In the face of a seemingly unstoppable spike in coronavirus infections, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday urged Americans to avoid traveling to Thanksgiving and celebrate only with members of their immediate households – a message that contradicts one White House says it would like to downplay the threat.
The first C.D.C. A press conference came in months as many Americans packed their bags for one of the busiest weeks of the year. It’s the first time the agency has warned people about traditional holiday celebrations.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who heads the agency’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force. She urged Americans to reconsider their plans for the coming week.
The warning from the C.D.C. contradicts news from administration officials who have raised concerns that Thanksgiving celebrations could accelerate the spread of the virus.
“A lot of the guidelines you see are Orwellians,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox & Friends, highlighting the Oregon requirement that gatherings should not exceed six people.
White House coronavirus task force members did not even mention Thanksgiving at a press conference Thursday, despite warning of the dangers of indoor gatherings and calling for “vigilance” in the face of widespread infections.
Earlier in the week, Dr. Scott Atlas, a science adviser to President Trump, raised the idea that older relatives could be at risk on the vacation weekend, although there is ample medical evidence that seniors are much more likely to get sick when they get sick and die when they do become sick.
“This type of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told, ‘Don’t see your family on Thanksgiving,'” said Dr. Atlas. “Believe it or not, this is their last Thanksgiving day for a lot of people.”
According to AAA Travel, an estimated 55 million Americans had planned to travel for vacation. However, rising coronavirus infections, new quarantine rules, and increased unemployment have turned travelers off in recent weeks, and that number will now be at least 10 percent lower, the biggest drop since 2008 year over year.
United Airlines recently announced that Thanksgiving Week will be the busiest time since the pandemic broke out. However, on Thursday, the airline reported that bookings had slowed and cancellations had increased. American Airlines has cut flights between the US and Europe as cases increase sharply on both sides of the Atlantic.
Encourages C.D.C. Officer, rarely heard in the last few months, spoken more forcefully since President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the election. On Thursday, researchers at the agency said they were alarmed by the “exponential” increase in coronavirus infections, hospital stays and deaths across the country.
In the past week alone, more than a million new cases have been reported.
“In the midst of this critical phase, the C.D.C. advises against traveling during Thanksgiving, ”said Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager at the agency, at a press conference. “All Americans want to do what they can to protect their loved ones.”
As of Wednesday, the seven-day average had new cases across the country every day exceeded 162,000This corresponds to an increase of 77 percent compared to two weeks earlier. More than 79,000 hospitalizations were reported on Wednesday.
Still, the agency’s timing confused some scientists who have been warning for weeks that the holiday gatherings could hasten the pandemic.
“You’re a little late – everyone has their plane tickets,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “But better late than never.”
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of Mr Biden’s Covid-19 Advisory Board, warned that Thanksgiving would be the perfect place for the virus to spread.
“This is a bad time to exchange air with people who are not immediate household members,” he said. “You can have a person at the table who appears to be perfectly healthy and you can infect most of the people, if not all of the people who sit at that table.”
Small household gatherings help spread the virus, although their contribution to the overall toll has been difficult to define. Elderly family members are particularly susceptible to developing severe Covid-19, especially if they have chronic illnesses.
Traveling itself carries the risk of exposing people to the virus no matter how they travel. “What worries us is not just the actual type of travel – whether it’s a plane, a bus or a car – but also the transportation hubs,” said Dr. Walke.
“When people stand in line to get on a bus or plane,” social distancing becomes difficult and virus transmission more likely, he said.
Even driving a car carries risks, as travelers can be exposed at rest stops and petrol stations. If Americans want to travel, they need to wash their hands, wear masks, and maintain social distance. C.D.C. Officials said.
Dr. Walke and others tried to distinguish between household members and family members. Many Americans believe family members are safe to meet even if they are not living together. In fact, most scientists say that only other members of the household are a safe society.
Researchers define a household as people who have lived together under one roof for 14 days. This definition can apply to unrelated housemates sharing a living space, but it can exclude close family members who have lived apart from their parents.
The new recommendations pose a particular problem for families expecting a student to return, or who are hoping to take in an adult child who lives in a separate dormitory. No child belongs to the household.
The colleges have encouraged students – many are returning home for the remainder of the semester – to take a coronavirus test before leaving, but C.D.C. Officials are not advocating testing before they gather for Thanksgiving.
Tests are far from foolproof, and a negative result only indicates that “you probably weren’t infected at the time the sample was collected,” the agency said.
If members of different households gather at someone’s home for Thanksgiving, they should all wear masks, except when eating, and stay six feet apart, federal officials said.
Guests should be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water, and no one should hug or exchange handshakes. As participants gather inside, they should wear masks as often as possible when they are not eating. Windows and doors should be kept open as much as possible to improve ventilation.
The Council of the C.D.C. went so far as to urge people to speak softly because shouting – or singing – can spread the virus. Only one person should serve the food, federal officials said. If there are overnight guests, they should have their own bathroom.
Other medical organizations also issued dire warnings on Thursday. In an unusual “open letter to the American people,” groups representing doctors, nurses, and hospitals joined forces to urge people to cut back holiday gatherings.
Although the letter did not specifically discourage travel, the groups noted that cases of Covid-19 had increased after other holidays such as July 4th and Labor Day and that health systems in many parts of the country were already reaching their limits were.
Michael Shear reported from Washington and Karen Zraick, Shawn Hubler and Niraj Chokshi from New York.