Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested Thanksgiving may be the beginning of a dark holiday season as the surge in coronavirus cases is likely to persist, or even get worse, through December, January and February.
“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,” he said in an interview with USA TODAY last week.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director said the country is in a vulnerable position heading into the holiday season because infections are too high to control surges when they arise, as he is confident they will in the winter months.
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.”
But nearly 3 million air travelers passed through security checkpoints on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving. Sunday was the single-busiest day at airport checkpoints since March.
Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations and chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington, said only about a fourth of COVID-19 cases are reported in the U.S. because testing is still not readily available to everyone and mild forms of the disease go undetected.
There were 181,490 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University data, the 23rd consecutive day of more than 100,000 newly reported cases. But the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations recently estimated there are about twice as many cases as reported. It projected more than 450,000 daily cases by Dec. 25 if trends continue.
“We should prevent getting COVID-19 especially at this time when we’re about to get a vaccine rolling out,” Mokdad said. “We need to be extra careful these upcoming extra couple of weeks in order to avoid pain and suffering.”
As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise nationwide, states are imposing new coronavirus-related restrictions. Several are putting limits on social gatherings, adding states to travel quarantine lists, mandating face masks and encouraging residents to stay home. Others are restricting business hours of operation and limiting restaurant capacity.
Jodie Guest, professor and vice chair of the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said the country probably won’t see the benefits of these new restrictions by the holidays.
“Everything we do has implications four to six weeks out,” she said. “These prevention measures will keep people alive for the holidays, but I don’t think they’re a license to go have Christmas and Hanukkah parties that way we have in previous years.”
While it’s hard to miss the holidays with family, Guest said the U.S. needs to “make some huge course corrections,” including mandatory masking, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Small gatherings are risky, too.
Although there isn’t much data available on small gatherings, experts speculate they could be one of the major drivers of the pandemic, especially when they include multiple households.
“Given the cold weather and given the fact that these types of celebrations – as wonderful and beautiful and traditional as they are – are fundamentally indoor things with people who will be singing and laughing and eating and drinking … you’ve just got to be careful,” Fauci said.
However, there’s one tradition that Fauci says is safe to uphold: Santa. He’s naturally immune to the coronavirus, which means he can safely deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
“Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity,” Fauci said. “So, Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody.”
Contributing: Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.