Airlines canceled more than 700 flights and delayed hundreds more early Monday as industry continued to be plagued by staffing shortages caused by the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant.
The seemingly endless waves of coronavirus surges apparently did little curb the American enthusiasm for holiday shopping, however – at least one metric shows sales since Nov. 1 had risen 8.5% from a year earlier, the biggest annual gain in 17 years.
And Americans wanted to travel, but airlines struggled to keep up. More than 1,500 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Sunday and over 6,000 delayed, the tracking website FlightAware reported. Several airlines said the scheduling issues were caused by staffing problems tied to COVID-19.
JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said the airline has seen an “increasing number” of sick calls due to the fast-spreading omicron variant. The company entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels since the start of the pandemic, he said. He warned that additional cancellations and delays “remain a possibility.”
The omicron variant is proving to be much more contagious than the delta variant; omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Flight canceled? What airlines owe you when flights are canceled, delayed
Also in the news:
► Three members of the K-pop group BTS have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Big Hit Music, the group’s management company.
► France has recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled over the past month.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 52 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 816,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 279.9 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 204 million Americans – 61.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: In some counties in the U.S., only half of the spike in deaths during the pandemic has been attributed to COVID-19. Researchers say that points to a massive undercount.
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New York City requiring vaccinations for private-sector businesses
Private employers operating in New York City must require COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers beginning today under a sweeping mandate aimed at curbing a spike in the virus. The order affects an estimated 184,000 businesses, and those that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has said imposing penalties would be a last resort. Unvaccinated workers need not be fired but must be kept out of the workplace.
Employers have to verify and keep a record of each worker’s proof of vaccination. Workers who have only gotten one shot will have to get a second one within 45 days. Companies must display a sign affirming they are complying with the rule “in a conspicuous location,” under the city’s mandate.
Israel has begun trials of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine with 150 medical personnel who received a booster dose in August receiving a fourth shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The staff receiving the additional dose were tested and found to have low antibody levels. The trial came as Israeli officials have considered rolling out a second tranche of booster shots to its population. Israel, like much of the world, is grappling with rising infections from the omicron variant. Over 4.2 million of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
“This study is expected to shed light on the additional benefit of giving a fourth dose, and lead us to understand whether and to whom it is worth giving a fourth dose,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at Sheba Medical Center
Even with testing disruptions from the Christmas holiday, America still reported dramatically worse COVID-19 numbers on Sunday.
In just the most recent 17 days the country has reported more new coronavirus cases than it had in all of November, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data show. In the week ending Sunday, the country reported 1.39 million cases – nearly 200,000 per day.
That number is up 47% from a week earlier, and up 65% from two weeks earlier. Christmas disruptions and limited access to testing mean the real number is likely worse.
New case records were set in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico.
– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
The latest wave of COVID-19 is pounding hospitals in some parts of the country, according to Department of Health and Human Services data reported Sunday. Washington, D.C., reported 77% more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, and 42% more in intensive-care beds, than a week earlier. Florida’s hospital admissions are up 64%. Hawaii’s are up 44%.
And in Louisiana, COVID-19 hospitalizations doubled in the last week. The Louisiana Department of Health said 449 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday. That’s the highest since mid-October, which at the time was the state’s worst surge. Statewide, 80% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated, the health department reported.
But the wave is moving unevenly across the country. Nearly half of the states report lower COVID-19 admissions and fewer people in ICU beds.
COVID-19 cases are continuing to emerge on cruise ships. Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises are among the companies dealing with clusters of cases on board, spurring itinerary changes and protocols to mitigate spread.
The CDC has been working with global public health experts and industry partners to learn about omicron, spokesperson Dave Daigle told USA TODAY last week. “We are still learning how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” he said.
The likelihood of contracting the coronavirus on a cruise is “high because the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” Daigle said.
MSC Seashore, which was scheduled to disembark passengers Thursday, sailed with 28 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC is investigating Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas ship as it sails with more than 50 cases of coronavirus onboard.
– Morgan Hines, USA TODAY
Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in the coming week.
First, you need to isolate. That’s a more intense version of quarantining – it means cutting off contact with other people as much as possible so you reduce the chance of infecting them. This also means forgoing travel, not going to work and even limiting contact with people in your own household who aren’t infected.
The CDC says isolating is a necessary step whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and whether you have symptoms or feel fine.
Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should monitor their symptoms. And people who are unvaccinated or at high risk for severe disease should be extra-vigilant for symptoms that might require emergency care. Call your doctor for early treatment options.
How long should you isolate? How long will I be contagious? What if you are a close contact with someone who tested positive? Here’s what you should know about omicron and COVID this holiday season.
Contributing: The Associated Press