“Omicron is really everywhere,” Dr. Megan Ranney, professor of emergency medicine at Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNN Friday night. “What worries me the most over the next month is that our economy is going to shut down, not because of the policies of the federal government or the state governments, but rather because many of us are sick. “
In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is plagued by staffing issues and has announced that three subway lines – the B, Z and W – which serve various parts of the boroughs have been suspended.
Health services – exhausted after several virus outbreaks and now stretched again by a growing number of Covid-19 patients – are also already feeling impacts. The University of Maryland Capital Region Health this week joined a growing list of state medical centers to activate emergency protocols after a surge in cases fueled staff shortages and overwhelmed emergency services .
“The current demand for care is draining our available resources, including staff,” UM Capital Region Health said in a statement Friday.
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced the deployment of about 1,250 National Guard members as hospitals grapple with staff shortages.
“Prepare yourself. We have to remember that in the coming weeks there is going to be an unprecedented number of social disruptions,” Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the University’s National School of Tropical Medicine, told CNN. Baylor.
These also include flight disruptions, he said, due to absences of TSA agents and aircrews.
Previous virus rules are “out the window”
The virus is now “extraordinarily contagious” and previous mitigation measures that were helping now may not be as helpful, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN on Friday.
“At the start of this pandemic… we were all taught that you have significant exposure if you are within six feet of someone and are in contact with them for more than 15 minutes. All of these rules are by the way. window, ”Reiner said. “It’s a hyper-contagious virus.”
Now even a quick and transient encounter can lead to infection, Reiner added, including if someone’s mask is loose, or if a person quickly pulls their mask down, or if a person walks into an elevator in. which someone else has just coughed.
“This is how you can get this virus,” Reiner said.
The transmissibility of the variant helps explain the sheer number of infections reported worldwide, including the United States. Over the past week, several states reported new records of cases and hospitalizations, shattering previous records.
“Our hospitals are currently at about the same number as they were on the worst day of the wave last winter,” he added. “The problem is, right now, we’re not seeing any signs of slacking off.”
Other states, including Arkansas, Maryland and New York, have also reported new record high numbers of cases.
And a sharp rise in infections – especially among children – could soon lead to an increase in hospitalizations, said infectious disease expert Dr Jeanne Marrazzo.
“The explosive increase in the number of cases is really fueling what might normally be a relatively small proportion … of children who experience these serious consequences,” she told CNN’s Amara Walker on Friday. “But you associate the gigantic number of cases with the small number affected, plus the proportion of unvaccinated, and I really fear that we are facing a tidal wave of admissions, especially for children in the weeks to come. to come. .”
Concerns about going back to school
With the virus spreading, some staff and experts are expressing concern about what reopening schools could mean.
“There will be pediatric hospitalizations,” Hotez said. “And what will be the other difficult element over the next few weeks, keeping the schools open, because of this high transmissibility – especially if you start to see absences of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff.”
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, New England’s largest public sector union, urged the state’s education commissioner this week to keep schools closed on Monday, except for staff Covid-19 testing .
“Using Monday as a day for testing and analyzing data will allow our school districts to make prudent decisions about staffing needs so they can continue to learn in person for students if it is safe or develop plans for it. emergency if a district deems it necessary, “President Merrie Najimy, president of the association, said in a statement.
The state’s executive education office said on Friday that schools will be open on Monday, despite a request from the teachers’ union.
“The Ministry of Elementary and Secondary Education has been working hard this week to make rapid home tests available to all teachers and staff in public schools in light of testing shortages the country is experiencing. Massachusetts is one of the few states that provides rapid testing. tests to its teachers. It is not an obligation for teachers to return to work, nor necessary to reopen schools after the holidays, ”said Colleen Quinn, spokesperson for the office, in a statement.
“It is disappointing,” the statement added, “that once again the MTA is trying to find a way to close schools, which we know is to the extreme detriment of our children.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of colleges and universities across the country are making changes at the start of the 2022 spring semester due to the increase in the number of cases.
“I realize that students prefer to be in person, and so do I,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of the university, in a statement. “But it’s important that we do it in a safe manner. Starting the semester remotely and de-densifying the campus in the coming weeks may be one solution to slowing the spread of the virus.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misrepresented the number of records broken this week in the seven-day average of daily new cases of Covid-19. The most recent average figure has also been updated to reflect the latest data from JHU.
CNN’s Kiely Westhoff, Virginia Langmaid, Elizabeth Stuart, Laura Studley and Sharif Paget contributed to this report.