Your Weekend Briefing

Omicron, Colorado, Betty White

Welcome to the Weekend Briefing — and to 2022. We're covering the spread of Omicron, extreme weather in Colorado and the next food trends.

Washington residents were tested for Covid-19 last week.Kenny Holston for The New York Times

1. New Year, new uncertainty.

As 2021 closed out, Omicron drove coronavirus cases to record highs, upended air travel and left staffing holes at hospitals. The highly contagious variant is still racing across the country, and teachers, parents and workplaces are bracing for the impact. Many wonder whether life will ever be normal again.

The U.S. is averaging more than 386,000 cases a day, likely a vast undercount. Hospitalizations are growing at a much slower rate, but the death rate is falling. Puerto Rico is facing a 4,600-percent increase in cases in recent weeks.

Scientists say that Omicron may peak in the U.S. in mid-January. New estimates suggest that the country's cases could peak by Jan. 9 at around 2.5 million cases per week, though that number may go as high as 5.4 million. Still, the enormous numbers of people getting infected could greatly strain hospitals, especially in places with lower vaccination rates.

A vaccination site in East New York.Anna Watts for The New York Times

2. Despite the dizzying pace of cases, there was a bit of good news from the latest scientific reports.

  • People infected with Omicron were about half as likely to be hospitalized as those with the Delta variant, according to a report from British health officials, and they were only one-third as likely to need emergency care.
  • A laboratory study from South African scientists suggested that people who have recovered from an Omicron infection might be able to repel infections from the Delta variant.
  • Several studies have offered a possible explanation for Omicron's milder effects: It often concentrates in the nose, throat and windpipe rather than damaging the lungs, as previous variants did.
The remnants of a home after the Marshall fire and a snowstorm in Boulder County, Colo.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

3. First came the firestorm, and then came the frozen pipes.

Two days after the most damaging wildfire in Colorado's history, residents outside of Boulder confronted nearly a foot of snow and single-digit temperatures. But the desperately needed snow arrived too late to save as many as 1,000 homes that were destroyed in the blaze. The fire, fueled by hurricane-force wind gusts, roared through parched grasses and into suburban cul-de-sacs, reducing entire neighborhoods to ashes.

With thousands of surviving homes still without power and gas on Saturday, the 7-degree temperatures and 10 inches of snow touched off a frantic new battle against the weather and rescue operations. Three people are believed to be missing.

Stacey Abrams crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 2020.Michael McCoy/Reuters

4. Georgia will be the setting of several fierce political showdowns in 2022.

In the governor's race, Stacey Abrams's carefully calibrated strategy of bridging the left and center-left wings of the Democratic Party faces a test in her run for governor of Georgia. Those close to her campaign say they expect an extremely close race.

As the presumptive Democratic candidate, Abrams could face off against Gov. Brian Kemp, to whom she narrowly lost in 2018, or former Senator David Perdue, who has the backing of Donald Trump. The Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also faces a Trump-backed candidate.

The battle over voting rights will continue to be a focal point. G.O.P. lawmakers are planning another wave of laws that would overhaul state election systems.

Yael Geller was misled about a rare condition that her son, Emmanuel, may have had in utero.Casey Steffens for The New York Times

5. Silicon Valley offered the wondrous promise to pregnant women that it could detect rare disorders in the fetus. But these prenatal tests are usually wrong, an examination by The Times found.

Companies describe the tests as near certain, that a few vials of blood, drawn in the first trimester, can detect serious developmental problems in the DNA of the fetus with remarkable accuracy. The Times found that screenings made by one large test maker, Natera, were incorrect about 85 percent of the time.

In just over a decade, the tests have gone from laboratory experiments to an industry that serves more than a third of pregnant women in America. The tests initially looked for Down syndrome and worked very well. But as manufacturers tried to outsell one another, they began offering additional screenings for increasingly rare conditions.

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New York City's mayor, Eric Adams, was sworn in at a pared-down ceremony in Times Square.Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

6. Eric Adams took office as New York City's 110th mayor.

Not since 2002, when Michael Bloomberg took office after the Sept. 11 attacks, has an incoming mayor confronted such daunting challenges in New York City. Adams, the city's second Black mayor, faces difficult decisions over how to lead New Yorkers through the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and how to confront a struggling economic recovery and high rates of violent crimes.

Still, his swearing-in ceremony in Times Square before the ball-drop crowd was jubilant. "Trust me, we're ready for a major comeback because this is New York," Adams said.

Addressing the problems on Rikers Island will be among Adams's most pressing concerns. Decades of mismanagement are behind the violence at Rikers, one of America's most expensive jail complexes.

Betty White on the set of the television show "Hot in Cleveland" in 2010.Matt Sayles/Associated Press

7. "Why retire from something you love? They'll retire you fast enough."

In a television career that spanned seven decades, Betty White created some of the most memorable characters in sitcom history, won multiple Emmys, became a game show regular and hosted "Saturday Night Live" when she was 88. She championed equity causes before they became popular and dedicated time to animal welfare. Above all, she was known for her kindness.

White died on Friday at 99, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Hollywood stars and seemingly the entire internet paid tribute to her trailblazing career. "The world looks a little different now," the actor Ryan Reynolds wrote. "She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough."

The number of small urban farms growing mushrooms, like Smallhold's in New York, is expected to bloom.Chris Maggio for The New York Times

8. How will Americans eat in 2022?

Food industry leaders say it will be another pragmatic, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of year, shaped by the needs of people working from home.

Climate change is top of mind. Mushrooms from small urban farms may replace some animal products. Plant-based chicken is coming, and coming fast. And look for kelp, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To drink: Sweet and colorful cocktails from the 1980s — maybe brewed with hibiscus — are making a comeback.

You'll also most likely see more cannabis-based products. One promises not to lead to "the munchies" but to weight loss. There's just one problem: the science.

The Perseid meteor shower put on a show over the Negev desert in Israel in August.Amir Cohen/Reuters

9. Lie back, look up and see what the cosmos has to offer.

On any given night, far from the bright city lights, there's a chance you'll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. The year starts with the Quadrantid meteor shower, which peaks tonight, and at the end of May we may be able to see a new shower called the Tau Herculids. Here are other showers to keep an eye on.

We also spoke to NASA's retiring top scientist, Jim Green, about making Mars — and maybe Venus — habitable.

As Nicole Kidman put it, "Funny's hard."Jody Rogac for The New York Times

10. And finally, start off 2022 with a good read.

A never-finished hotel that is haunting the southern coast of Spain. Two teenage brothers who have become the best in the world at an old game. How Nicole Kidman learned to love playing Lucille Ball. We handpicked these stories and more for you in The Weekender.

The news quiz returns next week. Here's the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and today's Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. If you're in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Hope your week is full of new beginnings.

David Poller compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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