What you missed in Columbus for Dec. 27

The highly transmissible omicron variant wreaks havoc nationwide, an imam's body is found on the North Side, and more from the holiday weekend

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
The omicron variant lead to a sharp increase in new cases of COVID-19 in the past week.

The recent, rapid spread of the omicron variant has sent COVID cases skyrocketing to levels that, in some areas, now surpass the previous peak of the pandemic a year ago. 

The New York Times reports that on Friday, "the seven-day national average of new daily cases surpassed 197,000, a 65 percent jump over the past 14 days. Deaths also increased by 3 percent during that time." In the week ending yesterday, cases in Franklin County rose by more than 75 percent, and new coronavirus cases in Ohio rose 29 percent, which puts Ohio sixth among states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest, according to a USA Today Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. (If you recently tested positive for COVID, the Times published a helpful guide for next steps.)

In promising news, hospitalizations of COVID patients remained flat in Ohio last week, though at a national level, hospitalizations are up 8 percent. "Experts warn that the surge of infections, combined with the fact that tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, could still create a severe strain on the U.S. health system and lead to many more deaths," the Times reports.

In a panel discussion hosted by the Dispatch last week, local hospital administrators urged Ohioans to get vaccinated. "The vaccine is still very protective for severe disease, so the risk of getting pneumonia, the risk of needing to be in the hospital – or, God forbid, on a ventilator – is still significantly decreased," said Dr. Andy Thomas, Chief clinical officer at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. "I think the contagious nature of this new Omicron variant is significantly higher than the Delta variant, which was significantly higher than previous versions of the virus. This is a wake-up call that it’s time to get vaccinated if you’re not vaccinated, get your booster if you haven’t and you’re eligible, and please, when you’re in a public setting – in a store, at your child’s basketball game, whatever it is – please, wear a mask. It’s really important."

Because of the highly transmissible nature of the omicron variant, health experts are urging Americans to upgrade from cloth masks to KN95 or N95 surgical masks.

The omicron variant's spread also disrupted travel for many Americans over the Christmas holiday, with United and Delta airlines canceling more than 200 Christmas Eve flights due to staff shortages as flight crew members called in sick. Flights in and out of John Glenn Columbus International Airport were not affected.

The rising COVID cases also led to local sports cancellations. The NHL postponed the Blue Jackets' scheduled Tuesday game against the Chicago Blackhawks due to coronavirus concerns. "It’s the fifth straight game the Blue Jackets have had postponed since losing 5-2 to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 16," the Dispatch reports. After two game cancellations, Ohio State's basketball team resumed practice on Sunday and is currently scheduled to host a Tuesday night game against New Orleans at the Schott. Update, 11:40 a.m.: OSU's game against New Orleans is now canceled.

BalletMet was also forced to cancel its final two performances of "The Nutcracker" due to several COVID cases among the cast.

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On Friday, Columbus police found a body in a vehicle on the North Side, and on Sunday, police confirmed the man's identity as 48-year-old Mohamed Hassan Adam, imam of the Masjid Abu Hurairah mosque. Adam had been missing since Wednesday.

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On Sunday, Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop who waged a nonviolent campaign against apartheid in South Africa, died in Cape Town at age 90.

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Christmas still came.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas." © 1965 United Feature Syndicate, LEE MENDELSON PRODUCTIONS INC (courtesy)