A surge in the number of coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is causing labor shortages in many sectors of the economy across the United States. Airline employees, first responders and health care workers have been hit especially hard during the holiday season.1 2 3
Everyone Should Be Tested for Coronavirus Say Unvaccinated First Responders in DC
District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DC Fire & EMS) is experiencing shortages of staff due to their first responders testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.4
It has been reported that 117 first responders from DC Fire & EMS have tested positive for the virus and 198 are in quarantine, the highest weekly number since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. DC Fire & EMS Fire Chief John Donnelly said that 75 percent of the firefighters that tested positive for the virus were fully vaccinated against COVID.5 87 of 117 workers were vaccinated, six of those had received a COVID booster shot and the remaining 30 were unvaccinated.6 Fire officials say that 88 percent of the department is partially or fully vaccinated.7
Unvaccinated first responders are working overtime to cover for the shortage of workers. Captain Mike Engels, who is unvaccinated and has been with the DC Fire & EMS for 21 years, said:
I will be working 48 hours straight over the next few days because of vaccinated members being quarantined or COVID positive but the city is trying to fire the unvaccinated because we are supposedly an undue risk to the public.8
We (unvaccinated) are not spreading it because we have to get tested every eight days. They (vaccinated) only get tested when they are exposed. If this is about public testing and safety, then everyone should be tested before coming to work.9
Airlines Want Changes After Vaccinated Flight Crews Are Testing Positive for Coronavirus
Many airlines are cancelling flights because pilots, flight attendants and ground crew have become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus or are exposed to others who have been infected.10
According to Maddie King, spokesperson for United Airlines:
The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.11
In September 2021, United Airlines announced that almost all its 67,000 employees in the United States complied with management’s COVID vaccine requirement. 2000 employees had applied for a religious or medical vaccine exemption and 593 employees were facing immediate dismissal for not complying with the COVID vaccine requirement or applying for an exemption.12
Henry Harteveldt, president of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group stated:
Someone should’ve sounded an alarm when they realized people can get Omicron after being vaccinated. It doesn’t seem like they planned well enough.13
On Dec. 23, 2021, Airlines for America, the trade association representing North American airline carriers, wrote a letter to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to re-evaluate and update the current quarantine guidelines that recommends 10 days of isolation for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough SAR-CoV-2 infections. They proposed a quarantine period of no more than five days from symptom onset for those who experience a breakthrough infection.14
CDC Recommends Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Should Isolate for Five Days After Testing Positive for Coronavirus
Responding to labor shortages caused by so many workers testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, on Dec. 27, 2021 CDC reduced the recommended quarantine time for individuals, whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. The CDC website now states that people testing positive for COVID should isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), they should then wear a mask for an additional five days after leaving quarantine to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.15
Diane Swonk, PhD, chief economist at Grant Thornton said:
We are seeing the preliminary effects on businesses via personnel out sick via Omicron on flights and cancellations. These disruptions are going to compound over the next several weeks which will hobble large portions of the economy.16
According to Our World in Data, by Jan.1, 2022 about 73 percent of Americans had gotten at least one COVID shot and 61.5 percent were “fully” vaccinated.”17
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Click here to view References:
1 Josephs L. Omicron hits airline crews and sparks hundreds of holiday flight cancellations. CNBC Dec. 26, 2021.
2 Daniel E. Hospitals feel impact of latest COVID surge fueled by Omicron variant. WVEC 13 News Now Dec. 27, 2021.
3 Stieb M. Thousands of First Responders Are Out Sick Amid Omicron Surge. New York Magazine Dec. 29, 2021.
4 Segraves M. DC First Responders Test Positive for COVID at Increasing Rate. NBC Dec. 23, 2021.
6 Cremen A. 198 members of DC Fire and EMS out due to positive COVID tests, quarantine. WUSA9.com Dec. 23, 2021.
7 Watts L. DMV fire departments grapple with surge in COVID-19 cases. Fox 5 DC Dec. 23, 2021.
8 Miller E. Unvaccinated D.C. firefighters working overtime on Christmas to cover vaccinated with COVID. Emily Post News Dec. 24, 2021.
10 Associated Press. Flight Cancellations Continue for 6th Day as COVID Hits Airline Crews. NBC Chicago Dec. 29, 2021.
11 Vizcaino M. Airlines’ flight cancellations near 2,400 as COVID-fueled crew crisis threatens to extend through New Year’s Eve. Fortune Dec. 26, 2021.
12 Isidore C. Almost all United employees complied with the vaccine mandate. CNN Sept. 30, 2021.
13 Miller E. Unvaccinated D.C. firefighters working overtime on Christmas to cover vaccinated with COVID. Emily Post News Dec. 24, 2021.
14 Airlines for America. Letter to Rochelle Walensky. Dec. 23, 2021.
15 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Updates and Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period for General Population. Dec. 27, 2021.
16 Escobar S. An Easing of Covid Quarantine Rules Could Help Ease Worker Shortage. Barrons Dec. 27, 2021.
17 Our World in Data. Share of People Vaccinated Against COVID-19: United States. Jan. 1, 2021.