After millions of people crowded into airports in recent days despite public health experts' warnings against traveling for Thanksgiving—the Thursday holiday that coincided with a record number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the United States—the nation's top infectious disease doctor expressed concerns that conditions could continue to worsen through the end of the year and beyond.
"If the surge takes a turn of continuing to go up and you have the sustained greater than 100,000 infections a day and 1,300 deaths per day and the count keeps going up and up... I don't see it being any different during the Christmas and New Year's holidays than during Thanksgiving,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA TODAY.
Fauci said the country is in a vulnerable position heading into the holiday season because infections are too high to control surges when they arise, and he is confident they will in the winter months. https://t.co/fjeG7y8nZV
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) November 27, 2020
In his interview with the newspaper last week, published Friday, Fauci shared how his own family is handling the winter holiday season in the midst of a deadly pandemic:
Fauci said he's most likely scrapping Christmas plans this year as he did for Thanksgiving. Instead of receiving his three daughters this year, who live in different parts of the country, he opted to send his love over Zoom and enjoy a quiet dinner with his wife.
"For my own family, I'm saying we had a really great Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. We're looking forward to a really great Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2021," he said. "Let's now make the best of the situation and show our love and affection for people by keeping them safe."
Newsweek noted Friday that despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation against traveling around Thanksgiving, "nearly three million people passed through airport security checkpoints the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before the long weekend, according to the Transportation Security Administration."
As of Friday afternoon, the U.S. death toll topped 264,000 and the nation had seen more than 12.9 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University's global tracker. Thanksgiving marked the country's 24th consecutive day of over 100,000 new daily cases in the United States, with 110,611 infections and 1,232 deaths.
If someone develops a severe case of COVID-19 after contracting the virus at Thanksgiving, they may need to be hospitalized by mid December. Deaths tied to Thanksgiving gatherings are possible by Christmas. Doctors like @AliHMokdad urge people to cancel these get-togethers. pic.twitter.com/olE3mu0CXz
— Abby Acone (@abbyacone) November 26, 2020
Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME) and chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington, told USA TODAY only about a fourth of all Covid-19 cases are reported in the United States due to testing limitations and undetected infections.
"We should prevent getting Covid-19 especially at this time when we're about to get a vaccine rolling out," Mokdad told the newspaper, referencing recent promising results from multiple late-stage vaccine trials. "We need to be extra careful these upcoming extra couple of weeks in order to avoid pain and suffering."
The IHME currently projects more than 336,800 total deaths from Covid-19, over 2,500 daily deaths, and 441,254 daily infections—including those who aren't tested—for the United States alone by the end of the year. The institute also projects a rise in the demand for hospital beds, including in intensive care units, by December 31.
The following jurisdictions did not report today: AS, CT, FL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MI, MN, MP, NC, NH, OH, RI, SC, SD, UT, VI, VT, WY. 10 more reported partial data. Some will report two days of data tomorrow.
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) November 27, 2020
The Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer group launched by The Atlantic, reported that hospitalizations due to disease in the United States hit a record of 90,481 on Thursday, with 17,802 people in ICUs and 5,979 requiring ventilators. The Hill noted that the project "expects states to report fewer testing, case, and death statistics on Thanksgiving and the weekend after as people are focused on the holiday. The experts predict that the numbers will then 'catch up' in the following days."
The rest of the world is "watching with trepidation—and at times disbelief—as coronavirus cases surge across the United States, and masses of Americans are choosing to follow through with plans to visit family and friends for this week's Thanksgiving holiday anyway," according to the Washington Post, which cited experts and media reports from Australia and Cameroon to Germany and the United Kingdom.
"From Australia, this looks like a mindbogglingly dangerous chapter in the out-of-control American Covid-19 story," Ian Mackay, an associate professor of virology at the University of Queensland, told the Post in an email. "Sadly, for some, this will be a Thanksgiving that is remembered for all the wrong reasons."