Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, January 12, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

The Biden administration issued new guidance Tuesday requiring federal agencies to test unvaccinated employees on a weekly basis starting February 15. Uncompliant employees will be first counseled, then suspended without pay and potentially fired unless they get vaccinated, according to the new guidance.

The guidance comes as U.S. officials project COVID-19 hospitalizations to surpass the previous record of 141,385 and reach numbers in the 275,000 to 300,000 range sometime this month.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization announced that  COVID-19 cases across Europe doubled in just two weeks. The agency reported over 7 million new cases of the latest variant in the region during the first week of January.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

Navigating the pandemic

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Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker promoted a ‘mist’ that he claimed would ‘kill any COVID on your body’

As the coronavirus was sweeping across the United States last summer and the country was still without a vaccine, Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker promoted a “mist” that he claimed would “kill any COVID on your body.”

Walker, who is vying to unseat freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, did not name the supposed product, which he claimed during an August 2020 podcast appearance was “EPA-, FDA-approved.” The Daily Beast reported Wednesday on the interview.

The newly-unearthed comments bring renewed scrutiny to Walker, who is already facing criticism over allegations that he threatened the lives of two women, including his ex-wife, and embellished his business record.

There is no known mist or spray that can prevent COVID-19. The virus is mainly spread through close contact with droplets that are released when a person coughs, sneezes, speaks or breathes. It can also be spread through smaller virus-containing particles that remain in the air over longer distances and time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the full story here.

—Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post
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Aki Kurose Middle School shifts to remote learning until January 24

Aki Kurose Middle School will shift to remote learning beginning January 13 through January 24 due to COVID-19 and increased absences among staff and students, according to an online update from principal Caine Lowery.

Remote classes will begin two hours later than usual on Thursday at 10:55 a.m., according to the update. Students will have class through Microsoft Teams. Parents or guardians of students on individualized education programs or students enlisted in 504 learning plans will need to consult their coordinator for additional accommodations, the alert said.

Grab-and-go lunches will still be available for pick up at the school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the alert said.

Students unable to log on or who need assistance can email tech support at laptops@seattleschools.org or call at 206-252-0100. Instructions to log on can be seen on the school's update here.

—Daisy Zavala

Court dismisses Louisiana pastor’s virus restrictions suit

A Louisiana pastor’s lawsuit over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ past COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings was rejected for a second time Wednesday by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge said the lawsuit by Tony Spell seeking an order blocking the restrictions is moot because the restrictions expired long ago. And Jackson rejected Spell’s request for damages from state officials.

Spell garnered national attention in March 2020 when he began to flout the state’s public health order at a time when much of the country was in lockdown over the emergence of COVID-19. Louisiana was being hit especially hard at the time, but hundreds showed up to hear Spell claim that the virus was nothing to be concerned about.

Jackson first rejected the lawsuit in November 2020. The following July, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the judge should look at the case again in light of three recent Supreme Court opinions blocking some restrictions on indoor worship in New York and California. The panel stressed that it wasn’t ruling on the merits of the case.

Read the full story here.

—Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

Ontario confirms students are returning to classrooms Monday

Student in Canada’s largest province will return to classrooms Monday, and teachers and staff will be provided with non-fitted N95 masks, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The provincial government had said earlier this month that online learning would run until at least Jan. 17 because of a surge in infections with the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Ontario students have spent more time learning online during the pandemic than their peers elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce confirmed students will return to classrooms Monday after reports surfaced earlier this week.

Read the full story here.

—Rob Gillies, The Associated Press
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Lockdown party claims add to list of Boris Johnson scandals

Allegations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff held a “bring your own booze” garden party while Britain was in lockdown are just the latest claims of wrongdoing to rattle the leader.

Cases of rule-bending and dishonesty have followed Johnson through his twin careers as journalist and politician. He was once fired from a newspaper for making up a quote, and later ousted from a Conservative Party post for lying about an extramarital affair.

He has always bounced back. But now discontent is growing inside Johnson’s own Conservative Party over a leader often accused of acting as if rules don’t apply to him. The prime minister faces a high-stakes showdown in Parliament on Wednesday.

For more on the scandals Johnson is currently facing, read the story here.

—Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

WHO: COVID-19 cases rose by more than 50%, deaths stable

The number of new coronavirus infections in the last week jumped by about 55%, although the number of deaths remained stable, the World Health Organization said in its latest pandemic report.

In the weekly report issued Tuesday night, the U.N. health agency said there were about 15 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths. Every world region reported a rise in COVID-19 cases except for Africa, where officials saw an 11% drop.

Last week, WHO noted a pandemic record high of 9.5 million new infections in a single week, calling it a “tsunami” of disease.

WHO said the extremely contagious omicron variant continues to define the pandemic globally and is now crowding out the previously dominant delta variant. It said omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa in late November, accounts for nearly 59% of all sequences shared with the largest publicly available global database of viruses. WHO said omicron had now proven to have a shorter doubling time, with increasing evidence it was able to “evade immunity.” It also noted there were numerous studies that it is less severe compared to previous variants.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Putin: Russia on the verge of a new virus surge

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia is facing a new surge of coronavirus infections because of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Russian officials this week have sounded the alarm about a looming COVID-19 surge, pointing to the rapid spread of omicron and growing infection rates in some regions. The warnings came as daily new infections in Russia started to climb, after weeks of declining following another record-breaking surge.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported more than 17,000 new infections, up from about 15,000 on Monday.

Read the story here.

—Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press
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Washington surpasses 1 million total coronavirus cases

The number of coronavirus cases in Washington state has surpassed 1,000,000 largely driven by omicron, as the state Department of Health (DOH) reported 17,464 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

The agency also reported 77 new deaths on Wednesday following a data disruption Tuesday that prevented officials from releasing the number of new deaths and hospitalizations in the state.

The update brings the state's totals to 1,009,187 cases and 10,103 deaths, meaning that 1% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Wednesday's total case counts may include up to 1,600 duplicates, according to DOH.

In addition, 48,084 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 296 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 257,298 COVID-19 diagnoses and 2,172 deaths.

Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 12,238,480 doses and 63% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 20,600 vaccine shots per day.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases. State health officials recommend reviewing the dashboard's epidemiologic curves tab for the most accurate representation of the state's COVID-19 spread.

—Daisy Zavala

Democrats try to stamp out school closures as omicron surges

When Chicago teachers went on strike last week to protest COVID-19 safety protections in the nation’s third-largest school district, Democratic Party officials leapt into action.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed for a quick end to the job action and helped secure rapid tests to entice teachers back to work. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the strikers “abandoned their posts” in “an illegal walkout.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that students should be in school. The standoff ended with a tentative agreement late Monday.

Nearly two years into a pandemic that shows no signs of waning, Democrats are speaking out more forcefully against COVID-19 school closures, recognizing a rising anger among parents worried that their kids are falling behind. But in doing so, Democrats risk angering some teachers unions, which are advocating for more protections for educators as the omicron variant takes hold and whose support helped get Democrats elected.

The political peril for Democrats became clear after their candidate lost the Virginia governor’s race in November to a Republican who focused on education and slammed the prior year’s school closures. Now, in what already promises to be a tough midterm election year, with frustrations mounting among their base over stalled voting and spending legislation, they may face real trouble over an issue that directly affects Americans’ lives.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in Britain, US

Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.

The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

“It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.

“There are still a lot of people who will get infected as we descend the slope on the backside,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which predicts that reported cases will peak within the week.

On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain will infect “most people” and that the focus should turn to ensuring critical services can continue uninterrupted.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Djokovic: Not isolating after COVID infection was ‘error’

Novak Djokovic knew he’d tested positive for COVID-19 when he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot in Serbia last month, saying Wednesday he made an “error of judgment” and should have immediately gone into isolation.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts, the tennis star also blamed “human error” by his support team for failing to declare that he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia.

Upon arrival, his visa was revoked and then later reinstated in an ongoing saga over whether he should be allowed into the country despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19. The news that Djokovic was granted an exemption to vaccination rules to enter the country provoked an initial outcry and the ensuing dispute has since overshadowed the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Djokovic acknowledged the lapses when he sought to clarify what he called “continuing misinformation” about his movements after he became infected last month — though he did not spell out what inaccuracies he was referring to.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Spain doctors win suit for lack of protection from COVID-19

Spain’s medical community has scored a victory after a court ordered that a regional government must compensate doctors with up to 49,000 euros ($56,000) for having to work without personal protection suits during the devastating early months of the pandemic.

The lawsuit brought by a doctor’s union is the first of its kind to be won in Spain, whose health care system was pushed to the brink when COVID-19 first struck.

“This ruling is groundbreaking in Spain,” Dr. Víctor Pedrera, secretary general of the Doctors’ Union of Valencia CESM-CV that filed the suit, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Read the story here.

—Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press

Soaring COVID-19 cases renew US debate over mask mandates

Officials across the U.S. are again weighing how and whether to impose mask mandates as COVID-19 infections soar and the American public grows ever wearier of pandemic-related restrictions.

Much of the debate centers around the nation’s schools, some of which have closed due to infection-related staffing issues. In a variety of places, mask mandates are being lifted or voted down.

The changes come as the federal government assesses the supply of medical-grade respirator face coverings, such as N95 or KN95 masks. During a briefing Wednesday, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said officials were “strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans,” noting the government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the story here.

—Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press
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Puerto Rico police detain fugitive couple in COVID-19 case

A couple accused of refusing to fill out the required COVID-19 entry form at Puerto Rico’s airport and providing proof of a negative test for the coronavirus were detained after they locked themselves in their minivan for several hours, prompting police to send a negotiator, officials said Wednesday.

The couple detained late Tuesday were accused of obstructing a public official and could face a hefty fine or up to six months in prison.

They arrived in Puerto Rico Jan. 2 and had been ordered to appear in court on Tuesday. When they didn’t show up, authorities searched for them and found them inside a minivan in the northern city of Caguas.

A small number of protesters showed up to support the couple and threatened several journalists, who then left.

The island of 3.3 million people has reported more than 221,600 confirmed infections and more than 3,300 deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Kids’ low COVID-19 vaccination rates called a ‘gut punch’

Distrust, misinformation and delays because of the holidays and bad weather have combined to produce what authorities say are alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages 5 to 11.

As of Tuesday, just over 17% were fully vaccinated, more than two months after shots became available to the age group. While Vermont is at 48%, California is just shy of 19% and Mississippi is at only 5%.

Vaccinations among the elementary school set surged after the shots were introduced in the fall, but the numbers have crept up slowly since then, and omicron’s explosive spread appears to have had little effect.

The low rates are “very disturbing,’’ said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s just amazing.”

Parents who hesitate “are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic,’’ Murphy said.

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

Omicron wave prompts media to rethink which data to report

For two years, coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations have been widely used barometers of the pandemic’s march across the world.

But the omicron wave is making a mess of the usual statistics, forcing news organizations to rethink the way they report such figures.

“It’s just a data disaster,” said Katherine Wu, staff writer who covers COVID-19 for The Atlantic magazine.

The number of case counts soared over the holidays, an expected development given the emergence of a variant more transmissible than its predecessors.

Yet these counts only reflect what is reported by health authorities. They do not include most people who test themselves at home, or are infected without even knowing about it. Holidays and weekends also lead to lags in reported cases.

If you could add all those numbers up — and you can’t — case counts would likely be substantially higher.

Read the story here.

—David Bauder, The Associated Press
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Anti-vaccine protesters try to storm Bulgarian parliament

Protesters opposing COVID-19 restrictions in Bulgaria clashed Wednesday with police as they tried to storm the Parliament in the capital of Sofia.

A heavy police presence prevented protesters from entering the building and some were detained. Several people, including police officers, were injured during the clashes. Eventually, the protesters were pushed back and police cordoned off the building.

The violence erupted at a protest rally against mask and vaccine mandates organized by a nationalist group that is fiercely opposing the Bulgarian government’s anti-epidemic measures.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US inflation soared 7% in past year, the most since 1982

Inflation jumped at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month, a 7% spike from a year earlier that is increasing household expenses, eating into wage gains and heaping pressure on President Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve to address what has become the biggest threat to the U.S. economy.

Prices have risen sharply for cars, gas, food and furniture as part of a rapid recovery from the pandemic recession that was fueled by vast infusions of government aid and emergency intervention by the Fed, which slashed interest rates. As Americans have ramped up spending, supply chains have been squeezed by shortages of workers and raw materials.

“Inflation ended 2021 very hot,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. Ayers and other economists say prices may cool off some as snags in the supply chain ease, but inflation will remain elevated throughout 2022.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that its measure of inflation that excludes volatile food and gas prices jumped 5.5% in December, the fastest such increase since 1991. Inflation rose 0.5% overall from November, down from 0.8% the previous month.

Read the story here.

—Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press

A top Democrat says lawmakers who ignore mask mandate should sit in ‘isolation boxes’ in House chamber

As the omicron variant threatens the halls of Congress and some GOP lawmakers continue entering the House chamber maskless, despite racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fines, Assistant Speaker of the House Katherine Clark, D-Mass., suggested a more tangible solution to thwart the rule-breaking: “isolation boxes.”

In a letter to the House sergeant-at-arms on Tuesday, Clark requested that lawmakers who flout the mask mandate be cordoned off in a plexiglass-enclosed section in the House gallery to help protect other members from exposure to the coronavirus.

“This commonsense step will not only protect our dedicated House staff from Members who refuse to follow House rules, but it will also allow those Members to continue to fulfill their constitutional duty to vote on matters before the House,” Clark wrote.

The House has previously used isolation boxes so members who were quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus could cast votes. Clark suggested that members who “refuse to mask pose the same or higher risk” to others in the chamber.

Read the story here.

—Jaclyn Peiser, The Washington Post
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W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice says he’s ‘extremely unwell’ after testing positive for coronavirus

West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced late Tuesday that he’s “extremely unwell” after testing positive for coronavirus, forcing him to postpone his State of the State address.

Justice, who is vaccinated and boosted, said in a news release that although he was “surprised” he tested positive, he was “thankful to the Lord above that I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been boosted, and that I have an incredible support system, especially my loving family.”

“That being said, I feel extremely unwell at this point, and I have no choice but to postpone my State of the State address to the Legislature,” he said. He added that his wife, first lady Cathy Justice, tested negative.

Read the story here.

—Timothy Bella, The Washington Post

US shoppers find some groceries scarce due to virus, weather

Shortages at U.S. grocery stores have grown more acute in recent weeks as new problems — like the fast-spreading omicron variant and severe weather — have piled on to the supply chain struggles and labor shortages that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The shortages are widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereal. And they’re being reported nationwide. U.S. groceries typically have 5% to 10% of their items out of stock at any given time; right now, that unavailability rate is hovering around 15%, according to Consumer Brands Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.

Part of the scarcity consumers are seeing on store shelves is due to pandemic trends that never abated – and are exacerbated by omicron. Americans are eating at home more than they used to, especially since offices and some schools remain closed.

The average U.S. household spent $144 per week at the grocery last year, according to FMI, a trade organization for groceries and food producers. That was down from the peak of $161 in 2020, but still far above the $113.50 that households spent in 2019.

Read the story here.

—Dee-Ann Durbin and and Parker Purifoy, The Associated Press

China’s Tianjin orders more testing of 14 million residents

The northern Chinese city of Tianjin ordered a second round of COVID-19 testing of all 14 million residents Wednesday following the discovery of 97 cases of the omicron variant during initial screenings that began Sunday.

Residents were asked to remain where they are until the results of all the nucleic acid tests are received, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua said authorities have carried out almost 12 million tests so far, with 7.8 million samples returned. Infections were first reported on Saturday in the city that is only about an hour from Beijing, which is to host the Winter Olympics from Feb. 4.

High-speed rail service and other forms of transportation between the cities have been suspended, leading to some disruptions in supply chains, including for packaged food items sold in convenience stores.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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‘Most people are going to get COVID’: A momentous warning at a Senate hearing

One of the most indelible — and ultimately telling — moments of the early coronavirus pandemic came in late February 2020. A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the spread of the virus was “inevitable.”

“It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Nancy Messonnier said. The comment caused a blowup at the White House and among top administration officials, who had to account for then-President Donald Trump’s consistent desire to downplay the threat during his reelection campaign. Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would later acknowledge that Messonnier had been “right.”

On Tuesday, nearly two years later, came another such plainly stated and significant warning of what lies ahead in the pandemic: for most people, an infection.

“I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now,” said Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, “which is most people are going to get COVID.”

Woodcock pitched this as being a necessary acknowledgment when it comes to charting the path forward — recognizing that the focus now needs to be on averting the worst that widespread infections could bring in the near term.

Read the story here.

—Aaron Blake The Washington Post

Growing list of Seattle-area schools switch to remote learning, cancel classes

Staff shortages and the coronavirus continue to impact schools around the Puget Sound region. Because the situation is so fluid, many school districts are urging parents to check on the status each day.

Read the full story here.

—Christine Clarridge

Amid Djokovic backlash, Australia grapples with omicron wave

The coronavirus variant has swept across Australia despite its high vaccination rate and strict border policies that kept the country largely sealed off from the world for almost two years. Those measures, which turned Australia into a virtually COVID-19-free utopia early in the pandemic, have garnered fresh scrutiny as the government has battled to deport unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic ahead of the Australian Open.

They also have prompted questions from frustrated and fatigued Australians about why their country — which seemingly did everything to stop the spread of of the virus — now finds itself infested with it.

Read the full story here.

—The Associated Press
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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tests positive for COVID-19

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, his office announced.

Justice said in a statement he woke up with a cough and congestion, then developed a headache and high fever. The 70-year-old governor said he initially took a rapid test for the coronavirus, which came back negative.

The governor then was administered a PCR test that was positive. A test by a state laboratory confirmed the initial result and an additional test was being administered Tuesday night. Justice was experiencing moderate symptoms and was isolating at home, the Republican governor’s office said in a news release.

Justice, who is fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, was scheduled to give his sixth State of the State address to the Legislature on Wednesday night. 

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

How often can you reuse KN95 or N95 masks? Now that the U.S. is moving toward recommending more widespread use, it's worth understanding how to reuse as safely as possible. Plus, know the difference between N95 and KN95 masks, and how to spot a fake.

Omicron cases may soon start dropping rapidly in the U.S., according to experts at the UW and elsewhere who predicted when and how the peak will happen. One reason: The variant may be running out of people to infect. "Most people are going to get COVID," the FDA's chief warned in an acknowledgment that could influence the path forward.

Omicron can make you contagious before you test positive, creating fertile conditions for its rapid spread, some health experts warn. Here's what you should know about the timing.

The wait for young children's vaccines is excruciating for many families as omicron cases soar. Here's the latest on when they're likely to be available, dosages, the rare risks and more. Meanwhile, doctors are sharing advice on how families with unvaccinated kids can navigate omicron. 

"What a moron," Dr. Anthony Fauci muttered after a fiery Senate hearing yesterday in which feuds overshadowed strategy against omicron. Fauci accused one lawmaker of spreading lies that have led to dangerous threats against him and fired back at another who focused on his paycheck.
 

—Kris Higginson