As pandemic worsens, Birx issues Thanksgiving appeal

LONG TESTING LINES: A health care worker holds a COVID-19 informational pamphlet for a resident at a drive-thru testing location in Houston, Texas, Nov. 20. Adrees Latif/Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A leading U.S. health official on Friday appealed to Americans to avoid unnecessary travel and limit social gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday, fearing a further acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic after one of the deadliest weeks in months.

Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said more than half the United States was a “red zone” where the virus is rampant, and Americans should limit gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, next Thursday, to immediate family members rather than targeting a maximum number of guests.

“This is faster, it is broader and what worries me – it could be longer,” Birx told CNN. “I think it’s on all of us right now to make sure it’s not longer.”

The single-day death toll on Thursday surpassed 2,000 for the first time since late June, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. The seven-day rolling average of daily new COVID-19 cases reached more than 165,000 on Thursday.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has jumped nearly 50% in the past two weeks, with more than 80,000 people being treated for the disease in hospitals as of late Thursday, the most at any time during the pandemic.

In response, officials in more than 20 states have imposed restrictions to curtail the spread of the virus as hospitalizations climbed to record highs in 29 states in November, straining already exhausted medical staff.

California’s governor on Thursday imposed some of the most stringent restrictions on the vast majority of the state’s population, with a curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities that will start on Saturday night and end on the morning of Dec. 21.

Similar restrictions took effect in Ohio this week, while Minnesota ordered a shutdown of restaurants, bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues from Friday until Dec. 18 at the earliest, as the state’s hospital intensive care units were stretched to capacity.

In Illinois, where the number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive was at an alarmingly high 20% and new restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining, took effect on Friday, long lines appeared again at testing sites.

Although COVID-19 restrictions have received more bipartisan support from state leaders in recent weeks, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump, refused to limit gatherings on Thanksgiving.

“In South Dakota, we won’t stop or discourage you from thanking God and spending time together this Thanksgiving,” Noem said in a statement on Friday.

With cases and deaths increasing steadily in most states, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation updated its widely cited model.

It now projects 471,000 coronavirus deaths by March 1, up from fewer than 440,000 in its previous forecast.

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