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Coronavirus Update: With COVID cases rising fast, critics ask why there’s no push for masks in indoor settings

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A growing chorus of voices is questioning why there is no concerted effort to persuade Americans to wear face masks in public settings again as COVID cases, hospitalizations, fatalities and test-positivity rates rise across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to encourage people to keep up with vaccines and boosters and to urge others to do so too. But for now, there is no push for face masks or social distancing, the public safety measures that helped contain the spread of the virus at the peak of the pandemic.

The daily average for new cases stood at 65,528 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 56% from two weeks ago. Cases are climbing in 47 states, led by Mississippi, where they are up 356% from two weeks ago.

The average for hospitalizations is up 24% to 38,331. Hospitalizations are climbing in 44 states, led by Vermont, where they are up 83% from two weeks ago.

The number of COVID deaths is up 48% to a daily average of 468, a disappointing reversal of the declining trend seen over the past several months. The test-positivity rate has climbed 25% to 12%.

New York City and New York state have emerged as hot spots, with an average of 6,405 new cases a day in the state in the last week, the tracker shows. Cases are up 74% from two weeks ago.

The omicron strains called BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have become dominant in the Empire State, replacing BA.5. Both are sublineages of BA.5 but are more infectious than the original variant, meaning they can spread faster and more easily.

Meanwhile, other respiratory illnesses including flu, RSV and strep throat are also circulating, adding to the burden on healthcare systems.

Children are having an especially rough winter so far amid shortages of medicines to treat common childhood illnesses such as flu, ear infections and sore throats, CNN reported.

“Right now, we are having severe shortages of medications. There’s no Tamiflu for children. There’s barely any Tamiflu for adults. And this is brand-name and generic,” Renae Kraft, a relief pharmacist in Oklahoma City, told the network. Additionally, she said, “as far as antibiotics go, there’s not a whole lot.”

Physicians are reporting high numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu earlier than the typical winter peak. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what the early surge means for the winter months. Photo illustration: Kaitlyn Wang

Families have taken to social media to highlight their hunt for oseltamivir, the generic for Tamiflu, as well as for the antibiotics amoxicillin and augmentin, said CNN. And there is also a shortage of the inhaler albuterol, which helps open airways in the lungs, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Some two years after they were first introduced, COVID vaccines have prevented more than 3 million additional deaths and about 18 million additional hospitalizations in the U.S., according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund. More than 655 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the U.S., and 80% of the overall population has had at least one dose. “The swift development of the vaccine, emergency authorization to distribute widely, and rapid rollout have been instrumental in curbing hospitalization and death, while mitigating socioeconomic repercussions of the pandemic,” the authors wrote.

• Chinese universities say they will allow students to finish the semester from home in hopes of reducing the potential for a large COVID-19 outbreak during the January Lunar New Year travel period, the AP reported. It wasn’t clear how many schools were participating, but universities in Shanghai and nearby cities said students would be given the option of returning home early or staying on campus and undergoing testing every 48 hours. The Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 22, is traditionally China’s busiest travel season.

Some movie theaters in China reopened and COVID-testing booths were dismantled ahead of an announcement by authorities on Wednesday to scrap most testing and quarantine requirements. The changes come after nationwide protests against Beijing’s zero-COVID policy. Photo: Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

• The Nasdaq-listed 111 Inc.
YI,
+8.05%

has started retail sales of Pfizer’s
PFE,
+1.57%

oral COVID-19 treatment pill in China, according to the healthcare platform’s website, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The sales page for the Chinese platform on Tuesday showed it is now offering ​Paxlovid, the COVID medication that Beijing approved in February, for customers with positive results from polymerase chain reaction or antigen tests. Paxlovid has been used by medical practitioners to treat patients in China since March, when Shanghai was hit by a COVID outbreak, according to local media reports.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 650.1 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.65 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 99.5 million cases and 1,084,766 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 228.6 million people living in the U.S., equal to 68.9% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 42 million Americans have had the updated COVID booster that targets the original virus and the omicron variants, equal to 13.5% of the overall population.

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