From surging case numbers to record hospitalizations, the US is grappling with what experts long warned could be the biggest spike in the Covid-19 pandemic — and it still has to get through the Thanksgiving holiday.
Historically, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the busiest for travel. But with the US reporting its 20th day in a row of more than 100,000 new cases Sunday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against traveling for the holiday this year to decrease risk of spreading infections.
As new cases spike, hospitalization rates have followed. At least 83,870 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized Sunday — the 13th straight day the US has broken its hospitalization record, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Still, more than a million people passed through airports on Friday alone, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
While people board airplanes and load cars to visit family, the US has reported a million infections in under a week. Since the pandemic began, more than 12.2 million people have been infected and 256,783 people have died of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health experts have long worried that the colder months could drive people indoors, leading to a rise in infection rates. On Friday, the CDC said that 50% of cases are spread by people without symptoms. With just one infected person having the potential to cause an outbreak, experts worry that people traveling and gathering could prove dangerous to the American public that is still in the thick of the pandemic.
State leaders warn against superspreader events
As the pandemic devastates regions across the country, many state leaders are urging residents to follow recommended guidelines.
Oregon reported a record high for three days in a row with 1,517 new cases on Sunday. Gov. Kate Brown ordered a two week “social freeze” on November 18 and warned residents Sunday not to attend large Thanksgiving gatherings.
“Our hospitals are simply too strained for superspreader events,” Brown tweeted.
In Nevada, cases are rising at “wildfire level,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said. He announced new restrictions will begin Tuesday, including a mask mandate indoors and outdoors for residents and visitors, limiting private gatherings to ten people or less and requiring restaurant reservations to be for no more than four people at a 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. The case load has motivated the Texas National Guard 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,” Samaniego told KVIA. “We’ve got a lot of loved ones waiting for relatives and moms and dads.”
On Friday, Samaniego sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in hopes of reinstating a curfew for El Paso county as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the area.
Promising vaccine developments
Americans likely still have a while to wait for a vaccine, but there are promising developments in the research.
The US Food and Drug Administration has set a meeting December 10 for the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee to discuss an emergency use authorization request for a vaccine candidate, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn tweeted on Sunday.
“While we can’t predict how long FDA’s review will take, the agency will review the request as expeditiously as possible, while still doing so in a thorough and science-based manner, so that we can help make available a vaccine that the American people deserve as soon as possible,” Hahn tweeted.
On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech applied for emergency use authorization for their vaccine that they said was shown in analysis to be 95% effective with no health concerns.
The application came days after Moderna said its vaccine was 94.5% effective in a clinical trial.
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.