New year begins with 2,300 U.S. flights cancelled amid omicron outbreak

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For air travelers, the new year began where the old one left off – much to the dismay.

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As of mid-Saturday, more than 2,300 US flights to the East Coast had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware. This is the highest single-day toll ever as airlines started blaming staff shortages on rising COVID-19 infections among employees just ahead of Christmas.

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However, Saturday’s disruptions were not solely due to the virus. The chilly weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights at O’Hare Airport and over 250 at Midway Airport.

Southwest had canceled more than 450 flights, or 13% of its schedule. SkyWest, which operates flights as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, halted more than 400 flights, or 21% of its schedule. American, Delta, United and JetBlue all scrubbed more than 100 flights each.

back to school ?

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Meanwhile, as cases of COVID-19 rise as students return from winter break, dozens of US colleges are taking online classes again for at least the first week or semester – and some have warned The wave transition does not subside quickly enough that it can stretch for a long time.

Harvard is moving online classes for the first three weeks of the new year, with a return to campus scheduled for late January, “conditions permitting.”

The University of Chicago is delaying the start of its new term and is holding the first two weeks online. Some are inviting other students back to campus but starting online classes, including Michigan State University.

Many colleges expect an extra week or two to overtake the peak of a nationwide spike driven by the highly contagious Omron version. Still, the surge is casting uncertainty over a semester many expected it to be the closest to normal since the start of the pandemic.

For some American students, starting term remotely is becoming routine – several colleges used the strategy last year. But some fear the latest change could extend beyond a week or two.

Meanwhile in Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, the annual CES gadget conference will take three days instead of four amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and the return of some of its most famous tech presenters.

Convention organizer Consumer Technology Association announced Friday that CES will run from January 5-7, a day less than planned. The event still has more than 2,200 exhibitors confirmed to show their products at the Las Vegas convention, said spokeswoman Jean Abella.

The announcement follows the tech giant’s withdrawal from CES last week, citing the health risks of the Omicron version, including cellphone carriers like T-Mobile, whose CEO was slated to deliver the keynote address.

Computer maker Lenovo and social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook’s parent company Meta also canceled plans to participate. News outlets, including CNN, said they would cancel or reduce coverage.

CES was held solely last year. Abella said it will be a hybrid of online and in-person this year, with organizers offering digital registration, which allows access to about 40 livestream events.

Help for New York Hospitals

Federal ambulance crews and additional National Guard members are headed for New York City, and hospitals in western New York are receiving more federal aid as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations keep rising. State officials announced the new postings on Friday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul also said that students at state universities and the City University of New York must be on campus in the spring semester to receive coronavirus vaccine booster shots and test negative before returning from vacation leave.

The new confirmed cases are breaking records day by day in the state, Hochul said at a news briefing, rising above 76,500 on Thursday. An average of 53,000 New Yorkers tested positive in the week ending Thursday, compared to 13,000 per day two weeks ago. More than 7,900 people with COVID-19 are hospitalized across the state, a 67% increase in a week.

Record Cases in Florida

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 75,900 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida on Friday.

This raises the tally to a daily 7-day average of 42,600, which peaked this summer when the delta version fueled a surge of infections in the state.

Friday’s report sets a single-day record for the number of new cases in Florida. This breaks the record set a day earlier when over 58,000 cases were reported in the state. The Omicron version of the coronavirus has spread across Florida and across the country in the past few weeks.

Rising numbers during the holiday season have sent thousands of people to COVID-19 testing centers across Florida, resulting in long lines in many areas. Three people collapsed while waiting in line at the Tampa testing site on Friday morning.

Texas Request Help

Texas officials on Friday requested federal aid to increase COVID-19 testing and treatment, following reports that the state is running low on antibody treatments that have been shown to be most effective against the Omicron variant.

In a statement, Governor Greg Abbott said the Texas Division for Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services had made the request.

They are seeking federal resources for additional COVID-19 testing locations in six counties, an increase in medical personnel and more sotrovimab, the monoclonal antibody treatment that has been shown to be most effective against the more-infectious Omicron.

Abbott called on the Biden administration to “step up in this fight and provide necessary resources to help protect Texans.”

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