Restrictions Return as COVID-19 Cases Increase

Carolyn Crist

December 20, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Local governments, businesses, and universities are imposing COVID-19 safety protocols again as cases increase across the U.S. due to the Omicron variant.

Since the beginning of December, both U.S. cases and deaths have risen about 50%, and hospitalizations have increased 26%, according to a Reuters tally. The jump in infections has led to a number of closures and last-minute changes as the holidays approach.

New York set records for reporting the highest number of infections in a single day during the pandemic, with 21,000 cases on Friday and 22,000 on Saturday, according to The New York Times.

The surge is a "reminder that the pandemic is not over yet and we must take extra care to keep ourselves and each other safe," Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Friday.

The National Football League has postponed three games, and nine National Basketball Association players entered safety protocols, according to ABC News. The National Hockey League also announced that at least six teams would have games postponed.

Entertainment venues and restaurants in several states are closing again as staff and customers test positive, according to The Washington Post, including spots in New York, Texas, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota. Some restaurants are taking precautions by canceling indoor dining for the holidays or shifting to to-go service for the rest of the year.

Universities are shifting their plans, too. Harvard University announced Saturday that it would move to remote learning for the first three weeks of January, The New York Times reported. Middlebury College in Vermont, DePaul University in Chicago, and Southern New Hampshire University announced similar changes for next semester. Cornell University canceled graduation ceremonies and moved finals online after more than 900 students tested positive.

Major workplaces are beginning to consider fully remote options again as well. CNN is closing its U.S. offices to all nonessential employees, the network said Saturday in an internal staff memo seen by The Wall Street Journal. CNN, which is part of AT&T's WarnerMedia division, will close for all employees who don't have to work in the office.

The network, which returned to using full-scale studios for its shows, will use "flash studios" again that can be operated remotely by fewer people. The network will also make changes to studios and control rooms to reduce the number of people needed on site.

"We are doing this out of an abundance of caution," Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, said in the memo. "And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there."

President Joe Biden will address the country on Tuesday to discuss the Omicron variant and new steps the administration will take to help vulnerable communities, The New York Times reported. He's expected to encourage vaccinations, booster shots, and testing.

The WHO reported Saturday that the Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission, according to The Associated Press. Some countries are returning to tougher measures to slow the spread of the virus, particularly in Europe.

The Netherlands began a nationwide lockdown on Sunday, with all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants closed until Jan. 14 and schools closed until Jan. 9. The lockdown will affect holiday celebrations as well, the AP reported. Residents in the Netherlands will only be allowed to have two visitors except for Christmas and New Year's, when they can host four people.

Officials in Austria and France have tightened travel restrictions, and Paris canceled its New Year's Eve fireworks celebration. Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls, and museums, and Ireland imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on pubs and limited attendance at events.

"None of this is easy," Micheal Martin, the prime minister for Ireland, said Friday night.

"We are all exhausted with COVID and the restrictions it requires," he said. "The twists and turns, the disappointments and the frustrations take a heavy toll on everyone. But it is the reality that we are dealing with."

Sources:

Reuters: "New U.S. push for vaccines, boosters to stem 'raging' Omicron – Fauci."

The New York Times: "As Covid cases multiple across the nation, mitigation measures are returning."

ABC News: "Major sports and entertainment events canceled, rescheduled due to rising COVID-19 cases."

The Washington Post: "Restaurants are closing again as staff test positive for coronavirus amid omicron surge."

The Wall Street Journal: "CNN Closes Offices as Covid-19 Cases Rise."

The Associated Press: "Netherlands 'going into lockdown again' to curb omicron."

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