Omicron disrupts essential services as workers call for

A U.S. Marine is seen in a negative pressure room on the Covid-19 ward of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System Campus and Medical Center in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, on January 11, 2022. Team veterans are being treated by paramedics.

Joseph Prezio | AFP | Getty Images

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock issued an ominous warning to U.S. lawmakers this week: The state needs to ensure police, hospitals and transportation services don’t collapse as an unprecedented nationwide wave of omicron infections forces people to speak out sick.

“It’s hard to deal with what’s actually happening right now, most people are going to get coronavirus,” Woodcock said in testimony before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday. Operations, transportation and other essential services will not be interrupted.”

Just as public officials tried to contain the spread of Covid last winter, public services and businesses across the U.S. are cutting and limiting hours, and some are closing temporarily. This year, however, so many workers have contracted the virus, disrupting services that public officials were trying to keep open.

From New York to Los Angeles, emergency services are struggling to staff enough police, nurses, EMTs and firefighters as more workers call for help with Covid. Public transportation systems in New York and Chicago are suspending or disrupting some services, airlines are cutting flights, and public officials are forced to quarantine at home as a highly contagious variant of the omicron penetrates vaccine protection and sends large numbers of the most unvaccinated people to the hospital.

The U.S. on Monday reported a pandemic-record of nearly 1.5 million new coronavirus infections, with an average of about 750,000 new infections a day last week, according to an NBC News analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That compares with an average of about 252,000 new cases a day for seven days a year ago.

Hospitalizations are also above last winter’s peak — before the vaccine was widely distributed — and continue to rise. As of Wednesday, more than 152,000 people were hospitalized with the virus in the U.S., an 18% increase from last week, according to data tracked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“A lot of places across the country are even sick with their backup staff,” Gillian Schmitz, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in an interview. Frontline workers are now more stressed than at any time during the pandemic, she said. “This surge in cases affecting staffing is now being felt almost across the country.”

Hospitals were facing a shortage of nurses long before the omicron variant was first identified in the United States 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 variant appeared in many parts of the country at the time.

“The nation’s health care delivery system is overwhelmed, and nurses are tired and frustrated as this ongoing epidemic rages with no end in sight,” ANA President Ernest Grant said at the time. “Nurses alone cannot It’s not our burden to fix this long-standing problem.”

Now, a variant of the omicron could force nurses to call in sick, exacerbating a long-standing staffing shortage in hospitals. Although most nurses were fully vaccinated, omicrons were able to evade some of the protection afforded by the vaccine, causing more breakthrough infections across the country.

“The sudden and dramatic rise in cases due to omicron has resulted in unprecedented daily case counts, illness, absenteeism and stress in our healthcare system,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a White House Covid-19 news briefing on Wednesday. To help ease potential staffing shortages, the agency last month shortened the quarantine time of some health care workers infected with the new coronavirus — a controversial move that has come under fire from nursing groups across the country.

The Biden administration has deployed hundreds of military doctors and nurses to support overwhelmed hospitals and directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency beds and deploy ambulances and emergency medical services to transport patients.

Police, fire and transportation agencies are also grappling with staffing issues as omicron forces people to call in sick. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said that as of Thursday, more than 800 police and firefighters had been quarantined at home after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“This is an incredibly difficult time. The omicron variant is taking off like wildfire,” Garcetti said in a news release.

In New York City, 18% of EMS workers and 13% of firefighters were sick with Covid as of Tuesday, down from 30% and 18% of firefighters a few days earlier, according to the FDNY. As of Friday, 12.5 percent of officers were sick, the NYPD told CNBC on Tuesday.

New York’s subway, the largest in the country, also has Some lines are out of service Staff shortage due to omicron.The Chicago Transit Authority, which operates the nation’s second-largest public transit system, also tell the public Services may be disrupted due to Covid employees calling in sick.

The virus has also infected top city and state officials.Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that she Tested positive for Covid She will work from home while she is quarantined with cold-like symptoms. Lightfoot said she was fully vaccinated and boosted. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced earlier Wednesday that he also tested positive, although he was also fully vaccinated and boosted.

Airlines began canceling flights ahead of Christmas as omicron infections among staff left them understaffed. United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, SkyWest and other airlines have already cut January flights as a surge in coronavirus cases has cost them needed pilots and other employees.

United’s chief executive told employees on Monday that 3,000 employees, or about 4 percent of its U.S. workforce, were positive about Covid.

“For example, a day in Newark [New Jersey], nearly one-third of our employees are on sick leave,” Scott Kirby said in an employee note.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday that it was unclear when the omicron wave would peak due to differences in vaccination coverage across the United States. in others.

“This is a very sneaky virus,” Fauci told lawmakers at the hearing. “It’s been fooling everyone – from when it first appeared in delta to now in omicron – it’s very unpredictable and we’re doing what we can.”

— Leslie Josephs and Nate Rattner of CNBC contributed to this report