NEW YORK (WABC) -- Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19's alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.
The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.
"It's going to come down as fast as it went up," said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.
Take a look at cases and hospitalizations in New York City:
Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:
No change to schools' mask mandate after Nassau County executive order
One week after Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed an executive order allowing school boards to decide whether students wear masks in schools, not one school district has changed their mask policies.
Blakeman said school board members have told him privately that they feel threatened by Governor Kathy Hochul and state officials.
When am I contagious if infected with omicron?
When am I contagious if infected with omicron? It's not yet clear, but some early data suggests people might become contagious sooner than with earlier variants - possibly within a day after infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the few days before and after symptoms develop. But that window of time might happen earlier with omicron, according to some outside experts. That's because omicron appears to cause symptoms faster than previous variants - about three days after infection, on average, according to preliminary studies. Based on previous data, that means people with omicron could start becoming contagious as soon as a day after infection.
3,000 United Airlines employees test positive for COVID
United Airlines said it is reducing its flight schedule in hopes of stemming COVID-related staffing shortages that have caused thousands of flight cancellations across the industry. In a new company-wide memo, CEO Scott Kirby said the airline is "reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers." Kirby did not specify by how much the airline is drawing down flights. But the memo added that "the omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season." He went on to thank employees for their professionalism in handling the delays.
CDC says it will update mask 'information'
The CDC says it plans to update its mask information to "best reflect the multiple options available to people and the different levels of protection they provide." The CDC did not say when its guidance will be updated. In the meantime, the CDC said in a statement, "any mask is better than no mask, and we encourage Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19." Since the arrival of omicron, health experts have urged Americans to upgrade their cloth masks to an N95 or KN95 because the new variant is so highly transmissible. But these higher-grade masks are costly and hard to find.
Multiple states issue emergency declarations
Governors in multiple states are issuing emergency declarations as the omicron variant depletes vital health care resources. The CDC says the variant now makes up 98% of all new cases, and new numbers, accounting for the weekend backlog, show the U.S. tallied a record 1.4 million cases in a single day. The CDC has determined the unvaccinated are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated Americans.
Virginia issued a 30-day state of emergency to help health care facilities increase bed space and staff, while New Jersey and Washington, DC, are also under emergency orders. Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts are all leaning on the National Guard as a record number of COVID patients flood hospitals.
Police: Nurse in Italy caught faking shots, ditching vaccine
Police in Italy have arrested a nurse on charges he faked giving coronavirus vaccinations to at least 45 people so they could get a health pass without actually getting the shot. The nurse ditched the vaccines in a bin and even put bandages on his "patients" so the scam would not be detected. Police in Ancona, on Italy's eastern coast, also placed four alleged accomplices under house arrest, accusing them of finding anti-vaccine customers who were willing to pay for a health pass rather than get the shots. Forty-five people who allegedly received the fabricated passes are under investigation.
Stay home or work sick? Omicron poses a conundrum for workers without paid sick days
As the raging omicron variant of COVID-19 infects workers across the nation, millions of those whose jobs don't provide paid sick days are having to choose between their health and their paycheck. While many companies instituted more robust sick leave policies at the beginning of the pandemic, some of those have since been scaled back with the rollout of the vaccines, even though omicron has managed to evade the shots. Meanwhile, the current labor shortage is adding to the pressure of workers having to decide whether to show up to their job sick if they can't afford to stay home.
"It's a vicious cycle," said Daniel Schneider, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. "As staffing gets depleted because people are out sick, that means that those that are on the job have more to do and are even more reluctant to call in sick when they in turn get sick."
Federal officials issue warnings about fake COVID-19 testing kits
COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically, leading to brutally long lines at testing sites and empty shelves at stores where at-home rapid test kits were once in stock. Now, an additional problem has emerged: The Federal Trade Commission is warning about fraudulent testing kits being sold online to desperate customers.
Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the CDC determined the unvaccinated are 17% more likely to be hospitalized. This article has been updated to say 17 times more likely.
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