As the U.S. nears the 200,000 daily case mark, Americans are urged to avoid Thanksgiving travel.

November 20, 2020 

The United States has set yet another record: 183,000 new daily cases.

The record was set as the United States struggles with surging coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans not to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday and to consider canceling plans to spend time with relatives outside their households.

The new guidance, which contrasted sharply with recent White House efforts to downplay the threat, states clearly that “the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” and that gathering with friends and even family members who do not live with you increases the chances of becoming infected with the virus or the flu, or transmitting the virus.

Officials said they were strengthening their recommendations against travel because of a startling surge in infections in just the past week. Recent numbers of hospitalizations — more than 79,000 reported on Wednesday — and new daily cases keep shattering U.S. records. As of Wednesday, the seven-day average of new cases across the country had surpassed more than 162,000, an increase of 77 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

“Amid this critical phase, the C.D.C. is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” said Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager at the agency, during a news briefing.

“We’re alarmed,” he added, citing an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. “What we’re concerned about is not only the actual mode of travel — whether it’s an airplane or bus or car, but also the transportation hubs.”

“When people are in line” to get on a bus or plane, social distancing becomes far more difficult and viral transmission becomes more likely, he said.

The agency’s overriding concern is that the holidays may accelerate the spread of the virus, C.D.C. officials said. Older family members are at great risk for complications and death should they contract the virus.

The agency’s guidance comes after similar warnings from a wide swath of health experts, governors and other officials. Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, recently said he wanted Americans to listen to local and state guidance and “consult C.D.C.’s guidelines about how gatherings can be made as safe as possible.”

And as he has repeatedly in recent weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York on Thursday implored people to avoid both travel and large gatherings during the holiday. He had already prohibited private gatherings of more than 10 people, a rule that some officials have criticized as unenforceable.

“Please: Love is sometimes doing what’s hard,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This year, if you love someone, it is smarter and better to stay away. As hard as that is to say and hear.”

A different message has come from White House officials. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, criticized health guidelines issued by governors as at odds with American notions of freedom in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday.

“I think a lot of the guidelines you’re seeing are Orwellian,” she said, pointing to a rule in Oregon that gatherings should be limited to six people.

“The American people, we’re a freedom-loving people, we can make good decisions,” she said.

An adviser to President Trump, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, who is a radiologist, not an infectious disease expert, argued against excluding older people from Thanksgiving gatherings earlier in the week, saying that isolation “is one of the unspoken tragedies” of the pandemic and that “for many people, this is their final Thanksgiving believe it or not.”

“It’s not about just stopping cases of Covid, we have to talk about the damage of the policy itself,” he said on Fox News.

C.D.C. officials made their pleas to avoid travel even as they acknowledged that the prolonged outbreak has taken a toll on families.

Dr. Walke warned that family get-togethers — especially those that bring different households together — could inadvertently lead to tragic outcomes.

“The tragedy that could happen is one of your family members, from coming together in a family gathering, could wind up hospitalized and severely ill and could die. We don’t want to see that happen,” Dr. Walke said. “This year we’re asking people to be as safe as possible.”

College students returning home for the holiday should isolate themselves and limit interactions with friends on campus before their return. Once home, they should try to limit interactions with family members, interact outside rather than indoors, and wear masks indoors if a family member has a chronic condition that places them at risk.

Dr. Walke said he himself is not going to visit his parents, though he has not seen them in many months and they are imploring him to come home, and he has encouraged his own adult and college-aged children to isolate themselves before coming home for the holiday.

New concerns about the virus have been reflected in air travel plans. United Airlines said recently that it expected Thanksgiving week to be its busiest period since the pandemic’s onset, but on Thursday it reported that bookings had slowed and cancellations had risen in recent days. American Airlines has slashed December flights between the United States and Europe as cases rise sharply on both sides of the Atlantic.

AAA Travel said last week that it anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in travel this Thanksgiving, the largest one-year decrease since 2008, when the country was in the throes of the Great Recession. People who decide to travel are likely to drive, going shorter distances for fewer days than they may have otherwise, the organization said. Car trips were projected to fall 4.3 percent, far less than air travel. AAA cited rising cases, quarantine rules, health concerns and increased unemployment as factors.

If Americans choose to travel, they should do so as safely as possible, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, even during the Thanksgiving meal with others outside the household.

The American Hospital Association joined with the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, which represents many of the nation’s doctors, to urge the public to be careful over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

In an open letter on Thursday, the groups urged Americans “to celebrate responsibly in a scaled-back fashion.”

“We are all weary and empathize with the desire to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but given the serious risks, we underscore how important it is to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash your hands,” the letter said.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has warned for weeks of the risks of Thanksgiving dinners, saying that families must conduct a “risk-benefit assessment for what they want to do.” His family is going to forgo a gathering and share a meal over video chat.

“My daughters, who are adult professional women in different parts of the country, have made a decision,” he said at a DealBook event on Tuesday. “They want to protect their daddy.”

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