CDC warns against travel during Christmas, says Covid-19 crisis in coming months may be worst US has ever seen
White House coronavirus task force suggests that if state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly
With coronavirus cases soaring across the US, and hospitals hitting records and stretching resources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has strongly recommended against traveling during the upcoming winter holidays. It emphasizes that the safest thing to do is to stay at home. Before Thanksgiving, the agency had made a similar suggestion, urging Americans to stay home and celebrate only with those in their household.
“With the upcoming winter holidays, it is important for people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible. CDC recommends that the best way to protect yourself and others is to postpone travel and stay home,” said Dr Henry Walke, the CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, during a briefing. He added, “Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing. Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase,” Henry Walke.
Dr Cindy Friedman, chief of the traveler’s health branch at CDC, warned that even if a small percentage of the travelers were asymptomatically infected, it could “translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another.”
“Travel is a door-to-door experience that can spread the virus during the journey and into communities that travelers visit or live. We know it’s a hard decision, and that people need to have time to prepare and have discussions with family and friends and to make these decisions, and people travel for different reasons. But our recommendations are trying to help give them the tools they need to make these tough choices,” according to Dr Friedman. She added that people should take the time before the Christmas holidays to “really think about the safest option for them and their families, which we think is to postpone travel.”
If people do decide to travel, the CDC suggests that travelers consider getting tested “one to three days before travel, and then again three to five days after travel”. This should be combined with reducing nonessential activities for a full seven days after travel. “If travelers do not get tested after traveling, CDC recommends reducing non-essential activities for 10 days. Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with reducing non-essential activities, symptom screening and continuing with precautions like wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing, it can make travel safer,” explained Dr Walke.
The numbers are grim: 100,226 patients were in US hospitals on December 2, according to the Covid Tracking Project. This is more than double the number at the beginning of November: 47,531 Americans were hospitalized for Covid-19 on November 1. About 2,146 deaths from coronavirus were recorded on a single day on November 24, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, the highest single-day death toll in the US since May. Over 2,500 deaths were recorded on December 1. So far, 273,799 Americans have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than 13,921,370 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the country.
Stating that the US is at a “very critical time right now”, CDC director Dr Robert Redfield warned that the Covid-19 health crisis in the coming months could be the worst the nation has ever seen. “The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that’s going to be put on our healthcare system,” he cautioned during a virtual conference with the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Dr Redfield said that the US could see more than 400,000 Covid-19 deaths before February 2021. “We’re in that range potentially now, starting to see 1,500 to 2,000 to 2,500 deaths a day from this virus. The mortality concerns are real, and I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans dead from this virus,” he noted. However, the CDC chief emphasized that if the American public embraces social distancing, wears masks, limits gatherings, and continues to follow hygiene rules currently in place, those numbers could be decreased.
Covid-19 task force issues dire warnings
Stating that the coronavirus risk to all Americans is at a historic high, the White House Covid-19 task force issued a report which explained that the national daily Covid-19 incidence after Memorial Day, but before the summer surge, was fewer than 25,000 new cases per day and is now more than 180,000 new cases daily. “Covid-19 inpatients then were fewer than 30,000 but are now more than 90,000; fatalities have more than doubled. We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high Covid-19 baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise Covid-19 patient care, as well as medical care overall,” the experts wrote.
The task force urged that if state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly. They emphasized that it must be made clear that if people are over 65 or have significant health conditions, they should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to their health, and that they should have groceries and medications delivered.
“If you are under 40, you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household. Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk for severe disease and get tested immediately. If you are over 65 or have significant medical conditions and you gathered outside of your immediate household, you are at significant risk for serious COVID infection; if you develop any symptoms, you must be tested immediately as the majority of therapeutics work best early in infection,” the report advised.
The experts pointed to “clear improvement” in European countries after those nations enacted “strong public and private mitigation but preserved schooling.” “We are also seeing states and cities that aggressively mitigated achieving a high plateau and early stability in less than 4 weeks. However, in many areas of the US, state mitigation efforts remain inadequate, resulting in sustained transmission or a very prolonged time to peak (over 7 weeks). All states and counties must flatten the curve now in order to sustain the health system for both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 emergencies,” they stated.