Given the high level of COVID-19 infections

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.4 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 821,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 61.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latest headlines:
3 Americans testing positive every second
Fauci recommends against big New Year’s parties
WHO concerned omicron, delta leading to ‘tsunami’ of cases
US daily case average nearly triples in 1 month
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern.
Dec 30, 11:11 am
Secretary of Education says students should be in classrooms despite omicron variant

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Thursday that students should be back in classrooms after winter break despite the surge of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“If you’re fully staffed to provide a staff school environment, students should be in the classroom full-time, every day,” he told “Good Morning America’s” Whit Johnson.

“We’ve done this before. We did it before vaccines were available. If you recall, we re-opened schools this year right at the height of the delta variant,” Cardona said.

Several school districts across the country said they will require negative tests from students before they can enter classrooms, but Cardona said he doesn’t know if that’s necessary.

“I do believe all students should have access to testing, but I don’t know that it needs to be required,” he said.

He continued, “We need to make sure they get into class safely and stay in the classroom.”

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Dec 30, 10:25 am
FDA and NIH studying why omicron variant may affect rapid tests

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says “studies are underway” examining why the omicron variant may make rapid COVID tests less effective.

Stephanie Caccomo, a spokeswoman for the FDA, told ABC News the agency will collaborate with the National Health Institute’s (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program and select a variety of rapid tests to study.

However, Dr. Bruce Tromberg of the NIH — who is leading these studies — said Americans shouldn’t be discouraged from using rapid tests.

PHOTO: A person processes a self-administered at-home rapid Covid-19 test, in Easton, N.H., Dec. 7, 2021.

A person processes a self-administered at-home rapid Covid-19 test, in Easton, N.H., Dec. 7, 2021.
Tromberg told ABC’s Dr. Mark Abdelmalek that rapid tests are “extremely powerful and effective” at identifying people who are infected, with COVID which prevents them from spreading the virus.

“I have confidence that the tests that we have on our shelves can pick up omicron,” Tromberg added.

Testing companies also stressed that their tests still work to detect omicron, with Abbott saying Tuesday that the company has tested the popular BinaxNOW rapid test and found “equivalent sensitivity” compared to prior variants.

-ABC News’ Sony Salzman

Dec 30, 5:34 am
UK plans surge hospitals as ‘war footing’ for omicron

Hospitals across England were setting up “Nightingale surge hubs,” temporary structures capable of handling 100 patients, as they prepared for a potential wave of omicron patients.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service announced the plan on Thursday, a day after health officials recorded a new daily high for COVD-19 infections.

“Given the high level of COVID-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing,” NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said in a statement on Thursday.

The NHS said it would start with hubs at eight hospitals around the country. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement that an additional 4,000 beds could be added if necessary.

“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place,” Powis said.

Dec 30, 4:14 am
UK, Italy, Greece report record new daily cases

The United Kingdom, Italy and Greece broke records on Wednesday for daily new COVID-19 cases, according to government health officials.

The Greek government reported a record increase for new cases for a third consecutive day with 28,828 new cases and 72 COVID-19-related deaths.

About 64.3% of the population is fully vaccinated and 26.5% have received a booster or third dose, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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Health Minister Thanos Plevris announced on Wednesday that new restrictions will go into effect on Jan. 3, but Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported that the government has decided to put them into effect at 6 p.m. local time on Thursday.

Italian health authorities recorded another record increase on Wednesday with 98,0303 new COVID-19 cases and 148 deaths.

Semi-official ANSA reported Wednesday’s positivity rate is 9.5% and there are 1,185 patients in ICUs. About 51.7% of Italy’s residents are fully vaccinated and 24.9% have received a booster or 3rd dose, per the ECDC.

UK health officials recorded 183,037 new cases and 57 deaths. The record-setting new case number included five days of data from Northern Ireland, which last published data on Dec. 24, according to health officials.

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