“Covid doesn’t care that it’s a holiday, and unfortunately covid is on the rise across the nation,” she said. “Now is not the time to let our guard down and say it’s the holiday and let’s be merry. I think we need to maintain our vigilance here.”
The coronavirus pandemic numbers have been going the wrong direction for more than a month, topping 80,000 newly confirmed infections daily across the country, with hospitalizations rising in more than three dozen states and deaths creeping upward. Now, the United States is barreling toward another inflection point: a holiday season dictated by the calendar and demanded by tradition.
The anticipated surge in interstate travel, family gatherings and indoor socializing is expected to facilitate the spread of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This isn’t like the run-up to Memorial Day or Independence Day: Barbecues outdoors, or pool parties, aren’t on the itinerary of many people.
The fall and winter holidays are homey by nature. Respiratory viruses thrive in dry, warm indoor conditions in which people crowd together. The statistical peak of flu season typically comes close on the heels of Christmas and New Year’s. Colder weather is already driving people indoors.
The government’s top doctors have said they believe the recent national spike in infections has largely been driven by household transmission. Superspreader events have gotten a lot of attention, but it’s the prosaic meals with family and friends that are driving up caseloads.
This trend presents people with difficult individual choices — and those choices carry societal consequences. Epidemiologists look at the broad effect of a contagion, not simply the effects on individuals. Thanksgiving, for example, is an extremely busy travel period in America. The coronavirus exploits travelers to spread in places where it has been sparse or absent.
“I am nervous about Thanksgiving,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine. “I’m nervous because I know what happens when you multiply the risks by millions of households.”
The scientists are not telling people to cancel their holiday plans, necessarily. But they are urging people to think of alternative ways to celebrate. They do not say it explicitly, but they are encouraging a kind of rationing of togetherness.
“This is not the cold. This is not the flu. This is much worse. People are dying. Our well-being as a country depends on us getting this thing under control,” Alexander said.
Public-health officials doubt an elegant way exists to finesse the 2020 pandemic-shrouded holidays with minimal disruption — for example, by working through a checklist of best practices that include timely testing, scrupulous social distancing and disciplined mask-wearing. Instead, people will need to make serious adjustments as they calculate the risks and rewards of holiday gatherings.
“There’s no easy answer here, just like with everything else. It’s not about safe or unsafe. It’s about figuring out how to balance various risks and keeping risks as low as possible,” Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus said.
“This is not a