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Dr. Anthony Fauci’s final pre-Thanksgiving plea is to keep any indoor holiday gatherings as small as possible as the country endures record numbers of Covid-19 hospitalizations and daily cases, he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.
With the US seeing unprecedented numbers of recorded infections now, he said he’s worried about how much the virus will spread in holiday celebrations — and what the pandemic will look like in three weeks when those new infections will have manifested.
“What we don’t want to see is yet another surge superposed upon the (current) surge … which we’ll realize three (to) three and a half weeks from now” if people aren’t careful, Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC.
Public health officials have generally urged Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving only with members of the same household, or at least gather outdoors, to avoid further virus spread. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended last week that Americans should not travel for Thanksgiving.
Those warnings come as medical staff around the country say they’ve struggled to keep up with the surging number of hospital patients.
More than 88,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals nationwide on Tuesday, the 15th straight day that figure set a record for the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a plan Wednesday to deliver acute hospital care at home and relax regulations on surgical care outside of hospitals as part of an effort to increase care capacity as coronavirus hospitalizations surge around the nation.
The centers will make it possible for vulnerable people to access critical non-coronavirus care without entering a setting where they may be exposed to the virus.
“We’re at a new level of crisis response with Covid-19,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “With new areas across the country experiencing significant challenges to the capacity of their health care systems, our job is to make sure that CMS regulations are not standing in the way of patient care for Covid-19 and beyond.”
Cases and deaths are soaring. As of Wednesday evening, there were 12.7 million cases of Covid-19 in the United States and more than 261,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The average number of new daily cases across a week in the US was 174,225 on Tuesday — the highest on record, and more than 2 1/2 times greater than the previous peak in late July.
The US reported 2,046 deaths Wednesday — the highest one-day coronavirus death toll the country has reported since early May, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Still, air travel is robust compared to previous weeks during the pandemic. Sunday saw the biggest day for air travel since March 16, with 1.05 million people screened, while more than 900,000 people were screened Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration said.
The country’s average daily death toll across a week now stands at 1,601 — higher than the summer’s summit average of 1,138 on August 1, but below the country’s peak pandemic average of 2,241 in late April, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Physician fears ‘the darkest days in modern American medical history’ are coming
As grim as the current numbers may seem, physicians and officials throughout the country are projecting an even harder next few weeks.
In Houston, Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center, said he has been working for 251 straight days because of the pandemic.
He said he suspects caseloads at the hospital will get worse as the country awaits a vaccine, especially if people don’t take seriously public health officials’ exhortations to socially distance and wear masks.
“My concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don’t do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history,” Varon told CNN Wednesday.
“My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days, because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving,” he said.
“My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it’s a never-ending story,” Varon said. “When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient getting admitted.”
To curb spread, more restrictions
More restrictions were announced in Nashville this week, where Mayor John Cooper said restaurants and bars will be limited to a maximum of 50% capacity, with social distancing.
Additionally, there will be a 10 p.m. last call and service for food and beverages and no entry to establishments after that time. The new limits are set to go into effect November 30.
“The additional modifications are being made in response to the continued spike in Covid cases and concerns about hospital capacity,” Cooper wrote on Twitter.
In New York, which closed schools last week because local test-positivity rates rose above 3%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he and the governor were working on a plan to reopen the buildings.
The plan will include increased testing in schools, which had been once a month. “We want to have every child able to be tested at every point,” de Blasio said.
In the hard-hit Texas community of El Paso, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced Tuesday a partial curfew that would work to address social and recreational activities but does not apply when residents are out for essential or nonessential business. The curfew will run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will expire Monday.
“You will be able to be purchasing, shopping, whatever it is that you need to do of any essential or nonessential businesses under the conditions that are placed,” he said. “We’re trying to create a balance on the health of our community and the economy.”
“But let me emphasize the following,” the judge said. “It is a shelter-at-home order. Residents are strongly urged to shelter at home. If leaving home to obtain essential or nonessential service, this order strongly recommends that only one person per family participate in obtaining goods and services.”
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state was imposing more restrictions starting Wednesday, amid an “aggressive third surge of Covid-19.” Restaurants, gyms, barber shops, nail salons, movie theaters and nonessential businesses are limited to 50% capacity.
“There is not a single region of our state that is not seeing increases in new cases, hospitalizations and growing positivity of Covid tests, and I am incredibly concerned by Louisiana’s trajectory and our ability to continue to deliver health care to our people if our hospitals are overrun with sick patients,” Edwards said.
“Now is the time to make changes,” he added.