CHICAGO: A leading U.S. health official on Friday appealed to Americans to avoid unnecessary travel and limit social gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday, fearing a further acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic after one of the deadliest weeks in months.


Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said more than half the United States was a “red zone” where the virus is rampant, and Americans should limit gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, next Thursday, to immediate family members rather than targeting a maximum number of guests.

“This is faster, it is broader and what worries me – it could be longer,” Birx told CNN. “I think it’s on all of us right now to make sure it’s not longer.”

The single-day death toll on Thursday surpassed 2,000 for the first time since late June, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. The seven-day rolling average of daily new COVID-19 cases reached more than 165,000 on Thursday.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has jumped nearly 50% in the past two weeks, with more than 80,000 people being treated for the disease in hospitals as of late Thursday, the most at any time during the pandemic.

In response, officials in more than 20 states have imposed restrictions to curtail the spread of the virus as hospitalizations climbed to record highs in 29 states in November, straining already exhausted medical staff.

In a positive sign, Pfizer Inc said it would apply to U.S. health regulators for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, the first such application and a major step toward providing protection against the virus. [L4N2I62KF]

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE this week reported final trial results that showed the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no major safety concerns.

If the data is solid, “we literally could be weeks away from the authorization of a 95% effective vaccine,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said on CBS’s “This Morning.”

California’s governor on Thursday imposed some of the most stringent restrictions on the vast majority of the state’s population, with a curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities that will start on Saturday night and end on the morning of Dec. 21.

Similar restrictions took effect in Ohio this week, while Minnesota ordered a shutdown of restaurants, bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues from Friday until Dec. 18 at the earliest, as the state’s hospital intensive care units were stretched to capacity.

Emily Kandel, a recruiter and mother of three young children in Columbus, Ohio, said better than the governor’s curfew would be a shutdown of all non-essential indoor activities while schools remained open.

“I’m not optimistic that people will adhere to the numerous warnings,” Kandel, 44, said. “I hope they will, but I’m not overly optimistic. I think a lot of people think they are an exception, it’s not going to happen to them.”

In Illinois, where the number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive was at an alarmingly high 20% and new restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining, took effect on Friday, long lines appeared again at testing sites.

In Chicago’s metro area, Emily Randall had no luck finding an opening to get tested after she woke up with a throbbing headache on Thursday.

“It’s very frustrating because I’m trying to be a responsible citizen,” said the 43-year-old research analyst. “My head feels a lot better but I am still worried because I have read stories of people who got better and then, all of a sudden, got worse.”

Although COVID-19 restrictions have received more bipartisan support from state leaders in recent weeks, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump, refused to limit gatherings on Thanksgiving.

“In South Dakota, we won’t stop or discourage you from thanking God and spending time together this Thanksgiving,” Noem said in a statement on Friday.

With cases and deaths increasing steadily in most states, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation updated its widely cited model.

It now projects 471,000 coronavirus deaths by March 1, up from fewer than 440,000 in its previous forecast.

Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor

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