Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Concerns over a winter wave of Omicron prompt closures, mask mandates and new COVID fears

Colleges are moving finals online. Offices are putting reopening plans on pause. Cities are instituting mask mandates.

Exactly one year after the United States kicked off its vaccination campaign against COVID-19, cases are surging once again as the country cobbles together a response.

About 120,000 coronavirus cases are being identified each day in the U.S. — up from 80,000 a few weeks ago.

Contagion is expected to worsen as falling temperatures bring more indoor gatherings. Several hospitals in the Midwest and Northeast, the places hardest hit, are already nearing capacity.

The big unknown this time is Omicron, the variant that was first detected last month in South Africa and is spreading around the world so rapidly that experts believe it could overtake Delta as the dominant strain this winter.

Federal officials said that Omicron accounts for just 3% of new cases nationwide, though that figure is 13% in New York and New Jersey. Those numbers are certain to grow.

As a fatigued public grows increasingly resistant to measures aimed at controlling the virus, schools, offices, cities and families are making their own risk calculations in the busiest travel season of the year.

This week, Princeton, Cornell and New York universities have canceled events or moved final exams from the classroom to online.

“I feel safe, but there are concerns all around,” said Anthony Cruz, a junior education studies major at New York University.

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