Now-dominant Omicron variant leads to increase in COVID cases in US
NEW YORK, Dec.20 (Reuters) – COVID-19 cases rose in New York and across the United States over the weekend, dashing hopes for a more normal holiday season, resuscitating restrictions and stretching the country’s test infrastructure ahead of travel and holiday gatherings.
The rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus became dominant in the United States at lightning speed and claimed the life of an unvaccinated man in Texas on Monday, officials said.
The surge in COVID-19 cases worries public health officials, who fear an explosion in infections after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Register now for FREE and unlimited access to Reuters.com
The Omicron variant now accounts for 73% of coronavirus infections in the United States based on sequencing data for the week ended Saturday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.
With the new variant in circulation, COVID-19 cases now double in 1-1 / 2 to three days in areas of community transmission, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.
Queues for COVID-19 tests wrapped around the block in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities over the weekend as people demanded to know if they were infected before celebrating the family holidays.
“I just want to make sure before I see my wife’s 70-year-old mom that I’m negative,” David Jochnowitz said while waiting for a test in Washington.
With infections rising rapidly, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated an indoor mask mandate until the end of January on Monday and demanded that officials get vaccinated, including a booster.
“I think we’re all fed up with it,” Bowser told reporters. “I’m sick of it too, but we have to react to what’s going on in our city and what’s going on in our country.”
In New York City, COVID-19 cases rose 60% in the week ending Sunday as Omicron spread rapidly in the northeastern United States. New York has set records for the most new cases reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic for three consecutive days.
“It’s a predictor of what the rest of the country will see soon, and the minimum – since NYC is highly vaccinated – of what other parts of the country will experience in cities and under-vaccinated states,” said Georges. Benjamin, Executive Director. from the American Public Health Association.
Many Broadway productions have canceled performances because the cast and crew were infected. Popular production of “Hamilton” on Monday extended cancellations until after Christmas due to groundbreaking COVID-19 infections.
Peak infections are on the rise among the 61% of the country’s fully vaccinated population, including the 30% who have received boosters.
Omicron appears to be causing milder symptoms in vaccinated populations, and health experts remain optimistic this wave may not cause the same spikes in hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks.
A man in his 50s from eastern Harris County, Texas, who was unvaccinated, died of an infection with the Omicron variant on Monday, County Judge Lina Hidalgo posted on Twitter. The county, where Houston is located, was also the site of the first U.S. Omicron case recorded on December 6.
The man was the first local death from the variant, Hidalgo said. ABC News reported that this would be the first known death in the United States linked to Omicron. Read more
‘JUST STAY AT HOME’
New York City Health Commissioner Dr Dave Chokshi said on Monday that while new cases of COVID-19 have “risen sharply,” hospitalizations have not increased at the same rate. He credited the vaccinations and booster shots, which help prevent serious illness, and insisted more was needed to build a “dam” against the variant.
Omicron’s spread has prompted Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to require all students, faculty and staff on Monday to receive a COVID-19 booster injection for the next spring semester.
Nationwide, cases rose 9% over the past week, but are up 57% since early December, according to a Reuters tally. COVID-19 hospital patients rose 26% this month, with hospitals in some areas already strained by the Delta variant.
The Omicron variant was more than 90% dominant in regions including parts of the northeast, southeast and northwest, according to DNA sequencing of the virus collected by the CDC for the week ended Saturday.
This is a sharp increase from the previous week, when the virus only accounted for about 3% of sequenced cases.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced tough new rules requiring customers and employees of restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues to be vaccinated. The rules, which will be phased in over three months from January, will ultimately apply to children as young as five and all adults.
Hospitals in the Midwest continued to face a surge in patient numbers following a Delta wave this fall. Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have the nation’s most hospitalized COVID-19 patients per 100,000 population, according to a Reuters tally.
In New York City, the daily testing rate has reached an average of 130,000 per day, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday, more than double three weeks ago.
President Joe Biden will deliver a speech on dealing with Omicron on Tuesday, the White House said. The president tested negative for COVID-19 after a mid-level White House staff member who spent about 30 minutes near Biden on Friday tested positive on Monday morning, the White House said.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Monday she was stepping up the state’s testing program, with 1 million kits arriving this week and the same amount in each of the next two weeks.
“More and more people are going to test positive because of this,” she said. For those who do, she advised, “Just stay home, don’t go out. Don’t go to work. Don’t go see your family.”
State health director Dr Mary Bassett is among those who have tested positive for COVID-19, Hochul said.
The arrival of Omicron is a headwind for an economic recovery in New York already lagging behind the rest of the country, especially in terms of employment.
The pandemic has dealt the city an even bigger blow than the rest of the country due to the disproportionate role played by tourism, recreation and hospitality, which has suffered the most from closures and travel restrictions. The unemployment rate in New York City peaked at 20% in the spring of 2020, more than 5 percentage points above the US average, and is still at 9%, more than double the national rate.
Register now for FREE and unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Additional reporting and writing by Gabriella Borter in Washington and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Greg Savoy in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Peter Cooney and Sonya Hepinstall
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.