The Omicron variant of the coronavirus vigorously continued its viral march across the United States on Christmas Day, causing turmoil in many winter holiday celebrations.
Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights on Friday, including more than 600 within, within or outside the United States, stranding passengers after short-staffed carriers were hit by pilots and flight attendants reporting infections. Hundreds of more cancellations were expected for Saturday.
The worldwide tally of canceled flights exceeded 5,400 trips over the weekend.
FlightAware, a flight tracking website, noted that 888 flights entering, departing or within the United States were canceled on Saturday, up from 690 on Friday.
Christian churches have been disrupted, with many cancellations of in-person congregations, while others have planned outdoor services or a hybrid of online and in-person worship, including the requirement to wear masks and show proof of vaccination against Covid-19.
Among those who canceled some or all in-person Christmas services were Washington National Cathedral, St John the Divine in New York City, the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and the historic Old South Church in Boston, after the Church leaders said they did not want to put worshipers and church staff at risk for contracting the disease.
This came as some government offices began to reduce the recommended isolation periods for people who test positive, in order to limit labor shortages, and decided to increase the testing capacity of Covid.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul said essential workers in education, healthcare, transportation, grocery stores and sanitation would be allowed to return to work five days after having tested positive under certain conditions.
“We still need you, we need you to be able to go to work,” Hochul said.
In New York’s Brooklyn neighborhood, police were called after larger-than-expected crowds descended on city-run sites where health officials were handing out free Covid-19 tests to homes.
But even though the spread of Omicron exceeded the recorded transmission rates of any previous strain, hospitalizations remained below previous peaks as the pandemic approached two years after its spread in the United States.
About 70,000 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Christmas Eve, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services – a BOUT increase of 2% from last week and around 50% by compared to early November, but about half of the January peak.
Health officials have repeatedly warned that the situation could worsen for tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans.
“There are many places in the country where hospitalizations are increasing now,” William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN.
Many US hospitals are reporting staffing shortages as medical staff report sick or are banned from work after vaccination warrants took effect last month.
Joe Biden said 1,000 military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel could be deployed. Federal medical teams have already been dispatched to some hard-hit states, such as Michigan, in recent days.
Anger over mask and vaccine warrants and other rules has sparked a political backlash in some Republican-led states, with political leaders scrambling to limit the role of health authorities.
With many hospitals under pressure, frontline health workers are forgoing a festive break with their families in order to staff intensive care units where coronavirus patients suffer.
With health-team stress being acute in some Midwestern states, some staff are working 16-hour shifts, The New York Times reported from Indiana.
“A lot of people including myself had scheduled time off, but they are now being asked to come and take shifts to cover each other and meet the increasing demands for patient care,” said Graham Carlos, Executive Medical Director of Eskenazi Health. in Indianapolis, the newspaper said.
And in parts of the country, medical staff report misinformation about Covid remains their biggest challenge.
In West Virginia, which briefly led the nation to vaccinate people, Covid vaccine penetration stubbornly remains at around 45%.
The reasons vary for West Virginia’s struggle to adopt the vaccine. Chania Batten, a nurse at a drive-thru clinic at the only hospital in rural Roane County, that state, said she faces an uphill battle to persuade residents who resist vaccination, whether for moral reasons , personal or political.
“There are still, honestly, a lot of questions about the vaccine and what’s in it,” Batten said. “There are a lot of people who are still afraid because there is not enough information for them. You have all this paranoia.
“It can get overwhelming,” she said of her struggle for health information, “but it’s my job”.
With the number of patients increasing and the staffing population shrinking, projections show that the number of people hospitalized with the virus during the holiday season will approach the record of more than 1,000 set in September.
“It can get overwhelming,” Batten said of his struggle for health information, “but it’s my job”.