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Coronavirus Update: U.S. daily COVID case numbers return to pre-omicron levels, and New York is set to drop face-mask requirements for students

The U.S. tally of daily cases of COVID-19 has returned to levels seen before the highly infectious omicron strain was discovered in November, helping to lower hospitalizations, the number of patients in intensive-care units and the daily death toll.

The U.S. is now averaging about 65,858 cases of COVID a day, down 62% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker, as the surge of cases caused by omicron continues to decline from its January peak.

The U.S. is averaging 52,909 hospitalizations a day, down 43% from two weeks ago. And deaths are at last starting to fall, down 24% to an average of 1,867 a day. The number of Americans in ICUs is down 42% to 10,033 a day. 

Against that backdrop, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday that the statewide masking requirement in schools will be lifted by Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

In a briefing held in Albany, the Democrat cited declining COVID-19 cases and guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC outlined a new set of recommendations for face-mask wearing on Friday for communities where COVID is on the retreat, moving to less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.

The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.

For now, the CDC is still advising that people in areas of high transmission, including school children, stick with their masks. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.

Hochul said counties and cities could keep their own mandates in place, and parents could still choose to send their kids to school in masks.

The new rules effective Wednesday apply to children 2 years and older in child-care facilities. New York state has 2.7 million schoolchildren, including about 1 million in New York City.

As countries loosen Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is sticking to a ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ approach – with help from Beijing. A surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and threatens business confidence in the global financial hub. Photo: Bertha Wang/Bloomberg

In other key COVID news from the weekend, two studies reported by the New York Times point to a market in Wuhan as the origin of the pandemic, as MarketWatch’s Rachel Koning Beals reported. The two reports, totaling about 150 pages, have not yet been published in a scientific journal.

The researchers analyzed data from a range of sources to uncover how the virus first took hold. They concluded that the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019.

Even in the early days of the pandemic, speculation — and plenty of cultural insensitivity and racism—emerged suggesting that Chinese “wet markets” were a probable source of origin. The markets offer wild animals — endangered species in some cases and sometimes sold live — as cuisine.

The new research suggests that the virus was spread to people working or shopping at the market. And the researchers said they found no support for an alternate hypothesis that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered that intelligence agencies probe how the virus emerged. Biden said that U.S. intelligence focused on two scenarios — whether the coronavirus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

Interaction between humans and animals, often forced because of lost biodiversity on top of market sales, is neither exclusive to this outbreak nor likely to become less controversial absent intervention in coming years, environmentalists have warned since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t miss: Cookies and wet markets: Here’s where coronavirus and climate change collide

Covid-19 wreaked havoc on healthcare systems and changed the way many people think about their own health. Here are 3 trends investors should look for in 2022.

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• The surge in COVID cases in Hong Kong rose to more than 34,000 on Monday, and the city’s health chief said pending universal screening may require a lockdown, the South China Morning Post reported. Authorities said another 124 infected patients had died, 87 of them in the last 24 hours and the remaining 37 prior to that but newly reported due to a backlog. Densely populated Hong Kong is struggling to contain a current outbreak and has requested help from mainland China in the form of health workers.

• The New Zealand government has removed the self-isolation requirements for vaccinated travelers, according to a statement. The move will allow its citizens to return and immediately reunite with family and friends. “Now that we are 2 years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk has shifted from our border to our community. As the pandemic evolves, we are too,” said the statement.

• Arbutus Biopharma Corp.
ABUS,
-1.84%

and privately held Genevant Sciences Corp. are suing Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
+1.50%

for infringing on several patents that relate to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, focuses on patents for nucleic acid-lipid particles and lipid vesicles, Arbutus said. “We seek fair compensation for Moderna’s use of our patented technology that was developed with great effort and at great expense,” Arbutus CEO William Collier said in a news release.

Berkshire Hathaway 
BRK.A,
-0.66%

will host an in-person shareholder meeting in Omaha, Neb., this spring following two years of virtual events — but only shareholders vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend, the company said Saturday, Barron’s reported. The announcement marks a return to the pre-COVID revelry that earned the three-day event the nickname Woodstock for Capitalists. The meeting will take place at CHI Health Center on April 30 and will be streamed on CNBC.

• President Biden is set to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. Masks are no longer required in the U.S. Capitol.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose above 435.9 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll climbed above 5.95 million.

The U.S. leads the world with 78.9 million cases and 949,265 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 215.5 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 64.9% of the population. But just 94 million are boosted, equal to 43.6% of the vaccinated population.

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