The US is entering into a “precarious situation” just before Christmas, according to the country’s top advisor on COVID-19.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned a travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday may make the current situation in America even worse, predicting “a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in”.
Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press programme, Dr Fauci stressed the importance of continuing to take precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing but emphasised that restrictions may be necessary to protect people over Christmas.
“I don’t want to frighten people, except to say it is not too late to do something about this,” he said.
“We’re going to have to make decisions as a nation, state, city and family.”
America celebrated Thanksgiving this week and while some embraced a socially distanced holiday, millions travelled to spend time with their loved ones.
Air travel reached the highest levels since the pandemic hit.
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Many, including Dr Fauci, had warned of the impact this could have on the number of COVID cases in a country already struggling to contain the virus.
Deaths from COVID-19 typically happen a number of weeks after infection, meaning Christmas could now be a critical time in the US.
Thirteen million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and over 265,000 have lost their lives.
On Friday, the number of new cases reported in the US topped 200,000 for the first time.
Despite spiralling cases, President Donald Trump has made it clear that while he is still in power there will be no federally mandated lockdown.
It means measures to control the spread of the virus have been left to state and local leaders, with many imploring people not to travel this Thanksgiving – with limited success.
Some states such as California are introducing tighter restrictions now the holidays are over.
Starting on Monday, the 10 million residents there are being asked to stay at home.
Critics have described America’s response to the latest wave as “patchwork”.
Dr Fauci also said he had been receiving calls from healthcare officials throughout the country saying their facilities were at capacity.
But he added that promising news about COVID-19 vaccines provided “light at the end of the tunnel”.
On 10 December, the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices will meet with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss a rollout of the vaccine.
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“We likely, almost certainly, are going to be vaccinating a portion of the individuals in the first priority [healthcare workers] before the end of December, and then as we get into January and February and March, more and more,” Dr Fauci said.
“So if we can hang together as a country and do these kinds of things to blunt these surges until we get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, we can get through this.”
President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear responding to the pandemic is among his top priorities when he takes office in January.
A delay in the start of the official transition period caused concern it would hamper the incoming administration’s ability to begin planning for the vaccine rollout, but that planning is now under way.