(The hillThe number of COVID-19 cases is rising nationally as the US enters its second holiday season amid the pandemic, with most families planning to gather for Thanksgiving this year.
The US is in better shape than last year, when authorities confirmed more than 160,000 COVID-19 cases every day.
The daily average of new cases is below 100,000 and nearly 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated. They can “feel good about enjoying a typical” holiday season, Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert, said this week.
But with millions still unvaccinated and the number of cases mounting, experts are urging Americans, especially the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and vulnerable, to exercise caution when congregating with others.
“There is concern that the rate of infection spread is already so high as we enter the holiday season,” said Amber D’Souza, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“We are definitely on our way to our next wave,” she added.
Nationally, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases is near 95,000, up 33 percent from two weeks earlier, according to data from The New York Times. In the past two weeks, cases have increased in 39 states and DC and doubled in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Certain areas, such as the Midwest, New England, and the Southwest, are particularly prone to peaks.
The daily average of about 48,000 hospitalizations is the same as two weeks ago, while 1,100 deaths per day are down 1 percent.
The increase in the case is similar across the country, plans for intergenerational gatherings next week, prompting public health experts to urge Americans to consider security measures for their events.
The risk of different Thanksgiving gatherings varies, as indoor events are more dangerous than outdoors and including unvaccinated guests poses more danger than restricting them to fully vaccinated attendees. Ultimately, experts said it ultimately depends on how much risk individuals are willing to take.
Researchers, including Joshua Weitz, a professor of biological sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have developed a tool to determine the local risk that at least one infected person will be at an event.
For 50-person events, the calculator shows that eight states have counties with at least a 95 percent risk level.
“Even when we are fatigued, the reality is that the number of cases is increasing and there are still far too many people who have not been vaccinated, and that contributes to a greater spread and serious consequences,” said Joshua Weitz, professor of biological sciences. sciences at the University of Amsterdam. the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“I think we should all be concerned that the things we hold dear, that we love to do, could inadvertently lead to an increase in the number of cases and serious consequences,” he added.
About 57 million people aged 12 years and older are still unvaccinated and are at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, in addition to being hospitalized or killed by the virus.
Still, experts don’t expect a possible increase to reach last year’s levels, as the majority of the country has immunity to the virus.
Nearly 196 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 32 million have received a booster dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of adults 65 and older who are more at risk for serious illness, 86.2 percent have been fully vaccinated and 38 percent have received their booster.
However, even if most Americans are protected with the vaccine, the injections are not 100 percent effective, meaning breakthrough cases can still develop. Experts also said that declining vaccine immunity over time and high community transmission could lead to more breakthrough cases.
While it’s too late to start vaccinations to be fully protected by Thanksgiving next week, experts said hosts and visitors can still take precautions to limit the spread during the holidays, including having visitors perform rapid tests, the organizing events outside and increasing ventilation.
Justin Lessler, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said even people who go to fully vaccinated events can take steps to protect those in attendance.
“I think that extra layer of doing a quick test or something or other activities to help you be doubly sure your dinner isn’t going to be a super-distributed event — is still worth it,” he said.
Elderly, immunocompromised and other vulnerable people should “really consider a security plan,” he said, adding “but I don’t think that security plan should be: call off the meeting altogether.”
The US has already made booster shots available to these at-risk populations in recent months, and the Food and Drug Administration on Friday extended booster authorization to all adults.
The CDC’s updated holiday guidelines last month suggest that all eligible people should get vaccinated to protect those who can’t, such as children, and those at risk.
For children ages 5 to 11, the Pfizer vaccine recently became available earlier this month, so a vast majority will not be fully vaccinated by next week. Children under the age of 5 are still not eligible for an injection.
To protect these children, Lori Handy, the medical director of infection prevention and control at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, advised implementing additional “layers of protection” and making sure those with exposures or symptoms are not present.
For kids at risk because of medical conditions, she said it’s “time to be a little mama bear and protect your kids for a little bit more this pandemic.”
“I would advise people to be as careful as possible,” she said. “Find ways to bring joy and happiness during the holiday season, but don’t overdo it with very large gatherings where you might regret that event.”