December has been the deadliest month in the United States since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 63,000 Americans lost to the virus in the past 26 days.
By comparison, the entire month of November saw around 36,964 deaths.
The grim death toll comes on the heels of several brutal months for the US, with Covid-19 devastating communities from coast to coast, crippling hospital systems and prompting widespread new restrictions.
The authorization of two Covid-19 vaccines in early December offered some hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.
But experts continue to warn that while the end is in sight, the pandemic is not over and another wave stemming from the Christmas holidays could be on the way.
“It’s very possible that we will see a post-season spike, in the Christmas, New Years sense,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, pointing to vacation trips and private meetings that take place despite the advice of health experts.
The nation’s leading infectious disease expert described the potential increase in cases as an “increase upon an increase”, telling CNN’s Dana Bash: “If you look at the slope, the slope of cases that we have experienced as we move forward. In the late fall and early early winter, it’s really quite worrying. ”
More than 1.1 million people were screened at airports on Saturday, according to the TSA, marking the third-busiest day for air travel in the United States since March.
More than 616,000 were screened on Christmas Day alone and hundreds of thousands more traveled in the days leading up to the holidays.
Covid-19 hospitalization figures in the US are already at record levels.
On Saturday, the country recorded its fifth-highest number of hospitalizations, with more than 117,300 Covid-19 patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Another increase in cases and hospitalizations will inevitably mean more deaths, in addition to an already devastating death toll.
“When it comes to a baseline of 200,000 new cases per day and around 2,000 deaths per day, with hospitalizations exceeding 120,000, we are really at a very critical point,” said Dr. Fauci.
“As we move into the next few weeks,” he added, “it could actually get worse.”
Fauci’s comments came as the US surpassed 19 million coronavirus cases, yet another milestone for the pandemic, which came just over 11 months after the first case was recorded in the US. from January.
Almost 332,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.
Another 193,000 could lose their lives in the next two months, according to predictions from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
“The screenings are just a nightmare,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.
“People can still save the lives of their loved ones by practicing that social distancing and masks. And remember, vaccines are just around the corner.”
Vaccine launch slow in some places, expert says
Nearly 2 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 9.5 million doses have been distributed.
Those numbers now include the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.
And while there are data reporting delays, federal officials had previously said they would vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year.
When asked about the apparent slow launch of vaccines, Dr. Fauci told CNN on Sunday that large comprehensive vaccine programs with a new vaccine start slowly before gaining momentum.
“I’m pretty sure that as we gain more and more momentum, transitioning from December to January and then February to March, I think we’ll catch up with the projection,” he said.
Dr. Esther Choo, professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, explained that vaccine delivery is “just a very complicated thing.”
“At every step, there is complexity and there is the possibility of delays, whether it be individual state planning, assignment, training, vaccine supply, storage … there are so many factors at this stage,” Choo said.
“We need to be prepared for the fact that it will be a slow rollout in many places and that it will not change our behaviors or necessarily the trajectory of the pandemic in this country any time soon,” Choo said.
Choo’s words echo a number of other experts who have warned the American public not to lower their guard when vaccinations begin and to continue to follow public health measures including wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and meetings and wash hands regularly.
It’s likely not until the summer when vaccines become widely available and begin to have a significant impact on the course of the pandemic, authorities said.
Dr. Fauci estimates that around 70% to 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for the country to achieve herd immunity.
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The CDC also announced new testing requirements for travelers arriving from the UK last week, which will take effect on Monday.