The omicron variant “is lightning fast, and we cannot afford another COVID-19 surge in nursing homes,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a livestreamed appeal to the industry. “You know that. I know that. Higher numbers of COVID cases would likely once again have a devastating impact on our loved ones.”
Nursing homes are a testing ground for President Joe Biden’s assertion that the U.S. is much better prepared to handle a surging virus than it was last winter. Although residents are a tiny proportion of the population, they represent a disproportionate share of Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year the advent of vaccines brought the virus under control in nursing homes and allowed them to reopen to visitors. But that return to normalcy could be in jeopardy as the omicron variant pushes COVID-19 cases to new highs.
Cases among nursing home staffers jumped to 10,353 the week ending Dec. 27, a rise of nearly 80% from the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff deaths increased to 58, tripling from the previous week. Among residents, who are more heavily vaccinated, cases went up slightly and the data showed no increase in deaths.
With medical experts advising that a booster shot is critical to defend against omicron, Becerra said only 57% of nursing home residents and 25% of staff and have gotten boosters. That’s clearly behind a booster rate of nearly 66% among people age 65 or older and about 45% for the adult population, according to statistics from the White House.
“We’ve got to change that,” Becerra said.
The administration is urging some 1,400 federally funded community health centers across the land to partner with local nursing homes in a renewed vaccination campaign.
A western Pennsylvania coroner said Wednesday that three siblings found dead at a home near Johnstown two months ago all died from COVID-19.
Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees said he drew that conclusion after autopsies, toxicology tests and microbiology examinations.
“They were positive for COVID-19, the lungs were heavy and congested,” Lees told The Associated Press. “That’s what that was based on.”
The two men and a woman found in different locations on the property had died about five days before they were found in late October, he said.
Ruth Kinsey, 68, was on the kitchen floor. Richard Kinsey, 70, was in a living room chair. Donald Kinsey, 72, was found in bed in a camper inside a barn on the property.
“They were people that were sick,” Lees said. “Whether or not they were tested I don’t know, I can’t determine that at this point in time.”
Lees said he also does not know their vaccination status.
Their bodies were discovered after authorities were asked to check on their welfare.
India is going ahead with a legislative election in its most populous state despite daily COVID-19 infections more than doubling nationwide within a week.
India reported 13,154 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a jump from 6,000 daily cases on Dec. 24.
Thousands of people without masks have been crowding the election rallies of top politicians across Uttar Pradesh state.
Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra says all political parties in the northern state of 200 million want the election held by March.
Chandra rejected a state High Court’s suggestion to postpone the election in light of an expected surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Dr. K.K Paul, a top government official, said the World Health Organization’s warning of a COVID-19 tsunami was not India-specific and referred to the global situation.
New York City will ring in 2022 in Times Square as planned despite record numbers of COVID-19 infections in the city and around the nation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
“We want to show that we’re moving forward, and we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this,” de Blasio, whose last day in office is Friday, said on NBC’s “Today” show.
After banning revelers from Times Square a year ago due to the pandemic, city officials previously announced plans for a scaled-back New Year’s bash with smaller crowds and vaccinations required.
While cities such as Atlanta have canceled New Year’s Eve celebrations, de Blasio said New York City’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate makes it feasible to welcome masked, socially distanced crowds to watch the ball drop in Times Square. “We’ve got to send a message to the world. New York City is open,” he said.
Thanks to the highly contagious omicron variant that was first identified as a variant of concern last month, new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have soared to their highest levels on record at over 265,000 per day on average. New York City reported a record number of new, confirmed cases — more than 39,590