The top infectious disease expert in the United States has warned that vacation travel could push the country to a “tipping point” in the coronavirus pandemic and the worst could yet be yet to come.
“I share the concern of the elected president [Joe] Biden that, as we move into the next few weeks, it could actually get worse, ”Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, warned Wednesday that “the country’s darkest days are ahead of us – not behind us.”
In recent weeks, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the country.
The United States has recorded an average of 185,903 new infections in the past seven days, while the number of people hospitalized with the disease has reached 117,344, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
As of Sunday, the number of recorded cases in the United States exceeded 19 million, with the death toll from the disease exceeding 332,000, both by far the highest totals in the world.
Vacation travel to the United States this year has been significantly lower than in previous years, but air travel averaged more than a million passengers per day for six consecutive days last week, according to the Transportation Security Agency.
After the Thanksgiving holiday last month, coronavirus cases in the United States rose sharply in December, with more than 200,000 new cases and sometimes more than 3,000 deaths per day.
With intensive care units in many hospitals close to capacity, Fauci reiterated that the country could face a “skyrocket”.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in an interview with ABC on Sunday, also said he was “very concerned” about the post-holiday surge.
But with new vaccines now circulating across the country – aimed primarily at frontline health workers and those in long-term care facilities – Americans have seen a silver lining.
However, initial vaccine deliveries fell short of federal government promises.
Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was among those who publicly criticized the process, but on Sunday she pointed to signs of improvement.
“This is a step in the right direction,” she told CNN, after Trump administration officials apologized for the shortcomings in vaccine delivery.
“We are making great progress, but we need the federal government to do its part,” she said.
About two million Americans have been vaccinated so far, well below the 20 million the Trump administration has promised by the end of the year.
But Fauci played down the shortfall as a normal hiccup in a hugely ambitious project.
“Anytime you roll out a big program… like this, at first it always starts out slow and starts to build up,” he told CNN.
He said he was “fairly confident” that by April, all priority people could have been vaccinated, paving the way for vaccination of the general population.