The current explosion of Omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the U.S. is causing a breakdown in basic functions and services, just the latest example of how COVID-19 keeps upending life more than two years into the pandemic. As the nation slogs through what health experts have dubbed “an awful January,” disruptions are impacting ambulance response times, trash removal, and other public services Americans have come to take for granted even during a pandemic.
Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more readily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. But its easy transmissibility has led to skyrocketing cases in the U.S., which is affecting businesses, government offices, and public services alike.
First responders, hospitals, schools, and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they’re concerned about how much longer they can keep it up. In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and fire personnel were sidelined because of the virus as of Thursday, causing slightly longer ambulance and fire response times.
No, you should not try to get Omicronhttps://t.co/JQH18QJQPF
— TIME (@TIME) January 8, 2022
In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services because of a virus-fueled staffing hemorrhage. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said about one-fifth of subway operators and conductors — 1,300 people — have been absent in recent days. Almost one-fourth of the city sanitation department’s workers were out sick Thursday, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said. The city’s fire department also has adjusted for higher absences. Officials said Thursday that 28% of EMS workers were out sick, compared with about 8% to 10% on a normal day. Twice as many firefighters were also absent due to the virus.
⚠️HOSPITALIZED **FOR** COVID—the majority (57%) of all recent #COVID19 hospital admissions in New York are admitted **for** COVID—not just ‘incidental’ COVID. Matches 🇬🇧 where 63% admitted for COVID. Thus➡️most #Omicron-wave 🏥 all-time COVID record-high admissions are damn real! pic.twitter.com/GJiMm8OXc9
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) January 8, 2022
Meanwhile, schools from coast to coast tried to maintain in-person instruction despite massive teacher absences. In Chicago, a tense standoff between the school district and teachers union over remote learning and COVID-19 safety protocols led to classes being canceled over the past three days. In San Francisco, nearly 900 educators and aides called in sick Thursday.
COVID-19 Daily Update:
Daily averages, updated: January 6
Confirmed Cases: 5,047
Tests Conducted: 27,135
Test Positivity: 22.7%
See Chicago's full COVID-19 Dashboard: https://t.co/UrMNMrtIZm pic.twitter.com/twOwlUCMLh
— Chicago Department of Public Health – CDPH (@ChiPublicHealth) January 7, 2022
At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work, according to statements from airport and TSA officials.
NEW: Colorado activates "crisis standards of care" for EMS due to COVID-19 surge. Ambulances may not be dispatched on as many calls and suspected COVID patients in continuous cardiac arrest will not be transported to hospitals. #COVID19Colorado
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) January 8, 2022
Experts are watching the South African Omicron outbreak as a model and predict a peak in American cases by the end of January.
A new CDC analysis found that severe illness and death from Covid were extremely rare in vaccinated people. Among 1,228,664 fully vaccinated people across the US, 185 (0.015%) had severe illness and 36 (0.0033%) died. Covid vaccines are extremely safe and remarkably effective.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) January 6, 2022