Holiday season

Omicron delivers another uncertain holiday season for pandemic-weary Americans

Dec 16 (Reuters) – Americans face an uncertain and anxiety-filled holiday season for the second straight year as the highly contagious variant of Omicron threatens to escalate an already alarming wave of COVID-19 cases .

Public health officials have expressed growing concerns about the rising number of infections, warning that hospitals – which are still battling the effects of the Delta variant – could find themselves stretched beyond their limits if the two variants come together. combine to create a new wave.

Although states have not sought to impose broad closures, the progress of the disease has prompted a new round of restrictions, as offices postponed return-to-office dates, universities moved exams online and some States and cities have reimposed mask mandates.

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In New York, several Broadway shows, including “Hamilton,” “Tina” and “Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical,” canceled performances, citing breakthrough COVID infections among their cast or crew. In Puerto Rico, the Miss World beauty pageant final was canceled on Thursday after several contestants tested positive.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said Thursday that the Omicron variant will soon dominate infections.

“We’ve seen that in South Africa, we’re seeing it in the UK, and I’m absolutely sure that’s what we’re going to see here relatively soon,” said Fauci, who met with President Joe Biden on Thursday. afternoon to discuss the government’s response.

In South Africa, the UK and Denmark, the number of new Omicron infections doubles every two days.

Preliminary data suggests that Omicron may be more contagious than Delta but less likely to cause serious illness, although much remains unknown. Research also indicates that two-dose vaccine regimens significantly reduced protection against Omicron, but that a third booster dose restores much of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Experts have warned that Omicron could still have life-threatening consequences due to its transmissibility.

“When you have a highly contagious disease – even if it causes milder illness – you can still have very many deaths, infectious disease expert Dr Celine Gounder said Thursday during a roundtable discussion at the University. from New York.

Maine set a record for the number of COVID patients hospitalized on Wednesday, a day after Michigan hit a new high. New Jersey on Thursday recorded its highest number of cases since mid-January, at the height of last winter’s outbreak.

Over the past month, new cases have risen nearly 40% to a seven-day average of 121,000 new infections per day, according to a Reuters tally.

Deaths have increased by 18% since mid-November to an average of 1,300 lives lost per day. Hospitalizations for COVID have increased by about 45% over the past month.

In New York, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 has doubled in three days, according to Dr. Jay Varma, senior public health adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We’ve never seen this before in #NYC,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that the only explanation is Omicron’s ability to evade both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

De Blasio said the city would increase capacity at testing sites, which have seen long lines in recent days, and distribute 500,000 rapid home test kits through community organizations.

“This variant moves fast,” he said. “We have to go faster.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the state would allow residents to request that test kits be mailed to their homes, joining several other US states.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday it was high time people got reminders and urged them to do so as soon as possible.

“We envision a winter of serious illness and death” for the unvaccinated, Biden said.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL CONCERNS

The surge has prompted worried Americans to reconsider vacation travel plans. Experts said vaccinated people can travel safely as long as they wear masks and avoid unnecessary risks such as large crowds and indoor gatherings.

After months of planning a trip to Florida to see his parents for Christmas and his mother’s birthday, Kalaya’an Mendoza of Queens, New York, told Reuters he was forced to cancel when he learned that several people at an event he attended on Monday had tested positive.

“I’m a little destroyed,” Mendoza, 43, said Thursday. “It feels like 2020 all over again. I had to weigh my very intense Filipino need to be with my family with their care and safety.”

Mendoza, who has not seen his parents since December 2019, said he was angry at the little progress the US government had made in fighting the pandemic while spending billions of dollars this year to d other elements, such as the army.

“I remember seeing my neighbors getting carried away in body bags at the start of this pandemic, and two years later we shouldn’t be here,” he said.

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Reporting by Joseph Ax and Julia Harte in New York; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Tyler Clifford in New York; Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; and Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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