Covid Cases Rise Again In US Ahead Of Thanksgiving

A resident sorts out her free groceries as others queue at the pantry of the Fourth Presbyterian Church amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, April 27, 2021.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Doctors are urging caution to prevent outbreaks of Covid-19 as cases rise across the country after a nearly three-week plateau and Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family next week.

The United States on Thursday recorded an average of 95,000 new Covid infections in seven days, up 31% over the past two weeks, according to an analysis of CNBC data from Johns Hopkins University. This fall, incidences across the country have been declining for several weeks, and have hovered between 70,000 and 75,000 a day since late October, more than 50% below the peak delta spike that hit the US this summer.

But with the holiday season approaching and cold weather forcing more and more people to meet indoors, health officials hope to cushion the impact of a new record wave of Covid this winter. Last Christmas preceded the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak, when the number of cases peaked at more than 250,000 a day on January 11. The virus also peaked at a pandemic high of about 3,400 per day in early 2021.

The combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas and freezing temperatures makes this time of year the “perfect storm” for Covid, Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health in New York, told CNBC.

Infectious disease experts generally agree that it is safe to celebrate the holidays with friends and family as long as everyone is vaccinated against Covid. But a new study by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center found that half of respondents would not ask about guests’ vaccination status at their meetings, and about 54% said they would not ask unvaccinated party goers to test negative for virus.

“I wouldn’t let anyone go to Thanksgiving who didn’t get vaccinated,” Farber said. “I think this should be the price you pay.”

As the effectiveness of Covid vaccine doses diminishes over time, Farber advised fully vaccinated people to get booster shots for an extra layer of protection during the holidays. The FDA approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations for all US adults on Friday.

According to Dr. Reynold Panettiere, Vice-Chancellor for Translation Medicine and Science at Rutgers University, people vaccinated early in their introduction are prone to breakthrough infections.

“I expected us to see a surge during the holidays and ahead of the holidays, simply because people are going to get together with a lot of revelations,” Panettiere said. However, he noted that advances in vaccinations and treatment options mean the outbreak this winter “will not be even close to what it was before.”

The downward trend in hospital admissions and deaths from Covid, which typically lag behind reported cases by a couple of weeks or more as people contract the virus and then become sick enough to require urgent care, is showing signs of stabilization. Roughly 48,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus, up from two weeks ago based on seven days of Department of Health and Human Services data. And the daily average of about 1,200 reported deaths tracked by Hopkins is showing signs of growth after barely changing for two weeks.

Outbreaks in the Midwest and Northeast, where cases have increased by 56% and 47% in the past two weeks, appear to be affecting national numbers. Hospitalization there increased by 20% and 7%, respectively.

Panettiere noted that the densely populated cities of the Northeast and the colder temperatures of the Midwest – compared to the South, where the situation declined sharply as the weather became more comfortable – may help explain these regional differences.

“The weather forces people to be indoors, and the interest in more indoor activities can certainly heighten the experience,” Panettiere said.

Aside from vaccinations and boosting, those in attendance for Thanksgiving should know if their fellow attendees were careful to avoid catching Covid, Panettiere said. But even with the risk of a new outbreak looming this winter, advances in immunization and natural immunity among those infected with Covid during the delta surge have left the US “much better” this Thanksgiving than last, Dr. Arturo Casadeval. Chairman of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Bloomberg Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, CNBC said in an email.

“Obviously, if people have any respiratory symptoms, such as colds or flu-like illnesses, they need to rule out COVID-19 by getting tested before meeting their loved ones,” Casadeval wrote. “Common sense, caution and vaccinations are good recipes for a safer holiday.”

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