Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the White House’s coronavirus task force, predicted Sunday that the number of COVID-19 infections will skyrocket over the next several weeks as millions of Americans travel during the holiday season.
The U.S. experienced a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in recent months, and public health officials warned that those numbers could jump during the winter as Americans experience “COVID fatigue.”
Fauci and other task force members urged Americans to refrain from traveling to visit loved ones over the holidays to avoid spreading the virus. But millions of Americans bucked that advice and packed airports in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
“We have to be careful now,” Fauci told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what’s happened with the travel.”
He added: “We may see a surge upon a surge. We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s just the reality. We said that these things would happen as we got into the cold weather and as we began traveling, and they’ve happened. It’s gonna happen again.”
Fauci said it’s unlikely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will relax its holiday gathering guidelines ahead of Christmas.
The true effect of Thanksgiving travel likely won’t begin showing up in data until the second week of December. That’s because there are often delays in tracing and reporting the virus’s spread, and it can take time for symptoms to appear, for people to get tested and for them to receive results.
Fauci pleaded Sunday with Americans to continue to adhere to COVID-19 mitigation measures, including wearing masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands.
“We do know that it does work,” Fauci said of the effort. “Countries that have mitigated have turned around the surge.”
“Hang in there a bit longer,” he added. “Help is on the way” in the form of efficacious vaccines, with the first doses expected to arrive in the next few weeks, he said.
The U.S. as of Sunday continued to lead the world in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths: 13.2 million cases and more than 266,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
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