Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 28, 2021

The CDC cuts isolation time for people with asymptomatic COVID-19, airlines cancel more flights due to weather and coronavirus, and more

1

CDC reduces isolation time for asymptomatic coronavirus infections

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut the recommended isolation time for asymptomatic Americans infected with the coronavirus from 10 days to five. The decision was based on research showing that those first five days are when people are the most infectious, the CDC said. The agency also reduced the recommended quarantine time for people who are vaccinated but not boosted to five days after any coronavirus exposure. They also should wear masks for five days after their isolation is over. People who have received booster shots should wear masks for 10 days but don't need to isolate. "These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives" even as the Omicron variant spreads, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

2

Airlines cancel more flights as COVID limits crews

Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights on Monday due to winter storms and a coronavirus surge fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. The latest cancellations brought the total number of flights to, from, or within the United States to more than 4,000 since Christmas Eve on Friday, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight cancellations. Delta, United, JetBlue, and American have said in recent days that they've had to trim their schedules due to staff shortages caused by the COVID-19 surge. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's top medical adviser, said that the United States should consider requiring vaccinations for air travel to encourage more people to get vaccinated and help curb infections.

3

Biden admits supply of at-home COVID tests 'clearly not enough'

President Biden conceded Monday that although his administration has been working to increase the availability of over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 rapid tests, the efforts are "clearly not enough." During a virtual meeting with the National Governor's Association on the spike in cases fueled by the Omicron coronavirus variant, Biden told 25 governors that when he took office there were no such tests available. He said there were almost 200 million kits available in December, but it's still insufficient to meet demand as the Omicron coronavirus variant spreads rapidly. Biden said his recently announced plan for the government to purchase 500 million at-home test kits and distribute them free to Americans who request them should help.

4

South Africa starts week of events to honor Desmond Tutu

South Africa on Monday started a week of events to honor Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town who died Sunday at age 90. Bells rang at noon at Cape Town's St. George's Cathedral and other churches to encourage people to reflect on Tutu's life of activism for racial equality and LGBT rights. On Wednesday, an ecumenical service is scheduled in Johannesburg, where Tutu served as the area's first Black bishop in 1985, a year after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid. On Friday, Tutu's body will lie in state at St. George's Cathedral, where a Requiem Mass will be held Saturday. Then Tutu's body will be cremated and his ashes placed in the cathedral's mausoleum.

5

New York vaccine mandate on businesses takes effect

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday launched the nation's broadest vaccine mandate on private businesses. Under the policy, all employers in the city must verify that in-person workers have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. If in-person workers got the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, they must provide proof they got the second dose within 45 days. De Blasio, who is in his last week as mayor, said he was "100 percent convinced this was the right thing to do." It was not immediately clear what his successor, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, would do about the mandate. Some business leaders have said the city should give workers the option of taking regular COVID-19 tests instead of getting the shots.

6

Virginia workers find 2nd time capsule at Lee statue site

Virginia officials said Monday that they had found what appeared to be an 1887 time capsule at the former site of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Crews previously unearthed a box they thought was the collection of artifacts 19th-century officials were rumored to have placed under the monument, but it turned out to contain just mementos of men who designed the statue. This time, Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted, "They found it!" The time capsule the crews were searching for is believed to contain about 60 objects buried in a copper box by a group of residents, organizations, and businesses, according to an 1887 Richmond Dispatch article. The artifacts included Confederate memorabilia.

7

Israeli hospital tests 4th vaccine dose for health-care workers

Israel's Sheba Medical Center on Monday started giving a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose to a test group of health-care workers as the country considers giving an extra shot to people at risk of severe COVID-19 as the Omicron variant drives a spike in infections. The trial involves 150 medical workers who got their first booster before Aug. 20, and have antibody counts below 700, meaning they have low protection, the hospital said in a statement. "It's one jab in the shoulder, but one giant leap for mankind," said Jacob Levee, director of the hospital's heart transplant unit and the first recipient of the fourth vaccine at Sheba. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the country would be the first to offer a fourth Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose to health workers, citizens over age 60, and people with compromised immune systems.

8

Judge sets hearing to reconsider truck-driver's 110-year sentence

A Colorado judge on Monday scheduled a Jan. 13 hearing to reconsider a 110-year sentence imposed on truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos for an explosive crash that killed four people in suburban Denver. The severity of the sentence provoked outrage. District Attorney Alexis King said last week she would seek a sentence of 20 to 30 years for the fiery, 2019 wreck on Interstate 70. About five million people have signed an online petition calling for clemency from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D). Judge Bruce Jones said he wanted to explore whether he could legally reduce the sentence to whatever he deemed appropriate. He said victims of the crash would be allowed to speak at the hearing. Aguilera-Mederos was hauling lumber when his brakes failed and he plowed into stopped traffic after failing to use a runaway truck ramp.

9

LAPD release video after police stray bullet killed girl, 14 

Los Angeles police released body-camera video showing officers responding to a Dec. 23 report of an assault suspect in a clothing store before they opened fire, killing a 14-year-old girl with a stray bullet as she hid in a dressing room. The scene was chaotic, with several officers approaching the suspect with guns drawn. The girl apparently was hit by one of three rifle shots a police officer fired at the suspect, Daniel Elena-Lopez, who was killed, police said. Other officers can be heard telling the officer who fired to "slow down." Local media have identified the girl as Valentina Orellana-Peralta. She reportedly came to the United States from Chile six months ago, and was shopping with her mother for a dress for her quinceañera, a 15th birthday celebration in Hispanic traditions.

10

U.S. skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin tests positive for COVID-19

U.S. alpine skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin announced via Twitter on Monday that she has tested positive for COVID-19. Shiffrin, a 26-year-old three-time Olympic medalist, is the first high-profile American athlete to be infected with the coronavirus in the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics, which start on Feb. 4. Her illness served as a reminder that between now and the opening ceremony, anyone can be knocked out of competition at any time as many countries see record numbers of new infections due to the highly infectious new Omicron coronavirus variant. Shiffrin said she was in isolation and would miss this week's World Cup races in Lienz, Austria. A spokesperson for U.S. Ski and Snowboard said Shiffrin hoped to return for a World Cup tour event in Zagreb, Croatia, next week.

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