COVID News: Omicron to be dominant variant in EU by mid-January

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Thursday, December 16, 2021
US tops 800,000 COVID deaths as omicron variant takes hold
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The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 800,000, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The European Union's top official says omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant in the 27-nation bloc by mid-January.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU is well prepared to fight omicron with 66.6% of the bloc's population fully vaccinated.

Von der Leyen expressed disappointment Wednesday that the pandemic will again disrupt year-end celebrations but said she was confident the EU has the "strength" and "means" to overcome COVID-19.

Continental Europe can look to Britain for a sense of what lies ahead as omicron spreads, and the head of the U.K. Health Security Agency says omicron is displaying a staggering growth rate compared to previous variants.

It is expected to be the dominant strain in the U.K. within days.

Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:

Met Opera to require booster shots starting mid-January

The Metropolitan Opera is requiring audience and employees to receive COVID-19 booster shots for entry starting January 17.

"With the news of the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, it is clear that we must now take additional steps to protect our community," the Met said in an email to the company on Wednesday.

The company said anyone not yet eligible to receive a booster shot will be allowed a two-week grace period after they become eligible.

Tina Turner musical canceled Wednesday due to COVID cases

Both performances of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical were canceled Wednesday due to positive COVID test results within the Broadway company. Performances are scheduled to resume on Thursday.

Universities making changes due to COVID cases

NYU announced on Wednesday that due to an increase in COVID, it was canceling holiday parties and recommending final exams be remote. The announcement came one day after officials announced all students and staff would be required to get a booster shot. Princeton also recommended remote exams, while Cornell moved to "alert level red" after evidence of the omicron variant showed up in student testing samples.

NYC details private-sector vaccine mandate enforcement

Mayor Bill de Blasio detailed his plan to enforce the vaccine mandate for all New York City businesses on Wednesday. The mayor announced the most aggressive vaccine mandate in the country last week, requiring private-sector workers to get vaccinated by December 27. Mayor de Blasio said all private-sector workers must provide proof of vaccination to their employers, and all employers must keep a record of each worker's proof.

Employers must:

- Post an official sign-in document in an obvious spot

- Keep records of all vaccination proofs and reasonable accommodations

- Ensure employees get 2nd doses if needed

- Employees seeking reasonable accommodations must apply by December 27 and can continue working while accommodation applications are being processed.

'Boost NJ Day': New Jersey marks 1 year since 1st COVID vaccine with booster push

New Jersey is marking the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in the state with a booster push dubbed "Boost NJ Day." University Hospital nurse Maritza Beniquez was the first person in New Jersey to receive the vaccine, on December 15, 2020. Now, Governor Phil Murphy is encouraging all who are eligible to get their booster shots amid an alarming uptick in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

'Tragic milestone': US COVID death toll tops 800,000

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 800,000 on Tuesday, a once-unimaginable figure seen as doubly tragic, given that more than 200,000 of those lives were lost after the vaccine became available practically for the asking last spring. The number of deaths, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Atlanta and St. Louis combined, or Minneapolis and Cleveland put together. It is roughly equivalent to how many Americans die each year from heart disease or stroke. The United States has the highest reported toll of any country. The U.S. accounts for approximately 4% of the world's population but about 15% of the 5.3 million known deaths from the coronavirus since the outbreak began in China two years ago.

Kroger to end COVID sick pay for unvaccinated employees

Kroger, the country's biggest traditional grocery chain, is ending some benefits for unvaccinated workers as big employers attempt to compel more of their workforce to become vaccinated with cases of COVID-19 again rising. Unvaccinated workers will no longer be eligible to receive up to two weeks paid emergency leave if they become infected, a company spokesperson confirmed Tuesday. That policy was put into place last year when vaccines were unavailable. The Cincinnati company confirmed changes in benefits first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The change is effective Jan. 1.

New COVID-19 nasal spray therapy aims to 'reduce viral load in the lungs by 100-fold'

A new type of COVID-19 therapy is showing promise as a new tool to hijack the virus and slow down variants. It's a new weapon that could be added to the arsenal against COVID-19. Unlike many others, this therapy is proving its efficacy with one dose.

"With a single administration, a single dose in the nose with these therapeutic interfering particles which are and mRNA therapeutic very much like the vaccines," said Leor Weinberger, PhD, senior investigator for the Gladstone Institutes.

Nurse Sandra Lindsay reflects on 1-year anniversary of 1st COVID vaccine

One year ago, the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine was administered in the United States. It was given to Sandra Lindsay, a nurse for Northwell Health on Long Island. Lindsay reflected Tuesday on the momentous occasion of getting the shot.

"It's the one-year anniversary and I'm feeling great, thank you!" Lindsay said. "We didn't know at the time that I would make history as the first person in the United States to be vaccinated. Since then, it's been somewhat of a whirlwind."

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