(AP) — U.S. officials have intensified calls for unvaccinated Americans to get inoculated in the face of the new Omicron variant that is contributing to a record number of infections and threatening to wipe out a second holiday season.
Though the calendar is about to change, the days have a distinctly 2020 feel: Stores struggle to keep their shelves stocked, sports games are postponed, shows are canceled and air travelers who undertake the challenges of new regulations may get stranded because of staff shortages.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, but officials warn that it appears more transmissible than the Delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide. The uncertainty alone was enough for many people to change their plans.
President Joe Biden’s administration has resisted tightening any restrictions but also sketched out dire scenarios for the unvaccinated in a plea for hesitant Americans to get the shot.
“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death, for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said this month, echoing the president’s own comments.
Dr. Stanley Weiss, a Rutgers University epidemiology professor, said officials need to react faster, citing a willingness to redefine fully vaccinated to include booster shots, for example.
“Everyone wants us to be through with this pandemic, but in order to get us through it, we can’t ignore the realities of what’s going on and what is needed,” Weiss said.
The already beleaguered travel and tourism industry is being particularly hammered.
Amanda Wheelock, 29, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, canceled a trip to France with her partner as cases spiked there. Even though the surge isn’t necessarily due to Omicron, the uncertainty about the new variant, and a new requirement that all U.S. travelers have to test negative before flying back to the U.S., made her worry that the trip would be more stressful than fun.
Instead, she’s traveling to the Anchorage, Alaska, area to see friends.
Many in the travel and hospitality trades hoped they had put the worst behind them, nearly two years into a pandemic that has devastated those industries. They saw this holiday season as a chance to claw back some of what was lost — until Omicron cast a pall reminiscent of the early days of the crisis.