Thanksgiving is coming and COVID-19 is still hanging around

San Diego County continues to receive good news on coronavirus vaccination, with an additional 16,712 children ages five to 11 receiving their first doses in the past week, bringing the total to more than 44,000 in just three weeks, according to the latest county report. .

But while the increasing numbers are helping to plug a previously wide-open hole in the region’s immunity wall, the overall COVID-19 situation remains mixed as Thanksgiving arrives.

A year ago, everyone certainly believed that a widely available vaccine from the fourth Thursday in November 2021 would make the first post-COVID turkey day.

But despite encouraging vaccination in younger children, the vaccine still hasn’t delivered a clear win, meaning the virus is still in the game at a time when things were going really bad very quickly last year.

At this point, the C in COVID-19 might as well stand for warning.

Wednesday’s nationwide update indicates there were 255 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in local hospitals on Tuesday, significantly fewer than the 518 listed on November 23, 2020.

That lower hospitalization total is despite the now-dominant Delta strain of the virus being more than twice as transmissible as the types that dominated the holidays last year.

Although it has not prevented infection in all cases, the vaccine has reduced the chances of serious consequences. And yet the number of positive tests arriving daily remains high, even compared to this time last year, when there were significantly more COVID-related hospitalizations.

But a comparison of the province’s 13 coronavirus triggers — a list adopted in 2020 as a sort of early-warning system for viral transmission — shows that’s not the case. As of Wednesday’s weekly update, the region had an average of 13.1 new positive tests for every 100,000 inhabitants. That number was 10.7 on the same day a year ago.

This year, unlike last year, flu activity, another closely watched trigger, also appears in red. With the stay-at-homes removed since June and much less masking and distancing there than before, most experts are anticipating a bigger flu season this winter.

All in all, this Thanksgiving has a bit of a yin-yang character. Vaccination, which was not a thing in November 2020, has made COVID-19 less likely to fill hospitals. And yet the virus itself, now present in its more transmissible Delta variant, has ensured that this was not the post-COVID turkey day many had hoped for.

It seems that for every win, there is a corresponding setback.

Of course, while the vaccine isn’t able to completely prevent all diseases, it has significantly reduced the number of people who get sick enough to end up in hospital beds. At the same time, however, the health care system is struggling with a labor shortage, with many burning out during the summer and quitting their jobs, and a few later deciding to walk away rather than comply with vaccination mandates for health workers statewide.

An increase in cases and hospitalizations after the holidays is widely predicted, noted Chris Van Gorder, chief executive officer of Scripps Health.

“Our projections indicate that after the holidays we will see an increase in both infections and hospitalizations and an increase in indoor activity, but not to the extent that we had last year due to the high number of people vaccinated,” said Van Gorder.

Last year, Thanksgiving was the starting point for the pandemic’s deadliest COVID-19 wave. The number of COVID-19 residents in hospitals crossed the 1,000 mark on December 12, peaking at more than 1,800 a month later, almost forcing healthcare facilities to begin rationing intensive care resources.

It’s not just that vaccination is expected to prevent things from getting this bad this winter. Van Gorder said that must be the case, because the system is just not ready for a similar wave.

“The staff is tight everywhere and in every hospital in San Diego,” said Van Gorder. “Our people are tired of COVID-19 like everyone else, and our hospitals remain very busy.

“I think it’s fair to say we couldn’t handle a wave like last year because none of us have the staff nor the beds.”

For his part, the director said he plans to keep Thanksgiving out and make sure everyone who attends is vaccinated. He hoped for a similar approach across the province.

“For the past 20 months I have seen every day what COVID can do and the heartache it brings to families,” said Van Gorder. “I think a little extra precaution is still in order.

“The idea is to have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.”

However, it seems clear that the size of the meetings will increase significantly.

Holiday travel is not expected to be far from a record set in 2019, with supermarkets across the country reporting significant demand for traditional turkey and trimmings in recent weeks.

John Sparkenbach, district manager of Ralphs supermarkets in San Diego County, said customer numbers are up about 5 percent from last year, indicating more families are doing their Thanksgiving shopping this year than last year.

The volume of orders has also increased.

“You can see that customers are definitely buying more,” Sparkenbach said. “You can tell they will definitely have much bigger gatherings than they were last year.”

Only who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and who doesn’t creates their own tension.

About 25 percent of the 3.1 million people age 5 and older who are eligible to be vaccinated have not yet been fully vaccinated, and the issue has become the latest point of polarization in the country’s long-running culture war.

Many families struggle with whether or not to restrict Thursday’s meetings to those who have been vaccinated, and that creates rifts in the family, said Dr. Michelle Carcel, a psychologist in San Diego. Just as the vaccine, and the recent approval of booster shots for those most at risk, give an increased level of confidence to rally, at the same time it highlights the divisions that follow long-running divisions around issues like politics that most try to avoid when they sit around the same table.

The vaccine, Carcel said, is a particularly difficult dividing line because it literally involves the health of everyone present.

“For many people, the vaccine is very important and significant as a health measure that, based on what we see in the study, has fantastic efficacy compared to those who are unvaccinated and contract COVID,” said Carcel.

So bowing to vaccination feels a little different from, say, political disagreement. Those who insist on vaccinated-only gatherings must find ways to avoid judgment, even as they make a decision.

“Even if we disagree with that other person’s perspective, we should be able to say, ‘I may not agree with you, but I love you, and even if we can’t see each other in this setting, we can we may find an alternative in the future that might work,” said Carcel.

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