The Slatest

The Bleak Public Health Outlook of America’s Coming Coronavirus Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving turkey decorations at Macy's Herald Square store on November 24, 2020 in New York City.
Thanksgiving turkey decorations at Macy’s in New York City. ANGELA WEISS/Getty Images

As Americans hunker down for the Thanksgiving holiday, the country hit a series of worrying coronavirus milestones that indicate the virus could be on the verge of spiraling even more out of control. The U.S., for the first time, reported more than a million new cases in consecutive weeks the past two weeks. Over the past week, the U.S. has averaged 173,000 new cases of the coronavirus daily, putting the country on course to record more than 4.5 million cases in November alone. If that trajectory holds, November’s total cases would more than double the number of cases recorded in a month since the pandemic began.

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The runaway number of American infections comes as the World Health Organization reports “downward trends in weekly cases” in Southeast Asia and Europe, where much of the continent has been under nationwide lockdowns this month. Despite improved treatments for Covid-19, the surge in cases in the U.S. has resulted in a climbing daily death toll, which reached 2,200 on Tuesday. Health officials have implored Americans not to travel or congregate this Thanksgiving, even as the president of the United States has been completely absent for weeks from the national response. Last weekend heading into the holiday week, the Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than a million passengers daily in American airports, half the number of travelers on a normal year but the most since the pandemic response began in mid-March.

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While the country waits on vaccines, of which limited supplies could go out as soon as mid-December, state and local officials have essentially given up on contact tracing to help contain the virus. “Coronavirus outbreaks in the United States were once traced back to their origins, whether at busy restaurants or crowded meatpacking plants. But now that the virus is spreading rapidly in much of the country [-] state and local health officials are giving up on contact tracing,” the New York Times notes. “Revealing the trail of transmission from one person to another is a key tool for containing the spread of the coronavirus. Within 48 hours of testing positive, patients receive a phone call from a trained contact tracer, who conducts a detailed interview before hunting down each new person who may have been exposed. That, at least, is how it’s supposed to work.”

That all adds up to an explosive public health situation in the U.S., with officials warning that the impact of this holiday week on the infection rate will lag, manifesting itself over the next several weeks. In short: December could be even worse.

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