Coronavirus Update: Experts call Supreme Court’s decision a blow to COVID fight


The number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 hit a new record of almost 150,000 on Thursday, as experts lamented the Supreme Court ruling striking down President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for big businesses.

There were 148,782 COVID patients in U.S. hospitals, according to a New York Times tracker, up 79% from two weeks ago and the most since the start of the pandemic as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues its rapid spread.

The seven-day average for new cases stood at 803,736, up 133% from two weeks ago, while deaths, which lag cases and hospitalizations, rose to 1,873, up 53% from two weeks ago.

Against that background, health experts expressed their disappointment at the Supreme Court ruling on vaccine mandates, with the court’s conservative majority concluding that the administration had overstepped its authority by seeking to impose an Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees, as the Associated Press reported. More than 80 million people would have been affected.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

The court’s three liberal judges countered with the argument that it was the Supreme Court overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts.

“Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

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Dr. Zeke Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and a Biden adviser, called it a “terrible ruling” in a tweet, and a disaster in the fight against COVID. “Vaccination in the workplace is key to reducing risk to workers and the risk to all of us from this disease,” he wrote. 

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It was widely remarked upon during oral arguments that the Supreme Court itself operates under a vaccination requirement and that two lawyers for states suing the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate had tested positive for the coronavirus causing COVID and were only able to participate remotely.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, highlighted the misinformation that has “poisoned” so many and discouraged them from getting their shots, even though vaccines remain the best protection against severe illness and death.

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Hospitals are already highly stressed and close to capacity limits in about two dozen states, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The numbers are rising at the fastest paces in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the Times tracker. The vast majority of those being hospitalized are unvaccinated people, who are at the highest risk of severe illness.

Biden said Thursday he is deploying 1,000 military medical personnel to six states to help deal with the high case load and will order an additional 500 million tests.

Other COVID-19 news you should know:

• In the latest blow to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his office has apologized to the royal family for holding a staff party in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year — the latest in a string of allegedly lockdown-breaching gatherings that are threatening to topple him, the Associated Press reported. The farewell party for Johnson’s departing spin doctor, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at the funeral of her husband because of social-distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

• The World Health Organization is recommending two new drugs as treatments for COVID-19 and said the extent to which they can save lives will depend on how widely available and affordable they will be. The first drug, baricitinib, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, is recommended for patients with severe or critical disease. “It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system,” WHO said in a statement. “WHO recommends that it is given with corticosteroids.” The second drug is monoclonal antibody sotrovimab, which the agency is recommending for patients will mild or moderate COVID. That drug is an alternative to casirivimab-imdevimab, a monoclonal antibody cocktail recommended by WHO in September 2021.

Read now: Europe banks on even stricter mask rules to beat back winter COVID wave

• Germany and the Netherlands set record one-day case tallies on Friday, according to media reports. Germany counted more than 90,000 new cases, while the Netherlands counted 35,000, Reuters reported. Dutch hPrime Minister Mark Rutte was expected to order the reopening of most stores, hairdressers and gyms at a nationally televised press conference Friday evening, as popular support for the month-long lockdown evaporates despite the strain on hospitals and record new infections.

• Hong Kong International Airport is banning passengers from over 150 countries and territories from transiting in the city for a month, the AP reported. Passengers who have stayed in over 150 places deemed “high risk” in the last 21 days, including the U.S. and Britain, will be banned from transiting in Hong Kong from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15, according to a notice posted by the airport.

Hospitals in the U.S. are struggling to staff medical facilities as a wave of Covid-19 cases sidelines healthcare workers. Some hospital administrators are being forced to turn to last-resort measures to ensure quality of care. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose above 320.7 million, and the death toll is now more than 5.52 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 64 million cases and 846,506 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that about 209 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 62.8% of the total population.

Some 78 million have received a booster, equal to 37.5% of the fully vaccinated.

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