The new omicron variant of the coronavirus, first identified in South Africa, is starting to appear in the United States, health officials there said. Cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Minnesota.
New York State confirmed its first five cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a joint press conference. “This is not a major cause for alarm,” the governor said.
The five cases include a partially vaccinated 67-year-old woman in Suffolk County on Long Island who recently returned from South Africa and only suffered minor symptoms, as well as two individuals in Queens, one in Brooklyn, and another New York City resident who had traveled recently. The Suffolk woman had tested positive on November 30.
Meanwhile, a Minnesota resident who tested positive for the new variant had attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan from November 19 to November 21. Governor Hochul urged anyone who attended the event to get tested. Over 53,000 people were present at the Javits Center during that period.
Scientists in South Africa warned that a preliminary study shows that a prior coronavirus infection offers little protection against the new omicron variant.
“We believe that previous infection does not provide them protection from infection due to Omicron,” said Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Officials in New York City announced a vaccine mandate for religious and private school employees. The move affects some 56,000 people and encompasses yeshivas, Catholic schools, and other private schools.
Meanwhile, a Christmas party at a restaurant in Oslo could be the source of what would be the world’s largest outbreak of the omicron variant thus far. Over 120 fully vaccinated people attended the event, held on November 26 at the restaurant Louise in the city’s center. All tested negative prior to the event. Over half of the guests have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 15 are likely to have the omicron variant, although testing is not yet complete.
Finally, six New York City-area hospitals face imminent capacity restrictions. The six, located in the city, Westchester County, and Long Island, have less than 10% capacity remaining. The six are Long Island Community Hospital, Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, North Shore University Hospital, Queens Hospital Center, South Shore University Hospital, and White Plains Hospital.
As of Friday morning, the world has recorded 264.7 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.8 million new cases, and almost 5.3 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 238.7 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus.
The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 94,643, a 4% decrease. The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,021, a decrease of 7% over the same period.
In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Friday, recorded 49.7 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 806,409. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, 34.6 million, and a reported death toll of 470,115. Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 615,225, and has over 22.1 million cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Friday, 234.3 million people in the United States – or 70.4% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 59.6%, or 197.8 million people, are now fully vaccinated, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 464.4 million. Breaking this down further, 83% of the population over the age of 18 – or 214.3 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 71.3% of the same group – or 184.2 million people – is fully vaccinated.
Some 54.6% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, a 0.2 percentage point increase over the prior day, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information. So far, 8.12 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.
Meanwhile, only 6.2% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.
Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.
It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.
Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity. Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.
Jonathan Spira contributed to this story
(Photo: Accura Media Group)