By Elisabeth Buchwald
How big a toll has omicron had on the economy? Economists have been scratching their heads for weeks to estimate the damage the highly contagious COVID-19 variant is causing.
The U.S. Census Bureau has some early answers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that omicron was the most dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. on Dec. 20. And from Dec. 29 to Jan. 10 more than 14 million Americans did not work at some point because they had COVID or were caring for someone with COVID, or they had to look after a child whose school or daycare was closed.
Another 3.2 million people stopped working at some point over the nearly two-week span because they were “concerned about getting or spreading the coronavirus.” And nearly 7 million people said they stopped working because they were furloughed or laid off, their employer closed temporarily or their employer went out of business entirely because of COVID.
That’s according to the latest data published this month in the Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey of nearly 75,000 U.S. households.
Using responses from these households, the Census Bureau is able to estimate how 107 million Americans would respond to survey questions on their employment status if it were fielded to them.
These Americans could have stopped working as a result of omicron, but it is harder to tell if their concerns about getting or spreading COVID-19 existed before the variant began spreading in the U.S. The same applies to employers who had to lay off/furlough employees, close temporarily or went out of business.
In the prior Household Pulse Survey, which was conducted from Dec. 1 to Dec. 13, some 8.1 million Americans weren’t working because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone who did or their child’s daycare or school was closed.
The survey conducted over that period received responses from over 60,000 U.S. households.
Nearly 2.6 million Americans stopped working over that period because they were concerned about getting or spreading COVID-19. And nearly the same number of people in the latest survey stopped working because they were furloughed or laid off, their employer closed temporarily or their employer went out of business entirely because of COVID-19.
Americans have also been dealing with the highest inflation level in nearly 40 years, pushing up costs for businesses and consumers alike. But it’s unclear currently how omicron is affecting inflation — though most economists predict it will result in even higher inflation.
Last month, U.S. health officials reduced isolation times for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms from 10 to five days as part of the effort to help people get back to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cut the time that close contacts need to self-quarantine.
After those five days, Americans should still wear a mask around others for another five days, the CDC said.
That policy came just days after the CDC announced that health-care workers who previously contracted the coronavirus, but test negative and don’t have any symptoms, could return to work after seven days instead of 10 days.
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