OPINION: The holiday season will bring another wave of COVID-19

Hannah Horowitz, Staff Writer

This past Wednesday, the U.S. saw the worst single-day case count since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Case numbers topped over 144,270 nationwide, with nine states reporting more than 5,000 new cases daily. North Carolina reported 3,119 new cases on Wednesday, going beyond the recommended 5% or less positivity rate for the state. 

It is abundantly clear that the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction. In August, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, stated that the U.S. needed to get under 10,000 cases per day to avoid a disastrous fall and winter season. That did not happen, and the U.S. hovered between 40,000 and 60,000 cases per day up until October. With the colder weather came higher case counts, as people migrated indoors and “pandemic fatigue” set in.  

Now is absolutely not the time for complacency. We are unfortunately becoming numb to seeing our new daily case numbers skyrocket past 100,000. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington projects that there will be 399,163 COVID-19 deaths by Feb. 1 if we continue the trend that we are on. Even if we were to have a universal mask policy, the number of deaths are still projected to reach 336,343. Those numbers are not just statistics, they are people. They are parents, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends and coworkers. Your own pandemic fatigue and complacency should not get to take away the life of someone else’s loved one. 

The holidays are generally special times where we are able to connect with family and friends that we may not see often. However, the holiday season is going to undoubtedly look very different this year. The CDC released new guidelines regarding holiday celebrations and small gatherings to prevent a post-holiday season surge of COVID-19. 

The guidelines state that the celebrations should take place with only members of the same family or housing unit for the lowest risk of spread. The CDC also makes a point to state that college students who are returning home are not part of that household. College students returning home create an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx warned of students returning to their hometowns for the holidays, emphasizing that they should get tested and be quarantined prior to seeing their family members. 

The CDC guidelines also suggest holding the gathering outdoors if you are including people who do not currently live in your household. In the event that it cannot be held outdoors due to inclement weather, the guidelines recommend keeping windows open and staying at least six feet apart. Whether the event is held indoors or outdoors, the CDC also recommends guests wearing masks at all times, except while eating. 

Governor Roy Cooper moved the indoor gathering limit back to 10 people as opposed to the 25 person limit that was previously in place due to the oncoming holiday season. Gov. Cooper also announced that North Carolina will stay in Phase 3 until Dec. 4 due to the rise in cases. If North Carolina continues with this trend, I am sure we could be looking at much tighter restrictions going into the winter months. 

According to a new Gallup Poll, only 49% of Americans said that they would comply with another lockdown. Despite there being positive news on the vaccine front, masking and social distancing protocols must remain in place while the population is getting vaccinated. The idea that the vaccine will automatically bring an end to the pandemic is simply not true, as the public health measures that we are practicing now must continue to be used for the months or even years following this pandemic. 

The CDC guidelines are going to be very difficult to follow, especially in times where being together is so meaningful. However, the outbreaks from small gatherings are leading the cause of community spread across the country. This is not time to let our guard down just because of the holiday season. It is important to remember that the world is still experiencing a global pandemic. We may be tired of the virus, but the virus is surely not tired of us.