Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, said they expect to see an increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and eventually deaths in the weeks following Thanksgiving. Millions of Americans traveled for the holiday despite warnings from public health officials for people to stay home.
“We fully expect that in about a week or two after Thanksgiving we will see an increase in cases first, then about a week or two later you’ll start to see an increase in hospitalizations, and then another week or two after that you’ll start to see deaths,” Gounder told CBS News’ Omar Villafranca on Saturday.
It can take up to 14 days to develop symptoms after exposure to the coronavirus. Gounder said “unfortunately, that means that many people who celebrated with family, with friends over Thanksgiving will find themselves in the hospital, in ICUs over Christmas and New Years.”
Over 30 states saw increases in new daily COVID-19 cases before the Thanksgiving holiday, as the number of confirmed infections in the country soared past 13 million. The United States reported more than 205,000 new cases and 1,400 deaths on Friday alone.
Gounder, an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, said anyone who travels should quarantine before leaving and social distance once they’ve arrived at their destination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends for people to quarantine for 14 days, but changes are under consideration as coronavirus cases in the U.S. spike to record highs.
“We may soon be able to shorten that based on some more recent data, so possibly we might recommend 7-8 days with a test at the end of quarantine,” Gounder said.
She added that people should still wear a mask, social distance, and gather outside if at all possible. “If you do have celebrations indoors, open your doors and your windows wide so that you have maximum ventilation in those indoor spaces,” she recommended.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily barred New York from enforcing certain attendance limits at houses of worship in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The ruling was specific to New York, but could push other states to reevaluate similar restrictions that aim to slow the spread of the virus.
Gounder said any gathering indoors — “whether that is for a religious service, or a music concert, or going to the mall” — is a potential site of transmission. “Any of those where you’re in crowded spaces around other people, that is going to significantly increase the risk of transmission,” she said.
As the fallout from Thanksgiving travel starts to take shape, Gounder said calls to “flatten the curve,” oft-repeated in the early months of the pandemic, will again be commonplace in an effort to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
“Healthcare workers have now been fighting this for months, they too would like a break for the holidays to see their own family within their household bubbles,” Gounder said. “Normally we have skeleton crews functioning in the hospital to allow for that to happen. Unfortunately, I think some people are going to find themselves having to work the holidays to meet the surge.”