US sports leagues hit hard by COVID; omicron gains ground: Updates

December 16, 2021
Omicron variant in more states; delta surge continues: COVID updates


Despite player populations that are overwhelmingly vaccinated, COVID-19’s second winter has decimated North American professional sports leagues at a level not seen since 2020.

From the NFL reporting a single-day high in cases, to the Chicago Bulls postponing two games after 10 players entered COVID-19 protocols, every active league is seeing its regular season imperiled by the pandemic.

Sports leagues have been re-writing safety protocols and urging their players to get vaccinated once they became widely available last spring.

Entering the teeth of this winter, the effort was largely a success: The NFL reports nearly 95% of its players vaccinated, the NHL has just one unvaccinated holdout and the NBA also exceeds 97%, despite high-profile holdouts such as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi.

Yet the past week has resulted in more postponements and players in protocol than even navigating through an unvaccinated 2020-21 winter.

On Monday, the NFL reported its highest day of positive COVID-19 tests over two seasons of the pandemic, according to the NFL Network, with 36 players and one staffer forced into protocols.

The Los Angeles Lakers joined the Bulls, Nets and Charlotte Hornets as NBA clubs suffering COVID-related setbacks in recent days.

And four NHL teams have now paused due to rising COVID-19 cases, with 23 players entering the league’s COVID-19 protocol as of Tuesday afternoon over a 36-hour window, according to TSN

Also in the news:

►Over 900 Cornell University students tested positive for COVID-19 and finals were moved online.

►Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the European Union by mid-January, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 50.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 802,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 272 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 202 million Americans — 61% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

📘What we’re reading: The omicron variant of the coronavirus is moving faster than surveillance systems can track it and has now unnerved some medical experts that they’re starting to put the brakes on preparations for their holiday gatherings.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Michigan confirms more omicron cases, could become dominant strain by January

The omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the United States, health officials warned Wednesday, as two more confirmed cases of the coronavirus strain were identified in Michigan.

The state health department reported two more cases of the variant in Michigan Wednesday — both in Genesee County — bringing the total of known cases so far to three. The first Michigan case was identified last week in Kent County through genetic sequencing. 

Although the strain is now estimated to make up only about 3% of coronavirus cases in the U.S., “early data suggests that omicron is more transmissible than delta, with a doubling time of about two days,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

At that level of growth, omicron could be the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. before the new year. 

“My guess is that omicron will become the dominant variant in early January 2022,” said Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford Health System’s medical director of infection control and prevention. Read more here.

— Kristen Jordan Shamus and Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press


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