Looking ahead at big stories to watch in 2022

Goodbye 2021, hello 2022. Whether the new year will be better or worse is anyone’s guess, but here are some of the big stories to keep an eye on.

People line up to get tested for Covid-19 at a testing site in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 29, 2021. — The U.S. has hit its highest-ever average of new COVID cases as Omicron spreads at a blistering pace, amid testing woes and health worker shortages. “Probably more than a half million” are currently infected every day, Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health told AFP. Images of people lining up to get tested, and an ongoing shortage of home kits, are becoming a political liability for President Joe Biden, who slammed his predecessor Donald Trump over mismanagement of the pandemic. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

COVID-19

COVID is surging again. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show significant daily spikes in cases at the year’s end. On Dec. 29, new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.

The virus continues to impact all aspects of daily life locally and nationally.

In D.C., students and staff at D.C. Public Schools will have to show proof of a negative COVID test before coming back to classrooms on Jan. 5. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order that indoor venues like restaurants, bars and gyms be required to verify patrons 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine goes into effect Jan. 15.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Executive Marc Elrich has said that he would like to have a vaccine passport proposal similar to D.C.’s in front of the County Council by the time it returns from recess.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said he’s “not considering” new COVID lockdowns, though he himself has contracted the virus.

Incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who is vaccinated and supports people getting the vaccine, has publicly opposed vaccine mandates. And the Virginia Department of Health won’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines in schools.

Rising COVID cases have also impacted first responders in the District, Alexandria and Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said at the end of December that the nation should consider a vaccination mandate for domestic air travel, though the Biden administration has thus far balked at imposing a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel.

CDC data show more than 241 million Americans, about 77% of the eligible population age 5 and over, have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Officials believe, though, that there is some overcount in the figures due to record-keeping errors in the administration of booster shots.

Health data already suggests that the unvaccinated are hospitalized at much higher rates than those who have gotten inoculated, even if the effectiveness of the shots decreases over time, Fauci said.

Since the summer, the Biden administration has embraced various vaccination requirements as a way to get unvaccinated Americans to roll up their sleeves. It has instituted requirements that federal workers, federal contractors and those who work in health care get their shots, and that employers with 100 or more employees institute vaccination-or-testing requirements for their workers.

Those vaccination requirements have been mired in legal wrangling, with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments Jan. 7 in cases seeking to overturn them.


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

FILE — In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Jan. 6 insurrection committee

An independent House committee was formed last year to look into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. So far, much of the work has been behind closed doors. But there have been revelations in the committee’s effort to investigate the insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump who believed the 2020 election was stolen.

Former White House chief of staff and congressman Mark Meadows was voted in contempt of Congress after ceasing to cooperate with the probe, though he had turned over documents and negotiated for two months with the panel about an interview. Meadows’ Jan. 6 texts also became public. Trump ally Steve Bannon was held in contempt in October. The panel voted Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in contempt in November.

An interim report from the committee isn’t expected until the summer.

The panel has already interviewed around 300 people as it seeks to create a comprehensive record of the Jan. 6 attack and the events leading up to it.

At the time, Trump was pushing false claims of widespread voter fraud and lobbying Vice President Mike Pence and Republican members of Congress to try to overturn the count at the Jan. 6 congressional certification. Election officials across the country, along with the courts, had repeatedly dismissed Trump’s claims.

An angry mob of Trump supporters was echoing his false claims as it brutally beat Capitol police and broke into the building that day, interrupting the certification of Biden’s victory.

Redistricting

The once-a-decade redistricting process happens across the U.S. after the census. Its impact on the midterm elections remains to be seen.

Locally, the Supreme Court of Virginia unanimously approved maps establishing congressional and state legislative districts under the commonwealth’s new redistricting process. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed off on new ward boundaries.

In Maryland, it’s more complicated. Two lawsuits have been filed over the new proposed maps. And at a public hearing in December, Marylanders requested changes to the map boundaries.

A new map of legislative districts for Maryland’s 188 seats in the General Assembly will be taken up in the regular session, which begins in January.

Midterm elections

November’s midterm elections pose a significant test for congressional Democrats — and President Joe Biden — who are looking to maintain majorities in both houses.

Democrats are already dealing with what The Associated Press called “bad omens” after getting walloped in Virginia’s off-year election.

According to the AP, the two biggest drags on Democrats are the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain problems that have pushed up prices. Both could improve before Election Day 2022, potentially bolstering the incumbent party — or they could worsen.

Another major issue is abortion rights, which Democrats hope will rouse voters, but strategists in both parties suggest it may not be so easy.

FILE — In this March 22, 2021, file photo Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, testifies at the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, on D.C. statehood on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via CQ Roll Call, File)

DC-area elections

While Virginia’s elections were tackled in 2021, D.C. and Maryland have big ones coming up in November.

The District is holding general elections for mayor (Muriel Bowser is the incumbent), attorney general, city council and delegate and shadow members of Congress on Nov. 8, 2022.

Marylanders will choose a new governor (Larry Hogan is term-limited), U.S. senators and representatives, state senators and representatives, and state’s attorney among others on Nov. 8, 2022.

President Joe Biden participates in the White House COVID-19 Response Team’s regular call with the National Governors Association in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

2024 presidential election

Sure, it’s a ways off, but what we see in 2022 will tell us a lot about the 2024 presidential election.

Biden has said he’ll seek reelection as long as he’s in good health, even though it’s been reported that Democrats are worried about his political standing. Recent polls put Biden’s approval rating in the low 40s, which is higher than Donald Trump’s was at the same time in his presidency, according to The Associated Press.

If Biden doesn’t run, for whatever reason, a shortlist of would-be Democratic successors could include Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, all of whom previously sought the highest office in the land.

There is, of course, intense speculation about whether Donald Trump will run in 2024. Early polls suggest he would run away with the GOP nomination, even as former Vice President Mike Pence visits New Hampshire. And some fellow Republicans considering a campaign, including former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have said they won’t run if Trump moves forward.

Editor’s Note: 2022 will probably still be terrible, but at least we gave you a heads up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


MORE YEAR-END STORIES

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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