By Jaimy Lee
While experts say they are concerned that large political rallies, such as those held by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in recent weeks, have put attendees at risk, it’s primarily small gatherings of friends and families that are responsible for spreading the virus, though Glatt notes that “it’s a problem when we allow certain things and ignore good public health.”
4. The return of college students in September is a likely culprit behind this wave of infections , as students traveled across the country to return or begin the university year. A preprint published Sept. 23, found that the colleges that reopened for in-person instruction were associated with 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day in the U.S. “They’re contributing to county case counts,” Martin Andersen, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of the study’s authors, previously told MarketWatch.
“That mixing up of people — students moving from one place to another to go back to school — just led to a lot of spread of disease across the nation,” Jones said. “If it had just been Labor Day, I think we would have seen a more limited spread.”
What can we expect over the next few months?
The coming holidays — Halloween and Thanksgiving — along with in-person voting for the presidential election on Nov. 3 are all events that have the potential to increase transmission of the virus within communities.
Experts point out that polling places are likely to have social-distancing measures in place, masks may be required, and contact between individuals is limited. They are not largely viewed as concerns, with Fauci having likened the risk of in-person voting to that of a trip to Starbucks.
With the exception of indoor parties and bars, Halloween remains a largely outdoors holiday that can be tweaked to create social distancing and allow for mask wearing. “It’s been a rough year to be an epidemiologist,” Jones said. “I’m super tired of telling people they can’t have their thing. … I’ve learned this year that I can’t save the world, but I can save Halloween.”
By that, she means using tongs to hand out candy, moving trick-or-treating away from front doors and into less confining outdoor spaces, and gathering small groups of people outside for costume contests and scavenger hunts.
Thanksgiving, however, is going to be a critical holiday and one that is already stressing public health experts. (“The traditional Thanksgiving Day festivities have all the characteristics of the superspreader events,” Jones said.) It’s commonly spent indoors, with extended family that one doesn’t see on a daily basis and features a chatty meal that may stretch over several hours. “It’s one thing to say, I’m not going to get together with my family for Labor Day,” Meekins said. “It’s a completely different level for a lot of folks to say, I’m not going to get together for Thanksgiving, or I’m not going to get together for Christmas.”
For families and friends who decide to get together, plans to follow the guidelines and quarantine for 14 days and get tested in advance may be a moot point by the time the holiday rolls around. “The demand for tests is going to be so much higher because of the number of people who are sick,” Wen said. “By then, it could be such a huge backlog that having testing for assurance purposes … would not be appropriate.”
One more thing: The outcome of the presidential election will likely impact the trajectory of the current infection wave. If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, he has said he would implement a national mask mandate, for example, and vastly increase testing capacity. “I’m interested to see what the outcome of the election will mean for the messaging around the virus,” Meekins said.