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Omicron surge sets records as flight disruptions continue

A man is handed a swab for a COVID-19 rapid test as people line up at a gas station in the Reseda section of Los Angeles Sunday.
Richard Vogel
A man is handed a swab for a COVID-19 rapid test as people line up at a gas station in the Reseda section of Los Angeles Sunday.

The spike of COVID-19 cases has disrupted travel, entertainment and sports even as thousands around the U.S. stood in line for tests and some hospitals and health care facilities started to face staffing crunches as the pandemic wears on.

After thousands of domestic and international flights were canceled over the Christmas weekend, the disruption carried into the new week with more than 1,400 flights scrubbed worldwide as of Monday morning, data tracking site FlightAware reported.

The omicron surge was also affecting the cruise industry. At least four cruise liners were turned away from ports or not allowing passengers to disembark, CNN reported.

Three college football teams announced over the weekend that they would not be able to field teams in upcoming bowl games because of players testing positive for the virus.

The number of daily cases in the U.S. topped 197,000 on Friday, a 65% increase over two weeks ago and nearing the record of 251,000 new daily cases set in January.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday that the number of new COVID-19 cases will continue to rise and that while the omicron variant doesn't appear to be as severe as earlier cases, "we don't want to get complacent," as the sheer number of new cases could outweigh the lower rate of hospitalizations.

"If you have many, many, many more people with a less level of severity, that might kind of neutralize the positive effect of having less severity when you have so many more people," Fauci told ABC News' This Week. "And we're particularly worried about those who are in that unvaccinated class ... those are the most vulnerable ones when you have a virus that is extraordinarily effective in getting to people."

NYC has new vaccination orders and Florida sets records

Around the country, long lines continued at COVID-19 testing sites.

In New York City, where new vaccination mandates go into effect Monday, the rate of positive test results increased over the weekend across all five boroughs. In Florida, which set a record for the number of cases for a second time this week, cars lined up hours before coronavirus test sites opened and at-home tests quickly ran out at distribution centers.

The omicron wave comes as hospitals across the country report staffing shortages.

More than 25% of hospitals in 13 states are experiencing critical shortages of medical staff, Forbes reported, citing data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff