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Dec. 1, 2020, 2:50 p.m. EST

U.S. is heading for 100,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals as experts worry about a coming Thanksgiving travel spike

‘What happened during Thanksgiving is a lot like a 100-mile-an-hour wind going into a forest fire,’ says epidemiologist Michael Osterholm

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

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• U.S. added record 4.2 million COVID-19 cases in November

• Osterholm says there’s light at the end of tunnel in form of promising vaccines

• Grand Prix driver Lewis Hamilton tests positive

• Vietnam records its first case of local transmission in almost three months

The U.S. set a record for hospitalizations with the coronavirus illness COVID-19 on Tuesday at almost 100,000 patients, and health experts worried that the situation will worsen in the coming weeks after millions of Americans traveled around and across the country for the Thanksgiving holiday.

There are currently 96,039 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, breaking the record of 93,265 set a day ago. The peak for hospitalizations during earlier case surges were 59,712 on July 23 and 59,773 on April 21.

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory panel, told CBS the numbers could go much higher.

“What happened during Thanksgiving is a lot like a 100-mile-an-hour wind going into a forest fire,” Osterholm said. Things could get even worse over Christmas, when many more people are expected to travel, he said.

Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of promising vaccine candidates, but, said Osterholm, “we have to get to the end of the tunnel. I think what is really sobering today is the challenges we have before we’re going to see most Americans have access to a vaccine.”

Others agreed and noted the impact a vaccine will have on the economy’s recovery.

On the vaccine front, Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -1.06%  and partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -3.44%  have submitted their COVID-19 vaccine candidate BNT162b2 for conditional marketing authorization, or CMA, from the European Medicines Agency. If the agency recommends granting a CMA, that could lead to use of BNT162b2 in Europe before the end of 2020. The companies submitted BNT162b2 for emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 20. On Monday, Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -2.59% filed for an emergency-use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, and said it would apply for CMA with the European regulator.

‘What happened during Thanksgiving is a lot like a 100-mile-an-hour wind going into a forest fire.’

Dr. Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist

The U.S. counted another 167,756 cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 1,265 people died. The U.S. has averaged 160,387 cases a day over the last week. Cases are rising in 38 states and territories, while deaths are climbing in 34 states and are headed toward their spring peaks. Deaths are climbing fastest in South Dakota, New Mexico and Illinois, the tracker shows.

Alarmingly, the U.S. added 4.2 million new cases in November alone and continues to lead the world by cases, at 13.65 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and deaths at 268,880, or about a fifth of the global totals for both.

Read: Remember, COVID-19 spread when five million people left Wuhan for Chinese New Year — yet 50 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving

Dr. Scott Atlas, the most controversial White House coronavirus adviser, resigned from his post late Monday. Atlas, a radiologist with no previous experience in infectious diseases, has had incumbent President Donald Trump’s ear in recent months. He has been an outspoken critic of lockdowns and a supporter of a “herd immunity” strategy, and earlier this month was sharply criticized after tweeting that the population of Michigan should “rise up” against coronavirus restrictions, imposed by the state’s Democratic governor, long a target of Trump barbs as well.

Leading members of the White House task force set up to manage the pandemic had criticized Atlas for spreading misinformation, including claiming that wearing face masks was ineffective. Numerous studies have debunked that, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stressed the importance of masks.

“I have real problems with that guy,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post earlier this month. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

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