Omicron is officially the dominant strain as holiday restrictions ramp up

Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.

In much of the country, omicron’s prevalence is even higher. It’s responsible for an estimated 90% of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

The nation’s second-largest city called off its New Year’s Eve celebration Monday, and its smallest state re-imposed an indoor mask mandate as fears of a potentially devastating winter COVID-19 surge triggered more cancellations and restrictions ahead of the holidays.

Organizers of the New Year’s Eve party planned for downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Park say there will not be an in-person audience. The event will be livestreamed instead, as it was last year. In Rhode Island, a mask mandate took effect Monday for indoor spaces that can hold 250 people or more, such as larger retail stores and churches.

And in Boston, the city’s new Democratic mayor announced to howls of protests and jeers that anyone entering a restaurant, bar or other indoor business will need to show proof of vaccination starting next month.

“There is nothing more American than coming together to ensure that we’re taking care of each other,” Mayor Michelle Wu said at City Hall as protesters loudly blew whistles and shouted “Shame on Wu.”

Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said officials have decided against imposing further restrictions, at least for now.

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public,” Johnson said. “The arguments either way are very, very finely balanced.”

The conservative government re-imposed face masks in shops and ordered people to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and other crowded venues earlier this month. It is also weighing curfews and stricter social distancing requirements.

Johnson’s warning threw into stark relief the unpalatable choice government leaders face: wreck holiday plans for millions for a second consecutive year, or face a potential tidal wave of cases and disruption.

In the U.S., President Joe Biden is set to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after he suggested that the country would essentially be back to normal by Christmas.

His top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made the rounds on television over the weekend, promising that the Democrat will issue “a stark warning of what the winter will look like” for unvaccinated Americans.

Cases are surging in parts of the U.S., particularly the Northeast and Midwest, though it’s not always clear which variant is driving the upswing.

In New York City, where the mayor has said the new variant is already in “full force,” a spike is scuttling Broadway shows and spurring long lines at testing centers, but so far new hospitalizations and deaths are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak.

The city is also weighing what to do with its famous New Year’s Eve bash in Times Square. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said a decision will be made this week about whether the event will come back “full strength” — with attendees providing proof of vaccination — as he promised in November. Last year’s bash was limited to small groups of essential workers.

Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

Even if it is milder, the new variant could still overwhelm health systems because of the sheer number of infections. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.K. have surged by 60% in a week as omicron overtook delta as the dominant variant.

Meanwhile, Former President Donald Trump revealed he received a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, drawing boos from a crowd in Dallas.

Trump made the disclosure Sunday night during the final stop of “The History Tour,” a live interview show he has been doing with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

While Trump has expressed opposition to vaccine mandates, he has long taken credit for the vaccines developed on his watch. At the same time, he has refused to urge his supporters to take them, even though Republicans remain far less likely than Democrats to be protected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it has started distributing free COVID-19 home test kits to international travelers arriving at airports in America.

According to Reuters.com, CDC officials said they began handing out the coronavirus tests last week (on Dec. 15) at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Miami International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

The government agency said it plans to add the free tests to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and four additional unidentified international airports in the coming weeks.