Record hospitalizations and a surging death toll failed to keep Americans from traveling a day before the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, raising fears that the unchecked spread under way is a prelude to further contagion at Christmastime.
Daily U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May on Tuesday and hospitalizations reached a record 88,000 on Wednesday as the country recorded 2.3 million new infections in the past two weeks alone. Steep surges in cases typically result in a rising death toll weeks later.
Coronavirus deaths reached 2,157 on Tuesday - one person every 40 seconds - with another 170,000 people infected, as millions of Americans disregarded official warnings and traveled for Thanksgiving. Daliza Rodriguez, a 33-year-old childhood educator, was traveling to Texas from New York's LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday.
"We know we're taking a risk but we want to see the family and it has been a long time...so we want to see them and have fun," she said.Nearly 1 million passengers a day have been screened at airport security checkpoints for the past week, with Sunday's total of 1.047 million being the highest number since the early days of the pandemic in mid-March. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged people to keep Thanksgiving gatherings as small as possible and stressed the need to "hang in there a bit longer" on wearing masks, maintaining distance and avoiding crowds, especially indoors.
"If we do those things, we're going to get through it. So that's my final plea before the holiday," Fauci told the ABC News program "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. Families with university students have been forced to evaluate the risk of reuniting for Thanksgiving. Francesca Wimer, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois, flew home to Washington wearing an N95 mask and a face shield and checked into a hotel for 14 days, quarantining to protect her parents and grandparents.
"She was returning to a vulnerable set of people. We didn't trust that a test was enough," said her mother, Cynthia Wimer. Others are just staying put. Luke Burke, studying at Syracuse University in upstate New York, was planning to spend Thanksgiving with his family in New Jersey until his roommate tested positive last week. "I'm sorry I can't be there with my parents, but it's the right thing to do," Burke said.
Across New York City, lines at COVID-19 testing sites wrapped around the block on Wednesday, video on Twitter showed. Bundled New Yorkers queued up outside clinics in Astoria, Queens, and Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, starting early as 8 a.m. MG Robinson, a contract analyst at the Office of New York City Comptroller, waited in line for seven hours outside a CityMD clinic in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on Wednesday.
"I woke up at 6 (a.m.) and I got here at 6:30...I couldn't even see the front of the line," said 30-year-old Robinson who is planning to gather with a small group of family members on Thanksgiving. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said his own daughter will not be joining him from out-of-state for Thanksgiving, urged families to follow suit. "This is not a normal Thanksgiving, and to act like it's a normal Thanksgiving is to deny the reality of every health expert in the nation," Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday.
Cuomo warned people not to disregard social distancing measures on account of recent vaccine development progress, noting that it would take a long time before the vaccine is distributed widely.The first vaccines could be weeks away with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to rule Dec. 10 on whether to approve Pfizer Inc's vaccine for emergency use. The U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed program plans to release 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide in an initial distribution as soon as one is approved.If all goes well, 40 million doses will be distributed by the end of the year, they said.