots, instead of those made by Johnson & Johnson.
The expert panel advised use of the two mRNA vaccines because of an increased risk of a potentially fatal blood-clot issue associated with the J&J shots. Nine deaths — seven women and two men, ages 28 to 62 — have been confirmed in connection with the J&J vaccine through September. Officials are looking at two additional deaths, but confirmation of the link to the vaccine has been difficult because of lack of medical information.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will decide later Thursday whether to adopt the panel’s recommendation as agency policy.
If it is adopted, as expected, the move is likely to have a greater effect overseas than in the United States, where there are ample supplies of the other two authorized vaccines, which are more popular.
Days after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) declared a state of emergency in March 2020 over the coronavirus pandemic, Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey allegedly called 900 people with his company, Ramsey Solutions, to an in-person meeting. The evangelical radio host told staffers they would not be permitted to work from home, saying it showed a “weakness of spirit,” according to a new lawsuit.
Ramsey’s alleged remarks were troubling to at least one employee, Brad Amos, who this week filed the suit against Ramsey and his company, claiming he was retaliated against and ultimately fired for wanting to take precautions during the pandemic. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tennessee, where Ramsey Solutions is based, describes a “cult-like” workplace where employees were forced to share personal details about their lives and were told to “pray away” covid-19.
The lawsuit demands back pay and monetary damages for what Amos claims was religious discrimination. Amos, who was hired as a senior video editor in August 2019, alleges in his lawsuit that he was fired in July 2020 after requesting permission to work from home to protect his family during the pandemic and trying to take additional precautions.
Army officials announced Thursday that 98 percent of the service’s active-duty force was at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus as a Wednesday deadline passed. But nearly 4,000 soldiers refused to get the shots, and thousands more had received temporary exemptions.
While the vast majority submitted to the military’s vaccination mandate, 3,864 soldiers did not comply, according to data released by the Army. An additional 6,263 were granted temporary medical or administrative exemptions. Permanent exemptions are expected to be rare, and officials have granted four for medical reasons and zero for religious reasons.
Those who refuse vaccination without an approved exemption could be removed from the military beginning in January, the Army said. Officials have relieved six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued written reprimands to 2,767 soldiers.
“Vaccinating our soldiers against covid-19 is first and foremost about Army readiness,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in a statement. She added, “To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine.
“If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings,” she said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated vaccination for every service member in August, adding coronavirus shots to the set of compulsory immunizations for all U.S. troops. The branches set different deadlines, which began hitting in November.
Across the military, The Washington Post reported last week, the number of holdouts could be as high as 40,000. Although that figure represents a tiny minority, it has raised concerns about the state of U.S. military culture, which relies on compliance.
Alex Horton contributed to this report.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister said Thursday that he was in negotiations with several European countries to buy their coronavirus vaccine doses for a booster campaign amid the surging omicron variant.
“Through a very aggressive and fast booster vaccination strategy, we will try to keep the omicron variant as small as possible to avoid overburdening the health-care system and possibly society at large,” Karl Lauterbach said at a news conference.
Germany has opened talks with Romania, Poland, Portugal and Bulgaria to purchase additional vaccine doses. Almost 88 percent of Portugal’s population has received at least one dose, while Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, with fewer than 27 percent of its population having received at least one dose, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Germany’s parliament has approved special funds to buy more vaccine supplies.
After a slump in vaccination rates in Germany, the threat of the omicron variant and increased restrictions on the unvaccinated seem to have galvanized demand for shots. On Wednesday, almost 1.5 million people in Germany received the shots, the highest single-day number recorded in the country.
About 73 percent of Germany’s population has received at least one dose, according to Johns Hopkins.
“I simply want there to be significantly more vaccine available than is being requested so that we can cover the demand at any point in time,” Lauterbach said.
Here’s what to know about the top coronavirus stories around the globe from news service reports.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca, makers of popular monoclonal antibody cocktails used as treatment for many coronavirus patients who have not been vaccinated, announced contrasting data Thursday about the potency of their covid-19 therapies against the omicron variant.
Regeneron, which warned earlier this month that its antibody treatment may not be as effective against the new variant, said data confirms it has “diminished potency” against omicron but remains useful against delta.
AstraZeneca, however, said that a lab study of Evusheld, the company’s coronavirus antibody cocktail, found that the treatment “retained neutralizing activity” against omicron. The study, conducted by independent investigators with the Food and Drug Administration, adds to “the growing body of preclinical evidence demonstrating that Evusheld retains activity against all tested variants of concern to date,” according to AstraZeneca.
Princeton and Cornell universities abruptly switched final exams online this week amid a rise in coronavirus cases among undergraduates on campus, including suspected cases of the omicron variant. Cornell also shut down many campus activities, including calling off a ceremony for December graduates.
In the nation’s capital, George Washington University officials announced Wednesday that all in-person events were canceled effective immediately, and exams from Friday onward would be held online for the remainder of the semester. The school and nearby Georgetown University had said a day earlier that they would require booster shots after the omicron variant was detected at the schools.
In California, Stanford University officials told students Thursday that the first two weeks of classes when students return to campus in January would be conducted online, to minimize disruption to coursework amid pandemic unknowns.
Across the country, colleges are grappling with the fear of worsening pandemic conditions as they wrap up final exams and prepare to send students home for the holidays. As they look ahead to the spring semester, school officials are pledging to be agile as more data emerges worldwide about the rapid spread of omicron.
Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Thursday that the omicron variant has “an extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently and spread.”
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases predicted that omicron would soon become the dominant variant in the United States.
“We’ve seen that in South Africa,” Fauci said. “We’re seeing it in the U.K., and I’m absolutely certain that’s what we’re going to be seeing here relatively soon.”
He reiterated calls for vaccine-hesitant Americans to roll up their sleeves. Those eligible for booster shots should get them to strengthen protection against the virus, he said.
Experts do not believe an omicron-specific booster is needed at this time, Fauci said. The existing vaccines provide a strong-enough immune response to the alpha, beta and delta variants, he said. Getting a booster elevates diminished protection from the initial vaccine series, he said.
“That’s the reason why we’re saying: Absolutely get boosted,” Fauci said.
One of the patterns that emerged early in the pandemic was that Democrats were more concerned about contracting the coronavirus than Republicans. That wasn’t true immediately; in mid-April 2020, three-quarters of Republicans expressed concern that they or a member of their families would become sick with covid-19. But then President Donald Trump’s rhetoric shifted and so did perceptions among members of his party.
Since then, there have been two broad universes in the country. One group expresses concern about the virus, advocates mask-wearing and has high rates of vaccination. The other group is not as worried, waves away masks and is more likely to shrug at vaccination. Those two groups also generally go by shorter descriptors: Democrats and Republicans.
New polling from Monmouth University released on Wednesday, though, shows one area where partisan alignments collapse. Most Americans, regardless of party, say they’re worn out over pandemic changes.
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