Birx urges Thanksgiving travelers to get tested: ‘You have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected’
As millions of people in the United States travel back home from the Thanksgiving holiday, daily Covid-19 hospitalizations are inching closer to 100,000 — the highest they’ve ever been.
Now health experts are asking those who gathered with people outside their households to get tested.
“If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected,” White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told CBS on Sunday.
She also recommended those older than 65 get tested immediately if they develop any symptoms.
“If you’re over 65 or you have comorbidities and you gathered at Thanksgiving — if you develop any symptoms, you need to be tested immediately,” Birx said.
More people passed through airport security on Sunday than on any other single day since the coronavirus pandemic cratered air travel, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
TSA screened 1.17 million people on Sunday, when many Americans were heading home from their Thanksgiving travels, it said. That means more than 9.4 million people were screened in the Thanksgiving travel window, which began the Friday before the holiday.
November has been a month of unprecedented coronavirus surge, with 27 consecutive days of new cases surpassing 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And as hospitalizations reached a new record of 93,238 on Sunday, it was the third time the metric surpassed 90,000 this month, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
“There’s no way that the hospitals can be fully prepared for what we’re currently facing,” emergency medicine physician Dr. Megan Ranney said.
“This is like a natural disaster occurring in all 50 states at the same time. There are not adequate beds. There are not adequate staff. And because of the lack of national preparation, there are still not adequate supplies.”
Statistics reported in the days after the holiday might show a relative dip in Covid-19 cases, followed by a surge due to a lag in government agencies’ reporting over the long weekend.
And given coronavirus’ lengthy incubation time and how long it takes an infected person to test positive, cases related to Thanksgiving are unlikely to show in public data until the first full week of December at the earliest.
US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told “Fox News Sunday” he expects new infections and hospitalizations to get worse over the coming weeks.
“Make sure you’re washing your hands and make sure again if you’ve been in a gathering of more than 10 people without your mask on over the last several days, please get tested in the next three to five days,” he said.
Spread is worst in the Midwest, expert says
As the US wrestles with managing the cases until a vaccine can be distributed, states are faring differently.
If Arizona officials don’t address the rise in cases in the next two to three weeks, the state will be facing a humanitarian crisis leading to hundreds of preventable deaths, the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health said in a report Friday.
“While targeted measures might have sufficiently slowed transmission weeks ago, I believe shelter-in-place orders offer the most certain chance to achieve the improvements needed,” the report’s main author, Dr. Joe Gerald, also an assistant professor, said Saturday.
In New York City, once the epicenter of the virus’ spread in the US, the state will send students up to fifth grade back to public schools for in-person learning in early December, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Students will be tested weekly and parents will be required to sign a consent form for every student that will take in-person classes, de Blasio said.
Even so, New York is experiencing a positivity rate of 4.27%, the highest rate since May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.
Rates of spread are worse in the Midwest than in other parts of the country, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“If you see what’s happening in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, where governors took more aggressive steps early, where there’s more consistent use of masks, where they took less infection going into this season — I think you’re going to see infection remain rates remain lower than we’re seeing in other parts of the country like the Midwest,” Gottlieb said.
Ohio’s statewide total surpassed 400,000 cases on Saturday, with more than 100,000 added in less than two weeks, according to the state’s Covid-19 dashboard.
Some Americans could get vaccines in December
Vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have shown promising rates of efficacy in testing. Moderna intends to apply Monday to the FDA for authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine.
It will ask the agency to review an expanded data set showing the vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing Covid-19 and 100% effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.
“This is striking,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee. “These are amazing data.”
Pfizer and BioNTech on November 20 asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine candidate, the first to seek regulatory clearance in the US.
An expected 40 million vaccine doses will be ready by the end of the year, but that is not enough for everyone who needs it to get one, Adams told Fox.
Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to vote on who they recommend should be the first to get a coronavirus vaccine once one is authorized.
“The vaccine advisory committee that advises CDC will make recommendations on who should get the vaccine first, the so-called 1A group — the people who should get it immediately, when it becomes available,” Gottlieb told CBS.
Gottlieb said he expects health care workers, long-term care residents and staff to be the first group of people eligible for the vaccine.
“That’s pretty much decided — they’re going to vote on it this week,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if they deviate from that.”
The first release of vaccines will likely coincide with when cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings will begin to show.
“When you look at people who are hospitalized today, they were infected two weeks ago, maybe more,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University. “And then it takes usually another week for folks to succumb to the illness.”
CNN’s Holly Yan, Chuck Johnston, Naomi Thomas, Leanna Faulk, Artemis Moshtaghian and Sheena Jones contributed to this report.