December has been the nation’s deadliest month since the COVID-19 pandemic’s start — with more than 63,000 Americans lost to the virus in the past 26 days.
In comparison, the entire month of November saw about 36,964 deaths.
Experts continue to warn that while the end is in sight, the pandemic is not over and another surge stemming from Christmas travel and gatherings could be on its way.
More than 616,000 people were screened at TSA checkpoints across the country on Christmas Day alone, and hundreds of thousands more traveled in the days leading up to the holiday. Numbers are expected to climb again this weekend.
“The individuals who are traveling, they probably are not going camping in the wilderness. Probably they are going to see loved ones and having dinner without wearing masks, crowded indoors for prolonged periods of time,” emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN. “There are many people who may have COVID-19 and not know it and then spread it to their loved ones, and then they’re going to go back to their home communities and then infect others unknowingly.”
“What I worry about is those same individuals are then going to be in the hospitals, in the ICUs in two to three weeks’ time,” she added. “I just really worry about this surge that we’re going to see and how quickly we’re going to surpass that 400,000 deaths number.”
Nearly 332,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Another 193,000 could lose their lives over the next two months, according to predictions from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“The projections are just nightmarish,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at the 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 around the corner.”
COVID-19 hospitalization numbers across the US are already at record-high 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 surge of cases and hospitalizations will, inevitably, mean more deaths — on top of an already devastating death toll.
It likely won’t be until summer that vaccines are widely available and begin to make a meaningful impact on the pandemic’s course, officials have said. Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates about 70% to 85% of the population needs to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the country to achieve herd immunity. — CNN
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