If COVID-19 could devise a holiday to its liking, it’d be Thanksgiving.
American families travel for a prolonged meal; congregate with extended family, neighbors and friends; and can’t wear masks when they eat and drink.
In Ohio, the cold weather likely precludes any notion of eating outside, where the virus is less likely to spread.
The holiday, by its nature, clashes with the best tools for preventing COVID-19: masks, isolation and social distancing.
“We don’t know, frankly, what people are going to do in regard to Thanksgiving,” Gov. Mike DeWine said at a press conference Monday.
Meanwhile, hospital administrators who joined DeWine struck an increasingly dire tone urging Ohioans against large gatherings. Over the current case surge of the last two months, they said hospital caregivers have been unable to avoid coronavirus in the community, raising the specter of an overwhelmed health care system via healthy labor shortage.
Dr. Robert Wylie, chief of medical operations at the Cleveland Clinic, said 970 caregivers at the clinic are out on quarantine or infected with the new coronavirus.
“That means it’s starting to affect our ability to care for patients,” he said.
On Monday, more Ohioans were in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any point during the pandemic, and more Ohioans were reported infected with the new coronavirus than in any day during the pandemic. On average, 40 Ohioans died per day of COVID-19 over the last week.
The record shattering is nothing new. The hospitalization load and the daily new case averages have trended upward for about two months now.
DeWine said part of the reason for Monday’s apparent spike in new cases (nearly 12,000, compared to a prior record of about 8,000 last week) traces back to a data logjam from two diagnostic labs that process COVID-19 tests.
“The high volume of new cases is overwhelming the system,” he said.
State and local health officials are nervous about the virus spreading across generational and state lines as a result of Thanksgiving.
The CDC issued an advisory last week, citing a spiking national caseload, urging Americans against travelling home for Thanksgiving.
Canada, which celebrates its Thanksgiving earlier than the U.S., is dealing with a COVID-19 surge tied to the holiday that doubled its national caseload, Politico reports.
There are signs that some, but far from all, Americans are heeding the warning.
AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel will be “on the lighter side,” projecting a 10% decrease in travel. Data from the TSA shows about 1 million Americans flew on Sunday — less than half as many as the same day last year.
Nearly 40% of respondents to an Ohio State University survey said they are likely to attend a gathering with either more than 10 people, or people from outside their household.
“We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?’” said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, in a university news release announcing the study.
On a personal level, First Lady Fran DeWine said she and the governor won’t have non-household family over. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said his family will be eating outside.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor, said DeWine has relayed the advice that people should just do Thanksgiving within their own Households.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but hospital administrators were clear Monday that they’re feeling the strain of a pandemic and it’s only worsening.
In an email, Ohio Hospital Association spokesman John Palmer said about 27% of members are reporting staffing needs, prompting postponements of elective care. ICUs in certain regions are nearing capacity, but there’s no inpatient bed shortage yet.
Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, put it bluntly.
“We can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough to tell the people of Ohio, you need to change your behavior,” he said.