Americans across the country celebrated Christmas on Saturday – many with empty chairs at dinner tables – amid mounting concerns from the quickly spreading omicron variant.
The dangers posed by the latest coronavirus variant kept many families apart, canceled thousands of flights and led to a new round of restrictions across the globe as the pandemic was on the cusp of stretching into a third year.
As of Saturday, the omicron variant accounted for 73.2% of new COVID-19 infections in the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The week ending Dec. 11, it accounted for only 12.6% of new cases.
States including Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have reported a record number of cases — the most since the pandemic began, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from John Hopkins University.
Many churches canceled in-person services, but for those that did have in-person worship, clerics reported smaller but significant attendance.
“Our hopes for a normal Christmas have been tempered by Omicron this year … still filled with uncertainties and threats that overshadow us,” the Rev. Ken Boller told his parishioners during midnight Mass at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City. “Breakthrough used to be a happy word for us, until it was associated with COVID. And in the midst of it all, we celebrate Christmas.”
Also in the news:
► The Biden administration will lift its temporary travel ban on South Africa – where omicron was first detected – as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, on Dec. 31, said Kevin Munoz, White House assistant press secretary, in a tweet Friday.
►A recent study out of South Africa suggests those infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are at reduced risks of hospitalization and severe disease compared to those infected with the delta variant. But researchers also cautioned that at least some of this reduction is likely a result of high population immunity in the country.
📈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 279.1 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 204 million Americans – 61.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Throughout the pandemic, lawmakers from coast to coast have passed laws, declared emergency orders or activated state-of-emergency statutes that severely limited families’ ability to seek recourse for lapses in COVID-related care. Read the full story.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Travelers with last-minute holiday flights this year are scrambling to find new flights as major airlines canceled thousands of flights in large part because of the omicron variant.
More than 2,500 commercial flights were canceled Christmas Day, according to FlightAware. Another nearly 5,000 were delayed.
On Christmas Eve, another 2,380 flights were canceled, the website said. Two major U.S. airlines, Delta and United, canceled hundreds of Christmas Eve and Christmas flights. They cite crew shortages after sick calls from the fast spreading omicron variant and weather in pockets of the country.
United canceled 176 Christmas Eve flights, or 9% of scheduled flights, Delta, 151, or 7%, FlightAware reported.
Christmas Day is one of the lightest travel days of the holiday travel rush. JetBlue is also having issues: 72 Christmas Eve flights were canceled, or 7% of its scheduled flights.
Delta said late Friday morning that it expects the cancellations to continue into Sunday, a busy travel day ahead of the new work week.
Callers to Delta’s general customer service line were quoted a wait of two hours and 43 minutes late Friday morning. United was quoting a 25- to 30-minute wait. A recording on United’s reservations line said “significant weather” has impacted its call center staffing and urged travelers without flights in the next 72 hours to call back later.
Airlines have struggled with long wait times as travel surged this year.
– Dawn Gilbertson and Christal Hayes, 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 coming weeks as the omicron variant rapidly spreads this holiday season.
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 that you reduce your chances of infecting them. It 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 it’s a necessary step whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated; showing symptoms or feeling fine.
Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should also 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.