Coronavirus update: Omicron variant drives record case surge

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Primary symptoms of an Omicron infection mimic the common cold

Coronavirus (COVID-19) ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 52,460,229 (51,927,557)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 817,031 (815,128)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 280,738,431 (279,826,580)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,404,167 (5,395,183)‌

Omicron drives record surge in COVID-19 cases

It seems like COVID-19 cases are surging everywhere, and in some places, those increases are setting records. With many New Yorkers taking COVID-19 tests just before their holiday events, the state set a one-day record of nearly 50,000 new cases.

During the holidays, Florida set a record for the number of reported cases of the virus in a single day, with 31,758. That’s higher than the previous record of 27,669, set at the end of the summer.

Health officials say the explosion of new cases appears to be the result of the Omicron variant, which is believed to be more easily transmitted. Although supporting data is lacking, the Omicron variant appears to cause less severe symptoms in most people it infects.

What to know about Omicron symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says symptoms of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are different in some ways from the Delta variant. The most common Delta variant symptom is a loss of taste and smell.

The CDC says the onset of illness caused by the Omicron variant feels more like a common cold. Early symptoms include a scratchy throat, runny nose, and a cough. Fatigue and body aches are also symptoms that Omicron shares with other variants.

“The Omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown,” the CDC said on its website. “CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.”

Problematic smartphone use linked to pandemic mental health issues

Some health researchers have reported an increase in mental health issues during the pandemic, and researchers in Germany suggest that overuse of smartphones could be part of the problem.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum linked increased smartphone use during the pandemic with a low sense of control, fear of missing out, and repetitive negative thinking. The sample was largely made up of young women.

On the basis of their findings and prior studies, the researchers propose that physical activity and mindfulness practices could help reduce problematic smartphone use.  

Around the nation

  • New York: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccination mandate for private businesses in the city takes effect today. Employees will have to show proof of at least one shot of an approved vaccine.  “We are going to find our way through this and then put the COVID era behind us," de Blasio said.

  • Florida: On Christmas Eve, Universal Orlando Resort began requiring masks to be worn in indoor portions of the park. Masks will also be required  “at all attractions from the moment guests enter the queue to when they exit the experience.”

  • Texas: Texas A&M has withdrawn its football team from Friday’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. School officials said COVID-19 issues prevented the team from appearing. “It is unfortunate, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” Aggie head football coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement.

  • Oregon: COVID-19 doesn’t spare anyone, not even Santa Claus. Keith McDonley, an Oregon City resident who has been dressing up as Santa for more than a decade, was at his seasonal post this year after recovering from the virus, which kept him in the hospital for 62 days.

  • Indiana: Indiana University Health, the state's largest hospital system, has asked for and received help from the Indiana National Guard. At IU Health Methodist Hospital, a 23-person U.S. Navy team will be deployed to relieve health care workers, many of whom have been working around the clock.

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