US officials brace for another post-holiday COVID-19 surge

Father and son putting masks on in airport
Father and son putting masks on in airport

Ольга Simankova / iStock

Despite case-reporting lulls over the long holiday weekend, the number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 continues a record-breaking rise, with no let-up in the pace of deaths.

At the international level, the pandemic total today topped 63 million with weekly cases declining for the first time since September, mainly led by declines in European countries that imposed new lockdowns, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

Next rise could surpass Memorial Day spike

With the Thanksgiving holiday now in the rearview mirror, health officials are bracing for another spike in infections. Though holiday travel was lighter than usual, and though many people heeded public health recommendations not to gather, US air travel over the weekend was at its highest point since the pandemic began, CNN reported.

Anthony Fauci, MD, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said on ABC's This Week that the nation could see a "surge upon a surge."

And Deborah Birx, MD, who coordinates the White House task force, said on CBS' Face the Nation yesterday that the post-Thanksgiving spike could be worse than the nation's post-Memorial Day spike. She said people who gathered for Thanksgiving should assume they've been infected and get tested in the next 5 to 10 days. She also urged those who attended gatherings to limit their social contacts, especially with older family members.

As of yesterday, 93,219 Americans are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Regarding deaths, at least nine states are now seeing at least 1 death from the virus for every 1,000 residents, based on a Washington Post analysis.

In other US developments:

  • New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced yesterday that the city's elementary schools will reopen on Dec 7, following their closure on Nov 18 due to fears of a second wave of COVID-19 cases, the New York Times reported. He said the city will abandon the 3% test positivity level that triggers school closures. The city's middle schools and high schools are still closed.

  • Novavax announced that phase 3 trials of its protein-based adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine are set to begin in the coming weeks, with interim data expected as soon as early in the first quarter of 2021.

  • Yesterday, the US reported 138,903 cases and 826 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. The nation's total has climbed to 13,457,294 cases with 267,438 deaths.

Cases down in Europe's lockdown nations, up elswhere

At a WHO briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said last week marked the first decline in new cases since September, adding that the decline was the result of difficult but necessary coronavirus restrictions in Europe. He said the news is welcome, but should be interpreted with extreme caution, due to the fragile nature of the gains.

He added that cases increased in most of the world's other regions. And based on responses to journalist questions, Tedros said he is worried about rising cases in the Americas, particularly in parts of Brazil. He also said Mexico is in bad shape, given that both cases and deaths have doubled in recent weeks.

In Europe, Turkey recently reported a string of record-high daily case totals, and today the country's president announced that the night curfew will be extended to week nights and that a full lockdown will be imposed over the weekends, the Associated Press reported. The measures are the country's toughest to date and come in the wake of 31,219 new cases today.

Russia also reported another record daily high today, 27,543 new cases, though the country has signaled that it would not order another lockdown.

As Tedros noted, in European countries that ordered new lockdowns about a month ago, cases are declining. Italy is starting to loosen restrictions in four regions, including Lombardy, according to Reuters. And in the United Kingdom, a new analysis from Imperial College London suggests that cases dropped 30% in the wake of the country's latest lockdown.

Some Asian countries, meanwhile, continue to battle new rises in cases. Hong Kong's cases are at a 4-month high and officials have ordered yet another layer of restrictions, which include shuttering karaoke lounges and asking most civil servants to work from home, Reuters reported. South Korea also stepped up its COVID-19 measures amid rising cases, banning end-of-the-year parties and pausing music lessons.

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia—Southeast Asia's persistent hot spot—yesterday reported another daily record high, with 6,267 cases.

The world added nearly 3 million new cases over the Thanksgiving holiday period, and the current total stands at 63,089,305 cases with 1,465,067 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.  

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