US govt pleads Americans to stay home on Thanksgiving

Covid-19: US govt pleads Americans to stay home on Thanksgiving

United Airlines said recently that it expected Thanksgiving week to be its busiest period since the pandemic’s onset

A volunteer prepares bags of free holiday food and Thanksgiving turkeys to those in need at the Central Family Life Center. Credit: Reuters Photo

Faced with a seemingly unstoppable surge in coronavirus infections, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans to avoid travel for Thanksgiving and to celebrate only with members of their immediate households — a message sharply at odds with a White House eager to downplay the threat.

The plea, delivered at the first CDC news briefing in months, arrived as many Americans were packing their bags for one of the most heavily travelled weeks of the year. It is the first time that the agency has warned people away from traditional holiday celebrations.

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“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the agency’s community intervention and critical population task force. She urged Americans to reassess plans for the coming week.

The CDC’s warning runs counter to messages from administration officials, who have denounced concerns that Thanksgiving celebrations will speed the virus’s spread.

Members of the White House coronavirus task force did not even mention Thanksgiving at a news conference Thursday, even as they warned of the hazards associated with indoor gatherings and urged “vigilance” in the face of rampant infections.

An estimated 55 million Americans had planned to travel for the holiday, according to AAA Travel. But rising coronavirus infections, new quarantine rules and increased unemployment have combined to deter travellers in the past few weeks, and that number will be at least 10 per cent lower now, the largest year-over-year decrease since 2008.

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United Airlines said recently that it expected Thanksgiving week to be its busiest period since the pandemic’s onset. But on Thursday, the airline reported that bookings had slowed and cancellations had risen. American Airlines has slashed flights between the United States and Europe as cases rise sharply on both sides of the Atlantic.

Emboldened CDC officials, rarely heard from in recent months, have been speaking more forcefully since President-elect Joe Biden won the election. On Thursday, agency researchers said they were alarmed by the “exponential” rise in coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the country.

More than 1 million new cases have been reported in the past week alone.