The latest COVID-19 news in Boston, Mass., New England, and beyond

Table of Contents

Tonga, once COVID-free, goes into lockdown weeks after volcano eruption — 6:35 a.m.

Five coronavirus cases have been recorded in Tonga as it recovers from last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami, forcing the once covid-free archipelago nation into a complete lockdown.

Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said the country would go into lockdown starting at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday and that the restrictions would be reviewed every 48 hours, local news website Matangi Tonga reported.

Italian Olympic president Malagò tests positive in Beijing — 5:56 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malagò is at least the second IOC member who has tested positive for COVID-19 and been placed in isolation at the Beijing Games.

Malagò leads the organizing committee for the next Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026 and was planning on carrying out a key observational role at this year’s Olympics. He hopes to recover in time to take part in the official handover to Milan-Cortina at the closing ceremony on Feb. 20.

Two-time Olympic hockey medalist Emma Terho, the IOC’s most senior athlete representative, is also in an isolation hotel after testing positive on arrival.

CONI, the Italian committee, said Malagò is “completely asymptomatic” but was placed “under medical observation” at a dedicated facility” with “other IOC members.” CONI added Wednesday that no Italian athletes or other team representatives have tested positive upon arrival.

Hong Kong to shorten COVID hospital stays with a testing change — 4:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Hong Kong eased the rules it uses to release Covid-19 patients from the hospital, a move that should shorten stays as the city grapples with a growing number of infections that are taxing its health care facilities.

Patients will soon be discharged if they have three tests that show they are no longer infectious, as determined by a cycle threshold or CT count of 33 or higher, Hospital Authority Chief Manager Lau Ka-hin said at a daily briefing on Wednesday, a lower standard than the current rules.

The previous strict standards, designed to ensure no one was released when they could potentially spread the virus, kept some people with no symptoms hospitalized for weeks. Once released, patients will be able to complete a 14-day isolation and recovery period at home, rather than in a government-run facility, Lau said.

The change could allow patients to get out of the hospital five days to a week faster than it currently takes, David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the city’s Covid advisory panel, told the South China Morning Post.

The new testing requirements will take a few days to implement, Lau said. The change may allow patients to be discharged after 10 to 12 days, instead of the average hospital stay of 17 days now, Hui told the SCMP.

Olympic advisors at ease with COVID rate, see cases falling — 2:54 a.m.

By The Associated Press

With more than 30 new COVID-19 cases being detected daily ahead of the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Wednesday they aren’t worried and expect numbers to drop within days.

A total of 32 new cases — 15 in tests of people arriving at the airport and 17 within the Olympic bubbles — were reported by the Beijing organizing committee on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony. The average was 31 cases over the past three days.

Athletes and team officials accounted for nine of the latest cases and 23 were “stakeholders,” a category that includes workers and media. Athletes testing positive now could miss their events.

Eleven people have been treated at the hospital for a symptom among the 232 positive tests registered since Jan. 23, though “none of those are seriously ill in any way,” Olympic medical advisor Brian McCloskey said.

The overall numbers are not worrying for the Olympics, said McCloskey, who is leading the organizers’ medical expert panel.

“Virtually every country in the world at the moment has a higher level of COVID than China,” he said, explaining why the risk of detection is greater at the airport and steadily decreasing.

Daily PCR tests are taken from every Olympic athlete, sports official and worker — more than 65,000 tests on Tuesday. All are living separate from the general public in what organizers call a closed-loop community.

“For the first few days in the closed loop the risk is still a bit higher because of the risk of people incubating the disease very slowly,” McCloskey said.

After spending about five days at the Olympics, “the risk comes down to equivalent to the local population risk — very, very low,” he said.

COVID-19 infections surge in immigration detention facilities — 8:23 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Coronavirus infections in federal immigration detention centers have surged to record highs, with at least one detainee taken to the hospital in recent days, increasing pressure on the Biden administration from advocates to release migrants or at least ensure that they are given booster shots.

More than 3,100 detainees were fighting infections late last week, about 14 percent of the detained population and well past the peak of 2,100 last May, according to the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, which tracks the issue.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have said most detainees are new arrivals apprehended at the southwest border and many are infected before being booked into custody, where they are tested, quarantined, and offered medical care, including vaccines. But medical experts and lawyers said the virus is also spreading inside the facilities and that booster shots are not widely available.

A pair of government whistleblowers urged the agency to “immediately” ensure that all detainees and staff have access to booster shots, saying in a letter last week to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE acting director Tae Johnson that it was “inexplicable” that ICE had not expanded booster use as the high-speed Omicron variant rips through facilities in Texas, Arizona, and Georgia.

“The failure to act with alacrity has contributed to the number of confirmed COVID cases skyrocketing since the emergence of the Omicron variant,” doctors Scott Allen and Josiah Rich, who inspect the facilities for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, wrote in the letter, which was made public by their lawyer at the Government Accountability Project.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a new lawsuit this week seeking booster shots for five immigrants at risk of death because of the virus. The immigrants said they asked for booster shots and were either denied or ignored, despite having conditions such as obesity and heart ailments that put them at higher risk of death if infected.

US has far higher COVID death rate than other wealthy countries — 8:22 p.m.

By The New York Times

Two years into the pandemic, the coronavirus is killing Americans at far higher rates than people in other wealthy nations, a sobering distinction to bear as the country charts a course through the next stages of the pandemic.

The ballooning death toll has defied the hopes of many Americans that the less severe Omicron variant would spare the United States the pain of past waves. Deaths have now surpassed the worst days of the autumn surge of the Delta variant, and are more than two-thirds as high as the record tolls of last winter, when vaccines were largely unavailable.

4.3 million Americans left their jobs in December as Omicron variant disrupted everything — 8:04 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Some 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs in December — down from November’s all-time high but still near record levels, as the labor market remained unsettled and the Omicron variant swept through the United States.

Employers reported some 10.9 million job openings in a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well above pre-pandemic averages.

December proved to be an incredibly disruptive month for the labor market.

Parents scrambled to navigate their work lives as schools and day cares closed due to growing virus cases. Employees grappled with sudden outbreaks at work, with little of the social safety net protections or pandemic-controlling measures that helped cushion the blow from earlier waves. And the vaccine-evading Omicron variant shook the nation’s confidence that a future without the virus was on the near horizon.

In ongoing court fight, Boston argues employee vaccine mandate stands on solid legal ground — 7:19 p.m.

By Emma Platoff, Globe Staff

In a court filing Tuesday, the city of Boston reiterated its stance that its vaccine mandate is on solid legal ground.

The city made its latest argument after a Massachusetts Appeals Court judge temporarily blocked its plans to require more than 18,000 employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, putting the policy on hold pending further legal review.

The city’s filing is the latest salvo in a legal and political drama that for now has blocked Mayor Michelle Wu from implementing what city officials describe as a crucial public health measure.

Mass. reports 2,628 confirmed COVID-19 cases; 127 deaths reported over three days — 6:09 p.m.

By Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 2,628 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 14,736 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 127 new confirmed deaths were reported from Saturday through Monday.

The state also reported that 1,965 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 7.13 percent.

Mass. reports 27,530 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, raising total to 8.1 percent of fully vaccinated people — 5:53 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 27,530 more COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people since last week, bringing the total since the beginning of the vaccination campaign to 422,132 cases, or 8.1 percent of all fully vaccinated people.

The department also reported 290 more COVID-19 deaths among fully vaccinated people, bringing the total to 1,789 deaths among those fully vaccinated. The number of breakthrough deaths represents a tiny fraction of all vaccinated people and underscores the protection the vaccines provide against severe illness and death.

The deaths accounted for 0.03 percent of the 5,202,797 people in Massachusetts who were fully vaccinated, the department said in its weekly update on breakthrough COVID-19 metrics, which included data reported through Saturday, Jan. 29.

Boston Medical Center researchers report ‘surge’ in depression during pandemic among children of color 5-11 years old — 5:45 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

A research team at Boston Medical Center has identified a “surge” in depression and anxiety among children of color aged 5 to 11 during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the hospital.

The BMC study, published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, found rates of depression and anxiety spiked among young children of color from 5 percent before the pandemic to 18 percent during the health crisis, the researchers said Tuesday in Health City, an online publication run by BMC’s public relations team.

The study also found a reduction in school assignment completion, increased screen time, and “caregiver depression” were also linked to poor mental health among children during the pandemic, according to the Health City piece.

Pfizer moves toward vaccinations for youngest children — 4:58 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Pfizer has asked the Food and Drug Adminstration to authorize its COVID vaccine for children younger than 5 years old.

McKee to expand use of National Guard to support hospitals with staffing — 3:30 p.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe Staff

Governor Dan McKee announced Tuesday that he plans on expanding the use of the Rhode Island National Guard to support nine hospitals amid the staffing crisis.

Approximately 30 members of the Guard will be sent to state-run Eleanor Slater, Our Lady of Fatima, Kent, Landmark Medical Center, Newport, Roger Williams Medical Center, Rhode Island, South County, and Women and Infants Hospitals.

This latest round of deployments are in addition to the 45 National Guard members that were mobilized to support Butler Hospital in January to relieve pressure on other hospital emergency departments, according to the governor’s office.

Good news on the COVID-19 front: Levels of coronavirus in Eastern Mass. wastewater continue decline — 3:22 p.m.

By Martin Finucane and Ryan Huddle, Globe Staff

In another encouraging sign for those hoping for a respite from the Omicron surge, the amount of coronavirus detected in Eastern Massachusetts waste water has continued to fall in recent days, according to data released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

The amount of virus flowing in from communities in the MWRA’s southern region is now less than a tenth of what it was when the surge peaked early this year, while the amount flowing in from the southern region is less than an eighth of what it was at its peak.

The amounts are similar to what the state saw in early December, just before the numbers began racing to stratospheric heights.

Norway scales back most COVID-19 restrictions — 3:08 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Norway is easing most of the measures to curb infection and aims to remove the rest in a couple of weeks as it bets a high level of vaccination will be enough to shield the health system from overloading.

Limits on guests at private gatherings, a curb on the service of alcohol in bars and restaurants, and testing after arriving at the border have all been removed, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told reporters in Oslo on Tuesday. Face masks will still need to be worn in shops, shopping centers and on public transport where a distance of a meter can’t be maintained. Norway is joining countries such as neighboring Denmark, Ireland, and the UK in scaling back restrictions, expecting the coronavirus to turn endemic. The Omicron variant has pushed infection rates to records, but hospitalization rates have remained below highs, indicating that the milder variant and booster shots will enable the country to return to an everyday without controls.

“We have to plan for as many as 20 percent on sick leave,” Store said, citing estimates by health authorities. “We therefore retain some measures to prevent too many people from becoming ill and away from work at the same time.” Health authorities forecast that as many as 4 million of the 5.4 million Norwegians will be infected by summer.

Unvaccinated travelers will still be required to show a negative test before arrival and all travelers will be required to register, regardless of whether they have received a shot or not. Restaurants will still be required to maintain a meter between groups of customers and bars won’t be allowed to host activities that result in close contact, such as dancing.

Troops must be vaccinated despite Republican objections, says defense secretary — 2:55 p.m.

By The New York Times

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has rejected seven Republican governors’ requests for exemptions from coronavirus vaccination mandates for their states’ National Guard troops.

The rejection — in a letter sent to the governors of Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and Wyoming, who have all sought to allow their guard troops to refuse the vaccine without consequences — sets the stage for a potential legal battle.

“In making the decision to require vaccination against COVID-19 for service members,” Austin wrote, “I considered the thousands of hospitalizations and the hundreds of deaths among service members, civilians, and their families related to COVID-19. COVID-19 takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements.”

Researchers suggest range of pleasant temperatures is associated with fewer COVID-19 cases — 1:58 p.m.

By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

A new study suggests that when the weather is comfortable outside – with daily average temperatures ranging from 63 degrees to 75 degrees – fewer COVID-19 cases are likely.

Within that range, “we do see that there is less viral transmission activity,” and anything above or below “is where we see enhanced transmission of this virus in the human population,” said co-author Antar Jutla, an associate professor of hydrology at the University of Florida.

Mayor Wu defends vaccine mandates but says they are ‘not permanent’ — 12:57 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu said Tuesday that COVID-19 will “be around for a while,” as she defended her mandates including the one that requires proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor businesses, telling reporters such rules are “not permanent.”

Wu made her comments during a briefing in Roxbury on increasing food shopping access for low-income families.

“We’re in constant communication with all of our hospital partners to very carefully watch [the] hospitalization rates,” Wu said in response to a question regarding whether she may roll back any mask or vaccine mandates in the near future. “And our Boston Public Health Commission has been working on metrics, as we understand community positivity and where we may be either plateauing or coming down quickly.”

Pregnant people with COVID are unlikely to transmit to newborns — 12:16 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Pregnant women who are positive with COVID-19 when they give birth rarely transmit the virus to their newborns, according to a spate of new research. The reason: COVID isn’t often found in a patient’s bloodstream.

As researchers have raced to understand the effects of COVID on pregnancy and infants, these findings offer good news to expecting parents.

“Analyses show that infection among infants born to women with COVID-19 was uncommon,” said Kate Woodworth, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US manufacturing declines for a third straight month with COVID surge — 11:15 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

US manufacturing growth lost a bit more steam in January amid a surge in coronavirus cases, while a measure of materials costs accelerated.

The Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of factory activity fell to 57.6 — the third straight decline and the lowest since November 2020 — from 58.8 a month earlier, according to data released Tuesday. Still, readings above 50 signal expansion and the latest figures show manufacturing remains robust.

The group’s measures of production and new orders both dropped to the lowest since mid-2020, suggesting the recent wave of infections due to the Omicron variant may have hampered plant operations.

Portugal’s Prime Minister is COVID positive two days after reelection — 11:06 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Portugal’s Socialist Party leader António Costa announced Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19, two days after his landslide election victory and just as he starts forming his new government.

Costa said in a statement he will self-isolate for seven days, in accordance with the country’s pandemic rules.

Costa, who has been Portugal’s prime minister since 2015 and is set to serve another four years, was due to meet with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Wednesday as a first step toward being sworn in. It wasn’t immediately clear if another Socialist Party official would replace him.

Omicron caused 4.3 million Americans to leave their jobs in December — 10:57 a.m.

By The Washington Post

Some 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs in December – down from last month’s all-time high but still near record levels, as the labor market remained unsettled and the Omicron variant swept through the United States.

Employers reported some 10.9 million job openings in the survey, well above pre-pandemic averages. December proved to be an incredibly disruptive month for the US labor market.

Parents scrambled to navigate their work lives as schools and day cares closed because of growing cases. Employees grappled with sudden outbreaks at work, with little of the social safety net protections or pandemic-controlling measures that helped cushion the blow from earlier waves. And a vaccine-evading variant shook the nation’s confidence that a future without the virus was on the near horizon.

Health experts say it’s premature to consider a second COVID-19 booster — 10:30 a.m.

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff

As Omicron infections surged a month ago, Israel began offering fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines to older and immunocompromised people and to health care workers in an effort to shield them from what was deemed the most transmissible strain yet of the coronavirus.

But health experts say it’s premature for the US to take similar steps, at least for the foreseeable future. They cited the falling rate of Omicron cases, the exposure of most Americans to the SARS-CoV-2 virus through vaccinations or infections, and growing evidence that two shots and a booster already provide remarkably strong protection from severe illness and death.

COVID hospitalizations are down in 34 states, easing staffing crises — 10:28 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Omicron moved so quickly that it began to burn out much quicker than previous variants, as it did in South Africa and parts of Europe.

Even among US states hit later with Omicron, conditions may soon improve. Oregon, Wyoming and Alaska are reporting the country’s largest increases in new hospital admissions, up 16 percent, 15 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from the previous seven-day period.

But cases, which tend to lead hospital admissions, are showing signs of peaking in those places. Emergency-department visits, another leading indicator of admissions, also appeared to have crested in those areas.

In the US, that has all meant a sharp recovery for health-care facilities, which were reporting widespread critical staffing shortages as recently as early January — a reflection not only of the number of new COVID-19 patients, but also of an exhausted workforce, many of whom caught Omicron themselves.

Boris Johnson under fire over ‘Partygate’ report — 10:01 a.m.

By Blomberg News

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced fresh fury from his Conservative lawmakers after a report into partying in Downing Street during lockdown slammed “failures of leadership and judgment” at the top of his government and criticized “excessive” drinking.

London’s Metropolitan Police is now investigating 12 lockdown gatherings in government buildings, including in Johnson’s own apartment, and said Monday it was reviewing “more than 300 images and over 500 pages of information.”

In her 12-page interim report, senior civil servant Sue Gray said “too little thought” was given to the conditions faced by people across the UK under strict COVID-19 restrictions, and that some events “should not have been allowed to take place.”

How patchy COVID data hampered the pandemic response — 9:04 a.m.

By Jess Bidgood, Globe Staff

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reported more than half a million new positive cases of COVID, a daily figure that serves as a crucial barometer for a nation muddling its way through the Omicron wave.

But the actual number of new infections, which may well be higher, is a mystery — just like the overall number of people who have been infected so far.

Two years after COVID began spreading in this country, the United States is operating with patchy and incomplete data about the virus, a problem experts say has hampered the response to one variant after another and leaves the country just as vulnerable to the next one.

Virus infections for Olympic athletes, coaches rising faster — 5:57 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Tuesday.

Figures released by local organizers showed 16 of 379 athletes and officials who arrived Monday tested positive for COVID-19. They have been taken into isolation hotels to limit the spread of the infection and could miss their events.

The positive test rate of 4.2% for athletes and officials compared to 0.66% for Olympic “stakeholders,” a group which includes workers and media. Only seven of 1,059 people in that category arriving at Beijing were positive in similar tests Monday.

The rates were confirmed in PCR and other follow-up tests for tens of thousands of people at the Beijing Olympics who will live, work and train in closed-off communities separated from the general public. The Chinese government is pursuing a zero-tolerance public health strategy.

On Monday, the rate of infection from tests of those already inside the Olympic bubbles was 100 times higher for athletes and officials compared to workers. Five of 3,103 tests from the athletes-officials group were positive compared to only one of more than 60,000 daily tests from “stakeholders.”

A total of 200 positive tests for COVID-19 have now been recorded at the Olympics since Jan. 23. Of those 200, 67 were athletes and officials. “Stakeholders” accounted for the other 133.

Denmark ends most COVID-19 restrictions — 4:10 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Denmark on Tuesday became one of the first European Union countries to scrap most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers the COVID-19 outbreak “a socially critical disease.”

The reason for that is that while the omicron variant is surging in Denmark, it’s not placing a heavy burden on the health system and the country has a high vaccination rate, officials have said.

Denmark has in recent weeks seen more than 50,000 daily cases on average while the number of people in hospital intensive care units has dropped.

The most visible restriction disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transportation, shops and for standing clients in restaurant indoor areas. Authorities only recommend mask use in hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes.

Another restriction that no longer is required is the digital pass used to enter nightclubs, cafes, party buses and to be seated indoors in restaurants.

“I dare not say that it is a final goodbye to restrictions. We do not know what will happen to the fall. Whether there will be a new variant,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Danish radio.

Health authorities urged Danes to get tested regularly to keep an epidemic surveillance and if needed, “react quickly if necessary,” as Health Minister Minister Magnus Heunicke said last week.

The Danish government has warned that Denmark could see a rise in infections in the coming weeks and said that a fourth vaccination shot might be necessary.

The restrictions were originally introduced in July but were removed about 10 weeks later after a successful vaccination drive. They were reintroduced when infections soared.

Pandemic response generates thousands of tons of COVID waste — 3:55 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

The response to the pandemic has produced tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste, challenging disposal systems and threatening human health and the environment, according to a World Health Organization report.

To get a sense of the scope of the problem, the WHO examined the fate of 87,000 metric tons of personal protective equipment, such as rubber gloves and masks, that were shipped around the world through a United Nations emergency initiative between March 2020 and November 2021. Most of that equipment ended up as waste, the UN agency said.

The initiative also shipped 140 million testing kits, generating 2,600 tons of non-infectious waste that was mostly plastic, and 731,000 liters of chemical waste. The billions of vaccine doses that have been administered globally have produced 144,000 tons of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safety boxes, the WHO said.

The overall issue is likely to be much worse, because the WHO estimates don’t take products into account that were procured outside its emergency initiative, nor littering by the public of disposable masks.

About a third of healthcare facilities aren’t equipped to deal with existing waste loads, the WHO said. Overwhelmed waste systems, especially in lower-income nations, mean that health-care workers face the risk of needle injuries and burns, as well as exposure to pathogenic microorganisms, the WHO said. People residing near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites are at risk of contaminated air and poor water quality.

With new Omicron variant you’re more likely to catch COVID again — 1:35 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

New studies are emerging that suggest the latest version of the highly-infectious omicron variant is transmitting even faster than the original, and mild cases of the first may not offer much protection against future infections.

The findings cast doubt on hopes that the wave of Omicron that’s sweeping the world may help hasten the end of the pandemic. Calls for governments to treat COVID-19 as endemic like influenza are rising globally as people grow tired of pandemic restrictions, vaccines become more accessible and deaths remain relatively low.

All-out effort to keep Biden COVID-free; no ‘normal’ yet — 12:33 a.m.

By The Associated Press

When President Joe Biden met with U.S. governors at the White House on Monday, he was the only one given a glass of water — lest anyone else remove their mask to take a drink.

The president was seated more than 10 feet from everyone, including Vice President Kamala Harris and members of his Cabinet.

A White House staffer who was wearing a surgical mask when Biden entered the room was quickly handed an N95 version.

Fever? Sore throat? They just check ‘no.’ — 12:27 a.m.

By The New York Times

Every morning, Ashley, a mother of two on Long Island in New York, has to navigate an ethical minefield: Her children’s schools send out a health questionnaire for COVID-19.

The “daily attestation,” as it is known, asks people to volunteer information about their health: “Fever of 100 or above?” “Sore Throat?” “In the past 14 days, have you knowingly been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19?”

Answer in the negative, and entry is granted. Answer in a way that suggests you or a family member may be sick, and you’re banned. And herein lies the problem: The forms are on the honor system.

Pfizer expected to ask FDA to authorize vaccine for children under 5 — 10:28 p.m.

By The New York Times

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are expected as soon as Tuesday to ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a coronavirus vaccine for children ages 6 months to 4 years old as a two-dose regimen while they continue to research how well three doses work.

Federal regulators are eager to review the data in hopes of authorizing shots for young children on an emergency basis as early as the end of February, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. If Pfizer waited for data on a three-dose regimen, the data would not be submitted until late March and the vaccine might not be authorized for that age group until late spring, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.

Coronavirus sidelines dockworkers, adding to supply backlog — 8:58 p.m.

By The New York Times

More longshoremen on the West Coast contracted the coronavirus in the past month than in all of last year, putting additional pressure on backed-up ports struggling to keep up with the flow of imports, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.

At least 1,850 longshoremen had the coronavirus in January, surpassing the 1,624 cases recorded in all of 2021, the maritime group said.

“It’s a heavy impact,” said James McKenna, president of the group, which negotiates labor agreements for 70 companies at 29 West Coast ports.

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which account for around 40% of U.S. imports, were particularly hard hit. The cases there accounted for about 80% of the 1,850 infections reported as of Thursday, McKenna said Friday.

The startling high number comes as 90 container ships off the San Pedro Bay coast, a record number, were waiting to come into port in Los Angeles and Long Beach, as of Friday. The dockworker absences are helping exacerbate a monthslong bottleneck. “Before the pandemic, you wouldn’t have any ships waiting; they’d come in and come out,” McKenna said.

Other cities balk at following Boston’s proof-of-vaccination mandate — 6:27 p.m.

By Anissa Gardizy, Globe Staff

When Mayor Michelle Wu announced in December that she would put in place a proof-of-vaccination mandate for Boston restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues, officials from several other Massachusetts cities stood with her in a show of support.

“I’m so grateful to have regional mayors and municipal health officials here, city councilors, state representatives,” Wu said during a City Hall event, “because fighting this pandemic will require shared action and partnership.”

But her call for unity has produced mixed results.

Could the new subvariant, BA. 2., slow our exit from the Omicron surge? — 5:40 p.m.

By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff

While the Omicron surge appears to be waning in some regions of the United States, some experts are cautioning that progress against the coronavirus could be hindered by the arrival of a highly contagious new Omicron subvariant, BA.2.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the US Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday that pandemic numbers were “coming down, and coming down quite sharply in parts of the Northeast, Florida, the mid-Atlantic,” but said “you might see, as this new strain starts to pick up, you might see that we start to slow down in that decline.”

Gottlieb said on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” that “the decline will happen nonetheless” and he didn’t expect “a huge wave of infection.”

Mass. reports 12,127 coronavirus cases; 83 deaths reported on Friday — 5:30 p.m.

By Globe Staff

In its first COVID-19 data report since Friday, Massachusetts on Monday reported 12,127 new confirmed coronavirus cases and said 36,849 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered. The Department of Public Health also said 83 new confirmed deaths were reported on Friday.

The state also reported that 2,202 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. The seven-day percent positivity was 7.43 percent.

Mandate to vaccinate New Orleans schoolchildren kicking in — 4:05 p.m.

By The Associated Press

As school systems across the US struggle to keep classrooms open amid the pandemic, New Orleans is set to become the nation’s first major district to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 and up, though state regulations will allow parents to opt out easily.

Ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, many schools in the city have been holding vaccination events, including one at KIPP Believe school.

One by one, dozens of children presented their signed permission slips, pushed up the sleeves of their pale yellow school uniform shirts and — often wincing, but rarely with tears — received a shot. Then they got candy.

New poll finds 70 percent of respondents say it’s time to accept COVID is here to stay and ‘get on with our lives’ — 3:19 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Nearly two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large majority of Americans surveyed in a new poll said they agree that it’s time to accept that the virus “is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives” — though the results reflected a sharp partisan divide.

Seventy percent of people surveyed in the University of Monmouth poll released Monday said it’s time to accept the virus is part of life, though Republicans and Democrats differed starkly in their response. Eighty-nine percent of respondents who identified as Republicans agreed with the statement, while 47 percent of those who identified as Democrats agreed.

COVID-stricken Trudeau slams truckers’ protest behavior — 3:09 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Justin Trudeau denounced abusive behavior and racist imagery at a protest against vaccine mandates that saw lines of big-rig trucks blockade the downtown core of Canada’s capital.

The Liberal prime minister, speaking Monday from an Ottawa-area cottage where he is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, also used weekend antics by members of the protest convoy to criticize his Conservative political opponents.

“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and — frankly — disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau said at a virtual news conference.

UK plans to scrap mandatory COVID vaccines for health workers — 2:30 p.m.

By Bloomberg News

Mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19 for frontline National Health Service and social care workers in England are set to be scrapped, the UK government announced, after warnings the measure would fuel chronic staff shortages.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on Monday a two-week consultation would be launched on reversing the controversial policy, after the “intrinsically less severe” Omicron variant eclipsed the predecessor delta strain, changing the balance of risks.

“While vaccination remains our very best line of defense against COVID-19, I believe it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as condition of deployment through statute,” Javid told lawmakers.

Europe’s economy shows resilience to a surge in coronavirus infections — 1:09 p.m.

By The New York Times

The eurozone’s economy proved its ability to withstand the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and persistent supply chain disruptions late last year, despite a split in the region that saw faster growth in France, Spain and Italy than in Europe’s traditional economic engine, Germany.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, grew 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2021 compared with the previous three-month period, Eurostat, Europe’s statistics agency, reported Monday. That is a slower pace than in previous quarters of 2021, but proof that the continent’s economy was learning to handle the pandemic.

“The fact that GDP still continued to grow is a sign of strength for the economy,” Bert Colijn, an economist with ING, said in a research note.

Moderna announces full US approval for its COVID-19 vaccine — 12:30 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Moderna announced Monday that US health regulators granted full approval to its COVID-19 vaccine, a shot that’s been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization over a year ago.

The action by the Food and Drug Administration means the agency has completed the same rigorous, time-consuming review of Moderna’s shot as dozens of other long-established vaccines.

The decision was bolstered by real-world evidence from the more than 200 million doses administered in the US since the FDA cleared the shot in December 2020. The FDA granted full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine last August.

New England lags behind as employees flee COVID-facing jobs — 11:43 a.m.

By The Washington Post

The network of hospitals, prestigious universities and prep schools that has propelled New England’s regional economic growth for decades is dragging the recovery in its labor market and fueling historically high unemployment.

After decades sustaining a jobless rate below that of the country as a whole, New England now stands above the US average. Its rate was 5 percent in November, the most recent month for which historical comparisons can be made, against 4.2 percent for the national figure.

Roughly a third of the decline in payrolls in Massachusetts — the region’s economic engine — and Rhode Island is accounted for by slumps in the health and education services industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the US as a whole, that ratio is just 20 percent.

Canadian prime minister tests positive for COVID-19 — 11:03 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he has tested positive for COVID-19, but is “feeling fine″ and will continue working remotely. The announcement came in a tweet in which he urged everyone to “please get vaccinated and get boosted.″

Trudeau said on Thursday that he was going into isolation for five days after finding out the previous evening he had been in contact with someone who tested positive. He told The Canadian Press on Friday that person was one of his three children. Trudeau previously isolated at home in the early months of the pandemic after his wife tested positive.

Canada has one of the world’s highest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus — shots which are primarily designed to keep those who become infected from falling seriously ill. The announcement followed a weekend of protests in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, against vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns. Some demonstrators travelled in truck convoys and parked on the streets around Parliament Hill, blocking traffic.

Spotify shares advance after addressing controversy over Joe Rogan — 10:16 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

Spotify Technology climbed after the streaming service said it would would add a content advisory to podcasts that address COVID-19, seeking to quash an uproar over Joe Rogan’s program. Facing mounting pressure from users and musicians over the accuracy of virus information being spread by the platform’s most popular podcaster, Spotify published its existing rules governing content. Rogan, meanwhile, pledged that he would present more balanced, better-researched programming on the coronavirus.

The shares rose 5.8 percent at 9:41 a.m. Monday in New York. That chipped away at the 12 percent decline that Spotify registered last week, wiping out almost $4 billion from the company’s market value. Rock icon Neil Young had pulled his music from the service to protest Rogan, who has hosted several outspoken skeptics of COVID-19 vaccines. Joni Mitchell followed Young’s lead as did other musicians.

Spotify created rules governing acceptable content on its service years ago and built a hub with coronavirus information early in the pandemic, but hadn’t made them public until Sunday. Rogan thanked his listeners and Spotify and apologized for the controversy. “If I’ve p—-ed you off, I’m sorry,” he said in an Instagram video over the weekend. He said he would “try harder to get people with differing opinions on right afterward” and “do my best to make sure I have researched these topics.”

Potential scammers imitate free COVID test websites — 10:09 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

As a new government website went live in January to offer free COVID-19 test kits, a rash of new domain names were registered. Some had remarkably similar URLs, or were nearly the same but slightly misspelled.

Cybersecurity experts said the goal was likely the same for all of them: bogus domain names that can be used for phishing attacks and other scams.

Suspected fraudsters have registered more than 600 suspicious domain registrations since Jan. 15, around the time Biden administration announced details about a program in which the US Postal Service would deliver COVID-19 tests to Americans’ homes, email security firm Proofpoint Inc. told Bloomberg News. The look-alike URLs are often meant to trick COVID-weary Americans into thinking they are signing up for a free nasal swab, when in fact they might be handing personal data over to a cybercrime syndicate, cybersecurity experts said.

UK ‘partygate’ report criticizes ‘failures of leadership’ — 9:54 a.m.

By Bloomberg News

A major report into allegations of rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street has found “failures of leadership and judgment” at the top of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” senior civil servant Sue Gray said in her long-awaited report, released on Monday. While a parallel police investigation means Gray was asked to exclude her conclusions on the most damaging allegations against Johnson and his team, the release of her report still represents a moment of political peril for the prime minister. He’s due to speak in the House of Commons later on Monday to address the findings and will later also talk to Tory MPs.

Johnson is trying to draw a line under the steady drip-drip of allegations, dubbed “Partygate” by the UK media. They’ve undermined his leadership in recent months, leading some lawmakers within his own ruling Conservatives to talk openly about toppling the prime minister and causing his party to plunge in the polls. Gray since December has been investigating reports of more than a dozen apparently rule-breaking events at Johnson’s office and in other government departments in 2020 and 2021, at a time when gatherings were banned as part of restrictions to tackle COVID-19. She was preparing to release her report last week before London’s Metropolitan Police said they were opening their own investigation into the most serious allegations. The police on Friday issued a statement saying they’d asked Gray to only make “minimal reference” to the events they’re investigating.

Joe Rogan responds to Spotify protest, COVID advisories — 9:13 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Following protests of Spotify kicked off by Neil Young over the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, the music streaming service said that it will add content advisories before podcasts discussing the virus.

In a post Sunday, Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek laid out more transparent platform rules given the backlash stirred by Young, who on Wednesday had his music removed from Spotify after the tech giant declined to get rid of episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” which has been criticized for spreading virus misinformation.