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 Vermont, Maine and Hawaii — 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) November 21, 2020
“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 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.”
Dr. Fauci and others warned that Americans’ behavior over Thanksgiving will 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.”
KEY DATA OF THE DAY
With a week of November left to go, the United States has already had its highest monthly case total yet, reporting more than 3,075,000 new coronavirus cases since Nov. 1., according to a New York Times database.
By the time the month is over, the final tally could top four million, more than double the number in October.
November’s case total is already larger — by nearly half a million — than the case totals of the first six months of this year combined.
The month’s cases are nearly 2.9 million more than March’s total, when many Americans entered lockdown, and 2.1 million more than in April. Testing was severely limited in the early days of the U.S. outbreak, and deaths — even those not reported as linked to Covid-19 — were far above normal, so the true caseload is believed to have been far higher.
The surge in cases is hitting the United States as some Americans are traveling for Thanksgiving and bringing social gatherings indoors as the weather cools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against holiday travel, and some states have renewed lockdowns and restrictions to curb the spread.
The United States is now averaging more than 170,000 new cases per day for the first time, according to the Times database. Saturday was the 16th consecutive day with an average of more than 100,000 new cases per day.
So far, more than 12.2 million cases have been reported in the United States. More than 256,000 people have died.
Here is a look back at monthly case numbers:
November: 3,075,000 (and counting)
In the wake of results suggesting that two prospective coronavirus vaccines are remarkably effective, the official in charge of the federal coronavirus vaccine program explained on Sunday news shows how the vaccines might be distributed to Americans as early as next month.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, said that within 24 hours after the Food and Drug Administration approves a vaccine, doses will be shipped to states to be distributed. “Within 48 hours from approval,” the first people would likely receive injections, Dr. Slaoui said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, announced this month that their vaccines were about 95 percent effective, and Pfizer formally submitted an application to the F.D.A. for emergency approval. Regulators at the agency will spend about three weeks reviewing the application. On Dec. 10, an outside advisory board on vaccines will meet to discuss the application, and the agency is expected to make a decision shortly after that meeting. Moderna is expected to submit its own application soon.
Even if the first vaccine is authorized in mid-December, officials and company representatives have estimated that there will only be enough doses available to treat about 22.5 million Americans by January. Each vaccine requires two doses, separated by several weeks.
Dr. Slaoui said vaccines would be shipped to states, proportioned according to their population, and that states would decide how and where to distribute the doses. He said that likely within a day after a vaccine receives F.D.A. authorization, a committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue recommendations for which groups should be first to receive a vaccine.
High-priority groups are likely to include frontline medical workers and residents of nursing homes. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former F.D.A. commissioner, said on the CBS show “Face the Nation” that those groups would likely be followed by other older adults and then expanded to younger adults in the spring. Both he and Dr. Slaoui estimated that tens of millions of adults could be vaccinated by sometime in May.
Immunizations for children would follow. Dr. Slaoui said on the CNN show “State of the Union” that the youngest participants in the clinical trials so far have been 12 to 14 years old and that approval for younger children and toddlers would likely not occur until late in 2021, after clinical trials for those age groups are conducted.
On “Face the Nation,” Larry Merlo, the chief executive of CVS Health, said that pharmacists and other medical staff from CVS plan to immunize residents of more than 25,000 long-term care facilities, beginning about 48 hours after a vaccine is approved. He said that for several years, CVS has been going to nursing homes to administer the seasonal flu vaccine, so “we have the systems, we have the processes, and we have built the logistics directly for the Covid vaccine.”
Mr. Merlo, whose company runs 10,000 pharmacies across the country, also said as the supply of the vaccines increase, they would be administered by CVS pharmacies and also by kiosks and mobile trailers that have been doing coronavirus testing in underserved communities.
This month, two very different companies — the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the biotech upstart Moderna — reported spectacular results from high-stakes clinical trials of their experimental coronavirus vaccines. It was a remarkable feat: developing a vaccine that appears safe and effective in a matter of months, rather than the years or decades that such developments usually take.
A team of Times reporters — Sharon LaFraniere, Katie Thomas, Noah Weiland, David Gelles, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Denise Grady — tracked how the extraordinary race unfolded, with so much at stake and such a complex backdrop. At play were not just commercial rivalries and scientific challenges but an ambitious plan to put the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed — and an often toxic political atmosphere created by President Trump — in the middle of the effort.
Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, had vowed to avoid the political minefield but was forced to maneuver through it nonetheless. After promising a timetable that seemed to support Mr. Trump’s prediction of a breakthrough before Election Day, Dr. Bourla pushed back the schedule in late October, fearing his firm’s clinical trial results would otherwise not be convincing enough for federal regulators to grant emergency approval of its vaccine.
Dr. Bourla had chosen from the start to keep Pfizer and its research partner, the German firm BioNTech, at arms length from the government, declining research and development money from Operation Warp Speed.
But Pfizer’s main rival, Moderna, made the opposite bet, embracing the assistance of a government led by a science-denying president. Moderna got nearly $2.5 billion to develop, manufacture and sell its vaccine to the federal government and teamed up with the National Institutes of Health on the scientific work, a highly successful partnership that managed to sidestep the political meddling by Mr. Trump and his aides that had bedeviled other efforts to confront the virus.
Both companies were aided by a confluence of three factors. A new method of developing vaccines was already waiting to be tested, with the coronavirus a perfect target. Sky-high infection rates accelerated the pace of clinical trials, the most time-consuming part of the process. And the government was willing to spend whatever it took, eliminating financial risks and bureaucratic roadblocks and allowing mass production to begin even before the trials were done.
Their apparent success showed that in an era of polarized politics, science was able to break down barriers between government, countries and industry to produce one of the few pieces of good news in a year of suffering and division.
Oxford Languages’s annual Word of the Year is usually a tribute to the protean creativity of English and the reality of constant linguistic change, throwing a spotlight on zeitgeisty neologisms like “selfie,” “vape” and “unfriend.”
But then came 2020, and you-know-what.
This year, Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, has forgone the selection of a single word in favor of highlighting the coronavirus pandemic’s swift and sudden linguistic impact on English.
“What struck the team as most distinctive in 2020 was the sheer scale and scope of change,” Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of product, said in an interview. “This event was experienced globally and by its nature changed the way we express every other thing that happened this year.”
The Word of the Year is based on usage evidence drawn from Oxford’s continually updated corpus of more than 11 billion words, gathered from news sources across the English-speaking world. The selection is meant “to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the preceding year, while also having “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”
The 2020 report does highlight some zippy new coinages, like “Blursday” (which captures the way the week blends together), “covidiots” (you know who you are) and “doomscrolling” (who, me?). But mostly, it underlines how the pandemic has utterly dominated public conversation, and given us a new collective vocabulary almost overnight.
Take, for starters, “pandemic”: Use of the term increased more than 57,000 percent since last year. “Coronavirus” — a word coined in 1968, but until this year little used outside medical contexts — also surged, breaking away from run-of-the-mill topical words.
Back in January, it was neck-and-neck with “impeachment,” then surging because of the proceedings against President Trump. But by April, “coronavirus” had become one of the most common nouns in English, overtaking even stalwarts like “time.”
And that, Ms. Martin said, is highly unusual, perhaps even unprecedented (another word, by the way, whose usage soared, according to the report).
The pandemic turned once-obscure public-health terminology like “social distancing” or “flatten the curve” into household terms, and made words and phrases like “lockdown” and “stay-at-home” common. More subtly, it also altered usage patterns for ho-hum words like “remote” and “remotely.”
Whether behind the cash register, stocking milk or unloading shipments of toilet paper, grocery store employees have for months been risking their safety to earn a paycheck and make necessities available to Americans, even as the hazard pay that some companies once offered has dwindled and government benefits dry up.
But as more workers fall ill, more supermarkets may be forced to close. In New Mexico this month, health officials have ordered 23 stores and restaurants to close for two weeks because of sick workers.
Walmart, Albertsons, Target and McDonald’s stores have all been affected. Some have stayed open after being ordered to close, The Albuquerque Journal reported. And in some places, lines are growing.
“I think everybody’s a little like, ‘Oh no, we got to go get our groceries. Everything’s going to close down,’” Anna Hagele told the newspaper. She was waiting in line with about 40 other people outside of an Albertsons.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, defended the unpopular closures at a virtual news conference this week. Some shoppers have complained to the local news media about long lines of panicking buyers at the stores that remain open.
“You can’t have a grocery store or another big box store that sells groceries if all of their employees — or the vast majority of them — have Covid,” Ms. Lujan Grisham said. “There’s so much of this infection that it’s inside the very places need to access.”
The state is ordering shops to close for two weeks if they have four separate instances of an employee testing positive for the virus in a two-week period. At least 14 businesses are under closure orders, including some which will not be allowed to reopen until Dec. 2.
A sharp jump in virus cases in New Mexico — the number of average cases reported each day this week is up 127 percent from the week before — has led the state to issue some of the tightest restrictions of any state in recent weeks.
Parts of Staten Island are on track to have all of their nonessential businesses closed later this week and all mass gatherings banned, as the rising positivity rate for the coronavirus pushes the New York City borough into the state’s highest level of lockdown.
“Staten Island is a serious problem,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a press briefing on Sunday. Several communities on the island, including Great Kills, Bay Terrace and Tottenville, have test positivity rates above 5 percent, roughly double the city’s average. The hospitals in the borough, the governor warned, are also becoming overburdened.
“We are running into a hospital capacity issue on Staten Island,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo said that other communities across the state were also likely to face varying levels of new restrictions this week unless they dramatically turned their situations around. But such a reversal, he warned, was unlikely given increased social activity around the holidays.
Instead of regional or statewide shutdowns, Mr. Cuomo has opted for a “micro-cluster” strategy that targets communities where positivity rates are particularly high. Areas can be given a yellow, orange or red designation, with red the most restrictive. The state already has 23 zones under various levels of restrictions.
In addition to parts of Staten Island likely becoming either red or orange zones, Mr. Cuomo said, parts of Syracuse and Rochester are on track to become orange zones. Some areas of Upper Manhattan were likely to become a yellow zone, as well as parts of Suffolk and Nassau Counties.
The area around Buffalo currently has the highest test positivity rate in the state, with some suburbs hovering at around 9 percent.
New York City and New York State both agree that a test positivity rate of 3 percent must trigger new restrictions. Indeed, Mayor Bill de Blasio closed the city’s schools when, by the city’s accounting, it hit the threshold. But the city and state use different methods to calculate the figure, leading to friction and disagreements.
On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said that the city’s calculations were largely “irrelevant,” and that key closure decisions would be made according to his metrics. According to the state, the city currently has a seven-day average positivity rate of 2.5 percent; the city says it is 3.09 percent.
With coronavirus cases rising in every other state, Hawaii stands alone with a gradual decline in new cases in November.
Hawaii is averaging 80 cases per day on its collection of islands, a decrease of about a quarter from two weeks earlier. Hospitalizations have fallen by a similar amount.
So how has Hawaii managed to keep its caseload in check?
“Being surrounded by ocean has helped,” said Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for the Hawaii State Department of Health. “Hawaii has more control over interstate and international travel than other states.”
The recent decline in Hawaii cases has come amid an influx of several thousand more daily visitors since the authorities removed a 14-day quarantine requirement for travel to the state in mid-October. Rather than quarantining, everyone entering Hawaii must now obtain a negative test result from a verified lab in the 72 hours before arriving.
The restrictions have helped slow the travel-related rates of the coronavirus — most cases are from community spread — but they have come at a steep cost. Hawaii’s tourism industry, which accounts for 21 percent of the state’s total economy, has all but come to a standstill. In the first nine months of 2020, visitor arrivals were down 71.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
For residents, this meant many businesses closed and jobs lost. In the particularly fraught seven-week period between late March and early May, new unemployment claims averaged more than 30,000 per week; the same period in 2019 had a weekly average of around 1,200.
With cases exploding across the mainland and in other parts of the world, Hawaii is once again bolstering its protections.
Starting Tuesday, if an inbound air traveler’s negative test result is not available before boarding — even if that is because of a laboratory delay, as has often been the case lately — a quarantine becomes mandatory.
Also last week, Gov. David Ige issued the first statewide mask mandate, which requires everyone over age 5 to wear a face covering in public or risk penalties that include a $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is expected to announce a plan on Monday to return to a system of locally tailored pandemic restrictions after a broader lockdown lifts on Dec. 2, fueling frictions with lawmakers in his own party who have been feuding with him.
Under the current measures, which were imposed early this month, people throughout England may leave home only for essential reasons, including exercise and seeking medical care; most retail stores have closed, but schools and universities remain open. Before the lockdown was imposed earlier this month, the strictest rules were in place in north and northwest England, where the outbreak was worst, while less stringent limits were in effect elsewhere.
(Rules for England are set directly by the national government; in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, regional parliaments are involved and somewhat different restrictions are in effect.)
Mr. Johnson’s plans for England after the lockdown include a three-tiered local system similar to but stronger than the one in place before the lockdown, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday, adding that it will include a blueprint for seeing loved ones over the December holidays. Science experts are expected to publish papers on Monday saying the pre-lockdown localized restrictions were too soft.
Mr. Johnson’s cabinet was still deliberating over the details on Sunday.
A government spokeswoman said regional restrictions would still be necessary after the lockdown lifts and before a vaccine becomes widely available; otherwise, she said, the virus could run out of control again and put intolerable pressure on the National Health Service.
But a group of around 70 lawmakers from Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party who are worried about the economic and health impact have asked for a “full cost-benefit analysis” of the proposed regional restrictions. “The lockdown cure prescribed runs the very real risk of being worse than the disease,” the lawmakers said in a letter to the prime minister. “Restrictions should be removed immediately if it cannot be shown that they are saving more lives than they cost.”
Mr. Johnson’s plan is expected to face a vote in Parliament before the lockdown lifts. If the restive Conservative lawmakers refuse to support Mr. Johnson, he may have to rely on lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party, an awkward arrangement.
The debate comes as a second surge of infections in Britain has flattened, and officials have held out hope for some socializing around Christmas. They have already hinted that some rules, including a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants, could be relaxed. “It’s definitely something that we’re looking at,” Rishi Sunak, Britain’s finance chief, told the BBC on Sunday.
Britain has suffered Europe’s worst toll from the pandemic, with 54,626 reported deaths as of Sunday morning and at least 1.4 million coronavirus cases in all, according to a Times database.
A young woman who compared her struggle against German government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus to that of a student executed in 1943 for resisting the Nazis sparked ridicule and outrage for downplaying the Holocaust.
A video of the woman giving a speech at a protest of several hundred people in Hanover on Saturday quickly went viral. Hundreds of people pointed out that unlike Sophie Scholl, who founded the White Rose resistance in Munich, the woman at the protest was allowed to speak her mind freely without facing repercussions.
The video shows the woman, who identified herself only as Jana from Kassel, saying, “I feel like Sophie Scholl since I have been active in the resistance, giving speeches, going to protest, distributing fliers.” There is scattered applause.
The speech was the latest instance of protesters or conspiracy theorists opposing the coronavirus measures equating the government’s efforts to save lives to the Nazis’ oppression of Jewish people. As the German government has further restricted public life in an effort to tamp down a surge in the number of infections since the middle of October, protests have grown larger, bolder and more violent. From the outset, they have been backed by neo-Nazis and members of far-right groups.
Last week an 11-year-old girl told a crowd that she felt like Anne Frank because she had to hold her birthday party in secret, fearing her neighbors would report the gathering. Several demonstrators have donned yellow stars of David resembling those forced upon Jews in Nazi Germany, stamped with “unvaccinated” in place of “Jude.”
“Whoever compares themselves today to Sophie Scholl or Anne Frank mocks the courage that it took to stand up to the Nazis,” Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, said on Twitter on Sunday. “This downplays the Holocaust and shows an unacceptable forgetfulness about history.”
“Nothing connects the corona protesters with resistance fighters,” he added. “Nothing!”
The Hanover video also shows that, after the woman spoke of Sophie Scholl at Saturday’s protest, a man in an orange vest approached the stage, saying he had been working as a security guard but was quitting, calling her statement “idiotic” and a “belittlement of the Holocaust.” Two police officers then escorted him from the area as the woman threw down her script and the microphone, burst into tears and fled the stage.
Local media reported on Sunday the man belonged to a leftist organization that had sought to counter the protest against the coronavirus measures.
In another video uploaded about 30 minutes after the initial clip, the same woman could be seen returning to the stage, repeating her statement.
The French agriculture ministry said on Sunday that 1,000 minks had been slaughtered at a farm south of Paris after some of the animals tested positive, and that minks were being tested at two other farms.
France is the second European country, after Denmark, to cull farmed mink because of the virus. Unlike with other infected animals, minks have been shown to be able to transmit the virus to humans. In Denmark, mutations to the virus discovered in minks were also detected in 12 people, raising concerns about the possible spread of a version of the virus that would be less susceptible to vaccines under development.
Denmark is the world’s leading producer of minks, which are related to the weasel and raised for their fur. The Danish government’s order earlier this month to kill all 15 million to 17 million minks in the country led to a political crisis. The agriculture minister, who objected to the order, was forced to step down, but public sentiment was with him and support for the government fell sharply. Officials then halted the nationwide slaughter midway, and concentrated instead on minks in the vicinity of the outbreak.
French officials said they had seen no sign that the virus had passed from minks to humans in France. But the agriculture ministry said minks at the farm, west of Chartres, had tested positive and posed a threat.
“As soon as it learned of these results, the ministries concerned immediately ordered the slaughter of the entire population of 1,000 animals on the farm, and the destruction of all products from these animals, in order to protect public health,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
In other international news:
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said on Sunday that his government was ready to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine as early as January, using 13,000 centers in the country where the vaccine will be administered. “The national health system, in terms of being able to vaccinate in little time, is frankly outstanding,” Mr. Sánchez said at a televised news conference. “We will guarantee that all priority groups will have access to the vaccine.” Mr. Sánchez also announced plans to add 10,000 more doctors and nurses to the state health system.
Infections are climbing quickly in Japan and South Korea, two countries that had long managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. Japan has had its worst-ever jump, breaking records on four consecutive days, with at least 2,508 new cases on Sunday. South Korea has had five straight days of more than 300 cases. A South Korean health official warned that the latest surge could become the county’s worst if it is not quickly brought under control. Last week new restrictions were announced for Seoul and surrounding areas, including limiting the number of people in mass events such as concerts, conferences and festivals to 100.
Turkey recorded 6,017 diagnoses of Covid-19 on Sunday, a record number for a second day, and 139 related deaths, The Associated Press reported, citing the country’s health ministry. The country doesn’t publicly report confirmed coronavirus cases in people without symptoms, a policy that has been criticized for masking the true scope of the national outbreak. Evening lockdowns were introduced over the weekend for the first time since June, with businesses including restaurants and bars ordered to close.
Coronavirus cases are climbing quickly in Japan and South Korea, two countries that have managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic.
Japan has had its worst-ever jump in new cases, breaking records on four consecutive days, with at least 2,508 new cases on Sunday. Its previous worst spike dropped off after peaking at nearly 2,000 cases in early August.
On Saturday Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that government-funded domestic travel stipends intended to help kick-start the economy would be suspended for some of the hardest hit areas of the country.
South Korea has had a smaller increase, with five straight days of more than 300 cases. Last week new restrictions were announced for Seoul and surrounding areas, including limiting the number of people in mass events such as concerts, conferences and festivals to 100.
South Korea was particularly hard hit at the beginning of the pandemic in February and March. On March 1 it peaked at more than 1,000 new cases. Since then the country has earned praise for bringing its outbreak under control, before enduring another surge in late August.
A South Korean health official warned that the latest surge could become the county’s worst if it is not quickly brought under control.
“We are at a crossroads as we experience a huge nationwide wave that may outclass the previous tides,” Lim Sook-young, a Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency official, said Saturday, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
More than 500 people have died in the outbreak in South Korea this year.