Omicron variant may multiply 70 times faster than delta, study finds: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

The omicron variant multiplies 70 times faster in the human bronchial tubes than the initial COVID-19 infection or the delta variant, according to a new study from the University of Hong Kong.

The lightning-fast spread within people may explain why the variant may transmit faster among humans than previous versions, the researchers say. Their study also showed the omicron infection in the lung is significantly lower than the original SARS-CoV-2, which may be an indicator of lower disease severity. The research is currently under peer review for publication.

By infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less dangerous, said Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai, the study’s principal investigator.

“Taken together with our recent studies showing that the omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from omicron variant is likely to be very significant,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the omicron variant has now been reported in at least 36 states and 75 countries. Schools and businesses are grappling with how to manage the latest threat.

Thomas Denny, chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and a professor of medicine, on Thursday called omicron “the perfect storm” that will prompt challenges for administrators.

“It’s horrible,” Denny said. “We have a rapidly transmitting virus that is coinciding with a time when a lot of us are spending a lot of indoor time, because it’s cold. We’re coming together in groups for the holiday season. … This new variant has thrown us a curveball at the worst possible time.”

Also in the news:

►Chicago Public Schools will distribute 150,000 take-home COVID-19 test kits Friday to 309 schools in communities hit hard by the pandemic, the district announced.

►Almost $750,000 has been awarded to 730 West Virginia University students though the “We Are Stronger Together” campaign to help students affected by the pandemic with tuition, room and board and other expenses, the university said.

►Michigan’s record-high number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dipped Wednesday, the first drop in 49 days as health leaders continued to urge vaccinations while describing a dire situation inside hospitals.

►Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the European Union by mid-January, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 50.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 802,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 272 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 202 million Americans — 61% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC

📘What we’re reading: The omicron variant of the coronavirus is moving faster than surveillance systems can track it and has now unnerved some medical experts that they’re starting to put the brakes on preparations for their holiday gatherings.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Canceling Airbnb, Vrbo bookings can be costly

Booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo let their hosts choose their refund policies, so even though the pandemic is still impacting travel – especially international trips – travelers should be aware that canceling a booking can be costly.

While Airbnb and Vrbo introduced more flexible cancellation policies in the early days of the pandemic, both short-term rental platforms have since reverted to letting their hosts choose their refund policies. But,  Airbnb guests who contract COVID-19 are eligible for a refund or travel credit. For other details and tips, read more here.

Bailey Schulz,

Pro sports leagues struggle with increasing infections

Despite player populations that are overwhelmingly vaccinated, COVID-19’s second winter has decimated North American professional sports leagues at a level not seen since 2020. From the NFL reporting a single-day high in cases, to the Chicago Bulls postponing two games after 10 players entered COVID-19 protocols, every active league is seeing its regular season imperiled by the pandemic.

Sports leagues have been re-writing safety protocols and urging their players to get vaccinated once they became widely available last spring.

Entering the teeth of this winter, the effort was largely a success: The NFL reports nearly 95% of its players vaccinated, the NHL has just one unvaccinated holdout and the NBA also exceeds 97%, despite high-profile holdouts such as Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi.

Yet the past week has resulted in more postponements and players in protocol than even navigating through an unvaccinated 2020-21 winter.

On Monday, the NFL reported its highest day of positive COVID-19 tests over two seasons of the pandemic, according to the NFL Network, with 36 players and one staffer forced into protocols.

The Los Angeles Lakers joined the Bulls, Nets and Charlotte Hornets as NBA clubs suffering COVID-related setbacks in recent days.

And four NHL teams have now paused due to rising COVID-19 cases, with 23 players entering the league’s COVID-19 protocol as of Tuesday afternoon over a 36-hour window, according to TSN

Nurses fight for more staffing, better working conditions

Nurses and health care workers across the country are finding strength in numbers and participating in labor actions not seen in years

In California, which has a strong union tradition, Kaiser Permanente management misjudged workplace tensions during the COVID-19 crisis and risked a walkout of thousands when union nurses balked at signing a four-year contract that would have slashed pay for new hires. In Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Massachusetts, nurses have been embroiled in union battles over staffing and work conditions.

“There’s a nursing shortage and a shortage of nursing instructors, nationwide. They’ve seen aides leave. They’ve seen cleaners leave,” said Liz Soriano-Clark, a teacher-turned-nurse in Pittsburgh. “Why is that? Because they can make more at McDonald’s and not have to clean up vomit.” Read more here.

Christine Spolar, Mark Kreidler and Rae Ellen Bichell, Kaiser Health News

Michigan gets more omicron cases, dominant strain by January?

The omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the United States, health officials warned Wednesday, as two more confirmed cases of the coronavirus strain were identified in Michigan.

The state health department reported two more cases of the variant in Michigan Wednesday — both in Genesee County — bringing the total of known cases so far to three. The first Michigan case was identified last week in Kent County through genetic sequencing. 

Although the strain is now estimated to make up only about 3% of coronavirus cases in the U.S., “early data suggests that omicron is more transmissible than delta, with a doubling time of about two days,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

At that level of growth, omicron could be the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. before the new year. 

“My guess is that omicron will become the dominant variant in early January 2022,” said Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford Health System’s medical director of infection control and prevention. Read more here.

— Kristen Jordan Shamus and Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press

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