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CDC pleads with Americans to avoid Thanksgiving travel

NEW YORK (AP) — With the coronavirus surging out of control, the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.

The Thanksgiving warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came as the White House coronavirus task force met for the first time in months and Vice President Mike Pence concluded a briefing without responding to questions by reporters or urging Americans not to travel.

Other members of the task force — whose media briefings were a daily fixture during the early days of the outbreak — talked about the progress being made in the development of a vaccine.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech will seek emergency government approval for their coronavirus vaccine on Friday. And infection disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci sought to reassure the public that the vaccine is safe while still encouraging Americans to wear masks.

The CDC’s Thanksgiving warning was some of the firmest guidance yet from the government on curtailing traditional gatherings to fight the outbreak.

The CDC issued the recommendations just one week before Thanksgiving, at a time when diagnosed infections, hospitalizations and deaths are skyrocketing across the country. In many areas, the health care system is being squeezed by a combination of sick patients filling up beds and medical workers falling ill themselves.

The CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1 million new cases in the U.S. over the past week as the reason for the new guidance.

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” she said.

If families do decide to include returning college students, military members or others for turkey and stuffing, the CDC is recommending that the hosts take added precautions: Gatherings should be outdoors if possible, with people keeping 6 feet apart and wearing masks and just one person serving the food.

Whether Americans heed the warning is another matter. The deadly comeback by the virus has been blamed in part on pandemic fatigue, or people getting tired of masks and other precautions. And surges were seen last summer after Memorial Day and July Fourth, despite blunt warnings from health authorities.

The United States has had more than 11 million diagnosed infections and over 250,000 deaths from the coronavirus. CDC scientists believe that somewhere around 40% of people who are infected do not have obvious symptoms but can still spread the virus.

CALIFORNIA CURFEW

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced the imposition of an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a virus case surge that officials fears could tax the state’s health care system.

What officials called a limited stay-at-home order requires nonessential residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday. It lasts until Dec. 21 but could be extended. It covers 94% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.

Also Thursday, Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a “two-week pause” with some businesses closures and capacity reduced for restaurants and houses of worship starting Nov. 30. Officials will reevaluate COVID-19 caseloads on Dec. 13 and if they have not eased, she said “a full state lockdown” will follow.

In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu previously resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate but issued an order requiring face coverings to be worn in public spaces indoors and outdoors.

KEEPING UP WITH NON-COVID-19 CASES

Hospitals are struggling to keep up with non-coronavirus cases ranging from broken bones to heart attacks in states where COVID-19 cases are tying up resources.

In Kansas, rural hospitals are running into difficulty trying to transfer patients to larger hospitals for more advanced care.

“Whether it is regular pneumonia or appendicitis or fractures that need surgery, they have a limited amount of beds in their facilities and they are not taking a lot of these routine cases,” said Perry Desbien, a nurse practitioner who works in Smith Center and other rural communities. “They are saying, ‘Send them home. Have them follow up in the office. Unless it is life-threatening, we don’t want to see them either.'”

Earlier this month, the Mayo Clinic Health System in Wisconsin announced it was suspending elective medical procedures.

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