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CDC advisory panel recommends youths 12-15 should get a booster:

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Flight cancellations: What to know before booking a flight this winter

Travel troubles may be here to stay this winter with storms exacerbating crew staffing challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just the FAQs, USA TODAY

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted 13-1 Wednesday in favor of recommending that people ages 12 to 15 get a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The extra shot may be given at least five months after conclusion of the original two-dose regimen.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is expected to quickly sign off on the recommendation by the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, clearing the way for the extra doses to be given right away. The committee also strengthened its recommendation that 16- and 17-year-olds also should get a booster. Previous guidance said that age group “may” get a shot.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the booster earlier this week, basing its decision largely on data from Israel that found no new safety concerns when 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds got a Pfizer booster five months after their second dose.

The booster is considered a crucial weapon against the pandemic as students return to classrooms following winter break amid a historic, omicron-driven surge in cases. Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older.

 The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only U.S. option for children of any age. About 13.5 million 12- to 17-year-olds – just over half that age group population – have received two Pfizer shots, according to the CDC.

The CDC committee emphasized that primary vaccinations and masking are even more important than boosters in preventing severe disease and transmission. Boosters for healthy children are helpful, particularly during the current major outbreak, but less essential, several committee members said. Immunocompromised adolescents are already entitled to extra shots.

Also in the news:

►The U.S. averaged 491,000 new infections daily over the last seven-day period, almost double the previous seven days, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Wednesday. Hospitalizations were up 63%, she said.

►The Mayo Clinic confirmed it is firing 700 employees who did not comply with its policy to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday. The dismissed employees make up less than 1% of the Minnesota-based clinic’s workforce.

►Starbucks says its U.S. workers must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 9 or face a weekly COVID testing requirement. The Seattle-based coffee giant said it was acting in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which issued a vaccine-or-test requirement for companies with more than 100 employees in November.

►A new coronavirus variant, dubbed IHU based on the French institute where it was first identified, has infected more than 10 people but is not considered a variant of interest or concern by the World Health Organization. 

►A New York teacher was arrested after she injected a teenager with a COVID-19 vaccine without the parents’ consent, the Nassau County Police Department announced on Monday. Laura Parker Russo, 54, was charged with unauthorized practice of a profession, according to a news release.

Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 57 million confirmed COVID-19 cases – or one for every six people in the country – and more than 830,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 295.5 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 205.8 million Americans – 62% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

What we’re reading: US coronavirus cases surge past previous records: How omicron is shaping the pandemic.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

The COVID death of a Southern California politician who opposed vaccine mandates has stirred a heated debate about inoculations on her husband’s Facebook page.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby, a Republican who ran for the state Assembly in 2020 and planned to pursue a seat again this year, died of COVID this week at 46.

Ernby had opposed government-required vaccinations for children in the past and as recently as December voiced her resistance to mandating COVID vaccines, saying, “There’s nothing that matters more than our freedoms right now.”

Her death from the disease sparked a firestorm of social media responses, and some commenters expressed their condolences to her husband, Mattias Ernby. However, others had more pointed remarks, including one named Len Thomas who wrote, “If your Wife would have been vaccinated, She’d still be alive.”

No one’s words were as poignant as those of Mattias Ernby, who in correcting those who claimed Kelly Ernby had gotten the COVID vaccine, wrote: “She was NOT vaccinated. That was the problem.”

The U.S. and other developed countries are pondering a second booster for their populations, but a co-creator of the AstraZeneca vaccine warns that “we can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months.”

“It’s not sustainable or affordable,” Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the Daily Telegraph. Pollard said the vaccination effort must target the vulnerable. 

Pollard estimates that 9 billion COVID vaccine doses, including those made by AstraZeneca, have been given worldwide since the first non-trial doses were jabbed in late 2020. He said the effort to keep everyone protected from infection must be abandoned.

“At some point, society has to open up. When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time,” he told the Telegraph. “But that’s a decision for the policymakers, not the scientists.”

Pollard, in an interview with Sky News, said it is too early to say whether future coronavirus variants will be milder than those that emerged earlier in the pandemic. “I don’t think we can be sure at this moment that future versions of coronavirus, the sons and daughters of omicron, will be causing mild disease,” he added.

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in challenges to two federal vaccine requirements Friday at a time when the omicron variant is causing infections to soar. While the justices have repeatedly turned away challenges to state and local COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Biden administration is all but guaranteed to face a tougher reception. Federal courts have long recognized the power state and local governments have to regulate public health. But the federal government is a different story.  

Brandon Trosclair, a second-generation grocer and former Republican candidate for legislative office in Louisiana, filed suit challenging the federal requirement that his workers get vaccinated.

” I just thought it was incredibly wrong to put that burden on the employer as well as … on the employee.” Read more here.

John Fritze

Texas Children’s Hospital announced this week that tests confirmed a child was infected with influenza A and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The patient was not hospitalized and is recovering at home, the hospital said. Health experts expect to see more “flurona” amid rapidly rising flu and coronavirus cases

“I expect to see plenty of co-infections going forward, but I don’t see anything that suggests it makes COVID infections worse,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “Those are two viral pathogens that we actually have medicines for.”

Adrianna Rodriguez

As COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant continue to surge, entertainment specials and events are once again getting canceled or postponed. The Critics Choice Awards show set for Sunday was postponed. So was the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, originally scheduled for next Monday. “Late Night with Seth Meyers” was canceled all week after the star tested positive. Broadway is also struggling. “Mrs. Doubtfire” producer Kevin McCollum announced the musical would take a hiatus from Jan. 10 to March 14. Read more here

“Mrs. Doubtfire has been in development for six years. We are doing everything in our power to keep the virus from prematurely ending our run on Broadway,” McCollum said. “By taking this break we can afford to launch an extended run starting in March.”

As common as cloth face masks have become, health experts say they do little to prevent tiny virus particles from getting into your nose or mouth and aren’t effective against the omicron COVID variant. Omicron spreads more quickly and efficiently than other known COVID-19 variants, making it extremely transmissible – even through thick fabric face masks. The experts are urging the public to opt for three-ply surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious variant. Several countries, such as Germany and Austria, have surgical masks requirements in public.

“Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron,” Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech told NPR.

Gabriela Miranda

A new year and the new strain of the coronavirus are resurrecting familiar problems for the nation’s millions of college students. Some universities have already decided to offer the first weeks of the spring semester virtually. And those offering an in-person start say digital instruction is still a possibility. What’s more, some that had rolled back COVID-19 precautions have reinstated those measures, such as the University of Alabama, which reintroduced its masking requirements. 

Davidson College professor Chris Marsicano, who leads the College Crisis Initiative to study how colleges respond to the pandemic, says about 10% of the 400 major universities the group has reviewed so far plan to start online for the spring semester.

“This is not like last fall, where going online for a little bit could mean going online forever,” he said. “All indications are that any delay or remote start will be followed up shortly thereafter by a return to normal operations.”

Chris Quintana

Hospital admissions averaged 14,800 per day last week, up 63% from the week before but still short of the peak of 16,500 per day a year ago when the vast majority of the U.S. was unvaccinated. Public health experts suspect that lower hospitalization numbers reflect the vaccine’s continued effectiveness at preventing serious illness, even against omicron, as well as the possibility that the variant does not make most people as sick as earlier versions.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, a global health center at Columbia University, said the case count does not appear to be the most important number now. Instead, she said, the U.S. should be “shifting our focus, especially in an era of vaccination, to really focus on preventing illness, disability and death, and therefore counting those.”

Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district voted Tuesday to switch to remote learning, prompting Chicago Public Schools to cancel Wednesday classes for its 330,000 students. The Chicago Teachers Union voted to pause in-person learning and work remotely until Jan. 18, or until COVID-19 cases fall below a particular threshold. The union, which has roughly 25,000 members, is also demanding the district require negative tests from students and staff before returning to school.

“This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety,” the union said in a statement.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the vote constituted an “illegal work action.” She said a shift back to virtual learning would disproportionately affect children of color – and that teachers who did not show up will not be paid. “What we should not be doing is allowing CTU leadership to shut down an entire school system,” Lightfoot said.

– Grace Hauck and Christine Fernando

Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in the coming weeks.

There is a difference between isolation and quarantine. Quarantine means keeping someone who was in close contact with someone who has COVID away from others. Isolation means keeping someone who is sick or tested positive for COVID-19 without symptoms away from others, even in their own home, according to the CDC.

If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to quarantine unless you have symptoms. But the CDC says isolating is a necessary step if you test positive whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and whether you have symptoms or feel fine.

The CDC in late December shortened the time it recommends people isolate, saying: “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.” 

Read the CDC’s updated guidance on isolating and quarantining.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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