By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
Thanksgiving is over. Christmas is coming. What now?
The U.S. set a record for COVID-19-related hospitalizations this month with almost 100,000 patients, and health professionals worry about a forthcoming spike resulting from Thanksgiving weekend. Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory panel, told CBS : “What happened during Thanksgiving is a lot like a 100-mile-an-hour wind going into a forest fire.”
Data from the Transportation Security Administration showed that 3 million travelers went through TSA checkpoints over the weekend, the most since March 16, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people not to travel to see family and friends in an effort to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
That prompted Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, to say in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was worried about yet another big outbreak: “What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, that we might see a surge superimposed upon that surge that we’re already in.”
The CDC said it was “alarmed ” about the 1 million new infections over the last week, and recommended against traveling this Thanksgiving. Potential alternatives include a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends or loved ones and contact-free delivery of safely prepared traditional dishes to family and neighbors, the agency said last month.
Despite these recommendations, AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, estimated that 50 million people did not take that advice over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, a five-day stretch from Wednesday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 29, down from 55 million last year; an estimated 95% traveled by car. AAA used economic forecasting from insights firm IHS Markit.
‘Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.’
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
AAA projected that Thanksgiving air travel fell by nearly half this year to 2.4 million from 4.58 million last year, the biggest annual air-travel decrease on record. “AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available,” the group says. “Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.”
Some health professionals wonder whether Americans have learned from the mistakes of the past. The early spread of the disease was helped by preparations for China’s Lunar New Year holiday, when people traveled from Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have jumped from animals to humans, they said. At the time, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said 5 million people had left the city before travel restrictions were imposed.
“COVID-19 rapidly spread from a single city to the entire country in just 30 days,” found a paper released in February on the fatality rates of the disease in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA. “The sheer speed of both the geographical expansion and the sudden increase in numbers of cases surprised and quickly overwhelmed health and public-health services in China.”
“People in China are estimated to make close to 3 billion trips over the 40-day travel period, or Chunyun, of the Lunar New Year holiday,” according to an article in The Lancet in February. About a third of those 5 million people leaving Wuhan traveled to locations outside of Hubei province. “Limiting the social contacts of these individuals was crucial for COVID-19 control,” it said.
“Government policies enacted during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday are likely to have helped reduce the spread of the virus by decreasing contact and increasing physical distance between those who have COVID-19 and those who do not. As part of these social distancing policies, the Chinese Government encouraged people to stay at home; discouraged mass gatherings,” it added.
Related: Joe Biden’s pandemic plan
AAA said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health concerns and job losses, are dissuading some people from traveling. “With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel, the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008,” it said.
Risk factors to consider before attending a gathering include whether there is community spread of COVID-19; exposure during travel; the location and duration of the gathering, and whether it’s indoors; the number of attendees and capacity for physical distancing; and attendees’ preventive behaviors before and during the gathering, such as mask wearing.
The CDC said in a recent statement that “unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.”
The World Health Organization estimates that 16% of people are asymptomatic and can transmit the coronavirus and advises wearing masks. As of Saturday, 66.2 million people worldwide had contracted COVID-19, with 1,523,531 deaths, with 14.4 million cases in the U.S. and 279,629 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.
‘You may have to bite the bullet, and sacrifice social gatherings unless you’re pretty certain that the people you’re dealing with are not infected.’
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
One million people tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. within one week alone. Hospitals in the Midwest and southern states including Texas and Florida continued to feel the strain. COVID-19-related hospitalizations are at their highest level (over 96,000) since the pandemic began, as some states tighten restrictions. California introduced a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on indoor gatherings.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has worked with six presidential administrations, told CBS News in October: “Household transmission now is assuming a greater element of the transmissibility. Don’t assume that because you’re in your own home with your own family that you’re not going to spread infection.”
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Fauci said his children would not visit, something that holds true for other holiday festivities. “Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year,” he said. “I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country and, in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport and get on a plane.”
“People should be very careful and prudent about social gatherings,” he added. “You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice social gatherings unless you’re pretty certain that the people you’re dealing with are not infected, or have very recently tested, or they’re living a lifestyle in which they don’t have any interaction with anybody except you and your family.”
AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.65% and the University of Oxford said their coronavirus vaccine is up to 90% effective when administered as a half dose, and then a full dose one month later. Effectiveness falls to 62% when two full doses are given one month apart.
It was later revealed that initial half-dose, deemed as the more effective option by the company than two full doses, was given accidentally to participants. They were also 55 or under. That age group was not initially disclosed when AstraZeneca said the half and full dosage was more effective. The firm defended these errors and apparent lack of transparency.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s not an interesting result, because it is — but I definitely don’t understand it and I don’t think any of us do,” said Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president for biopharmaceuticals R&D.
BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +0.94% and Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.84% announced progress in a vaccine, and later said a final analysis showed 95% rather than 90% efficacy. Meanwhile, Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.18% said its vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective.
Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.39% ; Merck & Co. ID:MERK +0.62% ; GlaxoSmithKline /zigman2/quotes/209463850/composite GSK -0.99% ; and Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/202859081/composite SAN +6.13% are also working on fast-track coronavirus vaccines. Moderna, Sanofi and AztraZeneca’s vaccines do not need to be kept ultra-low temperatures.
“I think these are really exciting results,” Dr. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the AztraZeneca trial, said . “Because the vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, it can be distributed around the world using the normal immunization distribution system.” He said his goal was to produce a vaccine that’s accessible everywhere: “I think we’ve actually managed to do that.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.12% broke 30,000 last month on vaccine news and progress in the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden. The DJIA, the S&P 500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.47% and the Nasdaq Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +3.25% ended up Friday on hopes of progress on another stimulus package. The surge in cases, especially in the South and Midwest, still weighs on investors’ concerns.
Fauci has expressed optimism that the vaccine news could mean millions of Americans will have access to a vaccine by the year’s end, but he reiterated that there’s unlikely be a rollout for the broader population — beyond frontline workers like medical staff and school teachers, and people with underlying health conditions and older people at risk — until the second quarter.
More Republican governors are dropping resistance to masks as infections soar and hospitals deal with a flood of cases. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we’ll lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health-care system will fail,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said this week, following in the footsteps of officials in West Virginia and North Dakota.
Last Tuesday, Fauci told Colorado Gov. Jared Polis during a livestream session that the U.S. risks experiencing a “surge upon a surge.” He said the U.S. was in a public-health crisis. “Now that we’re in the mid- to late fall, merging on into the winter,” Fauci added, “we’ve seen, because a variety of circumstances, a surge that has really surpassed the others.”