The top public health body in the US has warned Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving amid fears the upcoming public holiday is set to become an unprecedented superspreader event that will fuel the rampant increase in coronavirus cases.
Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on Thursday recommending against all travel next week for Thanksgiving, a holiday when millions of Americans normally congregate with family and friends.
“We have been alarmed by the exponential increases in cases, hospitalisations and deaths,” Henry Walke, the CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, told reporters. The agency described the advisory as a “strong recommendation” that stopped short of a requirement.
Dr Walke added: “We ask Americans to consider their risk, to consider who is in their household, their own risk of acquiring infection and the . . . risk in the community they are travelling to.”
The CDC is advising those who do travel for the holiday to stay outdoors as much as possible, ventilate their houses, and to wear masks even while around members of their own family if they have not been living together for the previous 14 days.
Dr Walke said the CDC, which has not held a public briefing for several months, had felt compelled to issue the guidance after the US recorded more than 1m new cases over the last week — a tally that exceeds what most countries have recorded during the entire pandemic.
Some of the rise might be explained by increased testing, but other metrics also indicate that the epidemic is spiralling out of control. As of Thursday, hospitalisations stood at a record 79,410, according to the Covid Tracking Project. And the average death rate of 1,162 a day over the past week is at its highest level since late May.
Nearly all states are seeing cases, hospitalisations and deaths rise, week on week, prompting officials in a growing number of cities and states to reintroduce restrictions on businesses, close schools, and impose limits on social gatherings.
On Thursday, Bill DeBlasio, the New York City mayor, said indoor dining at restaurants and bars would be halted within a “week or two”. He had already ordered the closure of the city’s schools earlier this week.
The travel advice from the CDC comes at a time of political turmoil in the US as Donald Trump refuses to accept the result of this month’s presidential election.
The president has made just two public appearances since the election was called for his Democratic rival Joe Biden, and has not met with his own coronavirus task force in weeks.
Meanwhile Scott Atlas, the neuroradiologist who has become the president’s most trusted coronavirus adviser, has urged Americans to resist restrictions being put in place to slow the spread of the pandemic.
In response to new curbs introduced in Michigan last week, Dr Atlas wrote on Twitter: “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp.”
Public health experts warned that the travel advisory from the CDC had come too late, given that many Americans have already made plans for Thanksgiving, and would have little impact without a co-ordinated message from the Trump administration.
Barry Bloom, professor of public health at Harvard University, said: “Given the chaos of the US’s Covid-19 response, no one agency has the authority to change people’s behaviour — the message has to be consistent from multiple credible sources.”
He added: “Are people going to travel over Thanksgiving? The answer is ‘yes’. We’re a week beforehand and plans have already been made.”