Holiday celebrations were causing concern in New York City on Sunday as crowds who had traveled for Thanksgiving returned home, groups gathered to admire Christmas lights, and the city’s surge in COVID cases only worsened.
New York state’s positivity rate went up from 3.9 per cent to 4.27 per cent – the highest it has been since May, said Andrew Cuomo, the state governor.
He said he expects it to get worse.
‘You’re in the holiday season and that is increased social activity, and that means increased infection rate,’ Cuomo said. ‘You’re going to see the rate going up through the holiday season, which ends after the new year.’
The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced on Sunday that public elementary schools would reopen on December 7, amid widespread unhappiness that schools were closed but indoor dining in restaurants was still open.
High schools and middle schools would remain closed, but de Blasio said the city would abandon a three per cent test positivity threshold that it had adopted for closing the school system.
New York City’s school system is the largest in the country, with 1.1 million children.
Amid the concern, crowds were throwing caution to the wind to see the traditional lights outside Saks Fifth Avenue, which were switched on on Monday by former Yankees star and TV presenter, Alex Rodriguez.
The theme for this year’s 10-story light display is ‘This is How We Celebrate’ – designed to emphasize being with loved ones and the diverse ways that people celebrate the holidays across the U.S.
The six windows show different types of celebrations around the city, including a musical celebration in Times Square, a couple delivering gifts via the Roosevelt Island tram and a celebration around a neighborhood food truck at a holiday block party.
The nightly show is being livestreamed via Saks’ website, for those who are concerned about the crowds and want to watch at home.
More crowds were heading to Randall’s Island, a 516 acre space in the East River off the edge of Manhattan, where for the second year running a festival of lights was being staged.
The LuminoCity festival aims to combine the traditional art of Chinese lantern festivals with modern design and immersive stories.
With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade being held without spectators, Radio City’s ‘Christmas Spectacular’ canceled and the New Year’s Eve ball drop held virtually, the festival is one of the only winter events to go ahead.
Timed tickets for $25 were being sold, and face masks and temperature checks were mandatory.
The festival came as public health experts were predicting that COVID-19 cases will surge again.
‘We saw what happened post-Memorial Day,’ said Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator.
‘Now we are deeply worried about what could happen post-Thanksgiving because the number of cases – 25,000 versus 180,000 a day, that’s where we are deeply concerned.’
On the day before Thanksgiving, typically one of the busiest travel days of the year in the United States, more than 1.07 million people passed through US airports – the most of any single day since the start of the pandemic, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Nearly six million Americans traveled by air in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, the TSA said, a number that is however less than half that of the same period last year.
In New Jersey, the positivity rate is above 10 per cent.
The state’s largest city, Newark, remains under a lockdown advisory.
Mayor Ras Baraka said the restrictions are working, but in the hard-hit East Ward in the Ironbound section, the positivity rate hovers near 40 per cent.
‘We are trending in the right direction. We have to keep it up, stay vigilant. Keep fighting, keep pushing, hold the line, and drag these numbers down,’ Baraka said.
On Saturday, the country’s number of COVID cases for November surpassed four million, more than double the total for October, continuing an alarming surge in the outbreak.
The number of COVID-19 patients currently being treated in hospitals across the United States nearly doubled in the last month, hitting more than 93,000 over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The seven-day rolling average for US deaths is currently just over 1,400 and the average for daily infections is just shy of 160,400.
As of Sunday 93,238 Americans were hospitalized with the virus, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The rate of hospitalizations – now at the highest level since the pandemic began – comes after weeks of rising infection rates nationwide, with 16 states reporting record seven-day averages for daily new cases on Thursday and Friday.
Dr Celine Gounder, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, offered a grave warning about forthcoming spikes on Saturday.
‘We fully expect that in about a week or two after Thanksgiving we will see an increase in cases first, then about a week or two later you’ll start to see an increase in hospitalizations, and then another week or two after that you’ll start to see deaths,’ Gounder told CBS News, noting that symptoms of the virus can develop up to 14 days after exposure.
‘Unfortunately, that means that many people who celebrated with family, with friends over Thanksgiving will find themselves in the hospital, in ICUs over Christmas and New Years,’ she added.