The United States could experience a “surge upon a surge” during and after the Christmas holiday season, top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has warned.
His comments come after millions of Americans travelled over the Thanksgiving break despite being advised to stay home.
“We said that these things would happen as we got into the cold weather and as we began travelling, and they’ve happened,” Dr Fauci said in an American television interview on Monday morning (Australian time).
“It’s going to happen again, so I cannot see all of a sudden a relaxation of the kinds of recommendations and restrictions, because we’re getting into colder weather and an even larger holiday season as people travel to come back and forth for Christmas.”
Coronavirus cases in the US have surged in recent weeks, reaching their highest level since the spring.
Dr Fauci said the US “may see a surge upon a surge” of additional new coronavirus cases due to Thanksgiving gatherings and travel.
“We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s just the reality,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised that Americans postpone their travel and stay home for Thanksgiving.
This did not stop more than 8 million people from travelling between November 20 and Saturday.
“There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what’s happened with the travel,” Dr Fauci said.
Those returning from Thanksgiving holiday travel should be “really careful” by getting tested, he said.
“If they’ve been in situations outside of the family setting, in which they really don’t know the level of exposure … you’ve really got to understand the importance of trying to prevent further spread and further surge,” Dr Fauci said.
There have so far been 13.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US, including around four million reported in the month of November, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
At least 266,000 people have died of the virus since the start of the pandemic. Still, public health restrictions vary from state to state.
The good news is that coronavirus vaccines are “really right on the horizon”, Dr Fauci said.
“We’ll be having vaccines available for the higher-priority people towards the middle and end of December and as we get into January and February,” he said.