Thanksgiving could make or break America’s response to coronaviruses

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In Pennsylvania, if you have friends to socialize, you’re supposed to wear a mask – and so do your friends. It’s the rule, but Barb Chestnut doesn’t intend to follow it.

“No one is going to tell me what I can or cannot do at home,” said Chestnut, 60, of Shippensburg. “They don’t pay my bills and they won’t tell me what to do.”

As governors and mayors grapple with an out of control pandemic, they are stepping up mask mandates and placing restrictions on small indoor gatherings, which have been accused of accelerating the spread of the coronavirus. But if these measures carry the weight of the law, they are, in practice, inapplicable and officials rely instead on voluntary compliance.

Good luck with that.

While many undoubtedly follow public health advice – cut back on Thanksgiving plans, avoid meetings, wear masks when surrounded by people who do not live with them – it is inevitable that a segment of the population will removes new state and local restrictions. and socialize anyway. Experts say it could put more pressure on overcrowded hospitals and lead to an even greater increase in sickness and death during the holidays.

“When it started in early March, we weren’t watching Thanksgiving or Christmas, and we didn’t have the reservoir of disease we had. And that, for me, is the biggest concern over the next few weeks, ”said Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. He called the risk of a Thanksgiving spike “extremely high.”

“I think you see a lot of resistance here,” Rubin said. “I can’t speculate on what people are going to do, but I can say that as long as there’s no collective buy-in here, it kind of mitigates the impact of the measures themselves.

The country is recording an average of 172,000 new cases of the virus per day, almost double since the end of October, according to Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations, deaths, and the test positivity rate are also on the rise as Thanksgiving approaches.

In response, elected officials are imposing restrictions that, with a few exceptions, do not correspond to general home maintenance orders and business closings observed in the spring.

Utah and Vermont have banned all social gatherings. The same goes for the local governments of Philadelphia and Dane County, Wisconsin. In Kentucky, no more than eight people from two households are allowed to meet; in Oregon, the collection limit is six. California has imposed a nighttime curfew. More and more states are demanding masks, including those whose GOP governors have long resisted them. The country’s top health officials are imploring Americans to avoid Thanksgiving travel.

There is evidence that the holidays will be quieter.

Tamika Hickson, who co-owns a party rental business in Philadelphia, said Thanksgiving was a bust even before her city moved to ban indoor gatherings of any size.

“No one is calling,” Hickson said. “A lot of people have lost a lot of loved ones, so they don’t play with it. And I don’t blame them.

AAA plans Thanksgiving travel will fall by at least 10%, which would be the biggest year-over-year drop since the Great Recession of 2008. But that still means tens of millions of people on the road. On social media, people are defiantly talking about their Thanksgiving plans, saying nothing will stop them from seeing friends and family.

More than a million people stormed US airports on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

Total coverage: Coronavirus pandemic

Dr Debra Bogen, health director for Allegheny County, Pa., Which includes Pittsburgh, said too many people have ignored public health guidelines and the result has been an uncontrolled spread of the virus.

“Over the past few weeks, I have asked people to follow the rules, limit gatherings and parties, stay home except for essentials, and wear masks. I’m done asking, ”Bogen said at a press conference, his frustration palpable. She announced a stay-at-home advisory which she said would turn into order if people didn’t comply.

Some people underestimate the risk to themselves, their friends and family, said Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University who has written on COVID-19 risk analysis and communication. Others doubt what health officials tell them about the virus. And still others are simply irresponsible.

Fischhoff said the lack of a coherent national strategy against the pandemic; patchwork and seemingly arbitrary restrictions at national and local levels; and ineffective, politicized and contradictory public health messages have created confusion and mistrust.

“It was a colossal and tragic leadership failure from the start that we did not find the middle ground on which we were working to protect the weakest among us. And once you lose that coordination you are fighting to get it back and that’s the tragic mess we find ourselves in now, ”he said.

In York County, Pa., Kori Jess, a 51-year-old retail worker, tested positive for the virus last week. Long skeptical in masks, his personal experience with COVID-19 has changed his opinion – to a point. She said it was appropriate to wear a mask when the circumstances warranted it, but she still doesn’t like the idea of ​​the government giving them a mandate.

“I’m so torn,” Jess said. “I love that people fight for their freedoms, but I understand why people wear masks.”

In upstate New York, some sheriffs say they have no plans to enforce Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent mandate to ban private gatherings of more than 10 people.

“There’s no need to hide cars and sneak around while you’re trying to reunite as a family. We’re not going to use up our limited resources to get search warrants and count the turkey eaters in your house, ”Madison County Sheriff Todd Hood said in a Facebook post. He encouraged people in the largely rural region to use common sense to protect themselves.

Kim Collins is one of those planning a lean Thanksgiving. In a typical year, Collins would have up to 20 people at her home in South Orange, New Jersey. This year, his extended family is staying there. “My husband is struggling with the fact that his mother, who is alone, will not be there,” she says.

But Collins wasn’t optimistic that the others would be so careful. She said a lot of people do “mental gymnastics” to justify their vacation meetings. “I think a lot of people aren’t very good at the honor system,” she said. ___

Associated Press reporters Deepti Hajela in New York and Michael Hill in Albany, New York, contributed to this story.

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