COVID-19 hospital cases drop in Northeast, Midwest

Rates of new COVID-19 hospitalizations are dropping in the Northeast and Midwest but rising in the South, a sign that the Omicron surge is receding at an uneven pace in the United States.

According to the Washington Post, national records from US hospitals showed 150,000 coronavirus patients being treated yesterday, down from a record 160,000 last week.

Hospitals across the country have battled staff shortages during the most recent wave of virus activity, with 22% of hospitals in Western states reporting low staffing levels, 19% in the Midwest and South, and 14% in the Northeast.

Staffing shortages could take another hit later this week, when a vaccine mandate for all healthcare employees at facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars will be subject to a vaccine requirement recently upheld by the US Supreme Court.

The requirement applies to healthcare workers in roughly half the country, who have until tomorrow to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine under the Biden administration's mandate, the Associated Press reports. The requirement goes into effect in states that have not challenged the mandate in court: ultimately, the mandate will reach 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 facilities.

The most recent data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show 81% of the nation's nursing homes employees are already vaccinated against COVID-19.

CDC to pharmacies: Allow 4th dose

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reached out to major retail pharmacies  on a conference call yesterday, reaffirming that immunocompromised patients are eligible for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to Kaiser Health News.

The CDC currently recommends a fourth shot of COVID-19 vaccine for roughly 7 million Americans, including those with suppressed immune systems due to organ transplants, cancer treatments, or autoimmune diseases.

The recommendation has been in place since October, but yesterday Kaiser Health News published a story reporting that many patients were being turned away at commercial pharmacies.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 63.5% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 75.8% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 40.4% of vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.

Moderna begins phase 2 study of Omicron booster

Moderna announced yesterday that it has begun a phase 2 study of an Omicron-specific booster candidate.

"We are reassured by the antibody persistence against Omicron at six months after the currently authorized 50 µg booster of mRNA-1273. Nonetheless, given the long-term threat demonstrated by Omicron's immune escape, we are advancing our Omicron-specific variant vaccine booster candidate and we are pleased to begin this part of our Phase 2 study," said Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, in a press release.

"We are also evaluating whether to include this Omicron-specific candidate in our multivalent booster program."

Yesterday, the United States reported 653,120 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 4,040 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the country has tracked 73,187,962 COVID-19 cases, including 877,491 deaths.

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