COVID-19 cases are spiking to dangerous levels all across the United States, as the long-dreaded second wave of the virus takes its hold on all fifty states. But unlike the first massive outbreak of the virus, which merited stay-at-home orders in almost every state, the new surge is about to be compounded by the holiday season. That has many disease experts humming the same, sad tune: do not gather for the holidays this year.
Thanksgiving will be the first true test of the American’s willingness to heed caution. But Turkey Day will be followed by a slew of wintertime holidays, a month of festivities that Americans of every culture typically celebrate in clusters of family and friends. That prospect has one Biden advisor sounding alarms.
“Right now we have a fire blazing,” warns Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the President-Elect’s virus task force. “To me, traveling and spending time with people over the holidays is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s just not a good idea in the middle of a pandemic, especially at this juncture.”
Dr. Gounder made the comments while appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box, on a day that the United States hit another grim milestone of the pandemic. Thursday reported 150,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 across the country, a new record high. The weeklong average of daily new infections now sits at 131,445, which is a 32% increase from just a week ago.
Meanwhile, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, is warning about the ripple effect of a massive holiday-season contagion. Since hospitalizations and deaths lag newly-diagnosed infections by a few weeks, Bogoch fears that the months following the holiday season could place a massive strain on the healthcare system.
“The upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s create the potential for innumerable super-spreading events across the country,” Bogoch warns. “This has the potential to introduce and reintroduce the virus to new areas and to further exacerbate community transmission.”
What Should We Do?
Despite the warnings, most Americans are probably more eager than ever to spend time with family to cap off a historically tumultuous year. But the Centers for Disease Control is telling people to be careful even with a small gathering of non-household members. In many cases, informal gatherings of companions is a leading contributor to the recent surge. Celebrating virtually or only with members of your immediate household, the CDC says, poses the lowest risk for spread.
While few leaders have enacted laws against holiday gatherings, some are already repeating the CDC’s unpleasant advice. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for instance, has urged residents not to travel out of state for the holidays. The Mayor fears that crossing state lines could result in New Yorkers carrying the virus back to the city with them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has wistfully admitted that his own kids will not be joining him for the holidays in the coming months.
“My Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year,” he said on CBS News. “I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country, and in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport, get on a plane, and travel with public transportation.” All actions, Fauci argues, that could contribute to further spread of the disease.
For the time being, Gounder encourages Americans to not give up on everyday prevention methods, like wearing a mask in public, washing hands frequently, and keeping distance from others.
“Those measures really remain at the center of the response here,” said the doctor.