With the coronavirus raging in many parts of the country and hospitals dangerously overstretched, public health officials warned on Sunday that more calamitous days may be ahead, as infections tied to holiday gatherings fuel a fresh spate of illness and death.
“It’s terrible, it’s unfortunate, but it was predictable,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on “Meet the Press.”
This is also the first holiday period in which the new, more transmissible variant of the virus, first found in Britain, was known to be circulating in the United States.
Although air travel is down markedly from years past, American airports had their busiest day of the pandemic on Saturday, with 1,192,881 passengers passing through security checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Since Dec. 18, the agency has counted more than 16.3 million trips through its airport checkpoints, down from more than 35.4 million in the same period a year ago. And tens of millions more people were expected to travel by car.
Travelers have some vulnerability to infection while they are in transit, but, as the pattern of transmission from Thanksgiving travel demonstrated, the greater possibility of exposure comes from gatherings at the travelers’ destinations.
Because of the time lag between when people catch the virus and when they become ill and are hospitalized — and also because of holiday reporting anomalies — public health officials say a post-Christmas spike may not emerge clearly until the second week of January.
“Things are bad enough as they are right now,” Dr. Fauci said, “but they could get worse in the next couple of weeks.”
The surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, expressed similar fears, calling the projections of increased infections “pretty scary” and urging Americans to continue wearing masks and embracing social distancing.
“What we do now matters,” he said Sunday in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN. “If you gathered over the holidays outside of your household without a mask, there are still measures you can take right now. You still can self-quarantine. You still can get tested, knowing that greater than 50 percent of the spread now is among people who are asymptomatic.”
“If we do that,” he added, “we will be able to temper this surge.”
The United States reported at least 291,300 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, a single-day record, but one inflated by holiday reporting backlogs. Regular data reporting is expected to resume later this week.
Regardless of day-to-day reporting anomalies, the United States has had the world’s worst outbreak for most of the pandemic and is experiencing a tsunami of infections as vaccine distribution begins. On Saturday, the country passed yet another…