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Omicron live updates: 11 medical center staffers test positive, some with new variant

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(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.2 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 793,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 60.4% 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:

Dec 09, 5:57 am
Omicron spreads but severe cases remain low in South Africa, WHO says

The World Health Organization said Thursday that preliminary data indicates hospitalizations in South Africa remain low, offering “signs of hope,” despite the fact that the omicron variant is spreading rapidly and weekly COVID-19 cases on the African continent have surged by 93%.

In the week ending on Dec. 5, southern Africa recorded a 140% hike in COVID-19 cases, the highest of any region on the continent for that period, mainly driven by an uptick in South Africa, according to the WHO. While researchers are still working to determine whether omicron is fueling the surge, the WHO said that emerging data from South Africa indicates the new variant may cause less severe illness. Data on COVID-19 hospitalizations across South Africa between Nov. 14 and Dec. 4 show that intensive care unit occupancy was only 6.3%, which the WHO said is very low compared with the same period when the country was facing the peak linked to the delta variant in July.

Furthermore, data from the same two-week period from one of the South African health districts most impacted by omicron show that out of more than 1,200 hospital admissions related to COVID-19, there were 98 patients receiving supplemental oxygen and only four on ventilators. The WHO cautioned that the data is “very preliminary with a small sample size and most of the people admitted to the health facilities were under the age of 40.”

Since omicron was first identified in southern Africa in November, confirmed cases of the variant have been reported in 57 countries around the world. In an effort to prevent the spread of the new variant, more than 70 countries have imposed travel bans that are mainly targeting southern African nations, some of which have yet to report any omicron cases, according to the WHO.

“With Omicron now present in nearly 60 countries globally, travel bans that mainly target African countries are hard to justify,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement Thursday. “Through the diligent surveillance efforts of African scientists, the new variant of concern was first detected on this continent, but it’s unclear if transmission was taking place silently in other regions. We call for science-based public health measures to counter the spread of COVID-19. The travel restrictions come at the height of the end-of-year tourist season, ravaging Africa’s economies, with a knock-on impact that is potentially devastating to the health of Africans.”

Dec 08, 9:44 pm
FDA authorizes antibody cocktail for use before COVID-19 exposure

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first monoclonal antibody therapy for use before COVID-19 exposure.

AstraZeneca’s Evusheld antibody cocktail can now be given to certain people for preventative use against the virus, including those who are moderately to severely immunocomromised due to a medical condition or medication, and those who have a history of severe adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine. People also must not be currently infected with COVID-19 or have been recently exposed to the virus.

In a recent Phase III clinical trial, AstraZeneca found that the therapy reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 infections by 83% in people who did not have the virus, had not been exposed to it and were unvaccinated, when compared to the placebo group.

AstraZeneca told ABC News it is testing the product against the new omicron variant and is “hopeful” that it will hold up against it. Results are expected to become available “within weeks,” the company said. So far, Evusheld has been found to neutralize all previous COVID-19 variants of concern, it said.

AstraZeneca said it has agreed to supply the U.S. government with 700,000 doses of Evusheld, which will be distributed to states and territories at no cost and on a pro-rata basis.

-ABC News’ Sasha Pezenik

Dec 08, 9:40 pm
New Hampshire deploying National Guard to hospitals amid surge

New Hampshire will be deploying National Guard members to hospitals statewide to provide support as the state sees a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Wednesday.

Seventy members will be deployed in the coming week and assist with food service and clerical work, officials said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will also be sending a team of 30 paramedics to help the hospitals with the highest COVID-19 burdens, the governor said.

There are 462 current COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, the highest since the pandemic began.

Dec 08, 8:48 pm
Senate votes to repeal Biden mandate; won’t affect rule due to objection in House

The Senate passed a repeal of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate on private businesses with over 100 employees by a vote of 52-48 Wednesday night, but the mandate is not threatened due to opposition in the Democrat-controlled House.

Two Democrats crossed party lines and voted with Republicans to repeal the mandate. The votes cast by Sens. Joe Manchin, . and Jon Tester, D-Mont., were expected.

While the legislation has now passed the Senate, it will almost certainly not impact the mandate.

It’s unclear if the Senate-passed repeal will even be brought up in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not required to bring it up for a floor vote, and at least 218 signatures would be needed to force consideration. Even then, if the House were to pass it, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden would veto it should it land on his desk.

The mandate faces stiffer opposition in ongoing legal challenges from several Republican-led states.

-ABC News’ Allie Pecorin

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