Daily Briefing – 439

Workers Sick With Omicron Add to Manufacturing Woes

Mounting absences among COVID-infected workers are bringing masks back to some factory floors, executives said, while manufacturers shuttle available workers to jobs and plants where they are most needed. Companies are also redoubling recruiting efforts to fortify workforces already worn thin by high turnover in a tight job market.  The speed at which the highly contagious variant is spreading has stunned some executives, who said they had grown increasingly confident over recent months that their companies had navigated the worst of the pandemic. The apparent decreasing severity of the variant is providing some hope that the number of cases will lighten and the effect on companies will abate in coming weeks. Some sidelined workers are quarantining at home as a precaution.

Meanwhile, with demand booming for manufactured goods from automobiles to medical equipment, executives said that idling production now isn’t an option. Manufacturers mostly have maintained operations since the start of the pandemic, in part because many operate in what are deemed essential industries.

Read more at the WSJ

“Frustrating Season:” Treasury Warns of Delayed Tax Refunds Other Service Interruptions

The Treasury Department is warning that tax refunds and other services may be delayed this year because of “enormous challenges” including the coronavirus pandemic and previous budget cuts made at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Officials warned on Monday that they are predicting a “frustrating season” for taxpayers and tax preparers because of factors that also included federal stimulus actions, according to The Washington Post.

With the pandemic triggering lockdowns, a number of in-person tax centers that typically processed paper forms were forced to close, the Post noted. All those existing challenges were magnified by the U.S.’s economic response to the pandemic, which included trillions of dollars for new programs to support Americans.

Read more at The Hill

Pfizer CEO Says Omicron Vaccine Will be Ready in March

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said a vaccine that targets the omicron variant of Covid will be ready in March, and the company’s already begun manufacturing the doses. Bourla said the vaccine will also target the other variants that are circulating. He said it is still not clear whether or not an omicron vaccine is needed or how it would be used, but Pfizer will have some doses ready since some countries want it ready as soon as possible.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC earlier Monday the company is working on a booster for this fall that targets omicron and it will enter clinical trials soon. Bancel said demand is high from governments as they prepare regular vaccination against the virus.

 Read more at CNBC

“Deltacrontroversy” A Cypriot Scientist Defends his Assertion that a New Strain Combining Delta and Omicron Exists.

A Cypriot scientist defended his assertion that a new strain of COVID-19 exists that combines characteristics of the delta and omicron variants.  Other scientists have speculated that Leonidos Kostrikis’s findings are a result of laboratory contamination. But he told Bloomberg in an emailed statement Sunday that the cases he has identified “indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”

Deltacron infection is higher among patients hospitalized for COVID-19 than among non-hospitalized patients, so that rules out the contamination hypothesis, said Kostrikis, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology. Cypriot Health Minister Michael Hadjipantela said Sunday that the new variant isn’t of concern, and more details will be given at a news conference this week, Philenews reported. 

Read more at Fortune

US COVID – Cases Are Still Rising, Here’s When They Could Peak

Based on the quick rise and precipitous drop of Omicron in South Africa, Harvard experts are cautiously hopeful about a possible decline of the surging COVID variant in the very near future, even as they warn of dramatic case spikes, overloaded hospitals, and slowly rising deaths in the interim.

Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, predicted we’ll see our peak in the second or third week of January before numbers start to fall.  Dr. Davidson Hamer, a professor of global health at Boston University, estimated a similar timeline. “Right now we’re still in the upswing for most parts of the country,” he said. “My prediction would be within the next two to four weeks, we’re going to see it (reach a peak) and start to drop.”

Read more at News Nation

NYS Vaccine and COVID Update  

Vaccine Stats as of January 10:

One Vaccine Dose 

  • 85.4% of all New Yorkers – 15,892,071 (plus 9.785 from a day earlier).
  • In the Hudson Valley 1,649,684 (plus 378).

Fully Vaccinated

  • 72.5% of all New Yorkers – 14,084,304 (plus 11.083).
  • In the Hudson Valley – 1,437,625 (plus 744). 

Boosters Given

  • All New Yorkers – 5,088,107
  • In the Hudson Valley – 601,620

The Governor  updated COVID data through January 9.  There were 135 COVID related deaths for a total of 62,392. 


  • Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 12,022.

7 Day Average Positivity Rate  – Cases per 100K population

  • Statewide 21.30%    –    381.66 positive cases per 100,00 population
  • Mid-Hudson: 22.59%   –  359.58 positive  cases per 100,00 population

Useful Websites:

40 New York Hospitals  Halt Non-Urgent Procedures Due to COVID Surge

The New York State Department of Health announced over the weekend that 40 hospitals across the state have to stop nonessential, nonurgent elective procedures for at least two weeks as they’re inundated with Covid patients. All hospitals in the Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes, and Central New York are under the new restrictions in addition to several individual hospitals in other parts of the state.

“We cannot return to the early months of the pandemic when hospitals were overwhelmed,” said the state’s acting health commissioner, Mary T. Bassett, who encouraged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted to ease the strain on providers.

Read more at NYS Health Department

COVID Reconsidered: In America the Pandemic Seems to Have Hit a Turning-Point

Omicron, a major variant of the sars-cov-2 virus, prompted governments around the world to scramble to slow it down as it surged from late November. The Biden administration announced a travel ban (since revoked) against eight African countries and a shortened window for testing (from 72 hours to 24) for inbound travellers. Hospitals began filling with patients. By late December daily cases were higher than ever. More than 3,700 schools began in January with remote learning.

Yet some measures are being relaxed. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) shortened the recommended isolation period from ten days to five, plus five of mask-wearing. On January 4th it updated the guidance to encourage testing. Anthony Fauci, the leading adviser to the White House on infectious diseases, is calling for less emphasis on case rates and a focus on hospitalisations and deaths. Why this mixed response?

Read more at the Economist

German Vaccine Mandate May Take Months to Pass, Parties Say

Germany’s ruling parties are hitting the brakes on plans for compulsory coronavirus vaccinations, saying it may take months for lawmakers to properly debate the contentious measure in parliament.

Green party caucus leader Britta Hasselmann told the Funke media group that the first debate could take place in late January.  With few parliamentary sessions in February, this could mean the lower house won’t pass a bill before the end of March. The Bundesrat, Germany’s upper chamber, would then take up the matter in April, meaning the earliest it could come into force would be a month later.

Read more at the AP

Supply Chain: Retail Despite Growth Moderating But Volumes Still High

The rate of import growth will become normalized in 2022,  according to the monthly Global Track report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. “Even with the holiday season behind us, supply chain challenges continue,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “The huge increases in imports we’ve seen have leveled out, but volume is still at high levels.”

Growth in 2021 saw year-over-year growth as high as 65% in some months, as the result of both high consumer demand and retailers stocking up to address supply chain challenges. However,  increases returned to single digits by last fall and should remain there this year, the report notes.

Read more at Material Handling and Logistics

CES Show Highlights: Robo-Dogs, Self-Sailing Boat, Brain Tech

The CES tech show in Las Vegas closed its 2022 edition on Friday, after pushing ahead with a significantly downsized gathering despite surging Covid cases. Industry behemoths like Amazon and Google stayed away over the virus risk, but the more than 2,200 firms big and small in attendance still pitched their hopes for the next big thing.

IndustryWeek has some parting highlights from the show.

Read more at IndustryWeek

ITIF: The Global Energy Innovation System Is Not Thriving

The world needs a healthy energy innovation system to realize future decarbonization commitments. Every part of the system is interdependent and must work together for the system to thrive. However, that system stands in weak condition, as evidenced by key indicators of knowledge development and diffusion, entrepreneurial ecosystem, trade, market readiness and technology adoption, and national public policies.

The only bright spot is the entrepreneurial ecosystem, where early-stage venture capital investments have made a roaring comeback, up 165 percent since 2015. Public research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) investments have only risen modestly since 2015 (+29 percent), while the number of high-value patents has gone sideways (+0.2 percent).

Read more at ITIF

Evergrande’s Woes Continue

The outlook for Evergrande is darkening by the day. The Chinese property developer was set to meet creditors at the weekend to ask for an extension on a 4.5bn-yuan ($157m) bond. The group has about $300bn in liabilities, making it the most indebted real estate company in the world.

Failure to convince bondholders in China to give Evergrande extra time would add to its growing list of problems. It defaulted on a dollar-denominated bond in December, sending ripples through the offshore bond market. On January 3rd the company halted the trading of its shares in Hong Kong when officials in the city of Danzhou in Hainan province ordered it to demolish 39 residential towers that may have been built illegally. Investors already expect Evergrande to face major restructuring, both onshore and offshore. Tearing down projects instead of building new ones reflects poorly on the company’s ability to bring in cash and pay creditors.

Read more at Reuters

Mortgage Rates Jumped to 3.4% Last Week 

Mortgage rates jumped last week to 3.4%, the highest they’ve been since June 2020.  This new average 30-year fixed mortgage rate represents a 0.13% increase over last week’s average rate of 3.27% — the biggest weekly increase in over 10 months. Last week’s jump is consistent with the consensus among housing experts that mortgage rates will rise in 2022. The only question, experts say, is when and how fast will they rise?

Over the last few weeks, we have seen record-high inflation and record-high COVID-19 cases push and pull on rates. Despite the uncertainty of surging COVID cases, last week’s increase is consistent with recent statements by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell that the Fed expects to raise rates three times in 2022. As the Fed increases rates with the economy improving, mortgage and refinance rates are sure to follow, experts say. 

Read more Next Advisor

9 Big Questions About Omicron Explained

As scientists learn what makes Omicron different from other versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, guidance about how to deal with the variant is changing fast. In the U.S., where Omicron is now the dominant variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come under fire for their shifting guidelines, including a recently updated recommendation that halves the isolation period for people who test positive from 10 days to five.

What is the science behind the changing guidance, and how can people best protect themselves as Omicron spreads? Here’s what experts say you need to know.

Read more at National Geographic