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COVID is again raging across the U.S. just as Americans gather for the holidays

People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square, New York, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.
Seth Wenig
/
AP
People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square, New York, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

A surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. is seriously altering previously promising holiday plans for many Americans. As many people traveled over the weekend, health officials and state leaders issued serious warnings about the coronavirus as the U.S. experienced record new infections.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 156,754 new COVID-19 cases. In early November, the country was averaging about 70,000 cases.

The jump in cases in recent days is being blamed, in part, on the omicron variant. It's expected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

Over the weekend, sporting events and live theater announced postponements or outright cancellations because of infections among athletes and staff, as well as cast and crew members.

Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren announced they tested positive for the coronavirus with both experiencing mild symptoms. Both said they were fully vaccinated and received a booster shot.

Given the jump in new infections, President Biden will announce new steps on Tuesday to "help communities in need of assistance," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. He will also issue a warning "of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated."

Early data shows that while omicron has the ability to easily evade immune protection and booster shots, those infected may be less likely to experience severe disease and hospitalization.

According to scientists' most pessimistic projections, the U.S. could reach over a half million average daily infections by the end of January — more than double last winter's peak.

The now-former director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, who retired over the weekend, warned Americans to take the pandemic seriously. If they don't, the country could see 1 million daily infections soon, he told NPR.

"We cannot afford to let down our guard," Collins told NPR's Scott Detrow in an interview with Weekend Edition.

"I know people are tired of this," he said, acknowledging Americans' fatigue of nearly two years of the pandemic. "I'm tired of it, too, believe me. But the virus is not tired of us. It's having a great old time changing its shape every couple of months, coming up with new variants and figuring out ways to be even more contagious."

Cancellations hit the sports and entertainment world

The National Hockey League postponed 27 games so far and will postpone another 12 through Thursday because of COVID-19.

The NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association announced Sunday that the regular season would continue but that cross-border games between the U.S. and Canada would be rescheduled.

The NBA postponed five games because several players and staff members had to enter the league's COVID-19 protocols.

The NFL also announced a series of postponements for some games through the week.

The league announced Friday that Saturday's game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Cleveland Browns was moved to Monday. Sunday's meetings between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams were moved to Tuesday.

The performing arts world has also made changes.

Some of Broadway's biggest shows like Hamilton announced cancellations over the weekend because of positive tests among cast and crew members, according to New York Times reporter Michael Paulson.

On Sunday, 10 shows were canceled because of positive COVID-19 tests, reported Paulson.

Saturday Night Live altered its plans over the weekend due to an outbreak, going without a live audience and with a limited cast and crew with new sketches taped earlier in the week, as well as other Christmas-themed ones from previous years.

New York City to boost testing capacity

On Sunday, New York reported 22,478 new cases. New York City reported a weekly average of 4,742 new cases, reflecting an increasing trend.

New Yorkers reportedly hit the streets over the weekend trying to get tested but encountered long lines in the cold. The wait at a city-run testing and vaccination center in Times Square on Saturday afternoon was about three hours, according to the New York Post.

"I'm cold and frustrated. We are in such a big city, there should be more options available," Alessandra Abate told the Post. She was waiting in line for more than two hours.

People line up for PCR and Rapid Antigen COVID-19 coronavirus tests on Wall Street in the Financial District in New York on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Ted Shaffrey / AP
/
AP
People line up for PCR and rapid antigen coronavirus tests on Wall Street in the Financial District in New York on Thursday.

"It's literally impossible over the weekend to find a place," she said.

In response to growing frustrations, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday announced an expansion in COVID-19 testing capacity for the city. That includes extended hours, free at-home testing kits in high volume areas and more testing sites set up during the week.

The mayor said by the end of Tuesday, New York City will have eight new city-run sites across the five boroughs.

"This isn't March of 2020. We've learned so much since then," he tweeted. "You stepped up to protect yourself and your families by getting vaccinated. We have treatments and strategies. We know how to fight back."

The situation elsewhere

The U.S. is not the only place experiencing a concerning rise in new infections.

In an aggressive move, the Netherlands announced a new lockdown until at least Jan. 14. That means bars, nonessential stores, movie theaters and gyms are closed until then.

Ireland and Germany announced a series of new coronavirus restrictions to combat the surge, but were not going so far as to undergo a new full lockdown.

Ireland's Prime Minister Micheál Martin announced restaurants, bars and public venues have to close at 8 p.m. starting Monday. Cases of the omicron variant in the country were doubling every few days, he said.

A passer-by walks downtown Rotterdam on December 19, 2021, as the Netherlands have gone into "lockdown" over the Christmas period to try to stop a surge of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Dec. 18, 2021.
Marco De Swart / ANP/AFP via Getty Images
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ANP/AFP via Getty Images
A passer-by walks in downtown Rotterdam on Sunday as the Netherlands announced a new lockdown until at least mid-January.

In a message shared online, he said: "We may have to dig a little bit deeper to access it this time, but the unique resilience, solidarity and trust in science that has marked Ireland out across the world will get us through this too."

Germany issued new entry requirements for people coming from the U.K. and other European countries.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 20, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story misspelled Cory Booker's first name as Corey.

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