(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 807,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
About 61.5% 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 21, 9:29 am
Biden to announce plan to send 500 million free rapid tests to Americans
President Joe Biden will speak to the public at 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, announcing new steps to combat the pandemic.
Biden will announce a plan to distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January. The free at-home rapid tests will be delivered by mail to Americans who request them. Americans will have to request the tests through a website that will launch in January, a senior administration official said.
The president is also set to introduce new federal testing sites around the U.S., the first several of which will launch in New York City by Christmas.
The government will also mobilize 1,000 military doctors and nurses to overburdened hospitals, the senior administration official said. There are currently 175 troops spread over four states, and since August 2021, when a joint military operation across the Army, Navy and Air Force began, about 530 medical military personnel have been deployed to work alongside civilian health care providers.
-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett, Sarah Kolinovsky
Dec 21, 8:59 am
Massachusetts activates National Guard to help hospitals
Massachusetts will activate up to 500 National Guard members as the state faces a “critical staffing shortage,” Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said Tuesday.
Besides a staffing shortage, hospitals are also seeing an influx of patients, but many patients are from “non-COVID related reasons,” the office said.
Beginning Dec. 27, all hospitals will be directed to postpone or cancel nonessential elective procedures that are likely to result in hospital admission.
Massachusetts has also updated its mask guidance, recommending that everyone, including those vaccinated, wear a mask in indoor, public places.
-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos
Dec 21, 8:19 am
Fauci on omicron’s ‘unprecedented’ spread
Dr, Anthony Fauci on Tuesday called omiron’s spread “unprecedented.”
“It is really extremely unusual,” he told Good Morning America. “It’s a doubling time of two to three days, closer to two days. Which means that if you start off with a few percentage of the isolates being omicron, and you do the math and double that every couple of days, it’s not surprising that just a week or two ago we had only 8% to 10%, and now we have 73% of all the isolates are omicron. That’s truly unprecedented in the rapidity with which a virus spreads.”
Fauci predicted omicron’s peak will be soon.
“It’s going to be a matter of a couple of weeks that we then start to see just as dramatic a decline,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”
“When you have something that goes up this quickly, often you see it come right back down. Because what will happen is that either almost everyone is either going to get infected, particularly the unvaccinated, or be vaccinated,” he said. “And the vaccinated people will either be — particularly the boosted people, and it’s very important to underscore right now the importance of getting boosted — that those people will either be protected from infection, or if they do get infected, they’ll have a relatively mild course of infection.”
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday recommended delaying or canceling holiday events, saying, “an event canceled is better than a life canceled.”
Fauci told GMA that family gatherings are safe if you know everyone is vaccinated.
“When you have a family setting, for example, parents, grandparents, children, who are vaccinated, you should have an enjoyable Christmas and holiday gathering, dinner, whatever in your own home,” Fauci said. “What you want to stay away from is indoor congregant sittings in which you do not know the vaccination status of the people around you. That would be quite risky.”
Dec 21, 3:05 am
Broadway’s ‘Harry Potter’ cancels Christmas week performances
The Broadway shows “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “Hadestown” canceled their Christmas week performances, citing rising breakthrough COVID-19 cases.
“We will enchant you another time and apologize for the inconvenience,” said a notice posted on the “Harry Potter” Twitter account late on Monday night.
The two shows added to a growing list of those cancelling performances amid the spread of the omicron variant. “Hamilton” and “Aladdin” both announced they’d stay dark until after Christmas.
Another Broadway musical, “Jagged Little Pill,” based on Alanis Morissette’s catalog, said on Monday it would close its doors for good.
The producers of “Pill” said in a Twitter post that the spread of the omicron variant “appears to be another substantial public health crisis.” Members of the production’s company tested positive for COVID-19, the post said.
Dec 20, 7:43 pm
Biden tests negative after close contact with positive staff member
President Joe Biden was exposed to a staff member who recently tested positive for COVID-19, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Monday evening.
Biden was near the staff member for about 30 minutes on Air Force One on Friday, during a trip to Philadelphia from South Carolina, according to Psaki.
The staff member, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, tested negative Friday morning, but tested positive Monday, according to the White House.
The president received an antigen test Sunday and a PCR test Monday, and both came back negative, Psaki said in a statement. He will receive another test Wednesday, she said.
“As CDC guidance does not require fully vaccinated people to quarantine after an exposure, the president will continue with his daily schedule,” Psaki said in a statement.
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Dec 20, 6:51 pm
U.S. records what’s believed to be 1st known omicron related death
Health officials in Texas announced Monday that it recorded the first death related to the omicron COVID-19 variant.
This is believed to be the first known recorded omicron death in the U.S.
Harris County Health officials would only say the victim was “a man in his 50s,” who was unvaccinated and had underlying health conditions..
Public health officials do not think omicron is more virulent than previous variants, but they do say in general vaccination and a booster shot when eligible appears to lower your risk for severe illness.
Dec 20, 6:39 pm
More military teams to be deployed to hospitals
The military announced it is sending two teams to hospitals in Wisconsin and Indiana to assist with rising COVID-19 cases.
The 20-person teams include nurses, respiratory therapists, and medical doctors from the U.S. Navy.
They will be assisting Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis starting on Christmas Day and Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin starting on New Year’s Eve, according to a U.S. Army North spokesperson.
Ten other military teams have been deployed to hospitals in five other states.
-ABC News’ Matt Seyler
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