Despite COVID-19 warnings, U.S. air travel soars ahead of Thanksgiving

(Reuters) - Millions of Americans are defying health warnings and traveling ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, likely exacerbating a surge in coronavirus inflections just before a series of promising new vaccines become widely available.

With U.S. COVID-19 infections hitting a record 168,000 per day on average, Americans are flocking to crowded airports against the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. surgeon general and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert.

Some 1 million passengers passed through airport screenings on Sunday, the highest number since the pandemic swept into the United States in mid-March. It was the second time in three days that passengers screened topped 1 million, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths rose for a 12th straight day, reaching 1,500 as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data.

That has further taxed already exhausted medical professionals, as coronavirus hospitalizations have surged nearly 50% over the past two weeks and the United States has surpassed 255,000 deaths and 12 million infections since the pandemic began.

"I'm asking Americans, I'm begging you: hold on a little bit longer," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the ABC News show "Good Morning America" on Monday. "We want everyone to understand that these holiday celebrations can be superspreader events."

Still, many Americans refused to follow the health advice that could save their lives.

In Grant County, West Virginia, diners and bar patrons ignored signs asking them to wear masks, saying they were unhappy with Governor Jim Justice's recent imposition of a mask mandate for indoor spaces.

Janel Henritz, whose family owns the Smoke Hole Caverns log cabin resort in the small town of Cabins, said she believed dealing with the virus should be a matter of personal responsibility, not government mandates.

"If you do not feel comfortable going out, then stay at home. No one is telling you to come in my store to come shopping," Henritz, 36, told Reuters. "I don't like being controlled."

WHITE HOUSE RECEPTION

Even the White House is ignoring the advice of the Trump administration's own experts.

First lady Melania Trump is hosting a Nov. 30 "holiday reception" at the White House, according to an invitation seen by ABC News. Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

A series of White House events in recent months have been linked to a rash of outbreaks, including President Donald Trump's own bout with the disease from late September into early October. A White House aide and four others have tested positive in recent days.

Help could arrive soon. The head of the U.S. campaign to rapidly deploy a vaccine said the first Americans could start receiving vaccinations as early as mid-December, and another global drug company on Monday unveiled promising trial results on a vaccine candidate.

U.S. healthcare workers and other high-risk people could start getting vaccinations produced by Pfizer Inc within a day or two of regulatory consent next month, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for "Operation Warp Speed," said on Sunday.

Britain's AstraZeneca said on Monday its vaccine could be 90% effective when administered in two different doses a month apart, late-stage trials showed.

That could potentially offer a new tool to fight the global pandemic that is cheaper, easier to distribute and faster to scale up than rival vaccines, with as many as 200 million doses available by the end of 2020 and 700 million doses by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Pfizer, working with German partner BioNTech, says its vaccine was 95% effective.

Other pharmaceutical companies making progress include Moderna Inc, which is expected to seek separate approval later in December, and Johnson & Johnson, which is working on a single-dose vaccine.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, and Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)

11/23/2020 17:06

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