- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday strongly recommended against travel this Thanksgiving, urging families to celebrate within their households or hold online gatherings as the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus surpassed a quarter-million people.

Officials said they’re concerned about people spreading the disease on planes and trains and within transportation hubs where people tend to crowd together.

People who travel a short distance by car may be limiting their risk, especially if they don’t have to stop for gas, but mixing households still markedly increases the risk of transmission, the agency said.

“Celebrating virtually or with the people you live with is the safest choice this Thanksgiving,” the CDC said in updated guidance.

For those who do gather, the CDC urged people to limit attendance and consider wearing masks and opening windows for ventilation. These guidelines are especially important if a person with an underlying health condition is present, officials said.

Hosts should consider having an outdoor meal, if possible, offer single-use utensils, and limit the number of people in areas where food is prepared, the guidance says.

College students returning home from campus should limit their activities as much as possible in the days before their travel, to limit the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus at home.

The CDC issued its recommendations as the national death toll nearly 252,000 and current hospitalizations for COVID-19 approached 80,000, up from about 36,000 on Oct. 18.

“We’re alarmed,” said CDC incident manager Henry Walke, who said he hasn’t seen his own parents since January.

Vice President Mike Pence and presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden both said Thursday they have no interest in imposing another nationwide stay-at-home order like the one that upended the economy from mid-March to the end of April.

But the trend lines are daunting, as more than 1,000 Americans die from COVID-19 per day and known infections pour in at an average of over 160,000 per day.

“This is really a call to action for every Americans to increase their vigilance,” administration task force scientist Deborah Birx said, standing in front of charts in the White House briefing room that showed case counts rising vertically.

“This is more cases, more rapidly, than what we had seen before.”

Dr. Birx said many asymptomatic people are unknowingly spreading the virus to others, so mask-wearing is critical as people move indoors in the colder weather.

Thursday’s CDC and task force briefings were somewhat of a throwback to earlier days of the pandemic, when President Trump and other officials regularly updated the public on federal efforts to suppress a springtime crush in the Northeast and then a summer surge across the Sun Belt.

Unlike the CDC, however, Mr. Pence and the White House coronavirus task force declined to answer questions from the press. Mr. Trump did not attend the briefing.

State governors have been proposing a patchwork of ideas for controlling the spread of the virus, while Mr. Trump contests election results showing he lost and focuses on pharmaceutical solutions to the pandemic, such as vaccines and therapeutics, instead of mitigation in the near term.

Vaccines are zipping through the pipeline, giving the world and financial markets hope, but the U.S. faces a crisis that’s killing over 1,000 people per day until enough people roll up their sleeves sometime in 2021.

“There is reason for hope,” Dr. Walke said of the vaccine. “But it’s not here yet.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, insisted that promising vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are being fully vetted for safety. He said Americans should be motivated to keep up their guard while the shots are reviewed and distributed in the coming weeks.

“We need to actually double down on the public health measures while we’re waiting for that help to come,” Dr. Fauci said. “We’re not talking about shutting down the country. We’re not talking about locking down.”

States and cities are seeing rolling closures or curfews, however. The Smithsonian Institution on Thursday said it is closing its museums, including the outdoor National Zoo, due to rising infections.

New York City schools shut down Thursday to revert to online learning as the local test positivity rate reached 3%, upsetting parents who had to scramble for child care or felt businesses and other establishments should be shuttered before schools.

Mr. Pence said the administration does not support school closures because they impose unacceptable costs on children.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said schools are “really are not where we’re having our challenges,” citing casual household gatherings as a key culprit in the surge.

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