Don’t cancel Thanksgiving. Do cancel your dinner plans.
As of today, more than 11 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. It took only six days to add the last 1 million cases.
These numbers were not even imaginable just a few weeks ago.
So, what went wrong?
We were lulled into complacency over the summer, when warm, humid weather promoted outdoor gatherings in a climate less favorable for transmission of the virus. As a result, we let down our guard. Lower rates of transmission over the summer created a false impression that COVID-19 was gone. So now that the weather is cooler and drier (conditions that allow for more efficient transmission of the virus), and gatherings have moved back indoors, the perfect storm has been created that has facilitated the current surge in the pandemic.
None of the properties of the virus have changed since the beginning of the pandemic. It is still primarily transmitted by droplets which travel about six feet before falling to the ground. Masks are still effective in preventing those droplets from traveling. Social distancing is still effective in preventing people from being exposed to those droplets. What has changed is our behavior. We don’t consistently wear masks or keep our distance distance. We have large gatherings in our homes and in restaurants. And this is a recipe not for sweet potatoes but for disaster.
You may have heard about a wedding in Maine this past summer that became a superspreader event. One infected person at the wedding led to at least 177 infections and seven deaths. None of the seven people who died were actually at the wedding. Thanksgiving has the potential to be that Maine wedding – on steroids. Multiply that wedding by every household in America that has gatherings in their home, and as bad as the current numbers are, they could explode in the first two weeks of December – possibly to one million cases per day.
And of course, the hospitalizations and deaths will follow. Our health care system is currently stretched dangerously thin at current case counts. ICU beds are scarce in many states. With the feared doubling or tripling of cases, it is unlikely that our nation’s healthcare system would be able to adequately support not only patients with COVID-19 but also patients with other conditions, like heart attacks, strokes and even appendicitis. Nearly 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in this country to date. Some projections call for a doubling of that number by March or April of next year.
We are urging families to cancel in-person Thanksgiving this year, except for families who all live in the same household. We simply cannot afford the surge in cases brought about by the holiday and will be unable to absorb the burden on our healthcare system. Make plans to have dinner at home and Zoom with your family. Unfortunately, the situation will not be much better by Christmas, so the same restrictions are likely to be in place then.
This year has already seen innumerable losses in celebrations: birthdays, graduations, weddings and the like. Rather than trying to squeeze in one or two more holidays, our best advice is to take a mulligan for 2020 and try again next year. With the rapid development of highly effective vaccines, 2021 promises to be much brighter.
The light is at the end of the tunnel, but unfortunately, at least for now, we are still deep inside that tunnel.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Citronberg is Executive Medical Director of Infectious Disease and Prevention for Advocate Aurora Health.