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What Is Omicron's Current U.S. Impact?

The U.S. has seen more than 800,000 COVID-related deaths, and the new variant is threatening to bring back travel restrictions ahead of the holidays.
Posted at 4:11 PM, Dec 17, 2021

The holiday season also means holiday travel, and that means navigating COVID protocols in airports, hotels, or even just to be around family. Currently, more than 1,000 people are dying of COVID each day.

The U.S. reached a pretty bleak milestone this week: There have been more than 800,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.  

As we get through the colder months, health experts are worried about another winter surge. 

It comes as cases of the Delta variant have yet to peak in the country, and now, we have Omicron joining the party. Two early studies — one from South Africa, the other from the University of Hong Kong — found that while Omicron variant appears to be much more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, the cases in South Africa tended to be less severe. 

In good news, we could also be getting another tool against the virus: This week Pfizer said its COVID-19 pill reduced the risk of hospitalizations by 89% if given within three days of symptoms. It still needs to be authorized, though.

We also just passed the year milestone for starting to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. More than 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. That’s more than 60% of the population. 

What could help get that number even higher is vaccine requirements. A study published Monday in Lancet Public Health found that once proof of vaccination or vaccine passports were required in France, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Germany, there were major jumps in the number of vaccine doses given.

The thing is, vaccine requirements in the U.S. have been met with some  resistance. For starters, a U.S. district court in Georgia halted the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors last week, claiming the president likely exceeded his authority.  

And this all comes as holiday travel is about to reach its peak. 

AAA estimates more than 109 million Americans will travel over the long Christmas and New Year's week – a number that’s approaching pre-pandemic times. 

Currently there are no travel restrictions in the U.S. though the CDC does recommend you self monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, isolate and if you develop any symptoms, get tested. 

But international travel is another thing entirely. As parts of Europe struggle with surges from the Delta and Omicron, travel restrictions are being reinstated. On Thursday, France banned non-essential travel to and from the UK. For some, these bans mean that means holiday trips are canceled.