A man in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas may be the first in the nation to die of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is now the dominant variant in the United States.
Health officials in Harris County say the man in his 50s was unvaccinated and suffered from underlying health conditions that left him vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the fast-spreading variant accounted for 73% of all new infections in the nation as of last Saturday, nearly 6% higher from the previous week, and well above the one percent of new COVID-19 cases at the start of December. The CDC says omicron is responsible for 90% or more of new infections in New York state and much of the U.S. Southeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
The wildfire-like spread of omicron has prompted authorities across the United States to either reinstate previous coronavirus restrictions or impose a new set of rules. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has reinstated mandatory indoor mask wearing rules, while Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday that effective next month, residents had to show proof of vaccination before entering certain businesses such as gyms, bars and restaurants and entertainment venues.
Hospitals across the nation are once again being overwhelmed with a rising number of new COVID-19 patients, a situation complicated by a critical shortage of nurses and other health care workers. In the northeastern state of Rhode Island, the president of the state chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians warned the governor and other officials that the state’s health care system “is currently collapsing.” Governors in several states have mobilized National Guard units to help shorthanded hospitals.
The rapid spread of omicron, which was first detected last month in a handful of southern African nations and is now present in nearly 90 countries, prompted World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Monday to urge people to cancel their travel plans for the approaching Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“An event canceled is better than a life canceled,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva. “It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”
New Zealand COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkin said Tuesday that the nation was delaying its plans to resume non-quarantine travel into the country on a phased-in basis from January until mid-February.
The new outbreak has led to the postponement or cancellation of several events. The National Hockey League, which has already postponed more than two-dozen games, announced Monday it was suspending all games and team activities for a full week. In New York City, the popular musical “Hamilton” is the latest production in the city’s iconic Broadway theater district to shut down due to an outbreak of new COVID-19 infections among the cast and crew. And the World Economic Forum said Monday it is moving its annual meeting of world leaders and business executives in Davos, Switzerland from January until sometime in mid-2022.