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Omicron Surge Causing Nationwide Breakdown in Emergency and Other Public Services

Omicron Surge Causing Nationwide Breakdown in Emergency and Other Public Services

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.

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.

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.


See Also

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.

Experts are watching the South African Omicron outbreak as a model and predict a peak in American cases by the end of January.

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