A record number of people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Sunday, as both cases and deaths have skyrocketed in recent weeks—and now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, it’s possible that another surge is coming down the pike.
Sunday’s hospitalizations—93,238 people, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project—smashed the previous record of more than 91,000, which was set on Saturday. For reference, the peak number of hospitalizations during the two previous “waves” of the pandemic, in mid-April and July, were just under 60,000. Hospitalizations have increased more than 36 percent in the past two weeks, according to the New York Times.
This wave of the pandemic has devastated the Midwest. The Dakotas have registered more than 158,000 cases, roughly 10 percent of the population of both states combined, and hospitals have been stretched thin in recent weeks. Case numbers there are finally decreasing, but positive cases are continuing to rise in nearby states such as Minnesota, which tallied more than 23,000 cases between Friday and Saturday, according to the New York Times.
So far, the U.S. has seen more than 13.1 million coronavirus cases and nearly 258,000 deaths, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
TSA screenings smashed pandemic records last week
Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health and elected officials warned people not to travel for Thanksgiving, the Transportation Security Administration screened more people the past week than it has since the pandemic began.
Nearly 1.2 million travelers passed through TSA security on Sunday, the fourth time since November 20 the agency broke a record since March. More than 6.4 million peoplcarese were screened by TSA between November 23 and November 29, a roughly 60 percent decrease over the same time period last year.
Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Sunday that if you attended a Thanksgiving gathering, "you need to assume that you're infected and not go near your grandparents and aunts and others without a mask."
"We saw what happened post-Memorial Day. Now we're deeply worried about what could happen post-Thanksgiving," Birx said. "It looked like things were finally starting to improve in our northern plains states, and now with Thanksgiving we're worried that all of that will be reversed."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Sunday that travel advisories and restrictions will be necessary for the upcoming Christmas season.
“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, is that we might see a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in,” Fauci said in a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press. “I don’t want to frighten people, except to say it is not too late to do something about this.”
First vaccine doses could come as early as December 21
Massachusetts-based company Moderna, which has developed a coronavirus vaccine candidate it says was 94.5 percent effective in a large-scale trial, said on Monday that it will file for emergency use authorization (EUA) with the Food and Drug Administration.
If that’s approved, the first doses could be given on December 21, the company’s CEO told the New York Times. Moderna follows Pfizer, which has developed a similar vaccine using messenger RNA and submitted for an EUA on November 20. The first doses of vaccines are expected to go to healthcare and essential workers, as well as high-risk populations such as people who work and live in nursing homes.
Moderna has also released more details from its trial, including that fewer than a dozen people who received the vaccine developed COVID-19, as opposed to more than 180 in the placebo group, Science magazine reported. None of the people who got the vaccine developed severe COVID-19, according to Science.
Congress returns to work and Americans are desperate for their help
Congress returns for a lame-duck session on Monday, and will have one last shot at coronavirus relief before President Donald Trump leaves office. But it has plenty on its docket in addition, including the need to pass a bill to avoid a government shutdown.
Talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who were trying to get a deal done on the first substantial relief package passed since the CARES Act in April, broke down in late October. Pelosi’s Democratic majority unexpectedly lost seats in the election: now, the Democrats will hold the House with potentially the smallest majority in a century, and the GOP holds a slim majority in the Senate, at least until the Georgia Senate runoffs in January.
President-elect Joe Biden has pushed for Congress to pass a relief bill prior to his inauguration. After winning re-election earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that passing the stimulus package is his top legislative priority. McConnell, however, has pushed for a small relief bill totaling about $500 billion, a far cry from the one Pelosi is pressing for, which totals about $2 trillion.
The ramifications of Congress failing to pass a relief package soon can’t be overstated. Even as the vaccine rollout could start as early as next month, states and local governments have been allotted just $200 million to distribute it. And without new relief, jobless benefits granted through an executive order by Trump—after the $600 per week CARES Act benefit expired at the end of July—will expire at the end of December.
At that point, 12 million people will lose their benefits, according to the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. Though down from the astronomical unemployment claims early in the pandemic, jobless claims are back on the rise. More than 1.5 million first-time jobless claims have been filed over the past two weeks, according to the US Department of Labor.