Experts urge Thanksgiving travelers to get tested for Covid-19 as hospitalizations are at their highest

As millions of people in the United States travel back home from the Thanksgiving holiday, Covid-19 hospitalizations are inching closer to 100,000 — the highest they’ve ever been. With infections expected to increase, experts say the stakes are even higher for the public to get tested to help slow the spread.

a group of people standing on top of a suitcase: BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 25: People wait for their baggage at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston on Nov. 25, 2020. The airport was bustling with travelers on the Eve of Thanksgiving, despite people being encouraged to stay home. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

© Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
BOSTON, MA – NOVEMBER 25: People wait for their baggage at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston on Nov. 25, 2020. The airport was bustling with travelers on the Eve of Thanksgiving, despite people being encouraged to stay home. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“To every American, this is the moment to protect yourself and your family,” Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, told CBS Sunday.

November has been a month of unprecedented coronavirus surge, with 27 consecutive days of cases surpassing 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And though hospitalizations reached a new record of 93,238 on Sunday, it was the third time the metric surpassed 90,000 this month, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

“There’s no way that the hospitals can be fully prepared for what we’re currently facing,” emergency medicine physician Dr. Megan Ranney said Saturday. “This is like a natural disaster occurring in all 50 states at the same time. There are not adequate beds. There are not adequate staff. And because of the lack of national preparation, there are still not adequate supplies.”

As the nation heads into winter, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News Sunday, he expects both cases and hospitalizations to get worse over the coming weeks.

“Make sure you’re washing your hands and make sure again if you’ve been in a gathering of more than 10 people without your mask on over the last several days, please get tested in the next three to five days.”

Those measures can still slow coronavirus spread for those who have already attended a Thanksgiving gathering, Adams told Fox.

Coronavirus hitting the Midwest the hardest

As the US wrestles with managing the cases until a vaccine can be distributed, states are faring differently.

If Arizona officials don’t address the rise in cases in the next two to three weeks, the state will be facing a humanitarian crisis leading to hundreds of preventable deaths, The University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health said in a report Friday.

“While targeted measures might have sufficiently slowed transmission weeks ago, I believe shelter-in-place orders offer the most certain chance to achieve the improvements needed,” the report’s main author, Dr. Joe Gerald, also an assistant professor, said Saturday.

In New York City, once the epicenter of the virus’ spread in the US, the state will send students up to fifth grade back to public schools for in-person learning in early December, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Students will be tested weekly and parents will be required to sign a consent form for every student that will take in-person classes, de Blasio said.

New York, however, is experiencing a positivity rate of 4.27%, the highest rate since May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

But the rates of spread are worse in the Midwest than in other parts of the country, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

“If you see what’s happening in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states where governors took more aggressive steps early, where there’s more consistent use of masks, where they took less infection going into this season — I think you’re going to see infection remain rates remain lower than we’re seeing in other parts of the country like the Midwest,” Gottlieb said.

On Saturday, Ohio’s statewide total surpassed 400,000 cases, with more than 100,000 added in less than two weeks, according to the state’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Some Americans could receive vaccines in December

After a much-anticipated race to develop vaccines, some could be distributed as early as December.

Vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna have shown promising rates of efficacy in testing, and Adams said that he is optimistic Pfizer will submit an emergency use authorization December 10 and Moderna of December 18.

An expected 40 million doses will be ready by the end of the year, but that is not enough for everyone who needs it to get one, Surgeon General Adams told Fox.

“The vaccine advisory committee that advises CDC will make recommendations on who should get the vaccine first, the so called 1A group — the people who should get it immediately, when it becomes available,” Gottlieb told CBS.

Gottlieb said he expects healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff to be the first group of people eligible for the vaccine.

“That’s pretty much decided — they’re going to vote on it this week,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if they deviate from that.”

The first release of vaccines will likely coincide with when cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings will begin to show.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans not travel for Thanksgiving, more than 6 million people passed through security at US airports leading up to the holiday.

“When you look at people who are hospitalized today, they were infected two weeks ago, maybe more,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University. “And then it takes usually another week for folks to succumb to the illness.”

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