Holiday-Gathering Warnings Return as Covid Cases Climb Yet Again
(Bloomberg) -- A decline in new U.S. cases of Covid-19 in September and October had people planning return-to-normal holiday gatherings. But a recent resurgence has government officials issuing warnings for a second year.
The seven-day average of new hospital admissions with confirmed Covid-19 is rising in 25 states from a week earlier, with clusters of concern emerging in the upper Midwest and Northeast, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Two weeks earlier, the trend line was rising in only 14 states.
In New York, overall hospitalizations for Covid-19 have climbed 11% this month to more than 2,000. Five regions of the state have an infection rate of more than 50 per 100,000, up from one region last week, Governor Kathy Hochul said Tuesday at a virus briefing.
Hochul blamed vaccine holdouts, saying that a worsening situation was avoidable if people would get the shots. She also discouraged large indoor gatherings for Thanksgiving, which is just over a week away on Nov. 25.
“We are heading into a vulnerable time,” Hochul said. “We thought that was the last time, we declared by this time next year I’m sure we’ll be fine. We’ll have that vaccine. And because there are still holdouts, we cannot declare that it’s going to be completely safe.”
The holidays will test the nation’s ability to protect itself with vaccines. Though breakthrough cases are rare, they increase when people are close together and without masks. Additionally, even in heavily vaccinated families, some members may have waning protection from shots received earlier in the year, while others are likely to have only partial immunity after regulators recently expanded access to shots to younger groups.
While U.S. children age 5-11 were cleared to get the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine this month, many kids who were among the earliest to receive a first shot won’t have had a second by Thanksgiving. Recipients are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose, which is given 21 days after the first.
Adding to the concern is the highly contagious delta variant, which wasn’t around during last year’s holidays. Delta could cause more infections among children and young adults this year, said Vanderbilt University infectious disease professor William Schaffner.
“Many adults remain unvaccinated and the vaccination of young children, age 5 to 11 years, is lagging,” Schaffner said. “This does not bode well for the holidays.”
Michigan has had more than 50,000 cases in the past week, compared with 37,000 for California, which has four times as many residents. Ohio and Minnesota are also at the top of the list, along with Pennsylvania -- where 95% of its population 12 and older have had at least one vaccine dose.
Nationwide, the seven-day average of new daily cases has jumped 11% this month to more than 83,000, after declines in the previous two months, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has been warning residents of the prospects of a winter surge and urging all adults to get a vaccine booster shot. The most-populous state has opened up booster eligibility to everyone aged 18 years and older, ahead of the federal guidance.
Newsom has pointed to California’s virus trajectory last year, when the state had low case rates in October, only to see them double in November and again in December. He warned that indoor holiday gatherings and waning vaccine efficacy over time may lead this year to have a similar path.
Pressure on intensive-care units is currently greatest in Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, but the rate of new admissions is declining in the first two states and has steadied in New Mexico. ICU beds tend to fill in the days and weeks following a surge.
Cases are increasing the most even in some of the most vaccinated U.S. states. Pennsylvania, for example, has the highest rate in the nation of first 12-and-older doses, according to CDC data. Still, the percentage of its overall population that is fully vaccinated is far lower, 62%.
Nationwide, 59% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 16% have received a booster, CDC data show.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio this week opened up booster shots to all adults. While hospitalizations and deaths remain low in the city, it is bracing for a rise in cases as the weather cools and more people gather inside for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi advised New Yorkers, including those who are vaccinated, to get tested before attending gatherings and traveling.
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, meanwhile, falls unusually early this year, beginning on Nov. 28, right after Thanksgiving, instead of its typical December start.
“Thanksgiving is bearing down on us,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said during a Nov. 15 virus briefing. “Getting as many people boosted between now and the holidays is really important.”
Vaccines have been proven effective at preventing hospitalization and death, but aren’t as effective at blocking milder cases. Immunity also wanes over time.
Stepping up the rate of vaccinations and boosters can help avoid a holiday surge, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said on Nov. 9.
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