Daily Briefing – 415

G7 Health Ministers: Threat of ‘Highly Transmissible’ Omicron Requires ‘Urgent Action’

G7 health ministers said Monday that the threat of what may be a ‘highly transmissible’ Covid-19 variant ‘requires urgent action’ worldwide. First identified in South Africa, Omicron has spread to at least 14 other countries, prompting several nations to step up containment measures. It could take “days to several weeks” to understand the level of severity of the variant, warned the World Health Organization (WHO), which flagged Omicron as a “variant of concern”.

health ministers praised South Africa on Monday for the work it has done in detecting the new Omicron variant and alerting others, and said they would work together to monitor the strain.

Read more at France 24

Biden: Omicron “Cause for Concern” Lockdowns NOT Part of COVID Winter Strategy

President Biden on Monday described the omicron variant of COVID-19 as a “cause for concern” but not a cause for panic, saying Americans getting vaccinated and getting their booster shots is the best defense against the virus. The president acknowledged the U.S. would see confirmed cases of the latest strain of the virus “sooner or later.”  He also said officials would release more guidance on how they plan to fight the spread of COVID-19 this winter, but promised it wouldn’t include lockdowns.

And he pleaded with Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that Anthony Fauci, his top medical adviser on the pandemic, believed the existing vaccines provide at least some protection against the omicron variant. 

Read more at The Hill

No Deal in Sight as Congress Nears Debt Limit Deadline

Congress is only a couple of weeks away from hitting the Dec. 15 deadline to raise the federal debt limit, and Senate Leaders don’t appear to be anywhere close to a deal. Democrats insist that Schumer will not burn up a week of Senate floor time to use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit with only Democratic votes. And Republicans say there’s no way that McConnell will be able to round up 10 Republican votes to quash an expected filibuster from conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and allow Democrats to pass debt limit legislation with a simple majority under regular order. 

At the same time, both leaders want to avoid another standoff that could threaten the nation’s credit rating and have stepped back from the combative rhetoric they were using in September and early October.

Read more at The Hill

Senate Fails to Advance Annual Defense Policy Bill

The Senate voted 45-51 to start winding down debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending levels and policy for the Pentagon. But that is short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the hurdle. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) was the only Republican to vote with Democrats to advance the bill, while Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against moving forward along with 46 GOP senators.

The setback comes amid a stalemate on allowing votes on amendments to the bill. Democrats are leaving the door open to trying to move the bill again. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took steps on Monday night to make it easier to force the vote for a second time.

Read more at the Washington Examiner

US COVID Update – Watching for Omicron – Infections Remain High

Covid-19 cases in the U.S. have been ticking upward since late October to an average of more than 90,000 a day in late November. Hospital admissions have inched upward as well. Data show a drop in cases over the past few days; there is often a reporting lag around holidays that is typically followed by a bump in new case numbers.

The new Omicron coronavirus variant has created another threat to the U.S. pandemic response.  Other variants have emerged and then faded when they were unable to compete with the dominant variant at the time. As of Nov. 20, more than 99.9% of sequenced cases in the U.S. were linked to the Delta variant that drove a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the country this summer and fall.

Read more at the WSJ

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of Monday November 29th:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 77.5 of all New Yorkers – 14,893,593 (plus 10,803 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,562,174 (plus 931).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 68.2% of all New Yorkers – 13,276,765 (plus 11,346).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,364,281 (plus 764). 

The Governor  updated COVID data through Sunday November 28th.  There were 41 COVID related deaths for a total of 59,168. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 2,829.

Seven Day Average Positivity Rate:

  • Statewide 4.12%
  • Mid-Hudson: 3.51%

Useful Websites:

Scientists Ask Whether Omicron Can Outrun Delta

As scientists race to understand the consequences of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, one of the most important questions is whether this new version of the coronavirus can outrun the globally dominant Delta variant. Many other questions remain, including whether Omicron will evade vaccine protection and whether it will cause more serious illness. But such characteristics would be far less concerning if the new variant remains relatively contained.

Several disease experts interviewed by Reuters said there are strong grounds already for believing that Omicron will render vaccines less effective. Omicron shares several key mutations with two previous variants, Beta and Gamma, that made them less vulnerable to vaccines. In addition, Omicron has 26 unique mutations, many of them in regions targeted by vaccine antibodies.

Read more at Reuters

Some Hospitals Prepare to Lose Staff Over Covid-19 Vaccination Mandate

Some hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers are preparing to operate without up to a third of their staff at the start of next year, if those workers don’t comply with a federal mandate to get vaccinated against Covid-19.  The Biden administration is requiring facilities that receive funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to have workers vaccinated by Jan. 4. Two dozen states are challenging the requirement in court. Many healthcare providers in those states and beyond are reviewing requests for religious and medical exemptions from the rule or firing workers who won’t get the shots.

Some healthcare employers are setting a hard line against exemptions, betting that will encourage more workers to get vaccinated. Others are being more permissive. And some are looking to hire workers who have left or been denied exemptions at other hospitals and clinics. The decisions add up to a major operational threat for some healthcare providers at a time when workers are in shorter supply than ever.

Read more at the WSJ

Retail Sales Surged Black Friday, Though the Day’s Impact is Diluted

While Black Friday has a strong hold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the last decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers. Stores diluted the day’s importance further by advertising Black Friday sales on more and more days. The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.

Traffic at retail stores on Black Friday dropped 28.3% compared with 2019 levels, according to preliminary data from Sensormatic Solutions. Traffic was up 47.5% compared with year-ago levels, Sensormatic said. Online, retailers rang up $8.9 billion in sales on Black Friday, down from the record of about $9 billion spent on the Friday after Thanksgiving a year earlier, according to data from Adobe Analytics.

Read more at CNBC

Report: Assessing the State of Digital Skills in the U.S. Economy

According to the OECD, fully one-third of working-age Americans possess even limited digital skills. One in six are unable to use email, web search, or other basic online tools.  The United States ranks just 29th out of 100 countries for the digital acumen of its workforce in business, technology, and data science.  This comes against a backdrop of increasing digital skills requirements for many U.S. occupations.

Digital skills are critical to higher wages—in fact, for every 10 percent increase in ICT-task intensity, the average U.S. worker’s salary increases 4 percent. The United States needs to increase its number of computer science graduates and concentrate particularly on women, who represented 37 percent of U.S. computer scientists in 1995, but just 24 percent today. The United States needs to significantly increase its investment in workforce training, including for digital skills. As a share of GDP, the federal government now invests less than half as much in such programs as it did 30 years ago.

Read more at ITIF

How Bad Are Weather Disasters for Banks?

Not very. We find that weather disasters over the last quarter century had insignificant or small effects on U.S. banks’ performance. This stability seems endogenous rather than a mere reflection of federal aid. Disasters increase loan demand, which offsets losses and actually boosts profits at larger banks. Local banks tend to avoid mortgage lending where floods are more common than official flood maps would predict, suggesting that local knowledge may also mitigate disaster impacts.

The Biden Administration recently declared climate change an “emerging and increasing threat to U.S. financial stability.” 

Read more at the NY Fed

Nissan Plans 50% Electric Vehicles Sales by 2030

Automaker Nissan wants half its global sales to be electric or hybrid vehicles by 2030 and plans to plough billions of dollars into the effort, it announced Monday. The move follows in the footsteps of other major global automakers, which have increasingly signaled a move towards electric and hybrid vehicles as concern about climate change grows.

Unveiling its new long-term plan, Nissan said it will launch 23 new models, including 15 new electric vehicles, in a bid to reach the 2030 goal.  Last year, only around 10% of Nissan’s global sales were EVs or hybrids, and the firm said the new target would help it achieve carbon neutrality across the lifecycle of its products by 2050.

Read more at IndustryWeek

Morgan Stanley Cuts Q1 2022 Brent Oil Forecast on Omicron Risks

Morgan Stanley on Monday cut its first quarter 2022 Brent crude price forecast to $82.50 per barrel from $95 on market expectations that the Omicron coronavirus variant could turn into a major headwind for oil demand.

The market appears to be pricing in the possibility that the new variant could prompt restrictions and cut oil demand. But while the beginning of next year could see excess supply, spare oil capacity was likely to be eroded by the end of 2022 as inventories draw down further from already low levels. “Brent prices rising above recent highs again is probably something from mid 2022 and beyond,” the bank said, while raising its third quarter Brent outlook to $90 a barrel from $85

Read more at Reuters

New Data, Analyses Take Some of the Shine Off Merck’s COVID Pill

(STAT News) New data, in addition to analyses by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, may take some of the shine off Merck’s experimental Covid-19 pill, molnupiravir. On Friday, the drug maker released full results from its study of the pill, molnupiravir, showing it reduced the risk of hospitalization by 30%, down from a decrease of 50% seen in an earlier analysis.

In the 1,433-patient study, fewer patients died when they received the treatment. There were nine deaths in the placebo group in the final analysis, and one in the molnupiravir group. The data were released as the FDA published its own analysis of molnupiravir ahead of a meeting of advisers being convened by the agency to vote on whether the medicine’s benefits outweigh its risks.

Read more at STAT News