With the coronavirus surging out of control, America’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for the traditional Thanksgiving family gatherings next week and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their own household.
It was some of the firmest guidance yet from the government on curtailing traditional gatherings to fight the outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the recommendations just one week before Thanksgiving, which falls on 26 November this year, at a time when diagnosed infections, hospitalizations and deaths are surging across the country.
In many areas, the healthcare system is being squeezed by a combination of sick patients filling up beds and medical workers falling ill themselves.
The CDC’s Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1m new cases in the US over the past week as the reason for the new guidance.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” she said.
If families do decide to include returning college students, military members or others for turkey and stuffing, the CDC is recommending that the hosts take added precautions: gatherings should be outdoors if possible, with people keeping 6ft apart and wearing masks and just one person serving the food.
Whether Americans heed the warning is another matter. The deadly comeback by the virus has been blamed in part on pandemic fatigue, or people getting tired of masks and other precautions.
And surges were seen last summer after Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, despite blunt warnings from health authorities.
The United States has seen more than 11m diagnosed infections and over 250,000 deaths from the coronavirus, with inadequate action being taken to prevent the spread of the disease amid a leaked warning from inside the White House on Wednesday of a pandemic that involves “aggressive, unrelenting, broad community spread across the country, without evidence of improvement but, rather, further deterioration”.
CDC scientists believe that somewhere around 40% of people who are infected do not have obvious symptoms but can still spread the virus.