U.S. officials intensified calls Friday for unvaccinated Americans to get inoculated in the face of the new omicron variant that contributed to a record number of infections in New York and threatened to wipe out a second holiday season in Europe.
Though the calendar is about to change, Friday had a distinctly 2020 feel: NFL games were postponed because of COVID-19 infections. The Rockettes canceled Christmas shows. European governments imposed a spate of restrictions that ground travel to a halt and saw travelers lying low.
Much remains unknown about omicron, but officials warn that it appears more transmissible than the delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide. The uncertainty alone was enough for many people to change their plans.
In the United States, President Joe Biden's administration resisted tightening any restrictions, but also sketched out dire scenarios for the unvaccinated in a plea for hesitant Americans to get the shot.
"For the unvaccinated, you're looking at a winter of severe illness and death, for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm," White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday, echoing the president's own comments earlier this week.
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The explosive spread of the omicron variant is causing many to wonder if they should cancel their holiday plans. The omicron mutation is expected to overtake the delta variant in the United States within weeks.
Health experts know that people need to spend time together, so they are offering advice. Above all, getting vaccinated remains the best defense and getting a booster shot further increases protection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, skipped gathering for the holidays last year with his three adult daughters. But this year, Fauci, his wife and his daughters are all vaccinated with boosters, and they plan to spend the holidays together, even seeing a few friends who also are vaccinated and boosted.
“We can feel safe,” Fauci said this week on NBC's “Nightly News.” “Nothing is 100% risk-free.”
In moves reminiscent of the environment for the 2020 season, the NFL has updated its protocols and advocated for booster shots in reaction to an increase in COVID-19 cases around the league.
And the NFL has moved three games because of COVID-19 outbreaks: Las Vegas at Cleveland from Saturday to Monday; and Seattle at the Los Angeles Rams and Washington at Philadelphia from Sunday to Tuesday.
The Browns could have been without as many as 16 regulars on Saturday.
Other setbacks caused worry. Pfizer said Friday it was changing plans and testing three doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in babies and preschoolers after the usual two shots didn't appear strong enough for some of the children.
And another wave seemed imminent. New York state reported Friday that just over 21,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 the previous day, the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available.
2020 started with a lot of promise. The world had vaccines.
And even as the planet reached 2 million dead by the middle of the month of January, people in many of the hard-hit countries, including the United States and Britain, began rolling up their sleeves and receiving the life-saving shots.
Then came delta. And now, a new variant: omicron, perhaps even more transmissible.