The world is two years in to the COVID pandemic, and yet for many, things are starting to seem like they're moving in reverse. As European nations start with the latest round of lockdowns, the US is seeing new cases and hospitalizations climb at an alarming rate, as the omicron variant is reportedly showing the world that it's even more virulent than scientists had anticipated.
Across the US, over the last month alone, hospitalizations for COVID have jumped 45%, and confirmed cases have increased 40% to a weeklong average of 123K new US infections a day.
Speaking on Friday, Pfizer's CEO predicted the pandemic will last until 2024. He also said a weaker version of the mRNA vaccines being doled out to adults generated a weaker than expected response, which could delay the approval of shots for children younger than 5.
As for American sports leagues, the NFL has rescheduled three weekend games after multiple teams were hard by outbreaks. The NHL added another game to its recent list of postponements, and many are beginning to doubt that the league will send the best players for the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Back in NYC, where viral videos of police being booed by patrons after storming restaurants to ensure everybody inside is in compliance with the city's vaccination rules, the Radio City Rockettes have cancelled the rest of their holiday performances, while the Michael Jackson musical "MJ" on Broadway has cancelled performances through Dec. 27.
Generally speaking, early studies have shown that omicron is much more agile and easily transmissible, even for those who have been "fully vaccinated" a definition that - as Dr. Anthony Fauci has hinted - might change.
Preliminary data in South Africa suggests Omicron leads to milder illness than the Delta variant, which is still driving much of the current wave of infections. But a British study released on Friday found no difference in severity between the two variants
But Dr. Fauci suggested that with the growing number of cases, there will also be a growing number of deaths.
While lockdowns of workplaces and public venues haven't been instituted - at least not yet - it's clear fears about the new variant is already having an impact on public life. Many Americans are already delaying holiday plans. Many have been stunned by the speed at which omicron has developed.
"Two weeks ago, everyone was boosted. Then the infections went up exponentially," she said. "By January, who is going to feel safe? I just pulled the plug on it."
Eric Hrubant, the chief executive of CIRE Travel, said he hadn't yet seen a wave of cancellations, as he did in August when the Delta variant swept the country. But worried clients have inundated the agency with calls about new COVID-19 protocols, such as mandatory travel quarantines.
"People aren't panicking," he said. "People are making educated decisions."
Several US states have already reached alarming levels of cases and hospitalizations. The US states reporting the highest 7-day average of infections are New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan. In some states, like Michigan and Ohio, hospitals are already being overwhelmed by the number of patients. Starting Monday, exhausted hospital workers in Ohio will be getting some help from the National Guard.