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.