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Health officials make their final pleas for holiday caution as coronavirus cases spike

With nationwide coronavirus hospitalizations topping 80,000 and case counts on the cusp of 200,000 a day, officials and experts are giving their final pleas for caution in the days before Thanksgiving.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on Thursday urging Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. But millions of people are still planning to travel over the holiday week.

On Friday, the number of travelers screened at US airport security checkpoints topped 1 million for only the second time since March, according to Transportation Security Administration figures. That’s still just 40% of the volume screened on the Friday before Thanksgiving a year ago.

Average cases reported each day in the United States have jumped nearly 15 percent in a week, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. Deaths are also on the rise, with some communities overwhelmed by the bodies — in El Paso County, Tex., the National Guard was called in to help the morgues. With the holiday travel rush underway, public health leaders warned this weekend that “herd immunity” from promising vaccines remains months away and that every American’s choices this week will shape the country’s virus trajectory.

In an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, said he understands that many Americans are experiencing “covid fatigue” after months of pandemic restrictions, now tightening again in many places. But traveling over the holidays and ignoring public health guidelines are “going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now,” he said.

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that about 70 percent of the American population will need to be vaccinated for true herd immunity to occur. That will probably happen around May, he said, based on health officials’ current plans.

“Most people need to be immunized before we can go back to a normal life,” he said.

Some on the front lines of the country’s pandemic response are not sure months of messaging have gotten through to the public, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans against Thanksgiving travel and get-togethers just days ago, as many people’s plans were already set.

“Absolutely not,” Utah physician Sean Callahan said when asked if he thinks the urgency of the country’s situation has sunk in. He said that soaring caseloads are straining the quality of care at the University of Utah, where he works in one of the hospital’s intensive care units and is an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care.

Callahan said he is concerned that nurses and physicians are already being asked to treat patients outside their usual areas of expertise. He thinks the problem will only worsen.

Many weary Americans eager to join family and friends for Thanksgiving face another risk calculation as they weigh scrapping travel plans at the last minute or going ahead as Covid-19 cases surge.

Gail Duilio, a retired public health nurse in Portland, Oregon, has canceled her flight to Minnesota for the holiday and her mother’s 93rd birthday.

“When making the arrangements a month ago, I felt the risks vs. benefits weighed on the side of going,” she told CNN. This week, the risks tipped the scales in the other direction for her.
Travel organization AAA has said that it expects at least a 10% drop in travel this Thanksgiving because of spiking coronavirus cases, shifting travel restrictions and calls by health and government officials for people to stay home.

He was referring to a several-step process for the vaccine rollout. Once the FDA authorizes a vaccine, the government plans to “preposition” doses to sites that states have already designated as the places where shots will be given first. That is expected to happen within 24 hours of FDA action.

A day or two after the FDA action, ACIP is expected to meet and vote on final recommendations for who should get the vaccine first. Those recommendations can be sent immediately to the CDC director, and once the director signs off on them, the vaccination process can begin.

Pfizer filed for emergency authorization for its vaccine on Friday. The FDA has announced that a committee of external advisers will meet Dec. 10 to make recommendations to the agency on whether to authorize Pfizer’s vaccine. Slaoui said the advisers will meet Dec. 17 to review the shot developed by Moderna, which has not yet filed for clearance for its vaccine.

Officials’ calls to heed public health guidelines came as two more members of Congress, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), said Sunday that they tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms and are isolating.

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