NEW YORK (WABC) — So long eggnog, shrimp cocktail and pet-shaped sugar cookies.
It’s been a less merry holiday scene at the White House this year under COVID-19’s shadow. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have replaced the packed parties and overflowing buffet tables of the past with food-free open houses, face masks and testing for the unvaccinated.
Beyond the impact on Biden’s first Christmas in office, the virus and its variants largely put the kibosh on the entire White House social scene for 2021, starting with an inauguration that positioned flags in place of people on the National Mall.
“I think it’s been really tough on them,” said Philip Dufour, who was Vice President Al Gore’s social secretary. He noted that many events were not held while the president and first lady did others over Zoom.
Here are more of today’s COVID-19 headlines:
US sets shorter isolation rules for health workers
Worried that a new COVID-19 wave could overwhelm understaffed U.S. hospitals, federal officials on Thursday loosened rules that call on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. Those workers now will be allowed to come back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. Isolation time can be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages, according to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
Comptroller Scott Stringer tests positive
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, 61, announced Friday he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing minor symptoms.
“I am grateful for the protection the vaccines and booster have given me, and am luckily only experiencing minor symptoms,” he posted on Twitter. “Please take every precaution-including vaccinations, regular testing and masks. Stay safe New Yorkers.”
Cirque du Soleil cancels remaining “‘Twas the Night Before…” performances
Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment announced Friday that Cirque du Soleil is canceling the five remaining performances of “Twas the Night Before…” at the Hulu Theater at MSG.
“We are sorry to announce that the five remaining performances of ‘Twas the Night Before…’ scheduled for Sunday, December 26 and Monday, December 27 have been canceled due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases in the production,” Cirque du Solei said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience and sincerely thank all the families and fans who made us part of their holiday festivities this season.”
NY sets new daily record with 44,000+ new COVID cases
New York seta another daily record with 44,431 new COVID cases. However, hospitalizations are still low compared to 2020, with 4,744 new hospitalizations.
United, Delta, JetBlue canceling many Christmas Eve flights due to omicron surge
At least three major airlines have announced they are collectively canceling more than 300 flights for Christmas Eve — some due to the surge of the omicron variant. United Airlines said Thursday it had preemptively canceled 112 flights for Friday. The United app told customers on some canceled flights that it is “due to an increase in COVID cases limiting crew availability.” According to the airline tracking website Flight Aware, the number of cancellations had jumped to 169 flights on Friday — that is 9% of all United Airlines’ Christmas Eve departures.
Will omicron force another complete Broadway shutdown?
Many stages on Broadway have been forced to go dark once more as the live theater community grapples with new backstage outbreaks of the coronavirus and its variants, and particularly the more virulent omicron. Several shows have canceled performances or shut down through Christmas, while at least three — “Jagged Little Pill,” “Thoughts of a Colored Man” and “Waitress” — have announced they were closing for good. But will omicron force another complete shutdown?
White House to lift travel restrictions on southern African countries
The travel restrictions on eight southern African countries, put in place by the White House when omicron emerged, will be lifted on Dec. 31, according to a senior administration official. This decision was recommended by the CDC for two reasons, the official said: vaccines and boosters have been determined to help prevent severe disease from omicron; and omicron is already prevalent in the U.S. and around the world so travel from those eight countries won’t have a major impact on U.S. cases.
Newark to require proof of vaccine for 5+ to enter establishments
Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced that he will sign an Executive Order on Monday, December 27, requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for customers 5 years of age and older to enter certain establishments and facilities. The order will start by requiring anyone attending public New Year’s Eve events and parties to show proof of vaccination. By January 10, persons entering a facility or business must show proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose; and be fully vaccinated three weeks later.
“Newark’s latest three-day test positivity rate has spiked to 27.16 percent. Guided by this data, the City of Newark is taking firm and aggressive action to prevent its spread and protect our residents and workers. Newark will continue to meet the challenge of COVID-19 with determination,” Mayor Baraka said.
RWJBarnabas Health hospitals cancel all in-person visits starting 12/26
No visitors will be allowed beginning Sunday, December 26, at all RWJBarnabas Health hospitals and healthcare facilities, including inpatient acute care, emergency departments, behavioral health and outpatient services, until further notice. Limited exceptions include:
–Pediatric units (only ONE parent/guardian will be permitted)
–Maternity and Labor & Delivery units (only ONE significant other/support person is permitted)
–Neonatal Intensive Care Units (TWO parents/support persons are permitted)
–Pediatric psychiatric patients (Only ONE if/when a mutual agreement between the care team and the parents/guardian has been reached)
–Patients with disabilities where the disability may be due to altered mental status, intellectual or cognitive disability, communication barriers or behavioral concerns (ONE designated support person is allowed to remain with the patient).
All visitors 18 years of age and under will not be permitted. Extenuating circumstances to the temporary guidelines and individual requests will always be considered based on the best interest and needs of the individual patient, including hospice and end-of-life care.
Phish postpones New Year’s MSG shows
The four Phish concerts scheduled around New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden are rescheduled for April. Phish ringing in the new year is an MSG tradition that was halted last year by the pandemic, and MSG had said earlier this week that the concert was expected to go on as planned in the fully vaccinated arena, along with its Billy Joel series, which continued on Monday night. The shows, originally scheduled for December 29 through January 1, have been rescheduled for April 20-23. Ticketholders can request a refund anytime over the next 30 days, if they cannot commit to the rescheduled show date.
New York City takes additional precautions for New Year’s Eve celebration
New York City is taking precautions for New Year’s Eve due to the sharp increase in COVID cases. Normally hosting approximately 58,000 people in viewing areas, this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square will host approximately 15,000 people, and visitors won’t be allowed entry until 3:00 PM, much later than past years. Proof of full vaccination with valid photo identification will be required. Attendees will also be required to wear masks. Viewing areas will be filled with fewer people to allow for social distancing.
Omicron variant symptoms: What to know even if you are vaccinated
The omicron variant is leading to a significant surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States and across Europe. The World Health Organization said 89% of those with confirmed omicron infections in Europe reported symptoms common with other coronavirus variants, including cough, sore throat, fever. The variant has mostly been spread by young people in their 20s and 30s in the region, WHO Europe regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said. Although much remains unknown about omicron, Kluge said it appears to be more infectious than previous variants, leading to “previously unseen transmission rates” in countries with a significant number of omicron cases. In those countries, cases of the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days. Here’s what to know.
What to know about rapid COVID at-home tests as demand for testing surges
President Joe Biden plans to announce on Tuesday that his administration will distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January to combat the surging omicron variant. Americans will be able to request the tests through a website that will launch next month and they will be delivered by mail. ABC News spoke with two infectious disease experts about the difference between lab tests and rapid tests and how they work.
What to know about breakthrough COVID infections as cases among vaccinated rise
As Americans brace for the possibility of another difficult winter ahead in the nation’s fight against coronavirus, there is a renewed sense of urgency to get as many people inoculated and boosted as quickly as possible, given the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant — now dominant in the U.S. An ABC News analysis of federal and state data found that since July, there has been an acceleration of the number of breakthrough coronavirus cases, thus, of individuals who test positive after being fully vaccinated.
What we know about the Omicron variant
Alarmed by a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the increasing prevalence of the omicron variant, New York City and the Tri-State are taking action to try to curb the spread. While only a few cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed so far in the city, federal health officials are estimating that it already accounts for around 13% of virus cases in the region that includes New York and New Jersey. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it’s clear omicron is “in full force” and spreading. Here’s what we know.
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