The gist: The rapid rise of omicron has prompted a fair amount of wishful thinking. Stop us if you’ve heard some version of the following: That the omicron variant causes milder symptoms or that it represents the last big wave. The answer, in both cases, is a big, fat “not necessarily.”

In fact, Philadelphia’s current rate of new cases of COVID-19 is by far the highest it’s been throughout the pandemic, and officials say it’s likely an undercount. “A piece of that is the home tests and a piece of that is the number pf people who are not getting tested right now for a whole variety of reasons,” said Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole.

— Kelly O’Shea (@kelloshea, health@inquirer.com)

Will an omicron infection protect against other strains? And more wishful thinking about the variant.

People infected with the omicron variant respond by developing customized antibodies that protect against future infections with the same strain, according to a study from South Africa. The good news is that these omicron-specific antibodies also are likely to protect against infection with the delta variant of the virus — though not as well, the researchers found. Infectious disease experts caution that for a variety of reasons, it remains a really bad idea simply to throw up your hands and stop taking precautions. Masks are still a good practice. Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. And above all, get vaccinated — and boosted. Read more here for answers to your omicron questions.

What you need to know

🍴Proof of vaccination is now required to eat and drink at indoor restaurants and bars, and in other places like sports venues and movie theaters in Philadelphia. Here’s what you need to know.

🧪 FEMA will open a COVID-19 testing site in Southwest Philadelphia on Thursday, with the hope of performing at least 500 tests per day.

🎒 Students at a growing number of schools in Philadelphia and elsewhere are learning virtually because of large numbers of COVID-19 cases and staff absences.

🏥 Health-care staff shortages and near-capacity COVID-19 units have caused some hospitals to begin canceling non-urgent procedures, while others have tightened visitor policies.

⛺ Philadelphia officials are warning residents to avoid pop-up tents offering COVID-19 testing in Center City that claim to be funded by the federal government.

👩‍⚕️In emergency rooms and intensive care units, nurses are grappling with the emotional toll of another COVID-19 surge, with no end in sight. “It is so defeating,” one said.

🦅 The Eagles placed 12 players on the COVID-19 reserve list ahead of Saturday’s game against the Cowboys.

Local coronavirus numbers

📈 COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising sharply in and around Philadelphia as new infections continue to skyrocket. Track the latest data here.

Helpful resources

What you’re saying

Last week, we asked what new traditions you’ve made during the pandemic. Here’s what you told us:

✍️ Every morning I write my four sisters and in another note I write my two children. We share what is going on in our lives.

A dose of diversion: Restaurant trends we want in 2022

While the food and hospitality industries continue to grapple with an uncertain future, The Inquirer Food team takes a look at the food trends they want to leave in 2021 (hint: ghost kitchens), and what we should take into 2022 (streeteries). Read more here.

🤝 Where in Philadelphia to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

🎄From robots to a Christmas tree farm, here are the best things to do with kids in Philly this week.

📱Hate restaurant QR codes? Here’s why they’re not going away anytime soon.

A good thing: Support network

My colleague Cassie Owens asked six Philadelphians what helped them push through another pandemic year. Here’s what Neil Bardhan said held him together: “In 2021, I was grateful for an incredible, extensive support network that kept me together. My marriage and family got stronger. Friends stepped up. Colleagues near and far came through in many ways.”

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