The United States says goodbye to 2021 hit by the highest peak in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. Only this Thursday 488,000 infections were registered, reaching a daily record for the second consecutive day, and almost doubling the worst figures of last winter. The highly transmissible omicron variant has caused that a year and a half after the origin of the health crisis, 15 States and territories deal with more cases in a week than in any previous period. Although the critical situation has cast a shadow over the end-of-the-year holidays and caused staff shortages in various industries, hospitalizations have risen only 11% and deaths have declined slightly in the past two weeks.
Looking ahead to New Year’s Eve, epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the government of President Joe Biden, clarified this Thursday that it is not necessary to cancel the small meetings between vaccinated family and friends. But “if your plans are to go to a party of 40 to 50 people with all the bells and whistles and everyone hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year, I would strongly recommend that this year they do not do it,” he said on a day in which the The average number of new cases in the last seven days was 301,000, another disgraceful record.
Preliminary data show that omicron causes milder illnesses than previous variants. With the hospital system still under control despite the wave of infections, one of the most immediate consequences of this variant is that many employees have had to absent themselves from their jobs due to being infected, which has led to a shortage of personnel in the medical sector , a growing number of businesses closed and several end-of-year events suspended.
Health authorities warned that infections will continue to increase in January, when people return to their cities and students to schools. The specter of a new school closure has worried parents, but the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, assured that, although there are personnel problems in schools, the position was to keep children in classrooms. Some universities, such as California, Stanford or Harvard, have already made the decision to delay the start of their next semesters or start the year with online classes.
One of the industries most affected by this new wave has been that of the airlines, which, given the number of personnel left, has been forced this Thursday to cancel more than 1,100 flights to, from or within the United States, according to the site of FlightAware air travel data. Another hit sector is that of cruise ships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that citizens, regardless of their vaccination status, avoid travel after a series of outbreaks recorded on board.
About 60,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, about half the number recorded in January, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency’s data also reveals that the unvaccinated end up in the hospital at higher rates than the inoculated. During the week of December 21-27, an average of 334 children under the age of 17 were admitted to the hospital daily, a 58% increase over the previous week. This afternoon, local media have published that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years of age early next week.
Amid the delicate health landscape, CDC health experts recommended cutting the isolation period for those infected from 10 to five days when they do not have symptoms. The update of the guide, based on the evidence that patients with covid-19 are most contagious two days before and three days after developing symptoms, has raised criticism in a sector of the medical union. Triggering in infections is not an American phenomenon, where just over 60% of the population is vaccinated. The World Health Organization reported that new cases rose 11% last week from the previous week worldwide, hitting five million from Dec. 20-26.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.