The U.S. is experiencing a skyrocketing increase in the number of coronavirus cases across the country as it heads into the holiday season.
The country’s 7-day moving average is over 170,000 cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And Dr. Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health, said the recent surge is partly a result of “pandemic fatigue.”
“People are just tired of COVID, so they’re not following the social distancing requirements,” Judd said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “They’re not wearing their mask. They’re going to gatherings that have just 15 or 20 people and if one person is COVID positive, 10 people walk out with COVID. So people have just become really relaxed about their gatherings.”
Indoor gatherings are considered one of the driving causes of this surge in cases. Colder weather means less outdoor activities where social distancing is possible. Indoors, many people are less likely to wear masks or be able to stay at least six feet apart and ventilation becomes a big problem.
‘We really have to be vigilant’
Public health officials, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, are urging the public to not let pandemic fatigue get the best of them as the holidays near.
“Canada saw a large rise in cases following their Thanksgiving, which is more the beginning of October,” Judd said. “So we really have to be vigilant in these times and try not to have gatherings or more than 10 people, just a couple of households together for Thanksgiving, which is just not the way Americans typically celebrate Thanksgiving.”
There’s an increased likelihood of more people being exposed as they gather indoors with family members as the holidays arrive. And, for example, if someone spent last weekend at a small gathering watching a sporting event or at church maskless, they could expose everyone around them at Thanksgiving dinner.
“I was just looking through some contact tracing data … and it was from a church,” Judd said. “Folks were saying ‘oh, no, I just took my mask off to sing. That’s the only time I took it off.’ Well, that’s the worst time to take it off, because that’s when you can really expel a lot of the virus.”
Last month, a church in Maine was the root of an outbreak after an event led to 49 people contracting the virus. And in North Carolina, more than 100 people tested positive and three people died after a Charlotte-based church held a multi-day event that included people from out of state.
Despite this major surge in cases, the U.S. doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. TSA data is indicating that more than 1 million people are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, despite local and state leaders asking the public to not travel.
“It doesn’t look good for the middle of winter, depending on what your definition is,” Judd said. “I would say January is when it really isn’t looking good, especially if people don’t take Thanksgiving seriously, followed by the holidays in December. It is hard to watch.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.