One New York City subway line was suspended on Wednesday and five others were running with delays because so many workers were out sick.
Twenty CityMD locations, where thousands of New Yorkers go to get tested for the coronavirus, were closed because of staffing shortages caused by the virus.
The Police Department has canceled days off for any officer healthy enough to work. Nearly one in three paramedics are out sick, and the Fire Department begged New Yorkers not to call 911 unless they were truly experiencing an emergency, after a spate of calls from people who were just looking for an ambulance ride to a hospital to get a coronavirus test.
Broadway shows are closing even as others reopen. Libraries are shuttering left and right.
New York City is exhausted, beleaguered and riddled with coronavirus thanks to the Omicron variant. More than 110,000 people have tested positive just since Christmas Day, and the positivity rate in some neighborhoods is approaching 30 percent.
Some hospitals in the city are under stress: Mount Sinai Health System said Wednesday it was deferring elective surgeries where possible.
But as Year Two of the pandemic limps offstage to make way for Year Three, New York remains open, with piecemeal slowdowns and closings.
Omicron, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers shortly before Christmas, would provide the city with a “challenging few weeks,” banking on the uncertain proposition that the variant would follow the trend set in South Africa, one of the first countries to identify it. But because Omicron appears to cause milder disease than earlier iterations of the virus, because more than 80 percent of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, and because he has ordered a vaccine mandate for all private-sector employers, he said he did not see a need for a 2020-style lockdown.
And so the city is carrying on with plans for a limited Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop, even as the chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee urged Mr. de Blasio on Wednesday to cancel the celebration — as Rome, Paris and Tokyo have done with theirs.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams one-upped Mr. de Blasio, announcing on Wednesday that he would take the oath of office in Times Square shortly after the midnight ball drop.
Gov. Kathy C. Hochul announced a new statewide record of 67,000 daily cases on Wednesday — nearly 20,000 more than the previous record set Dec. 24 — and said that Covid-related hospital admissions jumped 10 percent in a single day and that deaths neared 100 for the first time in months.
New York City also set a record, with 39,591 new cases announced Wednesday by the governor’s office, nearly 30 percent more than the old record of 31,024, also set Dec. 24. And the city’s Covid hospitalizations are up to more than 2,700 — but the number of Covid patients in intensive care was 350 earlier this week, less than half the number during last winter’s surge.
The virus’s pressure was evident in many different arenas in the city. In the high-profile sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime associate, the judge ordered the jury on Tuesday to deliberate through the New Year’s weekend if necessary, because it was only a matter of time before jurors or others involved might have to quarantine, risking a mistrial.
Signs of a half-shut city were everywhere. The W subway line was suspended early Wednesday morning. Clicking the status button for the A, D, E, N and R trains brought up a message: “You may wait longer” for a train, it said. “We’re running as much service as we can with the train crews we have available.”
In Downtown Brooklyn, Wanda Ortiz, who has had a fever, body aches and a scratchy throat since Christmas, summoned the strength to head over to the CityMD on Atlantic Avenue Wednesday morning to get tested. The clinic was dark.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ms. Ortiz, 68, said as she read the note on the door. She wandered off to find another testing site, hoping she would not have to stand in line too long in the cold.
Joseph Goldstein, Alexandra E. Petri, Dana Rubinstein and Ali Watkins contributed reporting.
The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that the ongoing circulation of the Delta variant and the emergence and rapid spread of Omicron could create a “tsunami” of infections that could overwhelm health care systems, even as top American health officials emphasized that early data showed Omicron infections producing milder illness.
The global average of new cases hit a new high of more than 930,000 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database. The previous high was more than 827,000, reached in late April.
“Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalization and deaths,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director-general, said at a news conference in Geneva. “I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”
But along with the warnings, U.S. officials and the leading scientists at the U.N. agency said that the early data from places where Omicron was spreading offered some cautiously positive signs.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said at a White House news conference that even as cases had increased by around 60 percent over the past week, to around 240,000 cases recorded each day, hospital admissions and deaths were hinting at a milder wave of the virus.
“While our cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalizations and deaths remain comparatively low right now,” she said, pointing to a seven-day average of hospitalizations of 9,000 per day, an increase of about 14 percent from last week. The seven-day average of daily deaths stood at roughly 1,100 per day, she added, a decrease of about 7 percent.
“This could be due to the fact that hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases by about two weeks,” she said, “but may also be due to early indications that we’ve seen from other countries like South Africa and United Kingdom — have milder disease from Omicron, especially among the vaccinated and boosted.”
Citing a series of international studies showing milder Omicron outcomes, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said at the same news conference that “the pattern and disparity between cases and hospitalizations strongly suggest that there will be a lower hospitalization-to-case ratio when the situation becomes more clear.”
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientific officer for the W.H.O., said that early real-world data indicated that the link between infection numbers and hospitalizations had been “disrupted.”
She cautioned that the evidence on Omicron is just emerging. “We can still not predict what this virus will do,” she said.
While it was increasingly clear that vaccinated people are being infected with Omicron, meaning that there was a reduction in the capacity of vaccines to neutralize the virus, the early evidence on the protection vaccination might provide was positive.
Vaccines, she said, still “appeared to be protective” against severe illness and death. But it was a complicated equation that needed to take into account a host of factors — including the clinical vulnerability of those being infected — and there was simply not enough data.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of the W.H.O. emergencies program, said that Omicron had yet to work its way into all parts of society — including the most vulnerable populations and the unvaccinated.
The Omicron outbreaks around the world, he said, started in primarily younger age groups and the variant is only now moving into older populations.
“I think we will still see decoupling from cases and severe disease,” he said. But the sheer number of daily cases — the “force of infection” — could lead to surges of patients and increased pressure on health care systems.
He also noted that even in countries with plentiful vaccines, there were large pockets of unvaccinated people, and it was simply too early to know if Omicron itself is less virulent than the variants that have come before.
Dr. Tedros said the “narrative going on right now that it is milder or less severe” might be dangerous since the high transmission rates alone could lead to an increase in hospitalizations and death.
“We should not undermine the bad news with the good news,” he said. “There are both elements here.”
As the Omicron variant besieges health care systems across the country, Georgia has joined the growing list of states calling on the National Guard for reinforcements.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said on Wednesday that the state would deploy around 200 troops to hospitals and testing sites starting next week. About half of them will be sent to hospitals, while the others will provide support at testing sites and other locations.
Though hospitalization levels in the United States remain much lower than those reached during the peaks of last winter and spring, the virus surge has stretched health care systems and strained overtaxed workers.
In Georgia, Mr. Kemp said on Wednesday that hospital workers in the state were being overwhelmed by people who needed coronavirus tests but weren’t experiencing severe symptoms.
“We urge Georgians to be patient,” he said, adding that in August, the state authorized 2,500 troops to be deployed “for times such as these.”
As it did in other states, the Covid situation in Georgia took a dramatic turn this month. Hospitalizations have been rising, averaging more than 2,000 a day, but they remain far below peak levels, according to a New York Times database. While deaths have also been increasing, the state’s daily average of 29 is a fraction of the record, 135, set on Jan. 30.
However, the state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with only 51 percent of people fully vaccinated.
A sizable number of patients remain infected with the Delta variant. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Omicron cases made up a significantly lower percentage of the overall U.S. caseload than it had previously estimated.
Nevertheless, Omicron has a considerably easier time than Delta infecting vaccinated people. The coming cascade of patients threatens to overwhelm hospitals in states beyond Georgia, even as medical workers themselves test positive.
The 146th edition of the Westminster Dog Show, a midwinter tradition in New York City for more than a century, has been postponed amid fears about Omicron’s spread.
“The health and safety of all participants in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are paramount,” the Westminster Kennel Club said in a statement on Wednesday. “We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support as we delay the show to a time when we can safely convene.”
The event had been scheduled to take place in late January. Officials did not announce a new date for the show but said they planned to hold it sometime in 2022.
Officials postponed this year’s show to June from February over concerns about the virus. The show was moved from Madison Square Garden, its longtime home, and held outdoors at Lyndhurst, a riverside estate in Tarrytown, N.Y., north of the city. No outside spectators were allowed in 2021.
The changes to the last show were necessary, organizers said, to ensure the event could take place and still comply with the “ever-changing government restrictions.”
Cases continue to climb in New York City, averaging more than 23,000 new cases a day, according to a New York Times database. The spread of two highly contagious variants — Omicron and Delta — have led to record case counts nationwide, disrupting travel plans and exacerbating worker shortages.
Cincinnati declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to help the city deal with labor shortages within the city’s Fire Department amid a spike in coronavirus cases and scheduled holiday vacations.
Mayor John Cranley said the surge in cases during the holiday season has led to staffing challenges for the department, which he called a “public danger” that would undermine the city’s ability to respond to fire emergencies. In recent weeks, businesses have expressed concern over labor shortages as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to tear across the nation, shattering case records and sidelining infected workers.
The 60-day emergency declaration will allow the Fire Department to “ensure full quality fire service in the coming weeks,” Mr. Cranley said in a statement. The move came after the mayor spoke with Michael A. Washington, the Fire Department chief, who requested the declaration. There are 27 firefighters out with Covid-19 and an additional 20 who are out sick, Yasmin Chilton, the mayor’s communications director, said in a statement. There are 774 firefighters total on staff.
The order temporarily suspends “applicable city rules or personnel policies to address the public emergency,” according to the declaration. That would allow the city manager to cancel vacations and implement mandatory overtime, Ms. Chilton said.
Hoping to prevent further disruptions to daily life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reduced the number of days that certain infected people should remain isolated to five days from 10. Americans leaving isolation must be free of symptoms and should wear a mask when near others for an extra five days.
Industries including air travel, food and retail welcomed the C.D.C.’s new guidelines, which representatives said would help relieve companies already struggling with labor shortages during the pandemic as more workers retire or stay out of the work force over fears of the virus. Virus-related staffing shortages have upended businesses, leading to thousands of canceled flights during the holiday season.
Unions have expressed concerns over the change in guidelines, warning that companies could rush employees with symptoms back to work and lengthen the course of the pandemic.
The nation’s record for daily coronavirus cases has reached new highs as the Omicron and Delta variants continue to spread. The seven-day average of new cases reached 267,305 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database.
BRISTOL, Conn. — Crowds grew increasingly frustrated and unruly as wait times stretched for hours at a coronavirus testing site here that is run by Genesys Diagnostics, an Oakdale-based company. Some were getting out of their cars to ask how much longer it would take — others were arguing with the staff.
“We opened at 12, and when we came, this place was already flooded,” said Xavier Quintana, a specimen collector who estimated that there were close to a thousand cars packed into two parking lots.
People were growing panicked, Mr. Quintana said, and the staff could not keep up with the demand. Only a few people were working out of a small trailer set up in one parking lot.
Then, a woman who said she was waiting in line called the company shortly before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, threatening to shoot people at the site.
It was shut down within minutes, forcing many to go home without a test. The police did not find a gun or a credible threat on the scene but were investigating the episode, said Lt. Geoffrey Lund, the public information officer for the Bristol Police Department.
On Wednesday morning, a site in nearby New Britain that is also run by Genesys Diagnostics shut down after people became agitated, the site’s manager, Aaron Williams, said.
“People are getting fatigued and getting mad and causing problems,” Mr. Williams said.
Staffing shortages have been an issue at numerous testing sites, he said, especially in areas where employees are being asked to work outside in cold weather.
At the Bristol site, the size of the staff was increased to about eight employees the next day, and police cars were set up around the site to limit the size of the crowd to about 100 cars at a time.
José Mamguia, a 22-year-old resident of Bristol who was turned away on Tuesday after the shooting threat, nodded off in his car on Wednesday after about two hours of waiting in line.
By 1:30 p.m., some in line had already been waiting for over four hours. Erin Dunn, 43, of Bristol, had arrived at 9 a.m. and was growing increasingly fatigued. As a retired nurse, she understood the stress that the staff must have been under, but she was starting to feel symptoms after a probable exposure to the virus.
“I could go to sleep right now,” she said.
What she wanted was more information. Nobody had told her how long the wait would take or what the process would be. Messages left for Genesys Diagnostics on Wednesday were not returned.
Grace Bianchi, 63, had already been to the New Britain site earlier in the morning. People there were getting mad and driving through barriers, she said, and she and her husband were told to leave and go to the Bristol site instead.
“I didn’t know I had to have lunch and dinner in my car,” Mrs. Bianchi said as she scanned seven other rows of cars in the parking lot. She needed to get a test to return to work next week.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “Working people should go first.”
She and her husband didn’t get tested until 3:30 p.m.
There is no evidence that protesters and threats have slowed down the country’s mass vaccination campaign. A spokesman for the National Sheriffs’ Association, Patrick Royal, said on Wednesday that his group had not heard of widespread instances of violence at testing sites across the country.
Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.
Eric Adams will be sworn in as the 110th mayor of New York City in Times Square in the wee hours of Jan. 1, shortly after the Waterford Crystal ball drops on 2021.
“Times Square has long been synonymous with the New Year — a place of excitement, renewal, and hope for the future,” Mr. Adams said in a statement on Wednesday. “These are the same themes that animated my campaign and will inform my mayoralty, as I prepare to lead the city out of this challenging period.”
The city clerk will swear him in using Mr. Adams’s family Bible, and he will take office on Saturday at the tourist hot spot sometimes called the “Crossroads of the World.”
Mr. Adams has made a point of reveling in New York City’s nightlife, something that he has cast as boosterism for the city’s struggling club and restaurant scene. His swearing-in will come on the heels of Times Square’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, featuring live performances by KT Tunstall, LL Cool J, Chlöe, and Journey.
Some epidemiologists have argued that Mayor Bill de Blasio should cancel the outdoor event in deference to the spread of the Omicron variant, but he has resisted, instead agreeing to limit the crowds to 15,000 from the normal 58,000 and requiring masks and full vaccination.
Mr. Adams recently canceled an indoor inauguration ceremony he had planned for Saturday evening at Brooklyn’s opulently restored Kings Theatre, citing the surge in coronavirus cases. In the news release on Wednesday, he said he would reschedule that for another date.
In Italy’s northern valleys near Bergamo, which were ravaged by the coronavirus in 2020, a new surge of infections has confronted doctors with a completely different scenario from the first wave.
About 93 percent of adults in the Serio river valley are vaccinated. Hospitals are not overwhelmed. The biggest problem now, said Mario Sorlini, a doctor in the area, is keeping up with the demand for nasal swabs as people rush to get tested.
“In the beginning, the situation was dramatic because patients got sick and died very quickly, before we even had the time to see them,” Dr. Sorlini said. “Now we have many cases, but with much milder symptoms.”
Still, cases are rising fast, and so are fears that the surge of infections could still swamp hospitals. On Wednesday, as Italy reported more than 98,000 new daily cases, a record, the government extended its vaccination mandate to hotels, outdoor restaurant dining, swimming pools, fairs and practices for team sports. The new requirements will not apply to people who have recently recovered from the virus and will become effective on Jan. 10.
While the Delta variant is still dominant in the country, Omicron, which represented 28 percent of the cases as of last week, is quickly catching up. Italy’s health authorities said that, given its higher transmissibility, Omicron would soon become the leading variant.
On Christmas, Italy made masks compulsory outdoors and extended its Green Pass requirement, making proof of vaccination, recent recovery from the virus or a negative swab test necessary even to drink a coffee at a bar’s counter. The government also closed nightclubs and banned crowded parties and celebrations.
But with studies showing that vaccines offer protection against severe illness and death from Omicron, Renato Brunetta, Italy’s public administration minister, said he hoped to make vaccinations compulsory for all workers. That would push another two or three million people to get vaccinated, he said, bringing Italy a step closer to the near-total lockdown of unvaccinated people, similar to the ones Germany and Austria have imposed.
The labor minister, Andrea Orlando, told the newspaper La Stampa that the spread of the Omicron variant had forced the government to consider “limiting the circulation of unprotected people.”
Many nations are emphasizing vaccination as a weapon in the current surge, believing that total lockdowns cause too great an economic toll and that even days-long quarantine periods for people exposed to the virus should be reduced or done away with. The Italian government on Wednesday announced that it would lift a quarantine mandate for people who had received a booster shot — or a second shot in the four previous months — and had been exposed to the virus. Unvaccinated people would still have to quarantine for 10 days.
Experts say that since hospitalizations and deaths remain lower than in earlier waves, requiring vaccinated people to quarantine after being exposed to the virus would unnecessarily take large numbers of workers away from their jobs.
“If we no longer have doctors and nurses going to the hospital and there are no longer bus or train drivers, the country stops,” said Matteo Bassetti, an infectious-disease doctor in the northwestern city of Genoa. “We cannot afford that,” he added.
As the Omicron variant overtakes the country, and coronavirus cases reported for the last week in the capital region climbed to their highest number since the start of the pandemic, the Smithsonian Institution said this week that it would temporarily shutter five of its museums.
The biggest among them is the National Museum of Natural History, which will close Thursday and Friday and is scheduled to reopen Wednesday, Jan. 5. The museum is normally closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Linda St. Thomas, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian, said on Wednesday that the museum was experiencing a shortage of visitor services staff. The line to enter the museum was at least an hour long on Wednesday, she said.
“The additional closure of the National Museum of Natural History will allow the Smithsonian to reallocate staff and keep all other museums open for the remainder of the week,” the museum said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Smithsonian had previously announced that the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Museum of Asian Art (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) would close Wednesday through Sunday and reopen Monday, Jan. 3.
“Like many other organizations, the Smithsonian has been managing the direct and indirect outcomes of the latest surge in Covid infections caused by the omicron variant,” the Smithsonian said in a statement posted on its website on Tuesday. “Over the last few days, the Smithsonian has seen an increase in positive Covid cases and associated quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff.”
The Smithsonian said that the closure of the four smaller museums, which have lower attendance rates, would allow it to keep larger institutions open by moving guards and other essential staff.
A number of museums across the country have also been grappling with recent coronavirus-related closures: Some in New York, Maryland and several other states announced plans to shut again.
In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced last week that it would limit attendance to about 10,000 visitors per day because of the highly contagious Omicron variant. And the Winter Show, a longstanding New York art, antique and design fair, postponed its Jan. 20 opening at the Park Avenue Armory.
In Queens, the Noguchi Museum has closed through Jan. 4, and in New Haven, Conn., the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art have both closed through Jan. 2. The Baltimore Museum of Art reopened its galleries Wednesday morning after closing last week because of the spread of Covid.
Other museums have remained open but implemented new restrictions: The National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Brooklyn Museum, for instance, have canceled many in-person tours.
Like the rest of the country, the nation’s capital has seen a surge in cases this month: 1,868 new coronavirus cases were reported in Washington on Tuesday, and the average of 2,071 daily cases was a 931 percent change from the figure two weeks earlier.
The closures come in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when attendance figures would typically be among the highest of the year.
The World Junior Championship, an annual showcase of the next generation of hockey stars, which was already underway in Canada, was canceled on Wednesday as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continued to wreak havoc on the sports world.
The International Ice Hockey Federation, the sport’s global governing body, said it was scrapping the tournament after a player on the Russian national team tested positive for the virus, which would have necessitated the cancellation of the third game in two days, between Russia and Slovakia on Wednesday.
Two previous games — between Switzerland and the United States and between Finland and the Czech Republic — had already been canceled because of positive cases.
The cancellation was an ominous sign for sports leagues, including the N.H.L. and the N.B.A., which have been struggling to maintain schedules amid a steep surge in cases driven by the convergence of the Omicron and Delta variants.
On Tuesday, U.S.A. Hockey said the final two games of the women’s national team’s My Why Tour, which had been set for Jan. 3 and Jan. 6 in Alberta, Canada, had been canceled, less than a month before the team was scheduled to leave for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The World Juniors, which was also being held in Alberta, is a beloved post-Christmas tradition in Canada, transfixing fans in the country, which has historically dominated the event.
The United States won last year’s tournament, which features some of the best men’s hockey players under 20, who train for years to reach the event and are considered top prospects for the N.H.L.
Over the past decade, the tournament’s most valuable players have included the New York Rangers’ first overall pick Alexis Lafreniére (2020), Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators (2014) and John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks (2013).
Luc Tardif, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said the organization had begun the tournament “with full confidence” in the protocols that had been put in place, but then had to readjust them as cases surged. The protocols included daily testing and a team quarantine requirement when positive cases were confirmed.
“Unfortunately, this was not enough,” Mr. Tardif said in a statement. “We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”
John Vanbiesbrouck, general manager of the United States National Junior Team, said he was proud of the team and would work to ensure they get home safely.
“Our hearts go out to the players and staff of not just our country,” he said in a statement, “but every nation, who have worked so hard, and sacrificed so much, to get to this point.”
Delta Air Lines has updated its policies for workers who get sick with the coronavirus, soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened its recommended isolation period for Americans infected with Covid-19.
Delta was one of the first companies to adapt to the updated guidance, which it had publicly called on the C.D.C. to do. The Biden administration and major companies have said shortening the isolation period will help keep society functioning, but unions have worried it could allow companies to pressure employees to come back to work.
The airline’s new policy, dated Tuesday, provides five days of paid leave for workers who test positive for the coronavirus to isolate, according to an internal communication to company leaders obtained by The New York Times. And it encourages, but does not require, a Covid test to go back to work, going a step further than the C.D.C. guidance, which does not include a recommendation for additional testing. Delta’s new protocols make no mention of whether returning employees should have improving symptoms, as suggested by the C.D.C.
Many airlines have had to cancel a spate of flights during the busy holiday travel season, blaming staff shortages caused by a spike in infections. Delta and other airlines asked the C.D.C. last week to update its isolation recommendations, which some public health officials said were outdated. Delta warned that the 10-day isolation period that the C.D.C. put in place last year could “significantly impact” its operations as the Omicron variant of the virus rapidly spreads, and it suggested a five-day isolation period with an “appropriate testing protocol.”
A spokesman for the airline said Delta is “strongly recommending our people get tested prior to returning to work, regardless of symptoms (or absence of).” He did not say whether the airline would request to see the results of any test. Delta requires all employees to wear masks in work areas, in airports and on flights.
Delta will extend its five days of Covid-specific paid time off, which it offers only to fully vaccinated individuals, by two additional days if an employee tests positive at the end of the initial isolation period, according to the memo. It previously offered 10 days of paid leave for workers with Covid.
The airline also put in place new guidelines for workers who are exposed to Covid for long periods of time without the protection of masks. (The guidelines echo new parameters outlined by the C.D.C.) Those who have received a booster shot or are recently fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine. Those who are unvaccinated or who received their primary shots longer ago should quarantine for five days after a high-risk exposure.
Delta said that 97 percent of its work force is vaccinated. While other carriers, like United Airlines, have mandated vaccines for their work force, Delta has opted to charge unvaccinated workers an additional $200 a month to remain on the company’s health plan.
Some scientists have been critical of the C.D.C.’s decision to shorten the isolation period without a requirement for testing. The Association of Flight Attendants is asking airlines to require a negative test for employees at the end of a five-day isolation period. It is also asking that unvaccinated workers be required to abide by a 10-day isolation period and that employees be provided with high-quality masks for at least five days after returning to work.
Several months after ending federal emergency unemployment programs early, some Republican-led states have passed laws that would allow workers to receive unemployment benefits if they were fired for refusing a Covid-19 vaccine.
Although workers who lost their jobs for not complying with employer mandates would typically be ineligible to receive such benefits, Florida, Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kansas have moved to expand benefits to those unvaccinated workers.
Other states like Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri are considering similar changes.
Florida, Iowa, Arkansas and Tennessee — which have Republican governors — were among the first to end some or all federal unemployment benefits early, which state officials blamed for worker shortages in many industries. Kansas, which is led by a Democratic governor and Republican legislature, ended its pandemic unemployment benefits in September, when the federal programs expired.
Opponents say the changes set a dangerous precedent and could embolden people to refuse a vaccine as the coronavirus causes a record number of cases across the nation and millions of people remain unvaccinated. About 62 percent of the nation is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I can’t stress enough how blatantly hypocritical this is, considering how they ended pandemic benefits early and robbed people who desperately needed that income support,” said Judy Conti, the director of government affairs for the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy group. “And yet they’re willing to go out on a limb and provide benefits to people who are refusing to take vaccines because they believe complete misinformation.”
State leaders say the changes are necessary to give employees the freedom to choose whether they receive a vaccine. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said the new policy would give employees “the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs.”
“This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make health care decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families,” Ms. Reynolds said in a statement after the state legislature passed the law in October.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said states should take the lead on vaccine mandate laws after approving a bill that would broaden vaccine exemptions and extend unemployment benefits to unvaccinated workers who lost their jobs.
“I have been clear that I believe it is too late to impose a federal standard,” Ms. Kelly said in a statement last month. “States have been leading the fight against Covid-19 for nearly two years.”
Jared Walczak, the vice president of state projects at the conservative Tax Foundation, said that employers could end up paying more in unemployment insurance taxes if more workers became eligible for benefits and they were charged for the workers they dismissed.
The impact of the new laws remains to be seen, employment experts said. An October poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 5 percent of unvaccinated adults said they left their jobs over vaccine mandates.
But the effects could be more widespread if other states follow and if President Biden’s mandate for large companies to require employees to get a vaccine or submit to weekly testing is upheld. The Supreme Court said it would hold a special hearing next month to assess the legality of the measure.
“The real issue would be if the employer mandate was allowed to go into effect in January for large employers,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. “For that, you might be looking at tens of thousands of individuals across the country.”