Americans stay cautious amid arrival of new Covid-19 peak

by IANS |

New York, Jan 12 (IANS) The US saw a new record high of Covid-19 hospitalisations, as its caseload kept hiking, staff level fell and medical system was struggling against an unprecedented surge of the infection.

The country registered a total of 145,982 people hospitalised with Covid-19 on Tuesday, surpassing the previous record of 142,273 set on January 14, 2021 and about twice as many than two weeks ago, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

"The highly transmissible Omicron variant threatens to obliterate that benchmark," reported The Washington Post on Tuesday.

"Disease modelers are predicting total hospitalisations in the 275,000 to 300,000 range when the peak is reached, probably later this month."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by healthcare personnel, the newspaper quoted official sources as saying.

With the highly transmissible Omicron variant spurring record levels of infections and hospitalisations, experts have repeatedly urged the Joe Biden administration to recommend the better-quality masks rather than cloth coverings to protect against an airborne virus, Xinhua news agency reported.

When the CDC issued its initial mask guidance in 2020, health officials did not urge the use of the more protective face coverings out of concern that health workers might be unable to get them. But health officials said there are no longer serious shortage of N95 masks.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday that would return students to classrooms on Wednesday after a dispute over coronavirus safeguards canceled a week of classes in the country's third-largest school district.

The deal, which city officials said included provisions for additional testing and metrics that would close schools with major virus outbreaks, was approved by the Union's House of Delegates Monday evening and was expected to be voted on later in the week by rank-and-file teachers.

Teachers were expected to return to school buildings on Tuesday, with students joining them on Wednesday. Leaders of the Union described the agreement as imperfect but needed, given the conditions teachers are facing in the pandemic, according to The New York Times.

Long checkout lines, closed fitting rooms, empty shelves, shortened store hours, the dread of coronavirus and clashes with customers who refuse to wear masks, the newspaper said, "a weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic."

Many US store workers are facing rising risks and grappling with shifting guidelines, said the report. Retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and unwilling to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.

"Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020," said the report.

"But they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus," the report added.

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