On a day that typically sees lines of early shoppers looking to score deals, Black Friday looked uneventful aside from smaller, socially distanced lines as stores opened.
And if COVID-19 continues to surge as it has in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the remainder of the holidays may be just as grim — if not more so.
At least, that’s what the United States’ leading infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci told USA TODAY last week in an interview in which he cautioned that Americans should “show our love and affection for people by keeping them safe.”
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to rise, hitting a record for the 17th straight day Thursday with more than 90,400 admissions, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That record came even though 30 states didn’t file reports or filed partial ones due to the holiday.
Every minute, 114 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Every hour, 65 Americans have died.
In vaccine news, AstraZeneca hit a setback when it was revealed that a dosing error was behind a high effectiveness rate among some overseas trial participants.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 12.9 million cases and over 264,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. This week, five states set death records and 23 states had higher case counts than last week. The global totals: more than 61 million cases and 1.4 million deaths.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state.
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Colorado governor condemns ‘turkey funeral’ to skirt virus restrictions
Republican Congresswomen-elect Lauren Boebert has drawn criticism from Colorado’s Democratic governor for saying she rebranded her Thanksgiving gathering as an animal funeral to skirt the state’s social distancing regulations.
“Congresswomen-elect Boebert is calling her Thanksgiving a ‘turkey funeral’ and hosting over 30 people. My hope and prayer is that it doesn’t turn into a real funeral for any of the attendees,” Gov. Jared Polis said on Facebook.
In most areas of the state, personal gatherings are restricted to 10 people, but funerals have less stringent rules.
On Wednesday, Boebert tweeted that she could host about 90 people if she hosted funerals for a turkey, pig and duck. Previously she suggested calling her Thanksgiving gathering a “peaceful protest in honor of my deceased turkey.”
— Joel Shannon
Demand for live Christmas trees skyrockets amid toll of virus
It’s early in the season, but wholesale tree farmers and small, cut-your-own lots are reporting strong demand for real Christmas trees, with many opening well before Thanksgiving.
Businesses say they’ve seen more customers, earlier, as more Americans appear to be seeking a bright spot amid the virus’ worsening toll.
“The season is running approximately six to seven days ahead of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” said McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and 2 million trees a year from farms in Oregon and North Carolina.
Customers flocked to some pick-your-own-tree farms before Thanksgiving to tag the perfect tree to cut down once the business opened. As demand surges, big-box stores are seeking fresh trees up to a week earlier than last year. Walmart is offering free home delivery for the first time.
— Associated Press
Germany hits 1 million COVID-19 cases
Germany hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Friday: 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control center, said Germany’s 16 states reported 22,806 cases overnight for a total of 1,006,394 since the outbreak began.
Despite the high number of infections, Germany has seen fewer deaths than many other European countries, with 15,586. That compares to more than 50,000 each in the United Kingdom, Italy and France.
A Toronto barbecue restauranteur has been charged with trespassing, obstruction and violating COVID-19 guidelines after allegedly breaking into his own restaurant to serve food to his supporters.
Adam Skelly was arrested Thursday in front of his own restaurant, Adamson Barbecue, CBC and CTV News report, after his restaurant was shut down by city officials for violating lockdown rules.
Skelly was permitted entry into a “rear compartment” of his restaurant, an officer told CTV News, but Skelly and a large crew of supporters allegedly smashed drywall and broke locks set by the city.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told CNN that the congregation was “like a festival” to “celebrate some of their unorthodox views,” including anti-mask sentiments. Video of the scene showed few people in the crowd, aside from police, wearing masks.
Stores kick off Black Friday sales with socially distanced lines
“This Thanksgiving period, shoppers are interested in two things, getting a good deal on items and feeling safe,” Rod Sides, U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader for consultancy Deloitte, said in a statement.
This will be the first Black Friday that more shoppers scoop up deals online than at an actual store, Deloitte says, with 61% making purchases with the click of a button as compared to 54% who venture out.
— Charisse Jones and Kelly Tyko
After error, AstraZeneca will conduct additional trial
AstraZeneca said it plans to conduct a new global clinical trial to assess the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy. The news comes after the company and the university acknowledged a dosing error in trials.
It’s not clear what effect, if any, these results will have on a separate, 30,000-person trial underway of the candidate vaccine in the United States.
All 11,000 people who have participated in the U.S. trial so far have received two equal doses of the vaccine, said Moncef Slaoui, co-director of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration program to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
AstraZeneca said an additional trial shouldn’t delay regulatory approval in Britain or the European Union – but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could take longer.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot does not need to be stored at freezer temperatures, making it easier to distribute. AstraZeneca has agreed not to profit from its vaccine during the pandemic.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un ordered executions, locked down Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against the coronavirus.
North Korea made an unsuccessful hacking attempt on at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company that was trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency. Reuters reported Friday that AstraZeneca, a key company in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, was targeted by North Korean hackers.
Don’t hug your elderly relatives during the holidays, warns UK medical chief
The United Kingdom’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, cautioned families over the holidays not to hug their elderly relatives “if you want them to survive to be hugged again” beyond the holidays.
The nation has granted its residents permission to congregate among themselves in a “Christmas bubble” of up to three households and eight people from Dec. 23 to 27. The lax holiday restrictions, however, will likely lead to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.
Clearing snow from roads and sidewalks is never a cakewalk in Vermont. This winter, the COVID-19 pandemic has delivered to plow crews — and the general public — more uncertainty.
Predictions are tough when it comes to a new disease like COVID, said Dennis Lutz, director of public works in Essex, Vermont: “We’ve never been down this road before.” He spelled out the three-tier alerts his department might issue if COVID cases rise — green, yellow and red. Red signals delays from 24 to 48 hours, with half of the town’s licensed plow-truck drivers unable to work.
Lutz’s counterparts in other communities have similar contingency plans. As usual, some plans will fall short, Lutz said: “At the end of the day, nothing’s foolproof.”
– Joel Banner Baird, Burlington Free Press
Experts warn of worsening COVID surge during holidays
Thanksgiving may be the beginning of a dark holiday season as the surge in coronavirus cases is likely to persist, or even get worse, through December, January and February.
“If the surge takes a turn of continuing to go up and you have the sustained greater than 100,000 infections a day and 1,300 deaths per day and the count keeps going up and up … I don’t see it being any different during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays than during Thanksgiving,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with USA TODAY last week.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director said the country is in a vulnerable position heading into the holiday season because infections are too high to control a likely winter surge.
Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations and chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington, said, “We need to be extra careful these upcoming extra couple of weeks in order to avoid pain and suffering.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Oregon fines gym $90K for violating COVID order
Oregon officials have fined Courthouse Club Fitness $90,000 for defying Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 order and remaining open throughout the state’s two-week “freeze.”
Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency tasked with enforcing compliance with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, said the penalty is the result of citations against each of the club’s four facilities near Salem.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown ordered a statewide “freeze” to limit group activities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, where cases have reached a record. The freeze will last until Dec. 3, except for 21 counties in the state that still will be under coronavirus restrictions.
– Whitney Woodworth, Salem Statesman Journal
COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press, Karen Weintraub