Medical professionals in Chicago and across the country are braced for a fresh surge of coronavirus cases after millions of Americans ignored advice not to travel or gather over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Sunday was the busiest day for air travel since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which said it screened more than one million flyers.
Dr. Emily Landon, a specialist in infectious diseases at UChicago Medicine, said she expects to start seeing Thanksgiving-related coronavirus cases “in a week or two.”
Landon, who has been providing advice to Gov. J.B. Pritzker to help guide his response to the pandemic, said the most important thing now is to try and limit any post-Thanksgiving spread.
“What’s done is done with respect to Thanksgiving gatherings,” Landon said Monday on “Chicago Tonight.” “However, if you were in a Thanksgiving gathering, the most important thing you can do now is make sure if you do get sick you don’t spread it to anyone else. So please, keep your contacts to as low as possible … That could keep us to just a bump after Thanksgiving instead of another exponential spread, surge on top of a surge.”
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have hit an all-time high, with more than 93,000 Americans currently in hospital battling the virus, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And on Friday, the U.S. passed 13 million confirmed coronavirus cases.
That has health officials fearing a post-Thanksgiving surge of cases could leave hospitals short of beds and critical staff.
Landon said that while Illinoisans have generally been trying to limit their number of contacts for fear of contracting the virus, the desire to be with loved ones at Thanksgiving may have led many to expand their circle of contacts for the holiday. She likened the dueling impulses to a tug of war.
“They may have still had gatherings with more people than lived inside their households, so it is really hard to know which is going to win. And we are going to find out sometime soon,” Landon said.
Pritzker warned at a COVID-19 briefing on Monday that the state’s health care system could struggle to handle a new coronavirus surge despite a drop in the number of new cases being reported in Illinois in recent days.
“The dip in Illinois’ cases over the last few days comes as we are seeing near-record high numbers of hospitalizations, meaning that our ability to handle any new surge in COVID patients is still limited,” Pritzker said. “If we are not especially careful right now the surge will overwhelm our state’s health care system.”