Fauci warns Christmas has greater coronavirus risks than Thanksgiving

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said Christmas could pave the way for another surge in Covid-19 cases.
Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said Christmas could pave the way for another surge in Covid-19 cases.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Christmas holiday season could pose greater risks than Thanksgiving when it comes to spreading the coronavirus, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious-disease expert.

Thanksgiving travel and gatherings typically take place for a shorter period of time, while Christmas events may continue through Hanukkah and New Year celebrations, he said, in remarks made at the Milken Institute's Future of Health summit on Monday (Dec 7).

Dr Fauci himself said he won't celebrate the holiday with his daughters for the first time in more than 30 years. Christmas Eve is also Dr Fauci's 80th birthday, for which he and his wife plan a Zoom celebration with their children.

Christmas "extends that vulnerable period by two to three times," Dr Fauci said, and could pave the way for another surge.

Infections are emerging from "modest-sized gatherings of family and friends in a home," including gatherings of around 10 people, something the American public should be very careful about in the coming weeks, he said.

Dr Fauci urged Americans to double down on measures such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing.

But he also warned that the country hasn't yet seen the full extent of new virus data related to the Thanksgiving holiday, saying those numbers usually take up to two and a half weeks to emerge.

"Which is the reason why I'm so concerned, because the blip of Thanksgiving isn't even here yet," he said. "We're getting those staggering numbers of new cases and hospitalisations before we even feel the full brunt of the Thanksgiving holiday."

The country has added more than 196,000 new Covid-19 cases each day over the last week, on average, and faces record hospitalisations, which Dr Fauci attributed to colder weather moving activities and gatherings indoors.

As the US prepares to deploy millions of Covid-19 vaccines across the country, Dr Fauci also said he was confident that the rollout would work out.

He said he isn't personally responsible for vaccine deployment but has been working on it within the context of Operation Warp Speed.

Once vaccines are transported to states and localities, they will be responsible for getting the shots to recipients, Dr Fauci said, acknowledging that not all areas will be equally prepared for the task.

Lifelong immunity

And though Dr Fauci praised the efficacy of leading Covid-19 shots in development from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc., he also isn't expecting Covid-19 vaccines to grant recipients lifelong immunity.

It's likely additional shots will be needed, though he isn't sure how frequently, he said. Those who already had Covid-19 are also recommended to get the vaccine, according to Dr Fauci.

"If we can get 75 per cent to 85 per cent of the people in the US vaccinated, we could crush this outbreak before the end of this year," he said.

"We really have the capability of doing it, we just have to get out there and grab it."