Many Americans have been waiting in long lines at free testing sites since before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday rush. Plenty of others are avoiding the lines and paying $20 or more for over-the-counter, at-home tests — if they can find one.
Out of options, some have headed to crowded emergency rooms in hopes of getting tested, putting themselves and others at greater risk and potentially delaying emergency care for ill and injured people.
“The current demand for testing far exceeds the testing resources that are available,” said Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
That was evident this week as many people searched for tests to take before returning to school or work. President Biden addressed the problem last month by announcing that 500 million tests would be available for free starting in January. But his administration has not given a launch date for the program, and that number of tests will not go far in a country with a population of some 330 million.
Jenna Zitomer, 25, said that her family of five in Westchester, N.Y., has spent around $680 on rapid tests in recent months. “It’s pretty crazy, especially since that’s well over half a paycheck for me,” said Ms. Zitomer, a research specialist. “It feels like something we need to start budgeting for every month now, like groceries or utilities. For my family, not having access to testing could mean exposing multiple severely immunocompromised people to Covid-19. That basically makes it life or death.”
Ms. Zitomer added that at her local testing center, “lines have gotten so long that they started canceling appointments and full days of testing because the drive-through lines cause traffic problems.”
Britt Crow-Miller, 35, a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that her family has spent around $500 on at-home test kits. With two adults and three children, a single round costs around $100. “Who can afford that every time someone has the sniffles?” she said. “As a person fortunate enough to be well-employed and have a partner who is also well-employed, I am very conscious of the fact that at-home testing is essentially a luxury.”
And yet, Ms. Crow-Miller, said that if one of the children “wakes up with a scratchy throat, I don’t feel like a responsible community member sending them to school without first giving them a test.”
Elizabeth Sasser, 24, a network planning analyst living in Syracuse, N.Y., said her expenses for tests — about $300 — was well spent. “My family also did have asymptomatic positives,” she said, “which would have likely led to more infections if it had not been for the prior purchase of at-home tests.”
There have been gaps in testing capacity since the start of the pandemic.
In early 2020, researchers scrambled to find the swabs and liquids needed to collect and store samples being sent to laboratories for polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., tests, considered the gold standard for viral detection. U.S. testing backlogs continued into that summer, in part because there was a shortage of tiny pieces of tapered plastic, called pipette tips, that are used to quickly and precisely move liquid between vials.
The equipment shortage is no longer the weak link in the supply chain, but new problems have arisen. One is simply that demand is outstripping supply.
There is also preliminary evidence that the at-home antigen tests many Americans rely on — at least as currently administered, with a nasal swab — may fail to detect some Omicron cases in the first days of infection. Researchers say Omicron replicates faster or earlier in the throat and mouth than in the nose.
That could complicate the strategy for beating back the current wave, in which the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Omicron accounts for 95 percent of new cases.
The at-home tests, which can deliver results in minutes, remain an important public health tool, scientists say. Positive results are especially informative because it can take days to get results from P.C.R. tests. But a negative at-home test should be treated with caution.
“Everyone wants these tests to do more than they can,” Dr. Osterholm said.
A labor standoff between Chicago educators and Mayor Lori Lightfoot showed no signs of abating over the weekend, as the mayor swiftly rejected a proposal by the teachers’ union to ramp up coronavirus testing and return to in-person instruction on Jan. 18.
“The best, safest place for kids to be is in school,” Ms. Lightfoot and Pedro Martinez, the Chicago Public Schools chief executive, said in a joint statement on Saturday. “Students need to be back in person as soon as possible. That’s what parents want. That’s what the science supports. We will not relent.”
Ms. Lightfoot’s and Mr. Martinez’s sharp retort, which also accused labor leaders of “not listening,” came minutes after the Chicago Teachers Union announced a proposal for a return to classrooms that it framed as a compromise. In it, the union dropped demands for all students to produce negative tests before coming back to class, and said teachers were willing to return to school buildings starting on Monday, though not for in-person instruction.
“This represents a change in our position,” Jesse Sharkey, the union president, said at a news conference on Saturday. “We’re appealing to the public — and to the mayor to find in her heart to make the compromise to reopen the schools.”
Hundreds of thousands of students in the nation’s third-largest school district missed three days of class last week after members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to stop reporting to work amid concerns over the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
School district officials, who have insisted that classrooms are safe, declined to move to online instruction, as the union suggested. Ms. Lightfoot has repeatedly accused the union of inconveniencing working families and harming the academic and social progress of children.
Most American school districts have forged ahead with in-person instruction, as the Biden administration has urged, even as the Omicron variant has shattered local and national case records. Some large school districts, including in Cleveland and Milwaukee, have moved classes online. But the dispute in Chicago, where there has been no instruction of any sort since class was dismissed on Tuesday, has been notable for its acrimony and for the day-to-day uncertainty for parents, teachers and students.
Under the plan the union outlined on Saturday, Chicago teachers would have distributed equipment and materials for online instruction and helped parents sign up for virus testing on Monday and Tuesday, then taught students remotely for the rest of next week.
The union had already said that members planned to return to schools on Jan. 18, after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a date that did not change under the new proposal. The union also continued to push to have all children enrolled in Covid-19 testing unless their parents opted them out, a move that Ms. Lightfoot has opposed. Currently, students are tested through the schools only if parents proactively give permission.
“The mayor can’t be, like, a hard no and morally opposed to widespread testing,” Mr. Sharkey said, “and also be a hard no and be morally opposed to any short-term period of remote.”
The pace of daily new infections of the coronavirus has nearly doubled in the past week, surpassing two million known cases a day, underscoring just how quickly the Omicron variant has spread around the world.
On April 25 last year, the global average hit a high of more than 827,000 cases, a level that has been surpassed on each of the last 12 days as the world’s case curve charts a nearly vertical rise.
Health authorities around the world reported 2.1 million cases on average in the past seven days, nearly three times the amount two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. The latest wave of cases has been driven by outbreaks in the United States and Europe, where the Omicron variant has become dominant. The count is likely lower than the actual number of infections, given that many people discover they are infected with home tests. Not all of those cases are reported to authorities.
While deaths and hospitalizations have not increased as quickly, the surge has overwhelmed health care facilities from the United to Europe, and led companies, schools and governments to curb services because of a shortage of workers. The latest spike has also led to new curfews, lockdowns and restrictions around the world and discussions of whether booster shots should become mandatory.
A $46 billion federal program enacted by Congress to prevent evictions during the coronavirus pandemic got off to a sluggish start last year, but is now distributing cash so quickly that many states are running out of money, endangering millions of struggling tenants who depend on the support.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced that 665,000 households had received aid through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in November, the most ever for any month, bringing the total distributed or planned to be spent to between $25 billion and $30 billion, according to the Treasury Department.
But that success means that several states, including New York, Texas and Oregon, have already used up nearly their entire share of federal funding from the program.
And the new numbers underscore the reality that the federal government’s largest-ever attempt to prevent evictions was never intended to be a long-term solution. Funds for struggling renters will soon disappear unless Congress renews funding, which is highly unlikely.
“There is tremendous uncertainty now, especially for renters,” said Vincent Reina, a professor of urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania who has helped design aid programs in Philadelphia. “Historically, we have had a nonexistent housing safety net nationally. Then we suddenly have this allocation of resources, and we build this whole new infrastructure. Now it’s about to go away, and we have no idea if it will ever be rebuilt.”
Those who have already received rental assistance can keep it. But renters who want to file for the first time or reapply may be out of luck.
Demonstrations against pandemic restrictions were waged across Europe on Saturday.
In cities across France, anti-vaccine protesters rallied a day after President Emmanuel Macron expressed no regrets for the harsh language he directed at millions of the nation’s unvaccinated citizens.
In Paris, protesters retorted by adopting his slangy wording, chanting, “We’ll piss you off.”
In Germany, there were large demonstrations in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Magdeburg, while rallies took place in many other cities where people opposed measures put in place to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.
There were also protests in Romania after stricter pandemic measures went into force there, and in Italy.
— The New York Times
Few American cities have labor politics as fraught as Chicago’s, where the nation’s third-largest school system shut down this week after teachers’ union members refused to work in person, arguing that classrooms were unsafe amid the Omicron surge.
But in a number of other places, the tenuous labor peace that has allowed most schools to operate normally this year is in danger of collapsing.
While not yet threatening to walk off the job, unions are back at negotiating tables, pushing in some cases for a return to remote learning. They frequently cite understaffing because of illness, and shortages of rapid tests and medical-grade masks. Some teachers, in a rear-guard action, have staged sick outs.
In Milwaukee, schools are remote until Jan. 18 because of staffing issues. But the teachers’ union president, Amy Mizialko, doubts that the situation will significantly improve and worries that the school board will resist extending online classes.
“I anticipate it’ll be a fight,” Ms. Mizialko said.
She credited the district for at least delaying in-person schooling to start the year but criticized Democratic officials for placing unrealistic pressure on teachers and schools.
“I think that Joe Biden and Miguel Cardona and the newly elected mayor of New York City and Lori Lightfoot — they can all declare that schools will be open,” Ms. Mizialko added, referring to the U.S. education secretary and the mayor of Chicago. “But unless they have hundreds of thousands of people to step in for educators who are sick in this uncontrolled surge, they won’t be.”
For many parents and teachers, the pandemic has become a slog of anxiety over the risk of infection, child care crises, the tedium of school-through-a-screen and, most of all, chronic instability.
And because of their close ties to the unions, Democrats are concerned that additional closures like those in Chicago could lead to a possible replay of the party’s recent loss in Virginia’s governor race. Polling showed that school disruptions were an important issue for swing voters who broke Republican — particularly suburban white women.
“It’s a big deal in most state polling we do,” said Brian Stryker, a partner at the polling firm ALG Research whose work in Virginia indicated that school closures hurt Democrats.
“Anyone who thinks this is a political problem that stops at the Chicago city line is kidding themselves,” added Mr. Stryker, whose firm polled for President Biden’s 2020 campaign. “This is going to resonate all across Illinois, across the country.”
Oregon will deploy up to 500 National Guard members in the coming weeks to support health care workers as Covid hospitalizations rise in the state, Gov. Kate Brown said on Friday.
Ms. Brown said that beginning next week, a first deployment of 125 personnel would go to work at hospitals, providing logistical support such as moving equipment and assisting with testing.
“With more than 500 current hospitalizations and daily record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases, we are at another critical point in this pandemic,” Ms. Brown said in a statement. Her office said the state would work with hospital systems to monitor the need for additional National Guard deployments.
Like other parts of the country, Oregon has recorded a rapid increase in infections since the arrival of the Omicron variant, with daily case counts now nearly double the previous peak over the summer. Covid hospitalizations are well below the summer peak but have started to rise again, up 40 percent since Christmas.
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have projected that the hospitalization trend will continue and set new highs for the state by the end of the month. They encouraged people to avoid indoor gatherings, wear masks and get vaccinated or boosted as soon as possible.
“Anything Oregonians can do now to reduce the spread of the virus will help to preserve hospital capacity for those who need it most,” said Dr. Peter Graven, the director of the university’s Office of Advanced Analytics.
Governors of other states have also activated National Guard troops in recent days to help support health workers who are battling the Omicron surge.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Friday that more than 200 National Guard members would be deployed across 50 sites to help meet demand for testing. He said they would assist with crowd control and provide clinical care in places with staffing shortages.
Mike Ives contributed reporting.
Reports about dual infection with the flu virus and the coronavirus have been making sensational headlines recently. But how worried should we be?
We spoke to experts to better understand what it could mean to test positive for both infections. Here’s what to keep in mind.
Will co-infection make me twice as sick?
A co-infection doesn’t immediately mean that a patient will be doubly sick. A strong immune response may actually help the body fight off pathogens of all types, so one infection could stimulate some additional protection.
“An infection to one might help to aid your immune response to another,” Dr. Grein said, “because it’s activating that same immune response that’s going to be effective in fighting both.”
Still, scientists don’t know for sure yet, because so few people have tested positive for both Covid-19 and influenza. But judging from past trends, doctors are not overly worried.
Who is most susceptible?
Dr. Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, identified two groups he thought could be most vulnerable to co-infection.
First: unvaccinated adults. “Based on previous work on vaccinations, people who refuse one vaccine might refuse others as well,” he said. He said he expected there to be a “significant overlap between people who refuse both vaccines.”
Second: children, especially those under 5, who are too young to get vaccinated against Covid. Kids are also petri dishes, as any parent will tell you, and have lived through fewer cycles of the flu. So even if a child got a flu shot, Dr. Omer said, “their library of protection is narrow” against the many viral flu strains that can emerge each year.
How can I prevent co-infection?
On this one, the medical advice remains consistent: Get vaccinated for both Covid and flu. And get vaccinated right now.
Both kids and adults can get both vaccines at the same time. Children ages 5 years and older are eligible for a Covid vaccine, and children older than 6 months can get vaccinated against the flu.
In addition, experts agree you should wear masks and maintain social distancing measures when appropriate. Both flu and the coronavirus are airborne viruses, so limiting your exposure cuts down on your chances of getting infected.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Lawyers for Novak Djokovic said the tennis star had tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December, and that the Australian government had erred this week in canceling his visa over a vaccine requirement.
Mr. Djokovic, who hopes to defend his men’s singles title at the Australian Open this month, was denied permission to enter the country on Thursday after arriving at a Melbourne airport. The border authorities said they canceled his visa because he had not provided evidence to justify being exempted from Australia’s requirement that arrivals be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
In the filing on Saturday, Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers said he had been granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia because of a positive Dec. 16 coronavirus test result, and because 14 days later, he had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in 72 hours.
The conditions of the exemption were consistent with the recommendations of Australia’s immunization advisory body, the lawyers argued. Given these circumstances, among others, “Mr. Djokovic understood that he was entitled to enter Australia,” the filing read.
Mr. Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, is in quarantine at a hotel in Melbourne as he awaits a hearing, scheduled for Monday, on his appeal of the government’s decision to revoke his visa.
Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers argue that the Australian authorities, in canceling his visa, “radically and fundamentally” misconstrued or misapplied advice from Australia’s immunization advisory body about whether a coronavirus infection within the past six months should exempt him from the vaccination requirement.
The filing also claims that Mr. Djokovic was denied procedural fairness after arriving in Australia, when he was held at the airport by the immigration authorities from about midnight to 8 a.m.
WASHINGTON — In a pandemic high for the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the hospital there on Friday reported 69 confirmed coronavirus cases among about 6,000 residents on the base.
None of the infected people required hospitalization, medical evacuation or monoclonal antibody treatment, said Dawn Grimes, the spokeswoman at the base hospital, which serves both the community and the detention operation holding 39 wartime prisoners.
She did not comment on whether any of the prisoners or roughly 1,500 military members and civilian employees who staff the operation had tested positive.
Nearly all of the 69 people who tested positive for the virus had been fully vaccinated, Ms. Grimes said. A few were partly vaccinated. One of the 69 included a 10-year-old child who is either fully or half vaccinated, said a base spokeswoman, Nikki L. Maxwell, on Saturday. No other details were available.
On Tuesday, the base commander, Capt. Samuel White, reinstated an indoor mask mandate for all residents in response to what he called “this uptick in cases.” That day, Ms. Grimes reported that 17 people on the base had tested positive since Dec. 1, all but one of them fully vaccinated.
Until this week, only the estimated 900 unvaccinated people on the base had been required to wear masks indoors, making for crowds of unmasked patrons in the base’s Irish pub and at the gym.
Ms. Grimes said Friday that, in response to the surge, the base was requiring vaccinated visitors and returning residents to be tested on arrival, isolate for at least three days, and then be tested again before they can rejoin the community. Unvaccinated people have been consistently required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
She added that public health workers had at times this week carried out about 250 tests in a single day, and that the small community hospital had sufficient testing capacity to do more if needed.
“Our Covid-19 hotline team continues to field calls around the clock to answer Covid-19-related questions and to provide screening for individuals who are experiencing symptoms,” she said.
The base also introduced round-the-clock curbside testing at the hospital, which sends its most serious or complex cases to the United States for military medical care. The detainees are the exception: The Pentagon sends specialists, including neurosurgeons with specialized equipment, to treat the prisoners, many of whom are approaching their third decade in U.S. detention.
Cases rose after a Navy ship from Jacksonville, Fla., the U.S.S. Milwaukee, stayed at the base pier from Christmas through New Year’s with about one-fourth of its 105-member crew infected. Most had mild or asymptomatic cases.
Guantánamo has reported an 85 percent vaccination rate, meaning roughly 900 base residents declined or were ineligible for vaccines. Some of them are the young children of sailors and Navy contractors who live in suburban-style housing on the base.
It was promoted as a New Year’s Eve celebration in Cancún, Mexico — a six-night trip that included parties with open bars and a day exploring Tulum, a popular tourist destination in the Yucatán Peninsula known for its ancient ruins and the turquoise water of its beaches.
The adventure began with a privately chartered plane from Montreal where the guests — a coterie of Canadian social media influencers, reality television personalities and others — were entertained by a D.J. on the flight to Mexico.
But the trip has turned into a fiasco after videos surfaced on social media showing the passengers flouting Canada’s pandemic restrictions. Airlines have shunned the group, stranding many of its members in Mexico, and the Canadian authorities are vowing to investigate.
In the videos, the passengers are seen dancing and jumping in the aisles, yelling without masks on and passing around bottles of alcohol. One woman can be seen vaping in the cabin. Another passenger, his mask hanging under his chin, yells at his fellow travelers over the cabin intercom to sit down, and then “to keep the energy up.”
“Let’s hear some noise, welcome to 111 Private Club!” the same passenger says in a video, referring to an online group described as “invitation only” that was founded by James William Awad, a musician and self-described entrepreneur who organized the trip. The passengers, many of them without masks on, yell back in approval.
About 27 of the 130 passengers on the flight are back in Canada, the country’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, told reporters on Friday. “They were all stopped and interrogated at the border,” he said, adding that they were tested for the virus and asked about their proof of vaccination and their quarantine plans.
Vjosa Isai contributed reporting.
President Emmanuel Macron of France expressed no regrets on Friday for saying that he wanted to “piss off” millions of France’s unvaccinated citizens earlier this week by barring them from entering public spaces, comments that drew criticism from his political opponents even as new reported cases in the country continued to soar.
“You can be upset by the familiar turn of phrase, which I fully stand by,” Mr. Macron said at a news conference in Paris alongside Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, who was there for an official visit. But, Mr. Macron said, “what upsets me is the situation that we are in.”
“I think that it was my responsibility to sound the alarm a bit,” he added.
France reported over 260,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, and the seven-day rolling average for that figure has surpassed 200,000 for the first time. Over the past week, hospital admissions have increased by around 40 percent, and Covid deaths by roughly 10 percent, according to government figures.
Alain Fischer, who is in charge of coordinating France’s Covid strategy, told the LCI news channel on Friday that the current wave of cases could reach its peak in approximately 10 days.
In a discussion with readers of the daily newspaper Le Parisien published this week, Mr. Macron had used crude slang to answer a woman who was complaining that unvaccinated patients occupied many beds in intensive care units, preventing those who were admitted for other serious illnesses from getting care.
“I really want to piss off the unvaccinated,” Mr. Macron had said in his reply, using a vulgar word that means to bother or annoy in French. “And so we are going to continue doing that, until the end.”
Political opponents pounced on Mr. Macron for crudely singling out a segment of the French population. But the comments appeared to be a calculated move to tap into the anger of the majority of people who are vaccinated and have grown frustrated with those who are still resisting booster shots.
Nearly 80 percent of the French population is vaccinated, while roughly five million people — from among more than 65 million — have not received a single shot.
Several recent polls have found that while a majority of respondents disapproved of the tone used by Mr. Macron, most agreed with the substance of his comments and with his government’s strategy to ensure that its restrictions interfere with the daily lives of its unvaccinated population.
“When some people turn their freedom, which becomes an irresponsibility, into a slogan, not only do they endanger the lives of others, they also restrict the freedom of others,” Mr. Macron said at the news conference on Friday. “And that I cannot accept.”
On Thursday, the French Parliament’s Lower House approved a government-sponsored bill that requires people to prove their vaccination status in order to access restaurants, cinemas, museums, long-distance trains and other public spaces. A negative Covid test would no longer be enough for a “health pass.”
The bill, which would also introduce heavy fines and prison sentences for people using fake health passes, will be reviewed by the French Senate next week and is expected to pass in mid-January.
Mr. Macron is not the only European leader who has raised blunt criticisms of the unvaccinated this week.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a visit to a vaccination center in Northampton on Thursday that it was a “tragedy,” given the continuing pressures faced by health workers, that people in the country were “spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.”
“It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo,” Mr. Johnson said, according to the BBC. “I think it’s time that I, the government, call them out on what they’re doing,” he said.
As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus sweeps through New York, many hospitals are being pushed to their limits by the twin challenges of soaring new cases and a growing shortages of nurses, doctors and technicians.
Many workers are sick with Covid-19 and those who quit amid the pandemic have not been replaced.
While the latest virus wave appears to be less deadly than earlier ones, with many fewer patients on ventilators, even large hospitals with empty intensive care beds are straining to handle the surge in caseloads because so many workers are out, health care officials said.
“I think everyone across the region is struggling,” said John D’Angelo, who oversees the emergency departments at Northwell Health, the state’s largest health system. Because of its own staff shortages, Northwell has had to limit the number of patients it can take from Interfaith and other beleaguered hospitals.
Almost 4,000 Northwell employees, or 5 percent, were out as a result of Covid-19 on Thursday, Dr. D’Angelo said. That was about double the number at the height of the first virus wave. The system can transfer employees between hospitals as needed, but its emergency rooms have been operating at up to twice their normal volume and waiting times are up. Dr. D’Angelo likened the daily effort to keep positions filled to a game of “whac-a-mole.”
Similar situations are playing out around the country, including in New Jersey, where officials are working with the federal government and the National Guard to deploy medical teams to hospitals that are experiencing severe staff shortages.
Nationally, the number of people hospitalized with the virus reached 116,000 this week, the most in a year. But a significant number who have tested positive for Covid-19 — anywhere from 20 to 65 percent — were admitted for other reasons and are not primarily ill with virus symptoms, according to hospital officials in many states.
Royal Caribbean International announced on Friday that it was suspending some of its upcoming cruises because of concerns over the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The company, one of the world’s biggest cruise operators, said that it was taking the step “out of an abundance of caution.” This is the second time this week that Royal Caribbean has called off voyages.
“We regret having to cancel our guests’ long-awaited vacations and appreciate their loyalty and understanding,” the company said in a statement on its website. “Our top priority is always the well-being of our guests, our crew and the communities we visit.”
Royal Caribbean said it had called off planned trips on three ships — Serenade of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas — and pushed back the return to cruising of another, Vision of the Seas, to March.
The cruising industry was shuttered by the pandemic for nearly 18 months. It made a comeback this past summer but has faced mounting criticism about its safety protocols in recent weeks.
In December, clusters broke out aboard two Royal Caribbean cruises after they left port in Florida, and more than a dozen people tested positive on a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel after it returned to New Orleans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later urged Americans to avoid taking cruises, regardless of vaccination status, and raised its Covid-19 warning level for cruise ships to 4, the highest level.
Last weekend, a New Year’s cruise operated by a German line, AIDA Cruises, was held up in Portugal when dozens of crew members tested positive. Passengers started testing positive a few days later.
Royal Caribbean, which restarted its U.S. operations in June, requires travelers 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and to test negative before boarding. Younger children who are not vaccinated must provide a negative P.C.R. test result before sailing and test negative at the terminal before boarding. The company has said all of its crew members are fully vaccinated and that they undergo weekly testing.
The company is not alone in canceling cruises this week. Norwegian Cruise Line also suspended voyages in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases onboard some of its ships.
An Omicron-fueled surge of coronavirus cases sowed chaos across the United States this week, leaving employers and schools to wrestle with widespread disruptions caused by labor or testing shortages.
The issue has been particularly fraught at schools, just as tens of millions of students returned from winter break. Some of the nation’s largest school districts postponed their reopenings or switched to remote learning — in some cases issuing announcements the night before classes were set to resume, leaving parents scrambling to find alternative child care plans.
In many places, teachers’ unions are back at negotiating tables, pushing in some cases for a return to remote learning. The situation was especially tense in Chicago, the third-largest school district in the country. After two days of in-person classes, 73 percent of teachers voted to stop reporting to work, leading schools to shut down by Wednesday. The city responded by calling off school altogether, refusing the teachers’ call for remote teaching. The situation remained at a standstill on Friday, with no resolution in sight.
Earlier this week, President Biden, citing the lack of evidence that Omicron more severely impacts children, called for schools to remain open in the United States.
They have been in New York City, where Mayor Eric Adams has remained adamant that schools stay open, although a third of parents did not send their children to school on Monday.
Yet the mood around the country is mixed, with some parents supporting school reopenings while others are desperate for a remote option.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stood by its earlier guidance that Americans infected with the coronavirus end their isolation after five days without first obtaining a negative virus test. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., defended the decision on Friday.
Thousands of police officers, firefighters, bus drivers and other public employees across the United States are off the job with what officials have said are record numbers of coronavirus cases, leaving officials scrambling to reassure residents that crucial services will continue. Infections are also affecting cultural life, from late-night show tapings to the Sundance Film Festival to the Grammy Awards.
Federal health officials endorsed boosters for teens ages 12 to 17 who had initially gotten the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The government also changed the definition of “up to date” Covid vaccination to include boosters. But even as the United States has moved rapidly to expand who is eligible for boosters, progress in persuading Covid-fatigued Americans to get them has stalled.
Hospitals are seeing a dramatic rise of positive tests among children 4 and younger admitted to hospitals, according to data released on Friday by the C.D.C. The data includes those admitted to hospitals for reasons other than Covid who then tested positive. That age group is not yet eligible for vaccination
New York State is averaging about 70,000 new cases daily and is experiencing an alarming rise in hospitalizations, particularly of unvaccinated children. Hospitals are confronting severe staff shortages, and Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced health care workers will be required to get boosters.
The Omicron variant has toppled a slew of Broadway shows, disrupted dance productions, postponed festivals, forced the cancellation of dozens of concerts, and closed the mighty Vienna State Opera for almost a week. But it has yet to stymie the Metropolitan Opera, the largest American performing arts organization, which has not missed a performance this season.
Undaunted by the sharp rise in coronavirus cases, the Met has staged more than three dozen performances since late November, including productions of “Tosca,” “The Magic Flute,” “Cinderella” and “Rigoletto.” More than 3,000 people, who wore masks and showed proof of vaccination, filled the auditorium on New Year’s Eve.
Rehearsals are in full swing for another two dozen performances this month, each involving hundreds of people: solo singers, orchestra players, chorus members, dancers, actors, stagehands, follow-spot operators, dressers and makeup artists, among many others.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep the Met open,” Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said in an interview. “I’m determined not to cancel a performance.”
The Met’s success so far in managing the surge can be attributed to a number of factors: strict health protocols, a robust system of understudies, the advantages that come from its structure as a large repertory company that mounts a different opera each day — and, to be sure, a dose of luck.
“There’s a sense of, ‘We can do this!’” said Sarah Ina Meyers, who directed the revival of “The Magic Flute,” which completed a nine-performance run on Wednesday with the help of far more cover artists than usual. “We’re trying to lift each other up.”
Still, Meyers added, after weeks of grappling with last-minute cast changes, drafting and then tearing up plans, “there is profound hope that we can go back to the normal level of crazy.”