The United States has posted its second-highest daily total for new COVID-19 cases, as one expert predicts some 5 million Americans could call in sick in the coming week in a major disruption to the economy and essential services.

On Friday, the US recorded 900,832 new COVID cases, second only to the more than 1 million cases recorded on Monday. The nation’s four highest caseload days since the start of the pandemic were all recorded in the past week.

The average daily case increase over the past seven days has been 664,732, a 64 percent increase from a week ago, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Deaths ticked up on Friday to 2,615, a 22 percent increase from week-ago levels on a rolling-average basis, but still well below the peak a year ago. 

Hospitalizations are rising quickly towards record highs, though new data from New York suggests that many hospital admissions with COVID are now incidental, with patients testing positive for the virus after hospitalization for unrelated complaints. 

Most experts believe infections will continue to increase in the US for the next few weeks before the Omicron surge peaks in late January, with Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that the US will likely record more than 1 million cases daily on a regular basis in coming weeks.

‘It’s still surging upward… I would not be surprised at all if we go over a million cases per day,’ Fauci told WNBC-TV on Friday. ‘I would hope that by the time we get to the fourth week in January — end of the third week, beginning of the fourth week – that we will start see this coming down.’  

Though Omicron appears less likely to cause severe illness and death than prior strains, the widespread infections could force some five million Americans to stay home from work in the coming days, Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told the Wall Street Journal

Illness-related staff shortages have already hobbled a number of industries for weeks, driving more than 1,000 daily flight cancellations for 13 straight days, and the coming surge in COVID sick leave could further hammer businesses that don’t allow for remote working.

In Britain, the number of daily cases fell for a third day in a row – a sign the worst of the Omicron wave may be over.  UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show there were 146,390 new positive tests over the last 24 hours, down 18.5 per cent on the previous week’s figure of 179,637.

Experts hope nationwide numbers will continue to follow London’s trajectory of rapidly falling cases and now hospitalisations. A similar trend was seen Omicron ground zero South Africa, which saw a sharp peak in cases before infections quickly dropped off. 

It marked the biggest week-on-week fall since the start of November, well before the supermutant strain sent cases soaring across the country. But the number of people dying with the virus continued to increase today, with 313 fatalities recorded — up 103 per cent on last week’s number.

The surge may be slightly overinflated due to less deaths being recorded on New Year’s Day last weekend. Fatalities usually follow trends in case numbers around two weeks later due to the time it takes for the virus to take hold. Covid hospitalizations in Omicron hotspot London fell 31 per cent to 310 on January 6, the latest date regional data is available for.

New York hospitals admit nearly HALF of ‘covid’ patients were admitted for other reasons

Under pressure from Governor Kathy Hochul, hospitals in New York have disclosed that nearly half of their so-called COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized were admitted for other reasons.

Of the roughly 11,500 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in the state, COVID was not included as one of the reasons for admission for 43 percent, according to data Hochul released on Friday.

In New York City, the rate was even higher, with 51 percent of current COVID patients classified as ‘with’ COVID, as opposed to ‘for’ the virus.

In patients ‘with’ COVID, they were hospitalized for unrelated reasons, such as injuries in a car crash, but tested positive for the virus on the routine screening administered to all new patients and were subsequently reclassified as COVID admissions. 

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As infections surge, the nation watches closely for signs of a peak, which still appears to be several weeks out.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that infections will peak in the final days of January, when they predict some 38 million Americans will be actively infected with COVID. 

In South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, infections have fallen sharply off their peak in mid-December. In the UK, which is a few weeks ahead of the US in the Omicron surge, infections are still rising despite hopes of a peak in London.

The number of people in the UK hospitalized with COVID-19 rose to 18,454 on Thursday, more than double the figure two weeks earlier. 

Meanwhile in the US, the current explosion of Omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the U.S. is already causing a breakdown in basic functions and services.

In New York City, employee shortages are causing delays in trash and subway services, and diminishing the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers. 

Airport officials shut have down security checkpoints at the biggest terminal in Phoenix and schools across the nation struggle to find teachers for their classrooms. 

‘This really does, I think, remind everyone of when COVID-19 first appeared and there were such major disruptions across every part of our normal life,’ said Tom Cotter, director of emergency response and preparedness at the global health nonprofit Project HOPE. 

‘And the unfortunate reality is, there´s no way of predicting what will happen next until we get our vaccination numbers – globally – up.’

First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up if infections keep rising. 

New York City Sanitation Department front-end Loaders wait to to fill a salt spreaders on Friday. Employee shortages are causing delays in trash and subway services in New York, and diminishing the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers

New York City Sanitation Department front-end Loaders wait to to fill a salt spreaders on Friday. Employee shortages are causing delays in trash and subway services in New York, and diminishing the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers

New York City Sanitation Department front-end Loaders wait to to fill a salt spreaders on Friday. Employee shortages are causing delays in trash and subway services in New York, and diminishing the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers

In Kansas’ Johnson County, paramedics are working 80 hours a week. Ambulances have frequently been forced to alter their course when the hospitals they’re heading to tell them they’re too overwhelmed to help, confusing the patients’ already anxious family members driving behind them. 

When the ambulances arrive at hospitals, some of their emergency patients end up in waiting rooms because there are no beds.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Hospital, said when the leader of a rural hospital had no place to send its dialysis patients this week, the hospital’s staff consulted a textbook and ‘tried to put in some catheters and figure out how to do it.’

Medical facilities have been hit by a ‘double whammy’ of rising hospitalizations and staffing shortages, he said. 

The number of COVID-19 patients at the University of Kansas Hospital rose from 40 on December 1 to 139 on Friday. At the same time, more than 900 employees have been sickened with COVID-19 or are awaiting test results – 7 percent of the hospital’s 13,500-person workforce.

‘What my hope is and what we’re going to cross our fingers around is that as it peaks … maybe it´ll have the same rapid fall we saw in South Africa,’ Stites said, referring to the swiftness with which the number of cases fell in that country. ‘We don’t know that. That’s just hope.’

In downtown Boise, Idaho, customers were queued up outside a pharmacy before it opened Friday morning and before long, the line wound throughout the large drugstore. Pharmacies have been slammed by staffing shortages, either because employees are out sick or have left altogether.

Pharmacy technician Anecia Mascorro said that prior to the pandemic, the Sav-On Pharmacy where she works always had prescriptions ready for the next day. Now, it’s taking a lot longer to fill the hundreds of orders that are pouring in.

‘The demand is crazy – everybody´s not getting their scripts fast enough so they keep transferring to us,’ Mascorro said.

In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and fire personnel were sidelined because of the virus as of Thursday, causing slightly longer ambulance and fire response times.

In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services because of a virus-fueled staffing hemorrhage. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said about one-fifth of subway operators and conductors – 1,300 people – have been absent in recent days. Almost one-fourth of the city sanitation department’s workers were out sick Thursday, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.

‘Everybody’s working ´round the clock, 12-hour shifts,’ Grayson said.

The city’s fire department also has adjusted for higher absences. Officials said Thursday that 28% of EMS workers were out sick, compared with about 8% to 10% on a normal day. Twice as many firefighters as usual were also absent.

In contrast, the police department saw its sick rate fall over the past week, officials said.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work, according to statements from airport and TSA officials.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (seen last month), two checkpoints at the airport's busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (seen last month), two checkpoints at the airport's busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (seen last month), two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work

Meanwhile, schools from coast to coast tried to maintain in-person instruction despite massive teacher absences. 

In Chicago, a tense standoff between the school district and teachers union over remote learning and COVID-19 safety protocols led to classes being canceled over the past three days. 

In San Francisco, nearly 900 educators and aides called in sick Thursday.

In Hawaii, where public schools are under one statewide district, 1,600 teachers and staff were absent Wednesday because of illness or pre-arranged vacation or leave. 

The state’s teachers union criticized education officials for not better preparing for the ensuing void. Osa Tui Jr., head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said counselors and security guards were being pulled to go ‘babysit a classroom.’

‘That is very inappropriate,’ Tui said at a news conference. ‘To have this model where there are so many teachers out and for the department to say, `Send your kid´ to a classroom that doesn´t have a teacher, what´s the point of that?’

In New Haven, Connecticut, where hundreds of teachers have been out each day this week, administrators have helped to cover classrooms. 

Some teachers say they appreciate that, but that it can be confusing for students, adding to the physical and mental stress they’re already feeling because of the pandemic.

‘We’ve already been tested so much. How much can the rubber band stretch here?’ asked Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers. 

Teacher Stuart Abram holds a sign in support of the Chicago Teachers Union walkout before a CTU caravan Wednesday, the first day that classes were canceled amid the union dispute over COVID-19 safety measures

Teacher Stuart Abram holds a sign in support of the Chicago Teachers Union walkout before a CTU caravan Wednesday, the first day that classes were canceled amid the union dispute over COVID-19 safety measures

Teacher Stuart Abram holds a sign in support of the Chicago Teachers Union walkout before a CTU caravan Wednesday, the first day that classes were canceled amid the union dispute over COVID-19 safety measures

On Friday, the Supreme Court´s conservative majority appeared skeptical of the Biden administration’s authority to impose a vaccine-or-testing requirement on the nation’s large employers. 

The court seemed more open to a separate vaccine mandate for most health care workers.

For the first time in the pandemic, seven Supreme Court justices decided to wear masks while hearing arguments, a nod to the soaring case levels in the Omicron surge. 

An eighth justice, Sonia Sotomayor, a diabetic since childhood, didn’t even appear in the courtroom, choosing to remain in her office at the court and take part remotely. 

Two lawyers, representing Ohio and Louisiana, argued by telephone after recent positive COVID-19 tests, state officials said.

But the COVID circumstances did not appear to outweigh the views of the court´s six conservatives that the administration overstepped its authority in its vaccine-or-testing requirement for businesses with at least 100 employees.

‘This is something the federal government has never done before,’ Chief Justice John Roberts said, casting doubt on the administration’s argument that a half-century-established law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, confers such broad authority.

Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett probably hold the key to the outcome in both cases, as they have been more receptive to state-level vaccine requirements than the other three conservative justices. 

Barrett and Kavanaugh also had tough questions for Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer.

Source: Daily Mail

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