With some Americans now paying the price for what they did over Thanksgiving and falling sick with COVID-19, health officials are warning people – begging them, even – not to make the same mistake during the Christmas and New Year’s season.
“It’s a surge above the existing surge,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“Quite honestly, it’s a warning sign for all of us.”
Across the country, contact tracers and emergency room doctors are hearing repeatedly from new coronavirus patients that they socialised over Thanksgiving with people outside their households, despite emphatic public-health warnings to stay home and keep their distance from others.
The virus was raging across the nation even before Thanksgiving but was showing some signs of flattening out. It has picked up steam since, with new cases per day regularly climbing well over 200,000.
The dire outlook comes even as the US stands on the brink of a major vaccination campaign, with the Food and Drug Administration expected to give the final go-ahead any day now to use Pfizer’s formula against the scourge that has killed over 290,000 Americans and infected more than 15.6 million.
Deaths in the US have climbed to a seven-day average of almost 2260 per day, about equal to the peak seen in mid-April, when the New York City area was under siege.
New cases are running at about 195,000 a day, based on a two-week rolling average, a 16 per cent increase from the day before Thanksgiving, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The virus could still be incubating in someone who was exposed while travelling home the Sunday after Thanksgiving; the end of that two-week incubation period is this Sunday.
The next round of festivities could yield even more cases. Wall-to-wall holidays started this week. Hanukkah began Thursday evening and ends December 18, followed by Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.
“This is not the time to invite the neighbours over for dinner. This is not the time to start having parties,” said Arizona State University researcher Dr. Joshua LaBaer.
The surge around the country has swamped hospitals and left nurses and other health care workers exhausted and demoralised.
“Compassion fatigue is the best word for what we’re experiencing,” said Kiersten Henry, an ICU nurse practitioner at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Maryland.
“I feel we’ve already run a marathon, and this is our second one. Even people who are upbeat are feeling run down at this point.”
While some hospitals are scrambling to find beds and convert storage rooms and other places for use in treating patients, they are also dealing with dire staff shortages.