Omicron explosion prompts nationwide disruption of services


by Jennifer Cinco Kelleher and Terry Tang

Ambulances in Kansas speed towards hospitals then suddenly change direction as the hospitals are full. Labor shortages in New York City cause waste and delays in subway services and reduce the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers. Airport officials closed security checkpoints at Phoenix’s largest terminal and schools across the country struggled to find teachers for their classes.


The current explosion of omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the US is causing basic functions and services to malfunction – the latest example being how the COVID-19 pandemic sustains more than two years of life.

Tom Cotter, director of emergency response and preparedness at global health nonprofit Project HOPE, said: “It really, I think, is a reminder to everyone that when COVID-19 first emerged and every part of our normal lives I had such big disruptions.” , “And the unfortunate reality is that there is no way to predict what will happen next until we get our vaccination numbers – globally – up.”


First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have taken a comprehensive approach to keeping the public safe, but they are concerned about how long they can sustain it.

In Johnson County, Kansas, paramedics are working 80 hours a week. Ambulances are often forced to change their course when they are on their way to tell hospitals they are too overwhelmed to help, with already anxious family members of patients driving after them. . When ambulances come to hospitals, some of their emergency patients end up in waiting rooms because there are no beds.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Hospital, said that while the leader of a rural hospital had no place to send his dialysis patients this week, hospital staff consulted a textbook and found “some catheters.” And tried to put the figure. How to do it.”


He said medical facilities have been hit with a “double whammy”. The number of COVID-19 patients at a University of Kansas hospital rose from 40 on December 1 to 139 on Friday. At the same time, more than 900 workers have become ill with COVID-19 or are awaiting test results – 7% of the hospital’s 13,500-person workforce.

“What’s my hope and we’re going to cross our fingers around that as it peaks… the cases fell in that country.” We don’t know that. That’s the only hope.”

The Omicron type spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects people who have been vaccinated or were previously infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause serious disease than the previous delta version, and vaccinations and boosters still provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.


Still, its easy transmittance has caused cases in the US to skyrocket, affecting businesses, government offices and public services alike.

In downtown Boise, Idaho, customers queued outside a pharmacy on Friday morning before it opened and before long, the line wound up at a large drugstore. Pharmacists have been pulled up for the lack of staff, either because the staff is sick or gone completely.

Pharmacy technician Anecia Mascaro said that before the pandemic, the save-on pharmacy where she worked always had prescriptions ready for the next day. Now, it is taking too long to fill hundreds of orders.

“The demand is insane – not everyone is getting their scripts fast enough to keep shifting us,” Mascorro said.

In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and firefighters were sidelined because of the virus as of Thursday, making ambulance and fire response times slightly longer.

In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back garbage and subway services due to virus-filled staffing bleeding. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that nearly a fifth of metro operators and conductors – 1,300 people – have been absent in recent days. Sanitation commissioner Edward Grayson said on Thursday about a quarter of the city’s sanitation department workers were sick.

“Everyone is working round the clock, 12-hour shifts,” Grayson said.

The city’s fire department has also adjusted for greater absenteeism. Officials said on Thursday that 28% of EMS workers were sick, compared to about 8% to 10% on a normal day. As usual, twice the firefighters were also absent.

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

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were closed because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents turned up for work, according to statements from airport and TSA officials.

Meanwhile, schools from coast to coast tried to maintain individual instruction despite widespread teacher absenteeism. In Chicago, classes were canceled over the past three days due to a tense standoff between the school district and the teachers union over distance learning and COVID-19 safety protocols. In San Francisco, nearly 900 teachers and aides called for sick leave on Thursday.

In Hawaii, where public schools are under a statewide district, 1,600 teachers and staff were absent Wednesday because of illness or pre-arranged leave or leave. The state teachers’ union criticized education officials for not preparing better for the upcoming zero. Osa Tui Jr., head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said counselors and security guards were being pulled over to “babysit a classroom”.

“It’s very unfair,” Tui said at a news conference. “What’s the point of having this model where there are too many teachers and for the department to say ‘send your child to a class’ that doesn’t have a teacher?”

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

“We’ve already done a lot of testing. How much can the rubber band stretch here?” asked Leslie Blateau, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers.

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

,