Doctors are warning that the US will see the 'darkest days in modern medical history' in the weeks after Thanksgiving as the daily COVID-19 death toll hits the highest since May and hospitalizations continue to surge to record highs.
Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways in the days leading up to Thanksgiving despite the risk of pouring gasoline on the coronavirus fire as they disregarded increasingly dire warnings to avoid travel and events.
With cases, hospitalizations and deaths already skyrocketing across the US, health officials are warning the worst is yet to come given the true impact of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings won't be seen for a few weeks.
The daily death toll across the country spiked to 2,297 yesterday, which is the highest number of deaths per day since May and the second day in a row where fatalities have surpassed 2,000.
Health officials have been warning for weeks that deaths, which are a lagging indicator, would increase after the number of cases and hospitalizations started surging in late September.
There were 181,490 new cases recorded yesterday alone and the number of infections has consistently been well above 100,000 every day for the last three weeks.
Hospitalizations have been surging to record highs over the past month with nearly 90,000 patients being treated as of yesterday.
While the Midwest continues to be the hardest hit, California saw a 17 percent spike in cases in 24 hours and New York recorded it deadliest day since May with 67 fatalities.
Doctors in parts of the country have warned that hospitals are already overwhelmed and are nearing capacity in some states.
Dr Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas said his hospital is already full and he expects cases and hospitalizations to surge even higher after Thanksgiving.
'My concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don't do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history,' Varon told CNN.
'My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days, because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving,' he said.
The CDC and state and local authorities spent the past week begging people not to travel and urging them to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations small.
Yet millions defied the official warnings with nearly six million traveling by plane in the last six days. Over 1 million passed through US airport checkpoints yesterday alone, which is the largest crowd since the COVID-19 crisis took hold in March.
AAA, which forecasts Thanksgiving travel every year, says 48 million Americans will travel by car and 350,000 by train between today and Sunday - just a 10 percent overall decline from last year.
Traffic was bumper to bumper on highways in California's San Fernando Valley last night. More drivers are expected to take to the roads today.
It comes as 95 percent of counties across the country are now seeing an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 infections, a data map compiled by spatial analytics company Esri shows.
The map shows that of the 3,141 counties in the US, 3005 are currently experiencing an epidemic, or uncontrollable spread, of the virus.
While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are spiking nationally, the Midwest - encompassing a dozen states between Ohio and the Dakotas - has been especially brutalized.
Midwest states continue to be among the hardest hit in the country based on cases and deaths per 100,000 people.
North Dakota is still the worst affected with 158 cases per 100,000 people in the last week. Wyoming follows with 154 cases, New Mexico with 127 cases, South Dakota with 122 and Minnesota with 115 cases per capita.
The worst affected states for deaths per capita are South Dakota with 2.8 deaths per 100,000 residents in the last seven days. North Dakota follows with 2.1 deaths and Wyoming with 1.4 fatalities.
Cases are also rising in every other state with California seeing its number of cases jump 17 percent in 24 hours.
Dr Anthony Fauci has warned that the US is already in the middle of a spike and that the true impact of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings won't be seen for another three weeks when infections and hospitalizations could surge even higher.
'The final message is to do what we've been saying for some time... keep the indoor gatherings as small as you possibly can,' he told ABC's Good Morning America. 'By making that sacrifice you're going to prevent people from getting infected.
'The sacrifice now could save lives and illness and make the future much brighter as we get through this...we're going to get through this. Vaccines are right on the horizon. If we can just hang in there a bit longer and continue to do the simple mitigation - masks, distancing, avoiding crowds. That's my final plea before the holiday.'
With caseloads soaring, more than half the nation's governors imposed or reimposed statewide measures this month. But despite more stringent face-mask requirements, curfews and limits on bars and restaurants, the metrics of the virus have only worsened.
In Missouri the state's two largest metropolitan areas are cracking down on restaurants that violate rules designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Kansas City´s authorities found two dozen bars and restaurants in violation of the city´s new pandemic restrictions after a weekend sweep of 185 establishments. Previously, the city relied primarily on complaints to enforce the rules. The new rules limit bars and restaurants to 50 percent capacity and require closing by 10 p.m..
Meanwhile, officials in St. Louis County have sent certified letters to three dozen bars and businesses ordering them to cease indoor service or face lawsuits or criminal charges.
Officials in Anchorage, Alaska, are imposing new pandemic restrictions for December that will prohibit bars and restaurants from offering indoor service, require employers to allow people to work from home if possible and limit many businesses to 25 per cent capacity.
Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said Wednesday that the rules are needed to deal with increasing coronavirus infections in Anchorage, which is Alaska´s biggest city. The rules take effect Tuesday and run through Jan. 1.
As of Wednesday, the city has recorded 15,100 coronavirus cases. Of those, 2,115 were reported in the last week. The city has had 66 deaths from COVID.19.
And in Oregon its governor says bars and restaurants can reopen for limited outdoor service next week but many restrictions will remain in place until a vaccine against the coronavirus is widely available.
In making the announcement Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown urged Oregonians to stay safe during the Thanksgiving holiday and protect others by not ignoring safety protocols, like wearing masks and limiting personal contacts.
The revamped pandemic restrictions take effect when the current two-week 'freeze' expires December 3. Currently, only take-out restaurant service is allowed. The restaurant industry pushed hard against the restrictions as several eateries closed for good and others were at risk of doing so.
In Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon revealed he has tested positive for the coronavirus, but has only minor symptoms. Gordon said Wednesday that he plans to continue working remotely.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Wednesday that public schools will be allowed to offer in-school quarantines for students exposed to the virus. Schools in Mustang became the first in the state to adopt the policy, the department said.
Officials in Santa Clara County, California, said they will ramp up enforcement of state health orders during the holiday weekend to make sure businesses follow the permitted capacity, employees and customers wear masks at all times and social distance guidelines are being followed.
Los Angeles has begun to require travelers arriving to by airplane or train to sign a form acknowledging California's recommended two-week self-quarantine in response to surging coronavirus cases.
In Utah an increased number of hospitalizations across the state has prompted doctors and public health officials to advise against attending Thanksgiving gatherings with people outside their immediate households.
And in New Jersey´s largest city, officials are urging residents to shelter in place for the next 10 days to quell a resurgence of the new coronavirus.