Omicron disrupts transit, emergency services as workers call out sick: ‘Most people are going to get Covid’

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  • “It’s hard to process what’s going on right now, which is going to be Covid for most people,” said FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock.
  • Woodcock said the US must ensure that essential services are not disrupted by record levels of new infections.

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Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock issued an ominous warning to US lawmakers this week: the nation needs to ensure police, hospital and transportation services as an unprecedented wave of omicron infections sweep the country to call people out. forces it. Sick.

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Woodcock testified before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday, “It’s hard to process what’s going on right now that most people are going to get Covid.” “We need to make sure that hospitals can still function, transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.”

Like last winter, when public officials tried to stop the spread of COVID-19, public services and businesses across the United States are cutting back and limiting hours, some even temporarily closing. This year, however, with so many workers sickened by the virus, it is disrupting services that public officials are otherwise trying to keep open.

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From New York to Los Angeles, emergency services are struggling to find enough police, nurses, EMTs and firefighters as more and more workers are on call with COVID. Public transportation systems in New York and Chicago are suspending or disrupting some services, airlines are cutting back flights and public officials have been forced to home-quarantine because the highly infectious Omicron variant has been through vaccine protection. pierces and mostly sends to unvaccinated people. Hospital.

The US on Monday recorded a pandemic record of nearly 1.5 million new Covid infections, with an average of about 750,000 new infections every day over the past week, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This compares with a seven-day average of about 252,000 new cases a day a year ago.

Hospitalizations are even higher than last winter’s peak – before the widespread distribution of vaccines – and continues to rise. According to data tracked by the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 152,000 people in the US were hospitalized with Covid as of Wednesday, an 18% increase from the previous week.

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In an interview, Gillian Schmitz, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in an interview that “their backup staff is getting sick in many places across the country.” He said the stress on frontline workers is worse now than at any other point in the pandemic. “To a large extent, the whole country is feeling the issues right now that are affecting the staffing.”

Hospitals faced a shortage of nurses before the US first detected the Omicron variant in early December. The American Nurses Association called on the Biden administration in September to declare the nursing shortage a national crisis, as the delta version was rising in many parts of the country at the time.

ANA President Ernest Grant said at the time, “The country’s health care delivery system is overwhelmed, and nurses are tired and frustrated because there is no end to this persistent pandemic.” “Nurses alone cannot solve this long-standing problem and it is not our burden,” Grant said.

The Omicron version now threatens to make up for a long-standing staff shortage in hospitals by forcing nurses to get sick. Although most nurses are fully vaccinated, Omicron has been able to evade some of the protection provided by the shots, leading to more successful infections nationwide.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Valensky told reporters at a White House COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday: “The sudden and rapid increase in cases due to Omicron is resulting in unprecedented daily cases, illness, absenteeism and stress on our health care system. Is.” , To help ease potential staffing shortfalls, the agency last month slashed isolation times for some health care workers who get Covid – a controversial move that has come under fire by nursing groups across the country. has gone.

The Biden administration has deployed hundreds of military doctors and nurses to support overcrowded hospitals and directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy ambulance and EMS staff to provide emergency hospital beds and transport patients.

Police, fire and transit agencies are also clashing with employees as Omicron forces people to say ill. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said as of last Thursday more than 800 police and firefighters were in home isolation due to positive COVID test results.

“It’s an incredibly difficult moment. The Omicron version has blown up like wildfire,” Garcetti said during a press conference.

According to the FDNY, in New York City, 18% of EMS workers and 13% of firefighters are sick with COVID as of Tuesday, down from 30% for EMS and 18% for firefighters. The New York City Police Department told CNBC on Tuesday that 12.5% ​​of the force was sick as of last Friday.

The country’s largest New York subway has also Suspended service on some lines Due to the shortage of staff due to Omicron. The Chicago Transit Authority, which operates the nation’s second largest public transit system, also told the public There may be a disruption in service as workers become ill due to COVID.

The virus is also infecting the top officials of the city and the state. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Tuesday that tested positive for covid and will work from home while she is in isolation with cold-like symptoms. Lightfoot said she was fully vaccinated and enhanced. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced early Wednesday that he tested positive, despite being fully vaccinated and promoted.

Airlines began canceling flights just before Christmas as an Omicron infection among employees made them shorthand. United, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, SkyWest and others have trimmed January schedules as Covid cases soar, leaving them no longer requiring pilots and other staff.

United’s CEO told employees on Monday that 3,000 employees, about 4% of its US workforce, had tested positive for Covid.

“For example, in a single day in Newarki [New Jersey]“About one-third of our employees said sick,” Scott Kirby said in a staff note.

White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday that it is unclear when the omicron wave will peak because of variations in vaccination coverage across the US, Fauci said in some parts of the country. Omicron infections may rise while they peak and fall in others.

“It’s a very clever virus,” Fauci told lawmakers during the hearing. “It’s fooled everyone all the time – ever since it first came out to Delta and now to Omicron – it’s so unpredictable and we’re doing the best we possibly can.”

— CNBC’s Leslie Joseph and Nate Ratner /em>

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