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Post: Dec. 19, 2021

6th Circuit Panel Revives Vaccine Mandate, Supreme Court Showdown Looms

6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Friday reinstated a nationwide vaccine-or-testing COVID-19 mandate for large businesses, which covers 80 million American workers, prompting opponents to rush to the Supreme Court to ask it to intervene. The ruling lifted a November injunction that had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which applies to businesses with at least 100 workers.

The rule set a Jan. 4 deadline for compliance, although it was unclear if that will be enforced because the rule was blocked for weeks. Within hours of the ruling, at least three petitions were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to immediately block the mandate.

Read more at Reuters

Manchin Says He Will Not Vote for Build Back Better

 Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced Sunday that he will not vote for President Biden’s “mammoth” climate and social spending bill, essentially killing the White House’s top legislative priority. “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no on this legislation.”

“I have tried everything I know to do,” he added, closing the door on Democratic hopes that he might be persuaded to change his mind. He said he had worked “diligently” on the bill, meeting with Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other colleagues to find a way forward, but he added that he remains extremely concerned about inflation, the $29 trillion federal debt and a surge in new infections caused by the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Read more at The Hill

Fed: Industrial Production Increases 0.5% in November

U.S. industrial production increased 0.5% in November as output at the nation’s factories reached the highest level since January 2019. The November gain followed an even larger 1.7% increase in October, a rebound from a 1% decline in September, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. For November, manufacturing output rose 0.7%, led by an ongoing rebound in the auto sector, where output rose 2.2% following a 10.1% surge in October. Even with the gains, production from auto plants is 5.4% below the level of a year ago as manufacturers continue to deal with supply chain issues, particularly a shortage of computer chips.

There were severe supply chain problems afflicting manufacturers in September that reduced output at U.S. auto plants, on top of the adverse effects from refinery shutdowns along the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Ida.

Read more at the AP

NY Fed: The Region is Struggling to Recover from the Pandemic Recession

The pandemic struck the New York-Northern New Jersey region early and hard, and the economy is still struggling to recover nearly two years later. Indeed, employment fell by 20 percent in New York City as the pandemic took hold, a significantly sharper decline than for the nation as a whole, and the rest of the region wasn’t far behind, creating a much larger hole to dig out of than other parts of the country. While the region saw significant growth as the economy began to heal, growth has slowed noticeably, and job shortfalls—that is, the amount by which employment remains below pre-pandemic levels—are some of the largest in the nation.

Among major metro areas, job shortfalls in New York City, Buffalo, and Syracuse rank among the five worst in the country. Thus, despite much progress, the region is struggling to recover from the pandemic recession. By contrast, employment has rebounded above pre-pandemic levels in Puerto Rico, reaching a five-year high.

Read more at the NY Fed

US COVID – 800,000 Deaths

As of December 14, the US CDC reports 50.2 million cumulative COVID-19 cases and 797,877 deaths. Daily incidence has increased steadily since the most recent low on October 24, up from 64,152 new cases per day to 117,950 on December 14—+84% over that period. Daily mortality is currently 1,143 deaths per day and likely will rise as daily incidence continues to increase.  

The US has administered 488.3 million cumulative doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. There are 240 million individuals who have received at least 1 vaccine dose, equivalent to 72.3% of the entire US population. A total of 202.8 million individuals are fully vaccinated, which corresponds to 61.1% of the total population. Approximately 72.2% of adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 16.4 million children under the age of 18. Since August 13, 56.1 million fully vaccinated individuals have received an additional or booster dose, including 42.3% of fully vaccinated adults aged 65 years or older.

Read more at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of  December 19:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 82.0% of all New Yorkers – 15,441,664 (plus 30,413 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,607,328 (plus 2,545).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 70.9% of all New Yorkers – 13,785,028 (plus 17,668).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,409,994 (plus 2,593). 

The Governor  updated COVID data through December 18 .  There were 58 COVID related deaths for a total of 60,253. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 3,880.

7 Day Average Positivity Rate  – Cases per 100K population

  • Statewide 6.88%    –    83.26 positive cases per 100,00 population
  • Mid-Hudson: 6.08%   –  68.83 positive  cases per 100,00 population

Useful Websites:

Moderna Says Booster Shot Increases Antibody Levels Against Omicron

Moderna announced Monday that preliminary data suggests its half-dose booster shot increased antibody levels against Omicron compared with the levels seen when a fully vaccinated person does not receive a booster — and a larger-sized dose of the booster increases antibody levels even more.

Currently, Moderna’s booster is administered as a 50-microgram dose. The company announcement noted that its 50-microgram booster dose increased antibody levels 37-fold and a 100-microgram booster dose increased antibody levels 83-fold compared with levels seen before a booster. It remains unclear what these increases mean as far as how well the booster doses clinically work against Omicron. But in the company’s statement, CEO Stéphane Bancel called the data “reassuring.”

Read more at CNN

Hochul Addresses Plans for Statewide Vaccine Mandate in Schools

Governor Kathy Hochul plans to bring the requirement for all school-age children to New York. However, the decision must first pass the state legislature.  “This is certainly something health departments all across the country are looking at,” said Hochul, “Every vaccine children have before they go to school has to be authorized by state law. Not every state follows this.”

In addition to approval from the legislature, Hochul also says she is unable to take quicker action as she does not hold the same emergency powers as her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

Read more at WHAM

Test to Stay – New CDC Guidance Encourages More Testing to Limit School Quarantines

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said schools should limit quarantines by requiring testing for unvaccinated close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case.  “In the ‘test to stay’ protocol, there’s increased testing of close contacts after a COVID-19 exposure, and that testing needs to be at least twice in the seven-day period after exposure,” Walensky explained. “If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay in school instead of quarantining at home.”

The announcement elevates and updates existing guidance that some schools around the country have already been following. It could save, collectively, tens of millions of school days for students – assuming the typical 10- or 14-day quarantine – as the omicron variant spreads in the United States.

Read more at NPR

How Severe are Omicron Infections?

But as political leaders and public-health officials try to chart a course through oncoming Omicron surges, they must do so without a firm answer to a key question: how severe will those Omicron infections be? So far, the data are scarce and incomplete. “There is inevitably a lag between infection and hospitalization,” says infectious-disease epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “In the meantime, policy decisions have to be made and that’s not straightforward.”

Early results suggest a glimmer of hope. Reports from South Africa have consistently noted a lower rate of hospitalization as a result of Omicron infections compared with infections caused by the Delta variant.  BUT  On 13 December, Denmark released data showing that hospitalization rates for people infected with Omicron seemed to be on a par with those for people infected with other variants. But this comparison was based on only about 3,400 cases of Omicron infection and 37 hospitalizations. Similarly, a 16 December report from Imperial College London found no evidence of diminished hospitalizations from Omicron infections compared with Delta in England, although this was again based on relatively few cases. Overall, the numbers are still too small to draw firm conclusions.

Read more in Nature

Preliminary Laboratory Data Hint at What Makes Omicron the Most Superspreading Variant Yet

Omicron is now in 77 countries, and moving faster than any previous strain of the coronavirus. In the U.K. scientists believe it is behind this week’s record-setting surge in new infections. The new variant is already causing about 13% of cases in New York and Washington states, just two weeks after Omicron was first detected in the U.S. Nationwide. Omicron is rapidly eating into Delta’s dominance. And with insufficient testing and lag times in sequencing, it has likely gained even more ground than these numbers indicate.

But what exactly gives Omicron its competitive advantage has so far been unclear. New research from a Hong Kong University indicates that Omicron multiplied about 70 times faster inside respiratory-tract tissue than the Delta variant putting more virus in people’s airways, which could mean more virus in the air. When they ran tests with the lung tissue, they found Omicron was actually worse at infecting those cells than either Delta or the original strain of the virus that originated in Wuhan.

Read more at STAT News

Percentage of Workers Facing Vaccine Mandates Stalls at 36 Percent: Gallup

Thirty-six percent of U.S. workers are subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, the same figure the pollster recorded in October.  The survey indicates that workplace vaccine requirements have leveled off after consistently growing in popularity earlier this year. Between May and September, the percentage of workers facing a vaccine mandate increased from 5 percent to 29 percent, according to Gallup.

The poll found that 43 percent of workers say their employers encourage them to get vaccinated but do not require it, while 21 percent of employers do not have a vaccine policy.

Read more at The Hill

NY Fed Survey: Businesses Report Sharp Acceleration in Most Costs

Supplementary questions to the December Empire State Manufacturing Survey and Business Leaders Survey focused on recent and expected changes in the prices paid by firms for several major budget categories, including wages, employee benefits, insurance, energy, and other commodities. An identical set of questions had been asked in the December 2020 survey.

Far more businesses reported that supply disruptions had worsened over the past month than reported improvement: 60 percent of manufactures reported that the availability of supplies had worsened over
the past month, while fewer than 5 percent said it had improved. Still, these results were somewhat less
negative than in November. Looking ahead to the next month, 46 percent of manufacturers said they expect conditions to worsen, while just 9 percent predicted improvement. 

Read more at the NY Fed

Small Business Owners Are Optimistic Despite Inflation, Labor Shortages and Supply Chain Challenges

The Q4 2021 MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index (SBI) finds small business owners are increasingly optimistic despite headwinds from labor shortages, inflation and supply chain woes. According to the poll taken October 13 – 27, 2021, more than three in four (77%) small business owners are optimistic about the future of their business. In fact, 62% of small businesses say their business is in good health, up from 55% last quarter, while those who say their business is in very good health is 30% now, compared to 20-23% throughout 2021.

  • Three in five (60%) small businesses say they expect supply chain disruptions to make it difficult for their business to manage the holiday season this year.
  • Despite ongoing labor shortages across the country, 38% of small business owners plan to hire more workers next year, up from 28% last quarter.   
  • This quarter, inflation is among the top cited concerns for small business owners (23% ), along with revenue (26%) and COVID-19 safety/compliance (21%).

Read more at the US Chamber

NY HERO Act COVID-19 Designation Extended A Third Time

Acting NYS Commissioner of Health, Mary T. Bassett, M.D., M.P.H., announced the third extension of the designation of COVID-19 as a “highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health” through Jan. 15, 2022.  Accordingly, private employers should continue to have their NY HERO Act Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plans in place. 

The Commission of Health’s designation appears to rely in large part on the CDC’s community transmission levels. In light of the latest surge and the emergence of the new Omicron variant, it is difficult to predict with any degree of certainty whether the transmission in New York State will fall to a “moderate” or “low” levels in the course of the next month. 

Read more at Bond Schoeneck and King

Jobless Claims: 206,000 Filed New Claims

New weekly jobless claims ticked up slightly last week to hold near a 52-year low.

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Dec. 11: 206,000 vs. 200,000 expected and an upwardly revised 188,000 during prior week.
  • Continuing claims, week ended Dec. 4: 1.845 million vs. 1.943 million expected and an upwardly revised 1.999 million during prior week.

First-time unemployment filings fell sharply to reach their lowest level since 1969 in early December, coming in below 190,000.  And continuing claims, while still somewhat above pre-pandemic levels, have also come down sharply from their pandemic-era high. 

Read more at YahooFinance

I-9 Flexibility to Continue Through April 2022

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an extension of the flexibility in complying with requirements related to Form I‑9, Employment Eligibility Verification, due to COVID‑19.

This temporary guidance was set to expire Dec. 31, 2021. Because of ongoing precautions related to COVID‑19, DHS has extended the Form I‑9 requirement flexibility policy until April 30, 2022. Employers must monitor the DHS and ICE’s Workforce Enforcement announcements about when the extensions end and normal operations resume.

Read more at ICE

What to Do, and Not Do, if You Test Positive for Covid-19 or Have Contact with Someone Who Does

When you get a positive test result, you should quarantine immediately. It doesn’t matter whether you got a rapid test or a PCR test. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are the same whether you are unvaccinated, vaccinated or boosted: Isolate for 10 days.

Current CDC recommendations say people who are fully vaccinated don’t need to quarantine after contact with a Covid-19-positive person unless they are symptomatic. The agency does advise that close contacts get tested five to seven days after the exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms, and should wear a mask indoors in public until receiving a negative test result. If they don’t get tested, they should wear a mask in public indoors for 14 days following the exposure.

Read more at the WSJ