Biden Outlines Strategy to Address Omicron – Will Buy 500 Million At Home Test Kits
In speech Tuesday Mr. Biden stressed that Americans should take the Omicron variant seriously, but shouldn’t panic. The president told vaccinated Americans who are following public health guidelines that they should feel comfortable spending the holidays with their families. Unvaccinated Americans, however, are at much greater risk of hospitalization and death, he warned.
The White House said the administration is:
- deploying federal emergency medical response teams to six states: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.
- Instructed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to prepare to send 1,000 military medical personnel—including doctors, nurses and paramedics—to hospitals in January and February as needed.
- Positioned supplies such as masks, gowns and ventilators around the country so they can be quickly sent to states that need them, the president said.
- Setting up new federal testing sites around the country, with the first opening in New York City this week.
- At-home testing kits from 500 million being purchased by the government will begin to be distributed to the public free by mail through a new website, according to the White House.
U.S. Mulls Reducing COVID Quarantine Time Amid Omicron Surge
U.S. health authorities are considering reducing the 10-day recommended quarantine period for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 as the Omicron variant tears across the country, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday. Reducing the CDC’s 10-day quarantine recommendation would help asymptomatic people return to work or school, with the proper precautions, Fauci told CNN.
The measure is being considered particularly in the context of healthcare workers, as the number of COVID cases rises together with the need for healthcare personnel, he said.
Manufacturers Maintain Optimism — and Worries
Manufacturers have largely maintained their optimism when it comes to their economic outlook, but they’re deeply concerned about issues such as inflation, hiring and potential tax increases targeting them, according to the NAM’s fourth-quarter 2021 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey. Yet worries over the increased cost of raw materials, the labor shortage, supply chain issues and legislation that would unfairly target manufacturers are at the forefront of manufacturers’ minds.
Key takeaways from the survey include the following:
- Some 86.8% of manufacturers had a positive perspective on economic matters in Q4, down slightly from 87.5% in Q3.
- 87.1% of respondents said the higher cost of raw materials is their number-one concern.
- 85.2% have open jobs they cannot fill.
- 73.6% said supply chain bottlenecks had a negative impact on their company’s production, hiring and overall business outlook.
Second Wave of Supply Chain Woes Loom in 2022
How will supply chains evolve in 2022 and will the challenges around semiconductor finally shortages be addressed? This is perhaps an issue of more hope than reality as challenges are set to continue. To gain an insight into supply chain dynamics, Digital Journal caught up with Mark Adams, CEO at SGH.
According to Adams: “I fully expect current constraints on supply chains and specifically as it impacts the semiconductor industry to continue for much, if not all, of 2022, with possibly some easing to begin in Q4 ‘22 or early ‘23. We’ve seen a 30-plus year decline in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.” Moving onto a more parochial U.S. perspective, Adams continues: “The current situation has exposed our vulnerability in so heavily relying on overseas manufacturers. It has also underscored the importance and critical opportunity to reinvest in this industry, up-level domestic production and increase self-reliance.”
US COVID – Rise of Omicron
In the US, Omicron now accounts for 73.2% of the total number of SARS-CoV-2 infections, compared to 1 week ago when it accounted for only 12.6% of all infections. As of December 20, 48 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, have reported cases of Omicron. Even if the variant proves to be less severe, the shear volume of cases (currently doubling every 1.5 to 3 days) has healthcare facilities are bracing for a surge in hospitalizations.
Preliminary data suggest all of the vaccines appear to provide protection against severe disease, but most of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines used worldwide may offer little defense against infection. According to a not-yet-peer-reviewed analysis from Imperial College London, Omicron can largely evade vaccine-induced immunity or immunity from a past infection, The researchers estimated that vaccine effectiveness (for AstraZeneca-Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines) against symptomatic Omicron infection is between 0% and 20% after 2 doses and between 55% and 80% after a booster dose. Still, some experts are saying that a 3-dose vaccination schedule will be necessary and some evidence shows the time between a second and third dose can be shortened from 6 months to 3 months.
NYS Vaccine and COVID Update
Vaccine Stats as of December 21:
One Vaccine Dose
- 82.3% of all New Yorkers – 15,475,544 (plus 22,035 from a day earlier).
- In the Hudson Valley 1,612,254 (plus 3,479).
- 71.1% of all New Yorkers – 13,825,894 (plus 11,425).
- In the Hudson Valley – 1,412,573 (plus 1,689).
The Governor updated COVID data through December 20 . There were 57 COVID related deaths for a total of 60,624.
- Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 4,328.
7 Day Average Positivity Rate – Cases per 100K population
- Statewide 7.88% – 104.01 positive cases per 100,00 population
- Mid-Hudson: 6.42% – 80.56 positive cases per 100,00 population
Omicron Severity – Two Modeled Scenarios
An initial study on the severity of the Omicron variant conducted in South Africa suggests that adults are approximately 30% less likely to be hospitalized due to severe COVID-19 now than during the Delta surge. Health experts from the region also claim that hospitalized patients are less likely to end up on ventilators or require intensive care, on average, than during previous surges of COVID-19. However, scientists and public health officials have been quick to point out that the mild reactions to Omicron in South Africa may not be seen in Europe and the US.
In the US, researchers from the Covid-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin looked at 18 different scenarios for Omicron, warning that under the most pessimistic model, “Omicron could lead to the largest healthcare surge to date, unless measures are taken to slow spread.” The data have not yet been peer-reviewed. Under an optimistic scenario in which Omicron is 50% more transmissible than Delta, but far less immune evasive (with only 10% reduction in protection against infection and no reduction in protection against severe outcomes), we project a significantly milder Omicron surge that peaks in January 18, 2022 with cases, hospital admissions, and deaths reaching levels that are 0.32-0.64 times the the January 2021 peak.
Will More Employers Follow Kroger’s Policy of Penalties for Unvaccinated Workers?
Kroger announced last week that it will eliminate paid leave for unvaccinated employees who get COVID-19 and require some of them to pay a monthly health insurance surcharge starting next year, a further sign that employers are getting more serious about COVID-19 strategies.
Kroger’s move is significant as it sends strong messages to employees who choose not to be vaccinated, and it may spur other employers to follow suit, says Carol Morrison, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). “We know that HR and talent leaders in other organizations are closely following these actions and studying the strategies their peers are using elsewhere as well to address concerns about unvaccinated workers,” she says.
Covid-19 Tests Get Harder to Find as Omicron Variant Spreads
Waiting times for Covid-19 tests are growing in parts of the U.S. as concerns over the Omicron variant, new infections and the coming holidays drive up demand. Many laboratories are still processing tests within a day or two and have the capacity to meet the heightened demand, said lab operators and pharmacies. But worker shortages at pharmacies have meant that securing testing appointments could take days or longer in places where Covid-19 cases are surging, and fast-acting at-home tests are out of stock in some cases at stores and online.
Websites for CVS Health Corp. CVS -1.04% and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA -1.70% showed some parts of the country with no available testing appointments until later next week or more than a week out. CVS said people might need to wait a couple of days to get a test appointment in places where demand is high. A Walgreens spokeswoman said availability varies by region. Health officials and infectious-disease experts expect demand for tests to rise further in the weeks ahead as holiday gatherings collide with concerns over the Omicron variant, rising Covid-19 cases and the spread of other respiratory diseases.
Administration to Make 20,000 More H-2B Visas Available for Temporary Workers
The visas are being made available in addition to 33,000 visas already set aside for seasonal employers, such as landscapers, hotels and ski resorts, for the winter hiring season. They will be available to employers looking to bring on temporary workers on or before March 31. The seasonal-worker program, known as the H-2B visa program, enables U.S. employers to hire as many as 66,000 temporary foreign workers a year, with the allotments split evenly between the winter and summer seasons. Since 2017, Congress has permitted the department each year to raise that cap by as many as 64,000 additional visas, though neither the Trump nor Biden administrations have approached that limit despite demand.
Of the 20,000 additional visas, 6,500 will be set aside for applicants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti—all countries that have sent large numbers of migrants to the U.S. border in recent months. The remainder will be set aside for returning workers from any country.
As Inflation Rises, Cost-of-Living Raises Gain Popularity
Higher prices, a worker shortage and a revitalized labor movement are bringing about the return of pay increases tied to inflation, known as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. Two major labor agreements in recent weeks have featured COLAs, and analysts say they could appear in future negotiations between employers and unions.
Under a COLA, a worker’s pay rises to compensate for the increase in consumer prices. The idea is to protect wages in times when consumer prices are rising rapidly and unpredictably. Now, resurgent inflation is leading some workers to ask for higher wages. Annual inflation in November accelerated to 6.8%, the Labor Department reported, the fastest in 39 years.
EPA Updates Vehicle Emission Standards Through 2026
the Biden administration’s EPA said December 20 that it would finalize new greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The new standards will apply to model years 2023 through 2026. According to the EPA, the expected benefits of the new regulation should be between a net figure of $120 billion and $190 billion thanks to “reduced impacts of climate change, improved public health from lower pollution, and cost savings for vehicle owners through improved fuel efficiency.” Savings from fuel costs, the EPA predicted, would save U.S. drivers between $210 and $420 billion through 2050
The EPA’s latest rule is an ambitious one, by the agency’s own account. According to an EPA fact sheet, the new final rule means fleets should emit about 161 grams of CO2 per mile. That’s the theoretical equivalent of averaging 55 miles per gallon, though including use of air cooling and heating and high speed driving, the real-world efficiency is estimated to be about 40 miles per gallon.
Nike Earnings Boosted by Strength in North America, Good Pricing
Nike (NKE) reported fiscal second-quarter results Monday afternoon, narrowly beating earnings expectations after posting an adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.83 on revenue of $11.36 billion. Analysts polled by Bloomberg expected an adjusted EPS of $0.63 on revenue of $11.26 billion.
North America revenue came in at $4.48 billion, representing a 12% growth year-over-year and exceeding estimates of $4.18 billion. Net income was $1.3 billion, up 7% from the previous year’s Q2.
Kellogg Strike to End as Workers Vote in Favor of New Contract – Union President
A majority of workers at Kellogg Co’s (K.N) breakfast cereal plants voted in favor of a new contract that offers better terms for transitional employees as well as wage increases, Daniel Osborn, president of the local union in Omaha, said on Tuesday. The new five-year deal ends months-long stalemate between Kellogg and its factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee that had prompted the company to warn of permanently replacing striking workers, drawing criticism from President Joe Biden.
Kellogg had said the latest deal offered its lower-tier workers, known as transitional employees, “an accelerated, defined path to legacy wages and benefits as compared to the current contract”.
Hudson Valley Labor Force Falls 2.4 Percent in Past 12 Months
The November 2021 unemployment rate for the Hudson Valley Region is 3.6 percent. That is down from 4.1 percent in October 2021 and down from 5.9 percent in November 2020. In November 2021, there were 39,400 unemployed in the region, down from 44,800 in October 2021 and down from 66,100 in November 2020. Year-over-year in November 2021, labor force decreased by 26,500 or 2.4 percent, to 1,097,300.
There were 42,000 people working in manufacturing, up from 41,800 in October and from 40,600 in November of 2020.