The surge comes as the Thanksgiving and the December holidays approach, when travel and family visits are expected to accelerate the spread of the virus and further strain hospitals.
Now, though, with the strain being felt nearly everywhere, few hospitals can spare anyone to help in other places, and the focus is on acute shortages of staff, more than of beds.
The military deployed medical crews to help overwhelmed hospitals in El Paso, and the Texas state government has been dispatching thousands of workers to assist in other hard-hit areas of the state. The traveling nurses that some hospitals depend on for crisis staffing are in high demand in many states, and their rates have shot up. Overall, about one-fifth of U.S. hospitals are now short-staffed, according to an NPR analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Hospitals can set up more beds, but “where they’re going to get stretched is on personnel,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “They just won’t have the people to staff them.”
The nation’s health experts on Sunday pleaded with Americans to stay home over the Thanksgiving holiday and forgo any plans to travel or celebrate at large family gatherings, even as airports have recorded a significant rise in passengers.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease specialist, and other health experts relayed a clear message on Sunday morning news shows: with coronavirus cases surging to record levels across the country, turning nearly every state into a hot zone of transmission, the risk of getting infected, whether in transit or in even small indoor gatherings, is high.
Up to 50 million people could be traveling on roads and through airports in the United States over Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA, the biggest travel surge since the pandemic began, despite strong cautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health authorities. A video of a packed airport in Phoenix has been circulating widely on social media. As of Sunday, 47 states — all but Hawaii, Maine and Vermont — were considered high-risk zones for viral transmission, and nationwide hospitalizations were at a record 83,227.
I’m an ER doctor in Arizona and our hospitals are being overwhelmed with COVID19. 7.4 million people & only 174 ICU beds left with healthcare workers calling out sick. Our pleas for help have fallen on selfish deaf ears – this is Phoenix airport @dougduceypic.twitter.com/7iLbngxHNp
— Cleavon MD (@Cleavon_MD)
“Please seriously consider decisions that you make,” Dr. Fauci said on the CBS show “Face the Nation.” Encountering large numbers of people in airports and on planes is particularly dangerous, he said. Although airlines have invested in air circulation and ventilation systems to minimize viral transmission, Dr. Fauci said, “sometimes when you get a crowded plane, or you’re in a crowded airport, you’re lining up, not everybody’s wearing masks — that puts yourself at risk.”
And gathering indoors, whether you travel or not, carries risk. “When you’re eating and drinking, obviously, you have to take your mask off,” Dr. Fauci said. “We know now that those are the kinds of situations that are leading to outbreaks.”
Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said on Fox News on Sunday that because about half of infections are spread by people who don’t have any symptoms, “you can’t assume that you don’t have the virus, and you can’t assume that the people whose home you’re about to enter don’t have the virus, at this point in our pandemic.”
He recommended celebrating Thanksgiving only with the people you live with. People who choose to visit others’ homes should spend as much time as possible outdoors and “should be wearing masks indoors when they’re together, and only removing them when they’re eating.”
In Tulsa, Okla., Victory, a megachurch, canceled a “Friendsgiving” service on Sunday that had called on members to bring a friend after it prompted an outcry, instead opting to give away boxed meals, NBC News reported. The church did not respond to a request for comment regarding its planned “Thanksgiving Day Brunch,” which, according to its website, is set to be held on Thursday in the church’s cafeteria.
Dr. Fauci and others warned that Americans’ behavior over Thanksgiving would have critical implications for the coming weeks of the winter season, including risks to people gathering to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, because the country is still months away from having wide access to vaccines and therapeutics and the cold weather drives more people indoors.
“We’re going to have to, you know, hunker down, reduce our interactions,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump administration Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said on “Face the Nation.”
As an example of the risk, he said that in a state like North Dakota, where case levels are high, there’s a 50 percent chance that someone in a group of 10 people has Covid-19. “That’s the kind of risk we’re facing individually right now,” he said. “And that’s only going to get worse.”
This content was originally published here.