Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday with the pandemic at perhaps its most precarious point yet.
Coronavirus cases in the United States have reached record highs, with an average of more than 176,000 a day over the past week. Deaths are soaring, with more than 2,200 announced on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the highest daily totals since early May. Even as reports of new infections begin to level off in parts of the Midwest, that progress is being offset by fresh outbreaks on both coasts and in the Southwest, where officials are scrambling to impose new restrictions to slow the spread.
The national uptick includes weekly case records in places as diffuse as Delaware, Ohio, Maine and Arizona, where more than 27,000 cases were announced over seven days, exceeding the state’s summer peak. Pennsylvania and Arkansas on Thursday reported daily records for the number of new cases.
In New Mexico, grocery stores are being ordered to close if four employees test positive. In Los Angeles County, Calif., restaurants can no longer offer in-person dining. And in Pima County, Ariz., which includes Tucson, cases have reached record levels and officials have imposed a voluntary curfew.
“What we’re trying to do is decrease social mobility,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County health director.
Deaths are also surging, especially in the Midwest, the region that drove much of the case growth this fall. More than 900 deaths have been announced over the past week in Illinois, along with more than 400 each in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Health officials have worried aloud for weeks that large Thanksgiving gatherings could seed another wave of infections at a time when the country can scarcely afford it. In many places, hospitals are already full, contact tracers have been overwhelmed and health care workers are exhausted.
“Wisconsin is in a bad place right now with no sign of things getting better without action,” said an open letter signed by hundreds of employees of UW Health, the state university’s medical center and health system. “We are, quite simply, out of time. Without immediate change, our hospitals will be too full to treat all of those with the virus and those with other illnesses or injuries.”
More than 260,000 people have died of coronavirus in the United States. In a speech on the eve of Thanksgiving, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke of his family’s losses, and urged Americans to “hang on” and called for unity.
“I remember that first Thanksgiving, the empty chair, the silence,” said Mr. Biden, whose son Beau died in 2015. “It takes your breath away. It’s really hard to care. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to even think of looking forward. It’s so hard to hope. I understand.”
There was also grim economic news this week: Layoffs are rising again and Americans’ incomes are falling, the latest signs that the one-two punch of a resurgent pandemic and waning government aid are undermining the U.S. economic recovery.
Leaders at food banks across the country reported greater demand of their Thanksgiving services. In Texas, about 9 million people are struggling with food insecurity, said Celia Cole, the chief executive of Feeding Texas.
And in California, Leslie Bacho, the chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, said workers had been serving 500,000 people a month, so many that the food bank needed the help of the California National Guard.
“We don’t see the need going down anytime soon,” Ms. Bacho said. “In the beginning, we were in a sprint mode, and now we’re adjusting to a marathon.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York accused the U.S. Supreme Court of political partisanship on Thursday after the high court rejected his statewide coronavirus-based restrictions on religious services, playing down the impact of its ruling and suggesting it was representative of its new conservative majority.
Regardless of the governor’s interpretation, the decision by the Supreme Court late on Wednesday to suspend the 10- and 25-person capacity limitations on churches and other houses of worship in New York would seem to be a sharp rebuke to Mr. Cuomo, who had previously won a series of legal battles over his emergency powers.
“You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making,” the governor said, noting worries in some quarters after President Trump nominated three conservative justices on the Supreme Court in the past four years. “We know who he appointed to the court. We know their ideology.”
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, insisted that the decision “doesn’t have any practical effect” because the restrictions on religious services in Brooklyn, as well as similar ones in Queens and the city’s northern suburbs, had since been eased after the positive test rates in those areas had declined.
But less stringent capacity restrictions, also rejected by the Supreme Court’s decision, are still in place in six other counties, including in Staten Island.
Legal experts said that despite the governor’s assertion that the decision was limited to parishes and other houses of worship in Brooklyn, the court’s ruling could be used to challenge and overturn other restrictions elsewhere. “The decision is applicable to people in similar situations,” said Norman Siegel, a constitutional lawyer and former leader of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It’s applicable to any synagogue, any church, to any mosque, to any religious setting.”
As Americans celebrated Thanksgiving against a backdrop of record-breaking coronavirus numbers, many political leaders took the opportunity to focus attention on essential workers while others found themselves under scrutiny for their own actions.
Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver, a Democrat, publicly apologized after telling residents to stay home and celebrate with family virtually and then ignoring his own advice by flying to be with his family in Mississippi.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, Mr. Hancock said that he and his family had canceled their usual celebration with multiple households, but that he had traveled to be with his wife and daughter for Thanksgiving.
“As the holiday approached, I decided it would be safer for me to travel to see them than to have two family members travel back to Denver,” he wrote.
Mr. Hancock added, “I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head.”
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming tested positive for the coronavirus. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that Mr. Gordon, a Republican, was experiencing minor symptoms and planned to quarantine and work remotely. And Gov. Jared Polis, the Democratic leader of Colorado, announced on Wednesday night that he was quarantining after being exposed to the virus.
Many other governors gave thanks to essential workers during a holiday season that is being subsumed by the pandemic.
In a video message, Gov. Lary Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, said he was thankful for the sacrifices that Maryland residents had made and for the health care workers and scientists working to keep the virus at bay.
“While the way we celebrate Thanksgiving this year may be different, we still have so much to be thankful for,” he said.
In his Thanksgiving message, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, a Democrat, said that he was grateful for essential workers, public health employees, medical professionals, volunteers and teachers, despite the aching loss of those who have died from the coronavirus.
“There’s no way to put on a cheerful face and pretend that everything is whole when we’ve lost so much,” he wrote.
“And yet there’s hope and plenty to be grateful for,” he added.
It’s a yearly Thanksgiving Day tradition: Millions of spectators crammed onto long city blocks, hanging over barricades and balconies or pressed against the windows of towering office buildings to watch giant balloons, depicting cartoon characters like Pikachu, hovering just a few feet above the street.
But this year, as with everything in 2020, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a ritual marker of the holiday, was drastically different.
Because of the threat of the coronavirus, much of the parade in Manhattan was scaled down and pretaped for the television airing. The route was reduced from two miles to a single block down 34th Street, near the flagship department store.
There were no high school bands. Instead of the usual 2,000 balloon handlers there were only about 130.
Warnings from officials to stay home because of the pandemic kept millions indoors this year, and police barricades were put in place to ensure nobody got too close.
Still, some spectators were curious and showed up anyway.
On 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, Karin Schlosser, 52, stood behind one of the barricades taking photos of the floats and balloons.
“I think people still really need some sense of normalcy,” said Ms. Schlosser, who is from California but is living in New York City for a month while working from home.
Dozens gathered at the same corner shortly after 9 a.m. taking photos with their cellphones. A man with a woman snapped a selfie with Christmas floats in the background. Absent in the photograph was the usual crowd of thousands.
Kaitlin Lawrence, 31, and Zeev Kirsh, 40, tried to inject the event with a little levity when they decided to attend the parade in turkey costumes. Ms. Lawrence, merged her two favorite holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. She dressed as a turkey-Santa.
“We are die-hard New Yorkers and we want to keep the magic alive,” Ms. Lawrence said.
The announcement this week that a cheap, easy-to-make coronavirus vaccine appeared to be up to 90 percent effective was greeted with jubilation. “Get yourself a vaccaccino,” a British tabloid celebrated, noting that a shot of the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, costs less than a cup of coffee.
But since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing.
Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results.
Officials in the United States have also said that the results were not clear. It was the head of the U.S. federal vaccine initiative — not the company — who first disclosed that the vaccine’s most promising results did not reflect data from older people.
The upshot, the experts said, is that the odds of regulators in the United States and elsewhere quickly authorizing the emergency use of the AstraZeneca vaccine are declining, a setback in the global campaign to corral the devastating pandemic.
Michele Meixell, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, said the trials “were conducted to the highest standards.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Menelas Pangalos, the AstraZeneca executive in charge of much of the company’s research and development, defended the company’s handling of the testing and its public disclosures. He said the error in the dosage was made by a contractor, and that, once it was discovered, regulators were immediately notified and signed off on the plan to continue testing the vaccine in different doses.
Asked why AstraZeneca shared some information with Wall Street analysts and some other officials and experts but not with the public, he responded, “I think the best way of reflecting the results is in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, not in a newspaper.”
— Rebecca Robbins and
Almost all of England must adhere to the two most severe sets of coronavirus restrictions when a national lockdown ends next week, the government said on Thursday, in an announcement likely to stoke tensions with lawmakers.
London and Liverpool have escaped the most stringent curbs and have been put into the second of three tiers, each based on an assessment of the threat from the virus.
Restaurants and pubs will reopen for indoor dining, but they will only be allowed to serve alcohol indoors to those eating a substantial meal.
In Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester, Newcastle and Hull, cities that must follow the toughest restrictions, pubs and restaurants will stay closed except for takeout service.
Just a handful of areas in the south of England will be in the tier with the lightest rules.
The fact that much of Northern England faces the tightest curbs is likely to revive claims that the region is not being treated the same way as London and the southern parts of the country.
Across the country, some normality will return when the lockdown lifts on Wednesday in England, and stores, gyms and hairdressers can reopen. Religious services, weddings and outdoor sporting events can also take place.
But in dividing the country into three tiers of restrictions, based on regional data, the government is hoping that the system works better than it did earlier this year, when it failed to stem a surge in cases.
This time the rules have been tightened and Thursday’s announcement, made by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, underscores the government’s desire to keep controls on the hospitality trade in the run up to Christmas.
“It is vital that we safeguard the gains we have made,” he told lawmakers on Thursday.
Some critics, however, want regions split into smaller units to reflect local circumstances, and 70 lawmakers from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have expressed concerns about the economic damage of restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
In other developments around the world:
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and state governors agreed to tighten virus restrictions and extend the country’s lockdown through December. “Without a doubt we have difficult months ahead of us,” Ms. Merkel told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Amid a growing caseload, Greece is also extending a lockdown that had been set to end on Monday, until Dec. 7.
Prince Carl Philip and his wife, Princess Sofia, of Sweden tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement from the Royal Court of Sweden. Carl Philip is fourth in the line of succession to the Swedish throne.
South Korea reported 583 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, the biggest daily caseload since early March, as health officials struggled to contain a third wave that began earlier this month. In the past week, officials have banned gatherings of more than 100 people, shuttered nightclubs and allowed only takeout services in coffee shop chains.
It was 10 months ago that officials identified the first U.S. coronavirus case, in Snohomish County, Wash. That area north of Seattle is now reporting its highest coronavirus case numbers of the pandemic.
Snohomish County has recorded an average of about 230 cases per day over the past week, about three times higher than a month ago. Dr. Chris Spitters, the Snohomish County health officer, said hospitalizations in the region have risen about 400 percent in just six weeks.
“Hospitals are rapidly approaching where we were back in March,” Dr. Spitters said this week.
On Jan. 21, federal and local officials announced that a person who had recently traveled from Wuhan, China, had tested positive in Snohomish County, setting off an extensive effort to isolate and treat the patient. Weeks later, the Seattle region emerged as an early epicenter of the virus, although it remains uncertain whether the outbreak was linked to that first person.
Washington State recorded many of the first coronavirus deaths in the nation in March but managed to contain its outbreak in the spring and has kept its numbers low when compared to other states around the country. But in recent days, case numbers have been jumping and setting records. Gov. Jay Inslee has restored coronavirus restrictions, closing fitness facilities and prohibiting indoor dining at bars and restaurants.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said Wednesday the situation was “extraordinarily urgent” and urged all residents to take action to stop the spread of the virus before hospitals become overwhelmed.
“We must all recommit to flatten the curve now,” Dr. Lofy said.
When President Trump talks about efforts to deliver the coronavirus vaccine to millions of Americans eager to return to their normal lives, he often says he is “counting on the military” to get it done.
Mr. Trump has given the impression that troops would be packing up vials, transporting them from factories to pharmacies and perhaps even administering shots. And, at times, military officers working on the sprawling interagency program to move those vaccine doses from drug companies into doctors’ offices have indicated the same thing.
In reality, the role of the military has been less public and more pervasive than this characterization suggests.
When companies have lacked the physical spaces needed to conduct their drug trials, the Defense Department has acquired trailers and permits to create pop-up medical sites in parking lots. When a required piece of plastic or glass was in short supply, the military leveraged a law passed during the Korean War to force manufacturers to move them to the front of the line. Should a hurricane hit somewhere, blocking trucks, the military has transportation ready.
But the distribution of vaccines will be left largely to their producers and commercial transportation companies. Black Hawk helicopters will not be landing next to neighborhood drugstore to drop off doses.
Scores of Defense Department employees are laced through the government offices involved in the effort, making up a large portion of the federal personnel devoted to the effort. Those numbers have led some current and former officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to privately grumble that the military’s role in Operation Warp Speed was too large for a task that is, at its core, a public health campaign.
“Frankly, it has been breathtaking to watch,” said Paul Ostrowski, a retired Army lieutenant general and the director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed.
The Thanksgiving menu behind bars in the United States this year featured extra helpings of loneliness and tension along with the processed turkey.
Most American prisons suspended in-person visits months ago — some as early as March — to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving many inmates able to communicate with loved ones only through mail that can take several weeks to arrive or costly phone and video calls.
This year, the threat of the virus and the long separations from families have added an extra layer of anxiety to one of the most anticipated days of the year, inmates and their relatives say.
Kelly Connolly, whose brother Rory Connolly is serving time in a federal prison in Ohio, said her family felt helpless to relieve her brother’s isolation and fear of getting sick.
The ban on visits “does seem extra punitive, on top of the sentence — the daily tension and terror, in addition to all the other aspects of prison,” she said. “This is by far the longest stretch my brother has gone without seeing family members or friends.”
Prisons, jails and detention facilities have often become coronavirus hot spots. More than 327,000 inmates and guards in have been infected by the virus, and more than 1,650 have died, according to a New York Times database.
The steep recent rise in infections around the nation has meant that a number of prisons and jails that were planning to allow family visits for Thanksgiving have canceled those plans.
Measures put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 in maternity labor and delivery units may sometimes interfere with efforts to support breastfeeding, according to a study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is little evidence so far to suggest that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk to infants, according to several studies.
Th agency’s biannual survey of 1,344 hospitals on the types of breastfeeding support offered was conducted from July 15 to Aug. 20. It found that 18 percent of hospitals had reported reduced in-person lactation support, and nearly three-quarters reported discharging mothers and their newborns less than 48 hours after birth, which is not typically recommended.
Dr. Cria Perrine, the study’s lead author, said in-person lactation services, when mothers receive hands-on support to make sure their infant is feeding properly, is likely being reduced as hospitals try to minimize staff movement in and out of patient rooms during the pandemic.
She said hospitals have shown marked improvement in support for breastfeeding since the C.D.C. first started surveying them in 2007. “We have to make sure we haven’t started to backslide because of the pandemic,” she said.
The C.D.C. study found that among mothers with suspected or confirmed coronavirus, 14 percent of hospitals discouraged and 6.5 percent prohibited skin-to-skin contact, and 20 percent discouraged direct breastfeeding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it was not known whether the coronavirus could be transmitted through breastfeeding, but the majority of studies have not detected the virus in breast milk.
Some experts say that breastfeeding is still appropriate for mothers with suspected or confirmed cases, given the health benefits and the low likelihood of transmission through breast milk. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal illness in infants, and skin-to-skin contact has been shown to decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression for mothers.
For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe and the United States, a pilot program will allow a limited number of passengers to travel across the Atlantic from Atlanta to Italy without having to quarantine upon arrival, according to a Delta Air Lines news release on Thursday.
The airline said it had worked with officials in both Georgia and Italy and that the program would rely on a strict testing protocol to ensure the flights could be conducted safely and “coronavirus free.”
Starting Dec. 19, all U.S. citizens permitted to travel to Italy for “essential reasons, such as for work, health and education,” as well as all European Union and Italian citizens, would have to test negative for Covid-19 three times:
Once with a polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.) test taken up to 72 hours before departure.
Once with a rapid test at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
And once again with a rapid test upon arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
Passengers departing Rome would again have to pass a rapid test at the airport.
Travelers will also be asked to provide information upon entry into the United States to support contact-tracing protocols set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Airlines, battered by the pandemic, have been working to establish travel corridors that are both safe and reliable.
The International Air Transport Association forecast this week that the sector will lose $157 billion by the end of next year.
“This crisis is devastating and unrelenting,” the organization’s director, Alexandre de Juniac, said in a statement.
Delta, in partnership with Alitalia, said the airlines worked with the Mayo Clinic to devise the protocols and hoped they could serve as a model going forward.
After more than two months of unrelenting growth, the United States is poised to see a steep drop-off in new cases on Thursday.
It will be a mirage, not progress.
At least 14 states have said they do not plan to update their data on Thursday as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Other states will likely do the same. And many county and regional health departments will also take the day off.
“Out of respect for our O.S.D.H. personnel who have worked tirelessly since March in response to the Covid pandemic, we will not be reporting data on Thanksgiving,” the Oklahoma State Department of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.
The New York Times reports new cases and deaths on the date they are announced by officials in hundreds of state and local health departments. In a typical week, daily fluctuations are smoothed out by using a rolling average that accounts for spikes on Fridays, when many states report their highest numbers of the week, and drops on the weekends, when some places don’t report any data.
That analysis will become harder after Thanksgiving, which is almost assured to have far fewer cases than the 187,000 announced last Thursday, when 49 states reported fresh data. The country’s seven-day case average, now above 175,000, could fall sharply, at least for a day.
Harder still is knowing what to expect in the days after Thanksgiving. Some states are likely to report artificial spikes when they resume reporting on Friday, which could push the country past 200,000 cases in a single day for the first time.
But the blurry data could persist longer. Health officials in Vermont have said they will forego reporting both Thursday and Friday. And access to testing is likely to decrease for a few days, meaning more infections could go uncounted. In Louisiana, testing sites run by the National Guard will be closed both Thursday and Friday. In Wisconsin, some National Guard testing sites are closed all week.
Numbers aside, public health officials are worried about what the holiday may bring. For weeks, governors and hospital executives have been begging people to skip turkey dinners with people not in their households. The country’s case average is as high as it’s ever been, cases are rising in 40 states and deaths are reaching levels unseen since May, with more than 2,200 announced nationwide both Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Unless we unite behind the belief that each of us has a responsibility to protect others, we will face a devastating holiday season,” said Barbara Ferrer, the public health director in Los Angeles County, Calif., where cases have soared to record levels this week.
Does Canada’s Thanksgiving, which passed well over a month ago, offer a preview of what the United States now faces in terms of the pandemic?
The differences between public health systems in Canada’s provinces and their pandemic rules make it difficult to generalize about the entire country’s holiday aftereffects.
Daniel Coombs, a professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia and an infectious disease modeling expert, said that several “provinces have seen rises that are hard to directly link to Thanksgiving purely from case counts.”
But Professor Coombs said many provinces did find through contact tracing that some new cases were linked to Thanksgiving events.
Over the past six weeks, he said, outbreaks that started at Thanksgiving have continued to grow. “It is not really possible to say what fraction of current cases were specifically seeded by Thanksgiving gatherings but I think it is indisputable that the effect is there,” Professor Coombs said.
Since Thanksgiving, new restrictions have been imposed in many parts of Canada. This week an agreement between the four provinces along the Atlantic coast that allowed quarantine-free travel between them was suspended after a growth of cases in two of them. Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario all imposed new measures in all or some areas this month.
But Colin D. Furness, an assistant professor at Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation of the University of Toronto, cautioned that Canada’s version of Thanksgiving is not an ideal proxy for the American version. It is not even a statutory holiday in some provinces, and Canadians generally wait until Christmas to travel for family get-togethers.
“So for the U.S., where Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend of the year, and where Covid is currently raging in many places, the threat posed by this holiday is enormous,” he said. “If we looked at the Canadian experience, we might underestimate the U.S. risk.”
Pope Francis, writing for the New York Times Opinion section, says that to come out of this pandemic better than we went in, “we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.”
In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.
Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.
To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.