Americans are defying pleas to stay home for Thanksgiving in the face of the surging coronavirus pandemic, triggering fresh warnings from health officials with the release of vaccines still weeks away.
President-elect Joe Biden joined in the calls on Wednesday (local time), urging people to forgo big family gatherings, wear protective masks and maintain social distancing.
“I know we can and we will beat this virus,” he told a handful of staffers and journalists wearing masks sitting inside socially distanced circles in a Delaware theatre. Mr Biden did not wear a mask.
“Life is going to return to normal. I promise you. This will happen. This will not last forever,” said the 78-year-old.
In the US on Tuesday, deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2000 in a single day for the first time since May, while hospitalisations reached a record 88,000 on Wednesday. The country has had 2.3 million new infections in the past two weeks.
Coronavirus deaths reached 2157 on Tuesday – one person every 40 seconds – with another 170,000 people infected, as millions of Americans disregarded official warnings and travelled for Thanksgiving.
Nearly a million passengers a day have been screened at airport security checkpoints for the past week, as Americans headed off for one of the year’s biggest holiday periods. Sunday’s total of 1.047 million the highest number since the early days of the pandemic in mid-March.
Just how many Americans are on the move as the pandemic lays waste to the country are revealed in shocking series of images from Flightradar:
Daliza Rodriguez, a 33-year-old childhood educator, was traveling to Texas from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday.
“We know we’re taking a risk but we want to see the family and it has been a long time,” she said.
Infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci urged people to keep Thanksgiving gatherings as small as possible and stressed the need to “hang in there a bit longer”.
“If we do those things, we’re going to get through it. So that’s my final plea before the holiday,” he told the ABC’s Good Morning America.
Families with university students have been forced to evaluate the risk of reuniting.
Across New York City, lines at COVID-19 testing sites wrapped around the block on Wednesday.
Bundled-up residents queued up outside clinics in Astoria, Queens and Boerum Hill, Brooklyn from 8am.
MG Robinson, a contract analyst at the Office of New York City Comptroller, waited in line for seven hours outside a CityMD clinic in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was criticised after telling a local TV station he had invited his 89-year-old mother and two daughters to Albany for Thanksgiving, since reversed course.
“This is not a normal Thanksgiving and to act like it’s a normal Thanksgiving is to deny the reality of every health expert in the nation,” Cuomo said on Wednesday in urging New Yorkers to stay home.
The first COVID-19 vaccines could be weeks away with the US Food and Drug Administration due to rule December 10 on whether to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use.
A second vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, could also be ready for US authorisation and distribution within weeks.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program plans to release 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide as soon as one is approved.