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Omicron explosion causes service outage nationwide


John Marro, the dean of students at PS 347, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, in New York, takes students’ temperatures as they arrive on the first day after vacation, Monday, January 3, 2022. New York Schools the city reopened on Monday after the holidays despite an upsurge in coronavirus infections. (AP Photo / Jennifer Peltz)


Kansas ambulances speed towards hospitals and then suddenly change direction as the hospitals are full. Employee shortages in New York are causing delays in garbage and subway services and lowering the ranks of firefighters and rescue workers. Airport officials have closed security checkpoints at Phoenix’s largest terminal, and schools across the country are struggling to find teachers for their classrooms.

The current explosion in omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the United States is causing an outage of basic functions and services – the latest illustration of how COVID-19 continues to disrupt lives more than two years after onset of the pandemic.

“I think it really reminds everyone when COVID-19 first appeared and there were such major disruptions in all aspects of our normal lives,” said Tom Cotter, director of interventions emergency and preparedness for the global health nonprofit Project HOPE. “And the sad reality is that there is no way to predict what will happen next until we have our vaccination numbers – globally – rising.”

First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have used a holistic approach to keeping the public safe, but they fear how long they can continue to do so.

Paramedics in Johnson County, Kansas work 80 hours a week. Ambulances have often been forced to change course when the hospitals they are heading to tell them they are too overwhelmed to help them, confusing already anxious family members of patients driving behind them. When ambulances arrive in hospitals, some of their urgent patients end up in waiting rooms because there are no beds.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas hospital, said that when the head of a rural hospital had no place to send his dialysis patients this week, staff at the hospital consulted a manual and “tried to install catheters and digits.” how to do it.

Medical facilities have been hit by a “double whammy,” he said. The number of COVID-19 patients at the University of Kansas hospital fell from 40 on December 1 to 139 on Friday. At the same time, more than 900 employees have either been sick with COVID-19 or are awaiting test results, or 7% of the hospital’s 13,500 employees.

“What I’m hoping for and what we’re going to keep our fingers crossed is that at its peak… maybe it will have the same rapid drop we saw in South Africa,” Stites said. , referring to how quickly the number of cases has declined in this country. ” We do not know it. It’s just hope.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other strains of coronavirus and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had already been infected with previous versions of the virus. However, early studies show that omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

Yet its easy transmissibility has led to a skyrocketing of cases in the United States, affecting both businesses, government offices and utilities.

In downtown Boise, Idaho, customers lined up outside a drugstore before it opened Friday morning and soon after, the queue rolled up throughout the large drugstore. Pharmacies have been hit hard by staff shortages, either because employees are sick or because they are gone completely.

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

“The demand is crazy – not everyone gets their scripts fast enough, so they keep pushing us,” Mascorro said.

In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and firefighters were sidelined by the virus on Thursday, resulting in slightly longer response times for ambulances and firefighters.

In New York, authorities have had to delay or cut trash and subway services due to a virus-fueled staff hemorrhage. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said about a fifth of metro operators and drivers – 1,300 people – were absent in recent days. Nearly a quarter of the city’s sanitation workers were sick as of Thursday, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.

“Everyone works 24/7, 12-hour shifts,” Grayson said.

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

In contrast, the police department has seen its disease rate drop over the past week, officials said.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were closed because too few Transportation Security Administration officers showed up for work, officials said. airport and TSA.

Meanwhile, schools from coast to coast have tried to maintain in-person teaching despite massive teacher absences. In Chicago, a tense standoff between the school district and the teachers’ union over distance learning and COVID-19 safety protocols has resulted in the cancellation of classes in the past three days. In San Francisco, nearly 900 educators and assistants fell ill on Thursday.

In Hawaii, where public schools fall under a statewide district, 1,600 teachers and staff were absent Wednesday due to illness or vacation or time off. The state teachers’ union criticized education officials for not better preparing for the vacuum that followed. Osa Tui Jr., head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said counselors and security guards were forced to go “guard a classroom.”

“It is very inappropriate,” Tui said at a press conference. “Having this model where there are so many teachers and the department says, ‘Send your kid’ to a classroom that doesn’t have a teacher, what’s the point? “

In New Haven, Connecticut, where hundreds of teachers went out every day this week, administrators helped cover classrooms. Some teachers say they appreciate it, but that it can be confusing for students, adding to the physical and mental stress they are already feeling from the pandemic.

“We have already been so tested. How far can the elastic stretch here? Asked Leslie Blatteau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers.

___ Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Tang reported from Phoenix. Associated Press editors Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; Paul Davenport in Phoenix; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Michelle L. Price, David Porter and Michael R. Sisak in New York; and Michael Melia in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.