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Daily Briefing – 430

Post: Dec. 26, 2021

Setting the Stage for the New York State 2022 Legislative Session that Begins January 5th

State legislators are back Jan. 5 to begin another year of lawmaking in the state Capitol in Albany. Democrats have supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly, so they will not have to worry too much about opposition from Republicans, but they will have to worry about divisions among themselves in the months ahead. Gov. Kathy Hochul is a new “x-factor” in the state budget equation. The unexpected incumbent, and longtime moderate, has said she will announce big things in her upcoming speech and the budget proposal she will unveil separately next month.

Some Democrats further to the political left are pushing hard for progressive causes like tenant friendly housing laws and higher taxes on the wealthy. Others, especially moderates in the New York City suburbs, want to focus on issues with a different type of ideological bent. An influx of federal money already approved by Congress will help Democrats avoid some fights during budget negotiations, but divisions appear inevitable during the legislative session that is scheduled to conclude before the June 2022 primaries. 

Read more at City & State

Supreme Court to Consider Arguments on OSHA COVID-19 ETS

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled expedited arguments on the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision to lift the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The Court will hear oral arguments from petitioners and OSHA on January 7, 2022, three days before OSHA will begin enforcement efforts.

Multiple parties, including 27 states, filed emergency motions with the Supreme Court to block enforcement efforts following the Sixth Circuit decision. They emphasized the irreparable harm they will suffer in having to implement the ETS, citing labor shortages, the unavailability of tests, and the unintended consequence of having to lay off vaccinated workers to absorb the costs of compliance. 

Hochul Shortens Quarantine Period for ‘Critical Workforce’ Including Some Manufacturing Workers

Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., announced Friday that she is shortening the requisite quarantine period for vaccinated “critical workforce” who test positive for COVID-19. Under the new state guidelines, fully vaccinated workers in frontline industries such as health care can go back to work after five days instead of the previously required 10 days. Such workers must be either asymptomatic or showing resolving symptoms. They must also be free of a fever for 72 hours, not be taking medication, and wear a mask on the job. 

The order applies to Essential manufacturing including: food processing, (all foods and beverages), pharmaceuticals, food-producing agriculture/farms, defense industry and the transportation infrastructure. We are seeking clarification but, we are confident this includes manufactures supplying these industries as well. 

13 New State Testing Sites Open Across NYS Amid Recent Surge in COVID-19 Cases

Governor Kathy Hochul Sunday announced 13 new State testing sites to address the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. These sites are aimed providing additional testing options in areas of high need throughout the New York City, Long Island, Central New York, North Country, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions.  Starting on Monday, December 27, New Yorkers can make an appointment for a COVID-19 test at one of these locations (Link below).  

Sites are currently being mobilized with all locations slated to open on December 29, 2021. Days and hours of operation will vary depending upon the location of the site and each will offer tests by appointment, as well as walk-ins. Upon launch, all sites will offer RT-PCR testing. Rapid antigen and rapid PCR tests will also be available within a few days of opening.   

US COVID – Cases Up, Severity Down

The US CDC is currently reporting 51.3 million cumulative cases and 807,397 deaths. The US reported 288,381 new cases on December 20 and 204,913 on December 21, surpassing 200,000 new cases in a single day for the first time since January 18. The December 20 total is the second-highest single-day total since the onset of the pandemic. Daily mortality continues to increase, though at a much slower pace than cases, up to 1,223 deaths per day, an increase of slightly more than 20% since before the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Daily incidence has increased by a factor of 2.5 since the most recent low on October 24 (64,162), and the trend appears to be accelerating. The sharp increase at the national level is a result of similar trends across states in multiple regions of the country. 

The US has administered 499 million cumulative doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. A total of 241 million individuals have received at least 1 vaccine dose, equivalent to 72.8% of the entire US population. A total of 204.8 million individuals are fully vaccinated, which corresponds to 61.7% of the total population.  Since August 13, 63.2 million fully vaccinated individuals have received an additional or booster dose, including 55.8% of fully vaccinated adults aged 65 years or older.

Read more at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of December 26:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 82.9% of all New Yorkers – 15,599,678 (plus 6,163 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,621,838 (minus 387 -correcting a reporting error).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 71.3% of all New Yorkers – 13,888,303 (plus 3,407).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,418,544 (plus 1,894). 

The Governor  updated COVID data through December 25 .  There were 60 COVID related deaths for a total of 60,751. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 4,891.

7 Day Average Positivity Rate  – Cases per 100K population

  • Statewide 11.70%    –    178.37 positive cases per 100,00 population
  • Mid-Hudson: 11.04%   –  140.16 positive  cases per 100,00 population

Useful Websites:

Two Studies Show Much Lower Risk of Hospitalization With Omicron

New data from Scotland and South Africa suggest people infected with the Omicron variant of coronavirus are at markedly lower risk of hospitalization than those who contracted earlier versions of the virus, promising signs that immunity as a result of vaccination or prior infection remains effective at warding off severe illness with the fast-spreading strain.

The University of Edinburgh study, drawing on the health records of 5.4 million people in Scotland, found the risk of hospitalization with Covid-19 was two-thirds lower with Omicron than with Delta. The new variant became dominant in Scotland last week. A separate study published online by researchers at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases similarly found people infected with Omicron were 70% to 80% less likely to need hospital treatment than people infected with earlier variants, including Delta.

Read more at the WSJ

Novavax CEO: ‘We will be filing within the next few days’ with FDA

Novavax (NVAX) is finally ready to submit its application for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the U.S., and could do so as early as this week, according to CEO Stanley Erck. Novavax has now received four emergency use approvals, including a listing from the World Health Organization, making it the ninth vaccine authorized by the agency, as well as conditional marketing in the European Union. In addition, the company announced administering its first dose in Indonesia Tuesday, where it recently received emergency use authorization.

While the company faces stiff competition from mRNA vaccines from Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA), its efficacy data is similar, and its technology sets it apart from others. The CDC recently issued guidance giving preference to mRNA doses, citing concerns over blood clots after Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) vaccines, which uses a similar platform to AstraZeneca (AZN).

Read more at Yahoo News

Merck’s COVID-19 Treatment Pill Approved By FDA, Pfizer Pill More Effective

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Merck’s drug for adults with early symptoms of COVID-19 who face the highest risks of hospitalization, including older people and those with conditions like obesity and heart disease.  The authorization comes one day after the agency cleared a competing drug from Pfizer. That pill is likely to become the first-choice treatment against the virus, thanks to its superior benefits and milder side effects.

As a result, Merck’s pill is expected to have a smaller role against the pandemic than predicted just a few weeks ago. Its ability to head off severe COVID-19 is much smaller than initially announced and the drug label will warn of serious safety issues, including the potential for birth defects.

Read more at The Boston Globe

France Cancels Order for Merck’s COVID-19 Antiviral Drug

France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s (MRK.N) COVID-19 antiviral drug following disappointing trial data and hopes instead to receive Pfizer’s (PFE.N) competing drug before the end of January, the health minister said on Wednesday.  France is the first country to publicly say it has cancelled an order for the Merck treatment.

While vaccines are the main weapons against COVID-19 for governments, there are hopes Merck and Pfizer’s experimental pills could be a game-changer in reducing the chances of dying or hospitalisation for those most at risk of severe illness.

Read more at Reuters

Omicron Dominates Delta – More than 90% of Cases in New York/New Jersey Region

Genomic sequencing data from the CDC show a rapid increase in the prevalence of the Omicron variant across the US. At the national level, the estimated prevalence increased from 0.1% the week of November 27 to 0.7% the week of December 4. In the 2 weeks since then, the prevalence surged to an estimated 73.2% nationwide, replacing Delta as the dominant variant.

Additionally, 8 of the 10 HHS regions are reporting Omicron prevalence greater than 50%, including 5 with greater than 90%: Regions 2 (New York/New Jersey), 4 (Southeast), 5 (Midwest), 6 (South), and 10 (Pacific Northwest).

Read more at the CDC

Omicron Starts to Slow U.S. Economy as Consumer Spending Flags

Signs are mounting that the U.S. economy is losing some steam as the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus spreads rapidly through parts of the country. Consumers boosted their spending by 0.6% last month, a slowdown from 1.4% growth in October, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Economists attributed part of the November slowdown to consumers shifting their holiday purchases a month earlier, amid warnings of potential shortages due to supply-chain problems

Many economists have lowered their growth projections for early 2022 due to growing concerns about the latest surge in coronavirus cases. The forecasting-firm Oxford Economics now expects U.S. gross domestic product to grow at a 2.5% annual rate in the first quarter, down from a previous estimate of 3.4% growth.

Read more at the WSJ

Frito-Lay East Fishkill Land Acquisition Complete

Rolling Frito-Lay Sales, LP has completed its transaction to acquire the property on which it will construct a 150,000 square-foot fulfillment center in the Town of East Fishkill. The new facility will be part of the iPark84 mixed-use center at the former IBM complex. When the $100 million Frito-Lay investment is completed, the center is expected to create 80 full-time jobs and incorporate enhanced distribution technologies to serve Frito-Lay’s northeast retail customers.

Also, a new road is expected to alleviate traffic problems in an area of the Town of East Fishkill center near the former IBM facility.  Town Supervisor Nick D’Alessandro said it will be constructed near the new Amazon fulfillment that is under construction. Amazon is in the final stages of constructing its 670,000 square foot facility there. That is in addition to the one-million-square-foot distribution center it opened in the Town of Montgomery earlier this year.

Read more at Mid-Hudson News

U.S. Will Waive In-Person Interviews for H-1B, Other Work Visas

The State Department is temporarily dropping an in-person interview requirement for some work-visa categories in 2022 to ease visa issuances.  Applicants for H-1B, L-1 and O-1 visas applying from abroad won’t be required to do an in-person interview at a U.S. consulate, typically the final step before a visa is issued. Those categories represent the most common visa types companies use to attract high-skilled talent from abroad. 

The in-person interview has been one hurdle in the way of consulates issuing visas to the U.S. at pre-pandemic levels. Many consulates are operating at reduced capacity because of the pandemic. Roughly 60% of U.S. consulates are still partially closed, meaning they aren’t processing most work-visa types, according to a Cato Institute analysis of State Department data. Student visas and visas for temporary, seasonal workers have already been exempted from in-person interviews.

Read more at the WSJ

James Webb Space Telescope Launches, Notches Crucial Maneuver to Set its Path

The James Webb Space Telescope is truly on its way.  The massive observatory launched Dec. 25 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT). Just 12.5 hours later, the spacecraft began a vital maneuver on its month-long journey to its future outpost as the observatory executed a 65-minute-long thruster burn that concluded at 8:55 p.m. EST (0155 GMT), according to a statement from NASA.

The space telescope is destined to orbit a point in space known as Earth-sun Lagrange point 2 or L2, which is located nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the opposite side as the sun. The spacecraft covered the first 10% of that journey within 12 hours of launching. Then, when the telescope was about 100,000 miles (160,000 km) away from Earth, the observatory executed a crucial burn to ensure it would safely reach its destination.

Read more at Space.com