In the United States, over 204 million people are fully vaccinated, but that’s still only 62 percent of the population, much lower than in most other wealthy countries.
At the county level, vaccination rates range from about 83 percent in places like Montgomery County, Md., a populous area just outside Washington, D.C., to around 15 percent in rural places like McPherson County in northern South Dakota.
As the Omicron variant surges, and experts say that vaccinations strongly protect against severe illness, U.S. public health officials are closely examining ways to reach the least-vaccinated areas. But the roadblocks are not the same everywhere. Some clearly have to do with politics: Republican-leaning areas have generally been vaccine laggards. But pockets of the country can have their own quirks unrelated to partisanship.
Here is a look at the challenges faced by three counties where, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, vaccination rates are among the lowest in the nation. (State figures for those counties may vary from the C.D.C. data because of differences in methodology, reporting lags and other factors.)
LaGrange County, Ind.
Resistance to vaccines is not new in LaGrange County, a rural area along Indiana’s border with Michigan. Just 22 percent of residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and, according to Dr. Tony Pechin, the county health officer, only 15 percent of children in the county are up-to-date on standard vaccines by the age of 2.
Dr. Pechin said that he had encountered the usual conspiracy theories about vaccines, and that even some longtime patients would not heed his advice to get the shots.
But the most important factor, he said, is that about half the county’s 40,000 residents are Amish, a group that overwhelmingly rejects the vaccines. Among non-Amish residents, he said, the vaccination rate is 45 to 48 percent.
Dr. Pechin said that a pharmacy frequented by Amish residents was among the first in LaGrange County to receive doses but had vaccinated just eight people in six months.
The state health commissioner sent a delegation to meet with Amish leaders in the spring, and the C.D.C. sent another over the summer.
“When they were done,” Dr. Pechin said of the envoys, “they called me and just said, ‘Good luck, Tony.’”
Cameron Parish, La.
When Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron Parish in August 2020, many residents left damaged homes behind and took refuge inland — and have yet to return.
According to the C.D.C., the vaccination rate is just 17 percent. But Louisiana health officials say that those figures do not take account of the population shift.
“Although the numbers look awful, they’re not as bad as they appear, because of an outflux of people due to the natural disasters,” said Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, a regional health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health.
But if the statistics were calculated to reflect the current populations of Cameron Parish and others ravaged by recent storms, she said, they would probably still show vaccination rates below national averages. Laura destroyed much of the parish’s limited health infrastructure, so for months, health officials administered vaccines in a tent in a hospital parking lot. And for residents consumed by the work of repairing homes and businesses, getting vaccinated fell low on the priority list.
State health officials have worked to bring vaccines directly to disaster recovery events, and advised residents that getting sick with Covid-19 could make the road back even harder.
“Once you’re protected” from the virus, Dr. Cavanaugh said, “that’s one less thing for you to worry about.”
Winston County, Ala.
A rural county with a history of going its own way — it refused to join Alabama in seceding from the Union during the Civil War — faces many of the challenges that have hampered the state’s vaccine uptake.
Vaccine misinformation is still spreading on social media, said Dr. Karen Landers, a regional officer with the state’s Public Health Department, despite months of efforts with local leaders, faith-based organizations and pharmacies. The county’s vaccination rate has stalled at around 21 percent, according to the C.D.C.
Persuading young people that they are vulnerable to the disease and need a vaccine can be a particularly acute problem, she said. But Dr. Landerssaid she remained determined: “We know that not everyone will listen to us, but that does not alleviate our responsibility.”
As daily coronavirus cases in the United States soared to near record levels, federal health officials on Monday shortened by half the recommended isolation period for many infected Americans, hoping to minimize rising disruptions to the economy and everyday life.
Virus-related staff shortages have upended holiday travel, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights, and now threaten industries as diverse as health care, restaurants and retail. Yet health experts warn the country is only in the early stages of a fast-moving surge.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
The agency had previously recommended that infected patients isolate for 10 days from when they were tested for the virus. But on Monday it slashed that period to five days for those without symptoms, or those without fevers whose other symptoms were resolving.
Americans leaving isolation should wear masks around others for an additional five days after their isolation periods have ended, the officials said.
The new recommendations “balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” Dr. Walensky said. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Still, the C.D.C. did not recommend that Americans take rapid tests before ending isolation periods, a step that scientists said would offer considerably more reassurance that people were not continuing to spread the virus.
Health officials also said that uninfected Americans who had received booster shots did not need to quarantine after exposure to the virus. Last week, the C.D.C. reduced, in some circumstances, the number of days it recommended that health care workers who test positive must isolate.
The updated guidance comes amid a rising tide of infections that threatens to swamp the U.S. health care system, particularly given that tens of millions remain unvaccinated. New York, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have reported more coronavirus cases in the past week than in any other seven-day period.
On Sunday, the seven-day national average of new daily cases climbed past 214,000, an 83 percent jump over the past 14 days. Deaths also increased by 3 percent during that time, to a seven-day average of 1,328, according to a New York Times database.
Hospitalizations are up, too, although not as much as cases. More than 71,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid-19, 8 percent higher than two weeks ago but still well below previous peaks.
Flight disruptions in the United States continued on Monday as many people embarked on their first trips in almost two years, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, again raised the possibility of a vaccination requirement for air travel.
At least 2,600 more flights were canceled Monday, including about 1,000 U.S. flights, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is sending daily caseloads in parts of the United States soaring to levels higher than last winter’s pandemic peak.
While the cancellations were only a small percentage of overall flights, the problem threatened to extend into the holiday week.
“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said on MSNBC on Monday. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”
Over the holiday weekend, airlines canceled thousands of flights as the Omicron variant hit flight crews. In all, about 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday of Christmas weekend, with more than 3,500 more grounded globally, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data. On Sunday alone, more than 1,300 U.S. flights and nearly 1,700 additional ones worldwide were canceled.
While some of the groundings were caused by bad weather and maintenance issues, several airlines acknowledged that the current wave of coronavirus cases had contributed significantly. A JetBlue spokesman said the airline had “seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron.”
Twelve percent of JetBlue flights, 6 percent of Delta Air Lines flights, 5 percent of United Airlines flights and 2 percent of American Airlines flights on Sunday were canceled, according to FlightAware.
The stock prices of United, Delta, American and Southwest — the four largest U.S. carriers — were slightly lower on Monday.
Traveling rebounded sharply this year, making the situation at airports worse: Roughly two million people passed through screening checkpoints each day last week, according to the Transportation Security Administration, and on Sunday. The numbers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were much higher than last year, and some figures even exceeded those of the same days two years ago, when virtually no Americans were aware of a virus beginning to circulate halfway around the world.
The Omicron variant, which is now responsible for more than 70 percent of the new coronavirus cases in the United States, has already helped push daily case averages in the United States above 200,000 for the first time in nearly 12 months, according to The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker.
An airline trade group has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shorten the recommended isolation period for fully vaccinated employees who test positive to a maximum of five days, from 10 days, before they can return with a negative test.
“Swift and safe adjustments by the C.D.C. would alleviate at least some of the staffing pressures and set up airlines to help millions of travelers returning from their holidays,” said Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue spokesman.
The flight attendants’ union, however, has argued that reductions in recommended isolation times should be decided on “by public health professionals, not airlines.”
Some of this weekend’s delays had little to do with the pandemic. Alaska Airlines had only a few cancellations related to crew exposures to the coronavirus, said a spokeswoman, Alexa Rudin. Yet it canceled 170 flights those two days, according to FlightAware, including 21 percent of its Sunday flights, because of unusually cold and snowy weather in the Pacific Northwest, which affected its hub, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The pandemic has also caused a shortage of train and bus workers nationwide. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also dealing with an uptick in positive cases among its staff, which is 80 percent vaccinated. It said subway service on Monday was running on a normal schedule, with scattered exceptions.
“Whatever we can do as riders to help minimize the risk to transit workers will help to reduce the spread,” said Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the M.T.A., a watchdog group. “The M.T.A. is doing what it can with the resources it has available.”
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, said: “My sense is the M.T.A. is once again making the best of a bad situation.”
Apple said on Monday that about 20 of its retail stores were closed because of a wave of Covid-19 cases among employees that had left the stores unsafe and understaffed.
A handful of stores in Washington State also closed because of storms, the company said.
Some of the stores had been closed as a precautionary measure to protect employees and customers from being infected; others were closed because not enough healthy employees were available to remain open.
“We regularly monitor conditions, and we will adjust our health measures to support the well-being of customers and employees,” Amy Bessette, an Apple spokeswoman, said in a statement, adding that workers were tested regularly.
Apple employees have been increasingly frustrated with their work environment as the Omicron variant has fueled a surge of cases around the country. On Christmas Eve, several dozen Apple workers walked out of stores to demand better pay, more sick leave and better working conditions.
This month, the company scrapped its planned February return-to-office date for white-collar workers, saying the new return date was to be determined based on virus conditions.
The N.B.A. has altered its coronavirus protocols to allow players and coaches who have tested positive but are asymptomatic to return to their teams sooner in response to new federal guidance and a surge in cases that has depleted several teams of their best players.
The new rules will also permit those with low viral loads to follow this new protocol, even if they still test positive, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.
Players and coaches who have positive or inconclusive tests will be able to return after six days in isolation instead of 10 if they are asymptomatic by then and meet the requirements on tests for infectiousness.
The N.B.A. and its players’ union agreed on the new rules.
To leave isolation on the shorter timeline, players and coaches must test with a low enough viral load on the fifth and sixth days after their initial positive tests.
Players and coaches can also emerge from isolation through one of the two previous methods — by isolating for 10 days and not having symptoms, or by returning two negative tests 24 hours apart.
The N.B.A.’s announcement coincided with the recommendation from the C.D.C. on Monday that isolation times be reduced to five days from 10 for people without symptoms.
More than 100 players entered the league’s health and safety protocols — triggered by a positive or inconclusive coronavirus test, or potential exposure — in December alone, with the Omicron variant sweeping through the league. The league increased testing for several days after Thanksgiving, leading to a rise in cases, and will now begin another period of increased testing following Christmas Day.
Several teams have competed without multiple key players because of the coronavirus protocols. The Nets beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas despite having seven players out because of the protocols, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed five games while in the protocols, but cleared just in time for his team’s Christmas game.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday implemented what he cast as the most sweeping vaccine mandate for private businesses in the nation.
All employers in New York City now have to verify that their on-site workers have received at least one dose of a vaccine. If employees have opted for a two-dose vaccine, they must submit proof that they have received the second dose within 45 days.
“I am 110 percent convinced this was the right thing to do, remains the right thing to do, particularly with the ferocity of Omicron,” Mr. de Blasio said, after giving a “key to the city” to the music icon Patti Smith. “And I don’t know if there’s going to be another variant behind it, but I do know our best defense is to get everyone vaccinated and mandates have worked.”
This is Mr. de Blasio’s last week as mayor, and it remains unclear if his successor, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, will move forward with the mandate, or if he will modify it in deference to concerns from business owners. He has consistently refused to say, and Monday proved no different.
“The mayor-elect will make announcements on his administration’s Covid policy this week,” his spokesman, Evan Thies, said in a text message Monday morning.
During his final months in office, Mr. de Blasio has come to lean heavily on vaccine mandates. He has already required vaccines for the city’s roughly 300,000 public employees, as well as for staff and patrons of restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues.
The mandates appear to have helped drive the vaccination rate up in New York City. As of Monday, 80.5 percent of all New Yorkers had received at least one dose of a vaccine. Nearly 72 percent were fully vaccinated.
But the mandates have also sparked dismay among some business leaders, who argue that they should include a testing option for those who remain opposed to vaccination — particularly in light of some of the staffing challenges that businesses are facing.
Kathryn Wylde, the chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, which represents many major corporations, said that some New Yorkers who are still resistant to vaccines are people of color who may lack trust in the health care system.
“Ironically, most of the remote workers are vaccinated,” she said.
But Michael Dorf, the founder of City Winery, a restaurant and music venue, supports the effort and said his own company — which employs roughly 1,000 workers nationwide, including about 400 locally — has even more stringent measures already in place.
“Every single human breathing person coming into the building has to be vaccinated and tested,” Mr. Dorf said.
The Supreme Court will in January consider President Biden’s vaccine mandate for the private sector, which applies only to large employers and has a testing option.
WASHINGTON — Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, praised the president’s plan for the federal government to purchase and give away 500 million rapid at-home tests beginning next month, but he said that decision limited the number of tests that are available for governors to purchase for their constituents on the open market.
“One word of concern or encouragement for your team is that as you look toward federal solutions that will help alleviate the challenge, make sure that we do not let federal solutions stand in the way of state solutions,” Mr. Hutchinson said during a video briefing call with governors and the White House.
He added: “The production of 500 million rapid tests that will be distributed by the federal government is great, but obviously that dries up the supply chain for the solutions that we might offer as governor.”
Mr. Biden did not address Mr. Hutchinson’s concern in his opening remarks to the session. He said his administration moved quickly to increase the supply of tests but acknowledged that his team was caught off guard by the surge in demand.
“We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December,” he said. “But it’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If I’d — if we’d — known, we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have.”
Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of the most recent seven days of data.
White House officials have said the federal government will begin purchasing and then distributing the 500 million at-home tests in January, but they have not indicated how many of them will be available by the end of the month.
In the meantime, shortages across the country have made it difficult for people to obtain tests. There have been long lines at testing centers and pharmacies in New York City and other communities. Drugstore chains and online shopping sites report being out of stock.
The president’s aides removed reporters from the meeting with governors after the opening statements from Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Biden.
An Israeli hospital on Monday began a study to test the safety and effectiveness of a fourth dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as health officials continued to deliberate over rolling out fourth shots for vulnerable people nationwide.
Officials at Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, said that their study was the first of its kind in the world and involved administering an additional shot to 150 medical personnel who had received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least four months ago.
The moves in Israel, an early leader in Covid vaccinations, are being closely watched as governments worldwide struggle with how to confront the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, which is driving record numbers of new infections in parts of the United States, Europe and other places. Even as some studies suggest that Omicron infections are milder than those caused by other variants, the surges are already stretching health systems, and experts warn that it could lead to many more deaths.
With studies showing that Covid vaccines still protect people from getting seriously ill from Omicron, a panel of medical experts advising the Israeli government recommended last week that health officials offer a fourth shot for people ages 60 and older, for those with weaker immunity and for medical workers.
The proposal is awaiting formal approval from the Ministry of Health, but questions have been raised about whether the recommendation was premature given the lack of data on the effects of a fourth shot. It was unclear whether the ministry would wait for the results of the hospital study to make its recommendation.
The advisory panel acknowledged uncertainty over the effects of Omicron, but pointed to evidence of decreased immunity in people who were among the first to receive a third dose in August. Israeli data showed a doubling of the rate of infection from the Delta variant, then dominant, among the 60-plus age group within four or five months of the third shot.
Israel, a relatively small country with an efficient public health system, was a leader in introducing the first round of Covid vaccinations and later in giving booster shots, putting it in position to assess early how effective the shots are and how quickly the protection wears off.
Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.
Most of the advisory panel argued that the potential benefits of a fourth dose outweighed any risks, and that there was no time to lose in making decisions to protect those most susceptible. But other experts argued that not enough was known about the effects of a fourth shot, and some scientists have raised concerns that too many shots might cause a sort of immune system fatigue, compromising the body’s ability to fight the virus, particularly among older people.
A senior Health Ministry official said last week that the ministry would gather more data from other countries, especially about the risk of severe illness from Omicron among older people, before deciding on whether to offer a fourth dose, and to whom.
On Monday, a second ministry official said that a decision could come within days. Both officials requested anonymity to comment on the process.
Also Monday, the Israeli Health Ministry formally accepted another of the recommendations of the advisory board, shortening the period between administering a third booster shot after the second vaccine to three months from five months.
“Now, in light of the Omicron wave, there is an increased need to boost the level of immunity among the general population as quickly as possible,” the ministry said in a statement, noting that other countries in Europe had done the same.
Most of Israel’s population has received at least two doses, but about a million eligible citizens have not yet received a third booster shot, out of a total population of nine million.
The French government on Monday set new limits on large public gatherings and stricter remote-working obligations but announced few other restrictions and kept schools open, sticking to its strategy of relying mainly on vaccinations to curb a record-breaking surge of cases.
“A new wave is unfolding across our continent with the Omicron variant,” Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, said at a news conference on Monday after a special cabinet meeting. But, he said, “vaccination remains at the heart of our strategy.”
France reported over 100,000 new cases on Friday, a record, and the average number of daily cases reached 70,000 over the past seven days, Mr. Castex said. “Our health workers are exhausted,” he added, warning that hospitals were coming under increasing strain.
But Mr. Castex said the government wouldn’t prolong the winter break and keep schools closed or impose a curfew on Dec. 31. He urged people to limit the size and number of their New Year’s Eve gatherings.
Instead, the government will limit the size of large public events, to 2,000 people for indoor settings and 5,000 for outdoor ones, for at least three weeks starting next Monday, Mr. Castex said.
Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.
When possible, working remotely will also become mandatory for at least 3 days per week, starting in January and for at least three weeks, Mr. Castex said. The isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 or who are in contact with anyone who is sick will also be reduced to avoid staffing shortages that could cripple the economy, he added.
“All of this feels like a never-ending movie,” Mr. Castex acknowledged. But he said France was far better off from last year thanks to its vaccination campaign. “We must continue and amplify this progress, to face the new wave,” he said.
President Emmanuel Macron, who is up for re-election in four months, has consistently refused to impose new curfews, closures or lockdowns, opting instead to focus his efforts on vaccinations. Nearly 75 percent of the French population is fully vaccinated, but roughly 6 million people have not received a single shot.
Some doctors and epidemiologists in France are growing increasingly worried that focusing solely on vaccination and shunning restrictions on public gatherings won’t be enough to prevent hospitalizations from rising significantly.
In an open letter to France’s health minister, published in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Saturday, 50 health professionals expressed alarm that more than 300,000 children and adolescents had tested positive for Covid-19 since November.
“It is important to do everything to minimize transmission risks among all age groups, and particularly in schools,” they wrote.
Mikaela Shiffrin, the two-time Olympic champion skier and a top U.S. medal contender at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, said Monday that she has tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss World Cup races Tuesday and Wednesday in Lienz, Austria.
The result complicated Shiffrin’s preparations for the Beijing Games and showed how a surge of cases among competitors could upset China’s and the International Olympic Committee’s efforts to run virus-free Games inside an Olympic bubble. The Olympics are the greatest stage for many athletes, and a positive test can mean the loss of a rare opportunity, just as an outbreak in China could affect the entire Games.
“I wanted to let you all know that I’m doing well, but unfortunately I had a positive COVID test,” Shiffrin, 26, wrote on Instagram. “I am following protocol and isolating.”
Shiffrin’s announcement came several days after she won a giant slalom race in Courchevel, France, her 72nd career World Cup victory. Only Lindsey Vonn of the United States, with 82 victories, and Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won 86 races in the ’70s and ’80s, have more career World Cup wins. This year, Shiffrin leads the overall women’s World Cup standings and is first in the giant slalom and second in the slalom.
After her win in Courchevel on Dec. 21, Shiffrin spoke of feeling tired.
“It was really quite difficult, to be honest — tiring today! Even after the first run, I wasn’t sure I could do the second run,” she said. “It’s a big push and for every athlete racing. We had to dig very deep and just fight and be aggressive.”
Shiffrin dominated World Cup skiing in her early 20s, but the cadence of her wins has slowed in recent years. She missed months of competition in 2020 after her father, Jeff, 65, died in an accident in Colorado that February. She lost training time later that year because of the pandemic.
In an interview before the start of the next season, Shiffrin said her father’s death had made her rethink the importance of skiing. (The family declined to discuss the circumstances of Jeff Shiffrin’s death; a coroner listed the cause as an accidental head injury.)
“It changes your perspective,” Mikaela Shiffrin said. “I hope my perspective stays changed.”
After winning just three World Cup races last season, Shiffrin opened this ski season with a giant slalom victory in Soelden, Austria. She followed with two second-place finishes in slaloms in Levi, Finland, and a slalom win in Killington, Vt. That victory was her 46th in that discipline, tying Stenmark’s record for wins in a single event (he won 46 giant slalom races).
She has also had encouraging results in skiing’s speed events, with two third-place finishes in Super G races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and a fifth-place finish in downhill in Val d’Isére, France. Her versatility makes her a contender to medal in all four individual disciplines and the combined downhill and slalom in Beijing.
In Lienz, Shiffrin was to have competed in a giant slalom on Tuesday and a slalom on Wednesday. On Instagram on Monday, Shiffrin wished her teammates luck in the races. “I’ll be cheering for you from afar,” she said.
— Mike Wilson
Goldman Sachs has responded to surging coronavirus cases by stepping up vaccine requirements instead of sending staff home.
The investment bank, which called most workers back to the office in June, will mandate boosters for all employees eligible to receive one beginning Feb. 1, according to a memo sent to staff on Monday. The expanded requirement also applies to guests.
Beginning Jan. 10, Goldman will also require employees to be tested for the virus twice a week at on-site testing centers. Currently, employees in the office have to get tested once a week.
Some large employers have held off on imposing their own vaccine mandates as legal battles and rising virus cases have complicated their plans. Jefferies, another investment bank, told its staff to work remotely earlier this month and will mandate boosters for anyone coming into its New York office by Jan. 31. The Washington Post will require booster shots and weekly testing for every staff member when it brings employees back to the office by mid-February.
Goldman’s approach contrasts that of other Wall Street giants, which have largely paused return-to-office plans during the holidays as the Omicron variant has spread. Bank of America told employees in its New York City corporate offices last week that they could work from home during the holidays. It is providing self-test kits and will host booster clinics in some locations across the country come January. JPMorgan also encouraged its staff to get vaccinated.
Emma Goldberg contributed reporting.
Six million coronavirus tests will be delivered by plane to school districts across New York on Tuesday, 13 new state-run testing sites will open on Wednesday, and five additional M.T.A. stations will welcome testing sites on Thursday, state officials said during a news briefing on Monday, as New York continues to record tens of thousands of coronavirus cases per day.
The state reported 26,737 new cases on Sunday, and 36,454 new cases on Saturday, Christmas Day. Those numbers were down from the peak of 44,431 cases reported on Friday, the highest single-day figure since the pandemic began (though testing was severely limited in the early months of the virus’s spread).
The case counts fell in part because testing usually declines on weekends and fewer people were getting tested because of the holiday. But they remain far higher than they were before this month, when the Omicron variant began to ravage the state.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that vaccines and boosters were helping mitigate the impact of this latest wave. “We have tools at our disposal and the question is how we’re deploying them,” Ms. Hochul said.
State officials are sending six million rapid antigen tests to schools to both monitor and hopefully curb the spread of the virus. Two million of those tests will go to New York City.
Pediatric hospitalizations with Covid-19 have more than doubled in the last three weeks statewide, and they have increased nearly fivefold during the same time period in New York City, from 22 to 109, Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York State health commissioner, said Monday.
Officials said they hoped sharing those figures would encourage parents to get their children vaccinated so schools wouldn’t have to close because of an outbreak.
Ms. Bassett said vaccination rates among 5- to 11-year-olds were “disappointingly low.” Just 16.4 percent of children in that age group across New York are fully vaccinated, and 27.3 percent have received one dose of a vaccine.
School districts with the highest case rates in the state will receive their tests earlier in the week, officials said Monday. The number of tests they will receive will be based on the total number of students in the district.
“We want to make sure that these schools stay open,” Ms. Hochul said. “We understand that it is not a good option to say children are going to be returning home again.”
State officials also hope that new guidance around isolation periods will keep adults in their workplaces.
Fully vaccinated essential workers who test positive can now return to work after five days, Ms. Hochul announced last week. But those workers must be asymptomatic or their symptoms must be “resolved” — for example, they have not had a fever in 72 hours — and they must wear a mask.
“I just want to be really clear that this is not about sending people back to work who are sick,” said Dr. Bassett. “People who are sick in all times should not be at work, and in these times, in particular, people who are sick should not go to work.”
The state’s guidance goes beyond guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which shortened the isolation period to seven days, and only for health care workers who test positive, regardless of their vaccination status.
Ms. Hochul also said Monday that she would not implement a vaccine mandate for M.T.A. workers, in part because nearly 80 percent were vaccinated and because they don’t have close contact with people.
She also said she didn’t want a vaccine mandate to lead to disruptions in service.
“In the meantime, we cannot do anything that’s going to create a dynamic where there are no trains picking people up for their jobs in the morning or getting health care workers to their jobs in hospitals,” she said.
State officials will open five testing sites at the following M.T.A. train stations on Thursday: Penn Station (Manhattan), Broadway Junction (Brooklyn), E. 180th St (Bronx), Roosevelt Ave (Queens), and Jamaica-179th St (Queens). Sites at Times Square and Grand Central opened on Monday.
A Carnival Cruise Line ship returned to Miami on Sunday after multiple people onboard tested positive for the coronavirus, the cruise line said.
The ship, the Carnival Freedom, departed from Miami on Dec. 18 on an eight-day cruise when “a small number on board” were isolated because of a positive coronavirus test, the cruise line said in a statement. The company did not say how many guests or crew members were infected.
“Our protocols anticipate this possibility and we implement and adapt them as necessary to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew,’’ the cruise line said. “This was a vaccinated cruise and all guests were also tested” before the ship departed, the company said.
The cruise line said that “the rapid spread of the Omicron variant may shape how some destination authorities with limited medical resources may view even a small number of cases.”
The ship, which can carry nearly 3,000 passengers and 1,150 crew members, was not able to make planned stops in Bonaire and Aruba and instead made an “alternative visit” to Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, a company spokesman said.
One passenger shared on Twitter a photo of a letter from the captain who apologized for the stops and said that passengers would receive credit to use toward a future cruise.
The Carnival Freedom is the latest Florida-based cruise to be disrupted as the highly contagious Omicron variant drives up cases in much of the United States and Europe. Many lines have adjusted their rules for masking, testing and vaccines in response to the surge.
Last week, 55 fully vaccinated passengers and crew members on the Royal Caribbean ship Odyssey of the Seas tested positive, the cruise line said. The ship returned to its home port in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Sunday. It was the second Royal Caribbean ship from Florida to report positive cases this month, after 48 people aboard the Symphony of the Seas tested positive for Covid-19 during a seven-night Caribbean cruise that departed from Miami.
The company said that all of its crew members were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and were tested weekly.
Days after a clinic in Sydney, Australia, mistakenly told 400 people they had tested negative for the virus, when, in fact, they had tested positive, the lab announced on Tuesday that an additional 486 people preemptively sent negative results were also positive.
The news comes as pathology clinics and hospitals across Australia were struggling with high demand for coronavirus testing and amid a surge in coronavirus cases in Australia.
On Monday, the number of daily new cases rose above 10,000 for the first time and officials recorded the first death linked to the Omicron variant. It was man in his 80s in New South Wales who had received two vaccine doses and had underlying health conditions, the state authorities said.
SydPath, the pathology service of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, the country’s most populous city, said that on Christmas night it mistakenly told 400 coronavirus-positive people that they had tested negative.
Over the next two days, the lab rushed to contact those affected and identified 995 more people who had been told that they tested negative even though their results had not yet been determine.
SydPath said the mix-up had been caused by a “data processing error” made when the lab changed its method of communicating negative test results to “contend with the major increase in volume of tests.”
The error had occurred “at a time of unprecedented Covid testing activity,” the clinic said, adding that its staff members, as with other pathology teams in New South Wales, were “working around the clock to respond.”
On Tuesday, the clinic said it would reduce the number of tests it processed to maintain its quality, and would stop accepting residents who required a test only for traveling purposes.
Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.
Pathology clinics and hospitals in Australia are confronting high demand for Covid tests. Tens of thousands of people are lining up every day, either having been identified as close contacts of those with infections or because they require a negative P.C.R. test to travel interstate.
Some residents in the states of New South Wales and Victoria have reported being turned away from busy testing centers, or having to wait up to five days to receive their results.
Queensland and Tasmania require travelers headed into the states to show a negative P.C.R. test within 72 hours of departure. The governments of New South Wales and Victoria have criticized the requirement, saying that it is straining their states’ testing capabilities.
Australia reported a record 10,196 daily cases on Monday, a 379 percent increase in the past 14 days, according to government statistics and The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker. Most of these cases were in New South Wales, which reported 6,324.
“We would expect that pretty well everybody in New South Wales at some point will get Omicron,” the state’s health minister, Brad Hazzard, said at a news conference on Sunday.
He warned residents not to call an ambulance or to go to the hospital unless they had severe symptoms because of the “enormous pressure” on the health care system.