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Cornell University has gone into ‘red alert’ territory and moved student finals online after a...

Cornell University has gone into ‘red alert’ territory and moved student finals online after a spike in COVID-19 cases that officials suspect has been caused by the highly-contagious Omicron variant.
Libraries have been shut, athletic competitions are cancelled and upcoming events have been scrapped after 214 new cases were confirmed Monday and another 227 tests came back positive Sunday.
Cases at the Ithaca, New York campus – where 97 percent of staff and students are vaccinated, the university says – began snowballing last week.
There were 12 cases December 6 and another 27 on December 7; the following day, the figure more than doubled to 58 cases, according to university data.
The school’s COVID-19 testing lab found evidence of the Omicron variant in a ‘significant number’ of Monday’s positive student samples, Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said in a statement.

COVID-19 cases at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York began snowballing  in the past week. There were 12 cases December 6 and another 27 on December 7; the following day, the figure more than doubled to 58 cases  

She said that although the school isn’t certain Omicron is to blame, it’s proceeding as if it is and taking immediate measures to protect its population.

Cornell University president Martha E. Pollack

‘While there is still much that is not known about the Omicron variant, it appears to be significantly more transmissible than Delta and other variants,’ Pollack said in the letter. ‘There is some evidence (though far from certain) that it generally causes milder cases, particularly among vaccinated individuals. 
‘However, when you have high transmissibility, you’re going to have very high numbers of cases, and so even with lower rates of serious illness, outbreaks must be taken seriously.’
The school moving to red alert also prompted the cancellation of a December 18 recognition ceremony for December graduates. 
It asked those living in dorms to take their cafeteria meals to-go and eat in their rooms, and said visitors are not allowed on campus unless they’re there to whisk a student away for winter break.
‘It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps,’ Pollack said. ‘However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff, and students.’

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Cases are on the rise despite 97 percent of staff and students being vaccinated, school data indicates

The university’s figures show that students are disproportionately becoming infected. All of those who tested positive Monday were students, while employees accounted for just seven of the 227 cases on Sunday.
An uptick in COVID-19 cases has prompted efforts to curb the spread across the country, including in New York and California, which are temporarily bringing back their mask mandates.
Omicron is now in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including far off Alaska, and now accounts for three percent of US COVID-19 cases, up from one percent last week.
The Biden administration is preparing for a surge of Omicron cases that it worries will sicken Americans and exacerbate an already overloaded healthcare system. 

Omicron is now in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including far off Alaska, as the mutant strain that has dominated the world in recent weeks continues its rampant spread across America

The Omicron COVID-19 variant (purple) now accounts for 3% of U.S. Covid cases, up from less than one percent last week. The Delta variant (orange) is still the nation’s dominant strain, accounting for 97% of new cases, per CDC data

‘Everything points to a large wave. A large wave is coming,’ a senior administration official in President Joe Biden’s White House told Axios. 
The official, however, expressed hope the cases wouldn’t be as severe as previous COVID variants including Delta as the White House continues to push booster shots as the best protection. 
‘It will be fast. It won’t be as severe, but regrettably, there will be plenty of hospitalizations,’ the person said. 

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Cornell University (pictured) moving into a red alert prompted exams to be taken remotely and events to be cancelled 

Dr. Anthony Fauci said previously that initial data suggest the Omicron strain is less deadly than Delta, but warned that it’s too late to be certain. 

Pfizer claims its at-home Covid pill STILL beats Omicron and cuts risk of dying/hospitalization by up to 89% 

Pfizer’s Covid pill slashes the risk of hospitalization and death by up to 90 per cent and will work against Omicron, the vaccine maker claimed today.
A study of more than 2,200 at-risk adults found the drug, called Paxlovid, reduced the risk of severe outcomes by 89 per cent.
And a separate trial of the pill, which the UK has already ordered 250,000 doses of, on healthy unvaccinated adults found taking it within a few days of suffering Covid symptoms cuts the chance of being hospitalized by 70 per cent, Pfizer said.
Meanwhile, laboratory tests suggest Paxlovid will still offer a ‘robust’ response against the Omicron variant, which is due to become dominant in the UK tomorrow. 
Pfizer’s boss Dr Albert Bourla said the emergence of Omicron has ‘exacerbated the need for accessible treatment options for those who contract the virus’ and the pill could be a ‘critical tool to help quell the pandemic’. 
The UK’s medicines regulator has so far approved one at-home pill in the fight against Covid. But molnupiravir, made by US-based Merck and Ridgeback, will only be given to older and at-risk people within 48 hours of catching the virus as part of a pilot that is expected to launch by the end of the year.

Dr Anthony Fauci has said preliminary data suggests the omicron strain is less deadly than delta, but also cautioned that it is too early to say for sure.
And the Delta variant continues to spread, especially in the Midwest, Southwest and New England regions of the United States.  
California and New York are among the states reinstating mask mandates.
In California, where cases have spiked 47 percent since Thanksgiving, the statewide mandate will take effect Wednesday and last at least until January 15.
‘We know people are tired and hungry for normalcy,’ California health agency secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters during a press briefing. ‘Frankly, I am too. ‘That said, this is a critical time where we have a tool that we know has worked and can work.’ 
In New York, with more than 10,500 new cases per day, the mandate took effect Monday and applies to all public spaces that have not implemented a vaccine requirement.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden canceled traditional White House holiday party plans over the virus spike and will instead host ‘Holiday Open Houses’ for visitors to view the decorations in the executive mansion.
A Moderna executive has warned that a new super-variant could be created if Omicron and Delta infect someone at the same time.  
Covid infections normally only involve one mutant strain, but in extremely rare cases two can strike simultaneously. 
If these also infect the same cell, they may be able to swap DNA and combine to make a new version of the virus. 
‘There’s certainly data, there have been some papers published again from South Africa earlier from the pandemic when people – and certainly immunocompromised people — can harbor both viruses,’ Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told British members of parliament. 
‘That would be possible here, particularly given the number of infections that we were seeing.’ 
The amount of unknowns tied to the Omicron variant contributed to Cornell’s decision to play it safe. 
Said Pollack: ‘Thus, we need to do what we can to limit further spread, even though we are just a few days away from the end of the semester.’

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