NEW YORK: The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 on Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, just as holiday gatherings are expected to propel the next wave of infections.
The rate of hospitalizations – now at the highest since the pandemic began – has pushed some medical centers beyond capacity. The rapid increase comes after weeks of rising infection rates across the country. That is likely to worsen as people who mingled with friends and relatives over Thanksgiving gradually get sick, health experts say.
“This is the reality we face when COVID-19 is allowed to spread unchecked – ICUs at capacity, not enough health care workers available,” wrote New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a tweet on Friday.
There were 880 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday in New Mexico. The state is under a lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, with all non-essential businesses closed and residents told to stay home. A hospital in rural Curry County was the latest to reach capacity in its intensive care unit earlier this week, according to the county’s Facebook page.
Many health experts and politicians pleaded with Americans to refrain from gathering for their traditional communal Thanksgiving feasts this year, warning that socializing between households would accelerate the rate of community transmission and push an already strained healthcare system to the brink.
Some abided by the public health guidance, spending their Thanksgiving on Thursday seeing their family over video calls. But others chose to travel anyway.
On the day before Thanksgiving, typically one of the busiest travel days of the year in the United States, more than 1.07 million people transited through U.S. airports – the most of any single day since the start of the pandemic, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Nearly 6 million Americans traveled by air from Friday to Wednesday, it said, a number that is however less than half that of the same period last year.
State governors have also urged Americans to stay home on Black Friday, a traditionally busy holiday shopping day, encouraging them instead to take advantage of online deals or curbside pick-ups.
“Remember, skip the crowds and shop from home this Black Friday. Our local shops have curbside pickup options and need our support,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear wrote in a tweet on Friday.
National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay on Friday said his lobbying group forecast a record high in holiday spending this year, even with many Americans struggling financially as the pandemic as hit the economy and jobs.
“Consumers are out there,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview. He said people had shifted spending from travel, entertainment and other experience-based consumption to home and other material goods.
In an effort to mitigate the winter COVID-19 wave, more than 20 states have issued new restrictions, including mask mandates and limiting capacity of bars, restaurants and houses of worship.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on religious gatherings on Wednesday, voting 5-4 late in favor of requests by a Roman Catholic Diocese and two Orthodox Jewish congregations for an injunction to block the capacity restrictions from being enforced.
Cuomo dismissed the ruling as “irrelevant,” saying it related to houses of worship in specific areas that were no longer considered at high risk. However, the ruling could have broader implications for houses of worship appealing capacity restrictions elsewhere.
Earlier this week, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said the latest COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings in the nation’s capital also applied to indoor religious services, reducing capacity from 100 people to 50 people, with a maximum 50%. It was not immediately clear if the curbs would be challenged following the Supreme Court ruling.
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