This Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands of families will be missing a loved one due to Covid-19. Now doctors are pleading for Americans to stay home to avoid a similar fate next year.
“Look, the virus doesn’t care how much you love people. So let’s stay safe this year,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor at George Washington University School of Medicine.
“The good news is next Thanksgiving is going to be fabulous,” he said.
“This Thanksgiving is going to suck a bit. We need to be careful, and we need to take care of each other, which means we should really have Thanksgiving for people that we live with.”
Nationwide, new Covid-19 hospitalizations are soaring at unprecedented rates — threatening reduced care for even those who don’t have coronavirus.
At least 83,870 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized Sunday — the 13th straight record-breaking day, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Many hospitals are at capacity, diverting patients, delaying surgeries and closing pediatric units for Covid-19 patients.
Millions of travelers ignore CDC’s guidance
With the recent “exponential growth in cases,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.
“What is at stake is the increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then being hospitalized and dying around the holidays,” said Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager for the CDC.
Yet more than 1 million travelers passed through security at America’s airports on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
That’s the second day since Friday that more than 1 million passengers traveled through airports.
“It’s really terrible. And all you’re going to see is a week, two weeks from now, a huge increase in what’s already a horrendous spike,” said Dr. William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and president of ACCESS Health International.
“These people are infecting each other, and they’re going to infect the people that they’re having Thanksgiving with. And there will be consequences in terms of disease and death as a result of what you’re seeing today.”
Testing can be very helpful for finding positive cases, so the infected person knows to stay home and isolate.
But negative test results can miss very new infections. And they don’t help at all if you get infected after the test.
While many airlines now require face masks on board, passengers can remove their masks to eat or drink. And studies have shown people can get infected on a plane.
Video: ‘Pretty amazing:’ NIH director on Covid-19 vaccine news (CNN)
States crack down after nationwide surge
Unlike previous surges that pummeled certain hot spots in the US, “Covid-19 is everywhere” now, emergency medicine physician Dr. Leana Wen said.
“It’s out of control. It’s running rampant in communities around the country,” she said Monday.
More than 12.2 million people have been infected, and more than 256,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And the rate of new infections has consistently outpaced the rate of new testing, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.
Oregon reported a record-high number of new cases for a third straight day Sunday: 1,517. Gov. Kate Brown ordered a two week “social freeze” last week and warned residents not to attend large Thanksgiving gatherings.
“Our hospitals are simply too strained for superspreader events,” Brown tweeted Sunday.
In Nevada, cases are rising at “wildfire level,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said. He announced new restrictions that will begin Tuesday, including a mask mandate indoors and outdoors, limiting private gatherings to 10 people or less and requiring restaurants seat no more than four people at each table.
El Paso, Texas, has a record number of active cases with 35,963 as of Sunday, according to the El Paso Department of Health. Now the Texas National Guard will have to “provide mortuary support,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told CNN affiliate KVIA.
“Right now, they’re helping us with the overflow of transporting where the trailers are, trying to get some movement so we don’t have any backup,” said Samaniego, the top government official in the county.
“We’ve got a lot of loved ones waiting for relatives and moms and dads.”
Samaniego sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday in hopes of reinstating a curfew for El Paso County as the virus spreads unabated.
More good news on the vaccine front
Doctors say Americans won’t need to hunker down forever — just for the coming months, until vaccines help the country get closer to normal.
On Monday, drugmaker AstraZeneca said its vaccine showed an average efficacy of 70% in large-scale trials.
One big advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it doesn’t need special, ultra-cold freezers — it can be transported and stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.
On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech applied for emergency use authorization (EUA) for their vaccine, which they said was 95% effective in trial and had with no health concerns.
The US Food and Drug Administration set a December 10 meeting for the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee to discuss possible emergency use authorization, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn tweeted on Sunday.
Pfizer/BioNTech’s application came days after Moderna said its vaccine was 94.5% effective in a clinical trial.
But even if a vaccine gets the green light from the FDA, most Americans probably won’t be vaccinated until the spring or summer of 2021, health experts say.
In the meantime, experts say tens of thousands of lives could be saved or lost — depending on people’s behavior.
“Measures that include wearing masks, frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distance and restricting the size of gatherings will remain crucial,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America said.
Reiner said he normally celebrates Thanksgiving with people from different households, but “we’re not doing that this year.”
“It’s just my family, hunkered down, because the stakes are simply too high,” he said.
With promising news about vaccines, “there is a bright light coming,” he said.
“But for now, we need to get to that point. So let’s stay safe. Let’s try and push the curve down a little bit. Protect our health care workers and protect each other, so that we can really have a great celebration next year.”