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Garbage accumulates in the streets of the US due to cases of omicron in cleaning workers

The omicron variant of coronavirus has sickened so many cleaning workers in U.S that some cities had to postpone or suspend the collection of garbage and recyclables, infuriating residents who are dismayed that the authorities cannot cover one of the most basic services.

Because of this, recycling bins filled with Christmas gift boxes and wrapping paper languish on Nashville sidewalks, garbage bags pile up on Philadelphia streets, and yard waste clogs Atlanta sidewalks.

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“It is a shame”, said Madelyn Rubin, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where authorities have suspended recycling collection.

“You know they could find the money to do it if they wanted to,” added. “If it was a company that wanted to come, they would put up the money to make it happen.”

A woman walks past garbage waiting to be collected in Philadelphia. (Photo: AP/Matt Rourke) (Matt Rourke/)

Cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Lousville are so short-staffed that they’ve temporarily suspended collection of recyclable items like bottles, cans, paper and plastic, yard waste or bulky junk to focus on the smellier, nastier waste. Delays are more than an inconvenience to residents, as they can lead to sewer and sidewalk clogs.

Nashville City Council member Freddie O’Connell was just as surprised as his constituents when he was notified before Christmas that the city had decided to suspend collection of recyclables left on the streets.

“I was surprised that there was no alternative or backup plan,” he said. “No phone lines for people who have mobility issues or lack safe access to a vehicle” to transport their recyclables to where they are concentrated.

“It feels like a government failure,” he added.

The omicron variant is making so many sanitation workers sick in the US that waste collection in Philadelphia and other cities has been delayed or suspended.  (Photo: AP/Matt Rourke)

The omicron variant is making so many sanitation workers sick in the US that waste collection in Philadelphia and other cities has been delayed or suspended. (Photo: AP/Matt Rourke) (Matt Rourke/)

In fact, the garbage collection crisis is the third of the pandemic. The first occurred in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread in the United States. The problems reappeared with a new spike in cases during the summer due to the delta variant.

The Solid Waste Association of America recommended to officials and garbage collectors in December to “plan now to address staffing shortages.”

The contagious omicron variant showed up just when Americans were creating a lot of garbage: around the holidays. Combine that with a relatively low level of vaccination among front-line cleanup workers and you have a “perfect storm for delayed harvesting,” Association Executive Director David Biderman said this week.

In some communities, up to a quarter of the garbage collection workforce is calling in sick, he noted.

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