New Year’s celebrations toned down as COVID cases hit record highs

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(CBS) – 2022 is the third calendar year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In New York City, there were only about 15,000 revelers in Times Square to see the ball drop to ring in the new year — as COVID cases there have skyrocketed in recent weeks.

At the Vatican Saturday morning, crowds were limited as Pope Francis conducted New Year’s Day Mass. On Friday, the pope canceled his traditional New Year’s Eve visit to the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square to discourage large crowds from forming.

Nationwide in the U.S., the average number of new virus cases has nearly quadrupled since December 1, when the Omicron variant was first detected in the country.

Fifteen states are seeing record new case counts. Nationally, more than 2 million coronavirus cases were reported in one week — another record, but not the whole story.

“And we also know that this is most likely an undercount as many residents testing positive through at-home antigen tests aren’t necessarily reporting those cases,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

“Our hospitals right now are at roughly the same numbers they were on the worst day of last winter’s surge,” Murphy said.

Getting a test at all has resulted in long waits. In Washington, D.C., the line stretched for blocks to get a free rapid COVID-19 home test kit on New Year’s Eve.

Celebrating was cut short in some place. San Francisco and Atlanta canceled public events, and Saturday’s Rose Parade in California won’t have a Kaiser Permanente float because 20 frontline medical workers set to be on it were moved to treat patients.

As holiday vacations wrap up, so many airline workers testing positive continue to disrupt flights. More than 1,500 flights were canceled Friday. 

Meanwhile, the State Department is warning that people traveling abroad may face “unexpected challenges” while trying to return to the U.S. and should make “contingency plans.”

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