Despite officials’ warnings and pleas, travel over Thanksgiving is expected to hit a pandemic peak.

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 Hawaii, Maine and Vermont — were considered high-risk zones for viral transmission, and nationwide hospitalizations were at a record 83,227.

“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 on 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.”

In Tulsa, Okla., Victory, a megachurch, canceled a “Friendsgiving” service on Sunday that had called on members to bring a friend after it prompted an outcry, instead opting to give away boxed meals, NBC News reported. The church did not respond to a request for comment regarding its planned “Thanksgiving Day Brunch,” which, according to its website, is set to be held on Thursday in the church’s cafeteria.

Dr. Fauci and others warned that Americans’ behavior over Thanksgiving would have critical implications for

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Idaho county defies doctors’ warnings, ditches COVID-19 mask mandate

Health board members in Idaho’s third most populated county voted to repeal a local mask mandate despite pleas from medical experts and a worsening COVID-19 outbreak in the state, The Associated Press reports. 

The Panhandle Health District board voted 4-3 to rescind the face mask mandate in Kootenai County on Thursday, even as health officials warned about overwhelmed hospitals and staff shortages. The mandate was put into effect in July but was never enforced by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. 

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On Wednesday, Kootenai Health, a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, announced it was 99 percent full and may have to transfer patients to centers as far away as Seattle. 

“We’re facing staff shortages, and we have a lot of physician fatigue. This has been going on for seven months — we’re tired,” Panhandle Health District epidemiologist Jeff Lee told board members ahead of the vote. 

Lee introduced doctors who testified before the board about how masks work to slow the spread of the virus and the serious health threats COVID-19 poses to those who become infected. 

But the board went on to drop the mask mandate anyway, with one board member saying he personally doesn’t care if residents wear masks.

“If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that’s fine with me,” board member Walt Kirby said, according to AP. “Nobody’s wearing the damned mask anyway…I’m sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.” 

Meanwhile, another board member denied the existence of COVID-19 altogether. 

“Something’s making these people sick, and I’m pretty sure it’s not coronavirus, so the question that you should be asking is, ‘What’s making them sick?” he told medical professionals who testified, according to AP. 

Health board member Glen Bailey acknowledged masks work in curbing the spread of the virus but introduced the motion to rescind the requirement and proposed to make it a recommendation instead. 

“I agree we have a problem with this virus, but at the same time I object to the mandate the board passed because it restricts people’s right of choice and ability to comply or not comply under penalty of law,” Bailey said, according to the Spokesman-Review

The vote comes as Idaho is experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began. The state reported nearly 1,000 new cases Thursday and has confirmed a total of more than 56,600 with at least 553 deaths. 

Public health officials have emphasized for months the importance of face coverings in the fight against the coronavirus crisis, and most states and local governments have mandated masks be worn in public. 




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Germany Issues Travel Warnings as COVID Surges in Europe | World News

By Kirsti Knolle and Inti Landauro

BERLIN/MADRID (Reuters) – Germany warned on Thursday against travel to neighbouring countries, Belgium’s foreign minister went into intensive care and Spain said COVID-19 was “out of control” in many areas, as governments across Europe took action to fight the pandemic.

As German authorities reported more than 10,000 daily cases for the first time, Berlin issued travel warnings for Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, most of Austria and many Italian regions, including the capital Rome.

“The situation overall has become very serious,” Lothar Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s infectious diseases agency, said in Berlin, adding: “We still have a chance to slow a further spread of the virus.”

After Europe appeared to have gained a measure of control over the epidemic following the dramatic lockdowns of March and April, a surge in cases over recent weeks has put the continent back at the heart of the crisis.

Hospitalisations and deaths across most of Europe have not yet reached the levels of the initial wave early this year, but authorities in many countries worry the situation could rapidly get worse.

More than 5.3 million people in Europe have contracted the disease and over 204,000 have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

India has had more than 7.7 million cases – the world’s highest tally after the United States with 8.3 million. But elsewhere in Asia, from China to South Korea or New Zealand, draconian lockdowns and rigorous contact tracing have helped contain the disease.

Grappling with the enormous costs of the coronavirus, Europe’s leaders are desperate to avoid a repeat of the blanket lockdowns that shut down their economies in the spring.

But as cases have surged, and health services have come under increasing pressure, they have been forced to impose and expand local restrictions aimed at reducing public gatherings to ever wider areas.

Underlining the reach of the disease, Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes went into intensive care on Thursday. German Health Minister Jens Spahn tested positive a day earlier.

“The second wave is a reality,” Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Thursday. “In many areas of our country, the epidemic is out of control.”

A number of Spanish regions are calling for localised curfews such as those implemented in France and Italy, where Lazio, the region around Rome, has joined Lombardy and Campania around Milan and Naples in imposing overnight curfews.

Amid the growing public alarm, Germany’s statistics office noted that sales of toilet paper rose almost 90% last week from pre-crisis levels with almost equally sharp jumps in sales of disinfectants and soap.

Only Sweden, a European outlier which has relied largely on voluntary measures to promote social distancing, was an exception, declaring senior citizens no longer need to isolate themselves given lower COVID infection rates than in spring.

As the crisis has intensified, much of the public goodwill seen in the first phase of lockdowns has evaporated and central governments have engaged in angry spats

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COVID-19 surge prompts warnings that anticipated ‘third wave’ is now here

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are increasing again with no sign of stopping, sparking fears that the fall and winter wave experts had warned about all year is already here. 

Over the past week, according to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker, the U.S. has confirmed an average of 54,000 new cases per day, a 25 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The surge cannot solely be explained by an increase in testing.

Nineteen states, including North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas and Indiana, are seeing record-high case numbers in their areas, according to the tracker. 

States that have seemingly gained control of the pandemic in recent months, such as Florida, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and others, are also seeing increases. 

“We’ve been talking about the fall surge for a long time now. I think that is the beginning of that reality,” Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former Food and Drug commissioner, told CNBC on Friday. 

Gottlieb added that Europe, which is seeing a daily average of 100,000 new COVID-19 cases — higher than at any other time during the pandemic — is probably about two or three weeks ahead of the U.S.

“I think we’re in for a difficult fall and winter,” Gottlieb said. 

Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase, with Wisconsin building a field hospital on the state park fairground.

Deaths remain flat at about 700 per day in the U.S., but that number typically lags behind hospitalizations, which lag behind case increases, meaning the U.S. could see more fatalities reported in the coming weeks. 

The silver lining, Gottlieb said, is the death rate will likely be “substantially less” than it was in the spring and summer outbreaks because of improved therapies and techniques that have saved people’s lives.

Experts generally say there have been two “surges” of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The first surge hit the northeast in the spring, and the second hit the south over the summer, peaking at about 73,000 cases per day in July — the highest levels so far recorded in the pandemic in the U.S.  Afterward, new cases steadily dropped, before beginning a climb upwards in September. Now the U.S. is poised to surpass the previous daily high in new cases, experts say.

“We’re actually almost already back at the peak that we saw nationally in the summer,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chain School of Public Health. 

“We’re almost back at that same level and I don’t believe that we’re anywhere close to that rise abating. … We’re seeing [cases] go up and in Europe and in many of those places, cases really did get down fairly low numbers first and now they’re skyrocketing again in many places. We’re seeing it in the US, and we’re seeing in other places as well and so we’re pretty much there and I think we have a long winter ahead.”

Experts have warned for months of a surge in cases in the colder months that would likely rival the

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