Experts warn omicron ‘blizzard’ to disrupt US for next month

For the
second day in a row, the United States had a record number of new cases based
on the seven-day average, with more than 290,000 new infections reported each
day, a Reuters tally showed.

At least 18
states and Puerto Rico have set pandemic records for new cases, according to
the tally. Maryland, Ohio and Washington, DC, also saw record hospitalisations
as overall US COVID hospitalizations rose 27 percent.

The surge
comes amid increased holiday travel, with New Year’s celebrations still to
come, and as schools grapple with students’ return to classrooms following
winter breaks.

“We are
going to see the number of cases in this country rise so dramatically, we are
going to have a hard time keeping everyday life operating,” Dr Michael
Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told

next month is going to be a viral blizzard,” he said. “All of society
is going to be pressured by this.”

Dr. Anthony
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, on Wednesday said cases
will likely rise through the end of January. He and other US health officials
have said early data shows Omicron appears less severe, but they have continued
to push vaccinations, masks and physical distancing.

With testing
shortages and breakthrough cases, experts warn the surge will upend hospitals,
emergency response services, schools and retailers, among others, in the coming

have to be really careful about being too dismissive of omicron,” Dr Peter
Hoetz, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN.

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hospitalisations as healthcare workers are sidelined with their own COVID cases
is also concerning, as are fewer effective therapeutics, Hoetz said.
“We’re in for a pretty serious time.”

825,663 people have died in the United States from COVID since early 2020, data
showed, with the latest wave of hospitalisations driven by those not

Joe Biden this month laid out new plans to combat the Omicron-driven wave,
including federal reinforcements for hospitals and more tests. But some experts
have said it is too little, too late.

So far,
however, the economy appears steady even as some economists express caution.

airline travel has been widely disrupted and some hard-hit areas have seen
shuttered businesses and canceled events, other measures of activity – such as
holiday sales – have held up.

The labor
market also is holding its ground. New claims for state unemployment benefits
fell last week to their lowest level of the pandemic era, the Labor Department
said on Thursday.

Still, Jason
Greenberg, head of economics at Homebase, which tracks data for about 50,000
small businesses, said he expects the first week of January to be slower than
projected before omicron.

remainder of January will likely depend on state and municipal public health
policy and epidemiological data,” Greenberg told Reuters.

How schools
handle the surge is also key, especially for working parents, with systems in
Washington and New York vowing to stay open with more testing.

US Education
Secretary Miguel Cardona acknowledged staffing issues but urged schools to take
steps to keeps kids in classrooms.

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Unlike last
year’s shutdowns, “we have better tools now. They should remain
open,” he told MSNBC, adding that federal funds remain available to
bolster staffing and testing.

some US colleges have delayed their next semesters or shifted online.

“We do
have light at the end of the tunnel,” Osterholm said. “But for right
now, you’re going to have to hunker down.”

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