As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, COVID infections are filling some hospitals to capacity, straining over-stretched medical staff. In some places, the situation is so serious that nurses and other workers who have tested positive are being allowed to stay on the job if they have mild cases or no symptoms.
As vaccines have done little to stop Omicron, the Supreme Court verdict is still out on President Biden's vaccine mandate. Businesses and the government eagerly await the high court's pending decision. But since the court hasn't released its ruling, businesses with more than 100 employees have to either enforce the vaccine mandate or prepare for weekly testing as ordered by the Biden administration.
In America's hospitals right now, medical staff are feeling swamped by the flood of cases. Dr. Jeffrey Munson from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said, "This surge that we're experiencing now is the largest volume of patients that have been the sickest. So, in many ways, this has been the worst."
More than 141,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID – that's a new pandemic record. And the number of deaths is reportedly up 34 percent in just the last week.
In New Jersey, the number of patients needing ventilators has doubled since Christmas. "We're in the thick of this latest fight against the omicron tsunami washing across the state," said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
About 25 percent of U.S. hospitals are reporting a critical staffing shortage. In California, it's so desperate they're allowing COVID positive health care workers who are asymptomatic to get back to work.
Concern for kids is also growing. A record-breaking 580,000 kids have tested positive – a 78 percent increase in the past week.
In Chicago, the standoff between educators over COVID policy in schools is ending. Overnight, the teacher's union approved a plan to return to classrooms.
On the testing front, starting this weekend at-home test kits will be covered by private insurance. Americans will be able to buy up to eight of them a month – that is if they're available.
And on masking, a new study shows it can take about half an hour for two people wearing cloth masks to pass the virus to each other. That's compared to about 25 hours when both are wearing n-95 masks.
"The higher grade masks are really good to protect people because they not only have a more proper fit, they have a better seal -- but they also have a better filtration device and they have an electrostatic potential to actually repel the virus," said Dr. Alok Patel of Stanford Children's Health.
The CDC is now weighing an update on its mask guidance.
As for the fate of Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers, many analysts doubt it will survive the conservative-leaning Supreme Court which appeared skeptical last week.