Armed with booster shots and pediatric vaccines, millions of Americans are expected to regroup over the Thanksgiving holiday, which for many will be the first major family reunion since before the pandemic.
“If you’ve been vaccinated and you’ll hopefully be boosted too, your family can enjoy a typical Thanksgiving holiday with your family. There’s no reason not to,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Officer. during a performance on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.
But while there is hope for a return to pre-pandemic normality this holiday season, there are renewed concerns brewing among health experts that another coronavirus increase may be on the horizon as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise again across the country.
Holidays have proven to be a catalyst for COVID-19 spread across the country. In the weeks following Thanksgiving in 2020, the United States experienced its most marked viral spread of the pandemic with nearly 17 million infections and more than 220,000 virus-related deaths reported between November and January alone.
“While there is room for more optimism this Thanksgiving, this virus has consistently proven us wrong. It is clearly less than ideal to take a major holiday at the starting point of a national increase in COVID cases,” said John Brownstein , an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and a contributor to ABC News.
The infection rate is growing rapidly across the country
Experts in infectious diseases warn that there are implications of another difficult winter ahead, with their concerns stemming from the apparent beginning of an increase in the colder areas of the country.
Nationally, the United States reports more than 93,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, an increase of 46% since the end of October. 32 states – almost all in the northern or mountainous region – have seen an increase in daily cases of 10% or more in the last two weeks.
Michigan is currently reporting the country’s highest new infection, with the state now, on average, having more cases than at any other time in the pandemic, with health officials now warning that patients are being rejected or placed in hallways due to lack of beds and staff.
MORE: Push to vaccinate children accelerates as pediatric COVID-19 cases increase
“The reality is that most hospitals across the state have more patients in their emergency rooms than they have available rooms and staff to take care of. This results in long waits, patients being placed in hallways or conference rooms, and that patients being diverted from a hospital because there is no physical space or medical staff available to receive more patients, “Michigan Hospital Association officials said in a statement Monday. “We are extremely concerned because our best predictions are that COVID-19 patients will continue to increase in the coming weeks as we enter the annual flu season.”
In light of the increase, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a face mask counseling prior to the holiday, recommending that all individuals over the age of 2 wear a face mask at indoor gatherings, regardless of their vaccination status.
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New York, which is set to welcome thousands of visitors to the streets of Manhattan for its annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, had maintained relatively low COVID-19 infection rates in recent months. But now the state is, on average, its highest number of new cases since February.
In Illinois, daily cases are higher than at any time during the summer, and in Minnesota, federal medical staff have been sent in to help overwhelmed hospitals.
“Every day, our doctors and nurses in Minnesota treat those who are sick with COVID-19 or suffer from other emergencies. But they are underwater and they need all the help we can give them,” Governor Tim Walz wrote in a statement last week.
Even the states with the highest vaccination rates – including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont – have all seen a remarkable increase since early fall. In Maine, hospital admissions have reached record levels.
The size of the geographic area that sees a resurgence of COVID-19 is growing, according to a recent forecast released by PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Although hospital admissions had remained flat through the fall, in areas with high vaccination coverage, large urban areas should “anticipate increases in cases, along with an increase in hospital admissions,” forecasters wrote.
This increase could be exacerbated, experts say, by the high number of Americans traveling, and with unvaccinated and vaccinated family members mingling indoors, especially in states with colder climates.
A total of 53.4 million people are expected to travel to Thanksgiving, an increase of 13% from 2020, according to estimates from AAA. Within the last five days alone, the Transportation Security Administration reported that it has already screened 10.5 million people through checkpoints.
Unvaccinated Americans are driving national COVID-19 increase
Although positive COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated appear to be on the rise, due to declining immunity, health officials say the vast majority of infections and serious hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.
“What we are concerned about are the people who have not been vaccinated, because what they are doing is that they are the biggest source of the dynamics of infection in society,” Fauci said. “The higher the level of infection dynamics, the more everyone is at risk.”
On Monday, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that despite the advent of the Delta variant, vaccines continue to dramatically reduce one’s risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, being hospitalized or dying from the disease.
In September, unvaccinated individuals had a 5.8 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and a 14 times greater risk of dying from it compared to vaccinated individuals.
At this time, more than 101 million Americans remain completely unvaccinated, of whom 81 million are currently over 5 years of age and therefore eligible to be vaccinated.
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Public health experts continue to advise caution to minimize COVID-19 risk, starting with primary vaccinations if warranted and receiving a booster injection before going on holiday to increase protection against the virus.
“By working together, we can enjoy safer vacations, travel, and protect our own health as well as the health of our family and friends,” the CDC wrote.
If certain family members are unvaccinated, immunocompromised or elderly and thus have an increased risk of serious illness, the CDC guidelines recommend that people take precautions by being tested before the holidays, wearing masks and, if possible, gathering outdoors, which is safer than indoors.
“The risk of transmitting assemblies is very nuanced and depends on a number of factors, including group size, age and underlying health conditions of participants, vaccination coverage, and ventilation quality. Although there is no event, there is 0 risk, at this point in the pandemic, everyone should be armed with enough information to significantly reduce the risk while still enjoying the holiday, “Brownstein said.
US COVID-19 infections rise as Americans prepare for Thanksgiving originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
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