Expert: US ’rounding the corner into a calamity’ with virus deaths projected to double

As Thanksgiving week draws to an end, more experts are warning the Covid-19 pandemic will likely get much worse in the coming weeks before a possible vaccine begins to offer some relief.

More than 205,000 new cases were reported Friday — which likely consists of both Thursday and Friday reports in some cases, as at least 20 states did not report Covid-19 numbers on Thanksgiving.

The US has now reported more than 100,000 infections every day for 25 consecutive days and hospitalizations remain at record high levels — with more than 89,800 patients reported nationwide Friday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. A record was set just a day earlier, with a staggering 90,481 hospitalizations, according to the project. And the nation recorded a daily death toll of less than 1,000 only twice this week — while the two days prior to Thanksgiving each saw more than 2,000 American deaths reported.

And while there is more good news on the vaccine front, for now Americans need to “hunker down” and prepare for a difficult winter ahead, according to Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“We cannot let our guard down,” she told CNN Friday night. “The vaccines will make a big difference in the spring and the summer; they’re not going to make a difference right now.”

Based on the current Covid-19 numbers in the US, the country is far from rounding the corner, she said.

“If anything, we are rounding the corner into a calamity,” Wen said. “We’re soon going to exceed well more than 2,000 deaths, maybe 3,000, 4,000 deaths every single day here in the US.”

That projection has been echoed by other experts including Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, who predicts the country’s daily death toll will likely double in just the next 10 days.

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A busy travel weekend expected

The Thanksgiving travel and gatherings that took place over this past week will likely only further push cases upward, experts have said, warning of another surge soon to come.

Reiner previously described the holiday as “potentially the mother of all superspreader events,” with Americans leaving from every airport in the country and possibly carrying the virus with them, oftentimes unknowingly.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to avoid travel for the holidays this year, but millions have flown since that warning. Officials expect Sunday — as everyone heads home from their holiday destinations — to be the busiest day of travel since the pandemic began.

To prevent further spread of the virus, everyone who traveled and was in gatherings with people outside of their household should quarantine, Wen said.

“That’s because those gatherings, in particular indoor gatherings with many people who are not wearing masks for prolonged periods of time, those are the highest risk for transmitting coronavirus,” she said Friday. “Quarantine for at least seven days and then get tested.”

“If you are unable to get a test because testing remains so limited, you should quarantine for 14 days. And I mean a full quarantine, don’t go to work, don’t go to school, keep safe.”

Los Angeles county under lockdown order

As more local and state leaders enforce stricter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, Los Angeles County health officials announced Friday a new stay-at-home order than prohibits all public and private gatherings with people outside a single household.

“Residents are advised to stay home as much as possible and always wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when they are outside their household and around others,” the county’s public health department said in a news release.

The order will take effect Monday and last through December 20, the release said.

Essential businesses will have to operate at 35% occupancy while nonessential retail operations, personal care services and libraries will operate at 20% occupancy.

“We know we are asking a lot from so many who have been sacrificing for months on end and we hope that L.A. County residents continue following Public Health safety measures that we know can slow the spread,” Barbara Ferrer, the director of the county’s public health department, said in a statement.

“Acting with collective urgency right now is essential if we want to put a stop to this surge. Please remain home as much as possible and do not gather with others not in your household for the next three weeks,” Ferrer added.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s statewide two-week “reset” order will shift to a county-by-county reopening framework next week, the governor’s office announced Friday.

That will enable “counties, and the businesses and nonprofits within their boarders to operate with fewer restrictions when they slow the spread of the virus and drive down test positivity rates,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Counties where the virus is more prevalent, the governor’s office said, will operate under more restrictions.

First mass air shipment of vaccine

And while a vaccine has yet to receive the green light, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it has supported the “first mass air shipment” of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“As a result of the historic pace of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed and careful logistics planning, the FAA today is supporting the first mass air shipment of a vaccine,” the FAA said in a statement.

The agency said it established a Covid-19 vaccine air transport team last month to ensure “safe, expeditious, and efficient transportation of vaccines.”

It says it is working with manufacturers, air carriers and airports to provide guidance on regulations to safely transport large quantities of dry ice in air cargo.

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they had submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine candidate. US officials have previously expressed concerns about handling Pfizer’s vaccine, which must be stored at extremely cold temperatures.

Meanwhile, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday, where they will vote on which groups of people they recommend should get a Covid-19 vaccine first, once one is authorized.

“It is a significant advancement in the development and progression towards having a vaccine available,” Rick Bright, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, said Friday.

The committee usually meets after a vaccine is authorized to make their recommendations.

“What we’re seeing now is that the CDC is moving forward and being very proactive and having some of those early discussions before that vaccine’s even finished being authorized at the FDA, so they’ll be ready for that data when it comes to them,” Bright said.

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