By Daniel Trotta and Nathan Layne
(Reuters) – Millions of Americans appear to be defying health warnings and traveling ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, likely exacerbating a surge in coronavirus infections before a series of promising new vaccines become widely available.
With U.S. COVID-19 infections hitting a record 168,000 per day on average, Americans are flocking to airports against the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. surgeon general and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
For Americans, the long holiday weekend, which begins on Thursday, is traditionally the busiest travel period of the year, and 2020 may prove to be no exception.
Some 1 million passengers passed through airport screenings on Sunday, the highest number since March. It was the second time in three days that passengers screened topped 1 million but screenings are down nearly 60% from the same time last year, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said.
Meanwhile, the seven-day average number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths rose for a 12th straight day, reaching 1,500 as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
That has further taxed already exhausted medical professionals, as coronavirus hospitalizations have surged nearly 50% over the past two weeks and the United States has surpassed 255,000 deaths and 12 million infections since the pandemic began.
Pleading with residents to stay home and avoid gatherings during the holiday season, Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded New Yorkers of the grim early days of the pandemic when as many as 800 people died in a single day in the state.
Hospitalizations have spiked 122% in New York state over the last three weeks, Cuomo said, prompting the re-opening of an emergency medical facility on Staten Island.
Help could arrive soon. The head of the U.S. campaign to rapidly deploy a vaccine said the first Americans could start receiving vaccinations as early as mid-December, and another global drug company on Monday unveiled promising trial results on a vaccine candidate.
“NOT LIVING IN FEAR”
Still, many Americans are refusing to follow the health advice that could save their lives.
In Pennsylvania, the number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive was 25% last week, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project. On Monday, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine warned that the latest models indicated the state could start to run out of intensive care unit beds within a week.
Linda Lafferty, a nurse and the owner of a bed and breakfast in McConnellsburg, said family and friends gathered on the first Sunday in November to celebrate, as they do every year because she and others often have to work on Thanksgiving Day.
But Lafferty said her family would have assembled if they could.
“We are not living in fear and if we were able to get together on Thanksgiving Day we absolutely would,” said Lafferty, 47. “We would still get together and we wouldn’t limit the number of folks because if you are family you are family.”
To be sure, many Americans said they would do their best to conform with health recommendations.
Donnalie Hope, a 78-year-old resident of Petersburg, West Virginia, is planning to make fresh cranberries, mash potatoes and her famous corn pudding for Thanksgiving, which she will spend with her daughter, who will be visiting, and a neighbor.
Hope said they would social distance as much as possible in her home, and that she planned to ready rubber gloves and hand sanitizer. She acknowledged that her guests might eventually take off their masks in the home.
“I’m trying very hard to comply with the regs because I want this country to get back to where it belongs,” she said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Susan Heavey in Washington, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Maria Caspani; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)