Vaccines Make Thanksgiving Easier, But There Are Still Hotspots
The United States is facing a second Thanksgiving for the pandemic in better shape than the first, thanks to a vaccine, although some areas are seeing a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases that could worsen as families travel the country for gatherings that were impossible a year ago.
Nearly 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. That leaves tens of millions who are not yet shot in the arm, some out of defiance. Hospitals in the cold upper Midwest, especially Michigan and Minnesota, are filled with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
Michigan hospitals reported about 3,800 coronavirus patients at the start of the week, with 20% in intensive care units, numbers that approach the grimest days of the pandemic in 2020. The state’s seven-day rate of new cases was 616 per 100,000 people. On Monday, the highest rate in the country.
In the West, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Montana also ranked high. Some Colorado communities are turning to indoor mask orders to reduce risk, a policy that has also been adopted in Buffalo, New York, and the Santa Cruz, California area.
The statistics in Michigan are “appalling,” said Dr. Matthew Tronsky, a respiratory specialist at Beaumont Health Hospital in suburban Detroit.
He said, “We got cold and moved in and we have huge pockets of unvaccinated people. You can’t have pockets of unvaccinated people who don’t want to be masked and don’t expect outbreaks, don’t expect to lose their parents, don’t expect to lose teachers.”
During the last office visit, encourage the patient using oxygen to get the vaccination. Tronsky said the patient refused and is now in the hospital with COVID-19, heavily dependent on more oxygen.
He said he continues to interview patients and their family members who espouse conspiracy theories about the vaccine.
“A lot of people in their 40s have died in the last month — 100% not immune,” Tronsky said. “It is very sad to see a woman die with teenagers. Especially with this age group, it is almost 100% preventable.”
In Detroit, where less than 40% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated, Mayor Mike Duggan said hospital admissions have doubled since early November.
“We have so many people in this country that we lost because they thought there was some bullshit on the internet and decided not to get vaccinated,” said Duggan, a former hospital executive.
Despite the hot spots, the outlook in the United States is generally much better than it was for Thanksgiving 2020.
Without the vaccine, which became available in mid-December 2020, the average number of cases in the United States a year ago was 169,000 cases and 1,645 deaths per day, and about 81,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. The average number of cases in the United States is now 95,000, with 1,115 deaths and 40,000 hospitalizations.
Airports are overcrowded. More than 2.2 million people passed through security checkpoints on Friday, the busiest day since the pandemic shut down travel in early 2020. And in some recent days, the number was double what it was at Thanksgiving a year ago.
Sarin Brown and three children, all vaccinated, were traveling to Atlanta from Newark, New Jersey, to see the family. People close to them have died from COVID-19.
“I am thankful to be here and not in heaven, I am thankful for my family and that God helped me survive,” said Naif Brown, 7, who got her first dose.
More than 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the last Thanksgiving, and the total death toll has reached more than 770,000.
“We encourage people who congregate to do this safely after they have been fully vaccinated, as we have been saying for months,” said Dr. Rochelle Walinsky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I think this is very different because we already have the tools to prevent the vast majority of cases.”
Eric Topol, president of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said his optimism dampens the ability of a delta variant to jump from person to person, especially among the millions who haven’t been vaccinated or scheduled to receive a booster dose.
“This equates to a very severe weakness,” Topol said.
Orders for masks in indoor public spaces are set to go into effect Wednesday in three Denver-area counties, and the mayor of Denver plans to announce a mask policy on Tuesday.
Arizona has reported at least 2,551 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, far less than last winter’s peak but still a cause for concern. Officials said the family was limited.
AP correspondents in Detroit, Ted Shaffrey in Newark, New Jersey, and AP medical writer Carla K. contributed to this story. Johnson.
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