A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Last Thanksgiving, there was no coronavirus vaccine and the US government asked people to stay home for the holiday. Gatherings probably helped fuel a Covid-19 surge.
This year, airports are full and most Americans are ready to get away from the pandemic and back to their traditions – bringing families together to celebrate and maybe argue about masks and vaccines, and possibly spread the virus again among the unvaccinated.
Home for the holidays. Two-thirds of Americans – 67% – said in a new Axios/Ipsos poll they’ll see friends or family outside their households. It’s a bipartisan and nationwide sentiment, as the figure includes 73% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 63% of Democrats.
Is your Uncle Harold vaccinated? It might not matter to many Americans if their relatives or friends are vaccinated. Thirty percent of respondents who said they’ll see people outside their households said their celebration would include people who are unvaccinated, and 17% said they didn’t know whether other guests will be vaccinated.
There is a notable partisan divide on vaccines in the poll: A much larger proportion of Republicans, 41%, said they plan to spend the holiday with someone who is unvaccinated, compared with just 17% of Democrats.
Getting back to normal. Most Americans polled are still concerned about Covid-19, but they’re also ready to move on: 44% see getting back to normal as a large to moderate risk, a drop from 72% who said the same last year.
The Covid-19 case numbers were worse in the US last Thanksgiving, before vaccines were approved. Back then, 64% of Americans saw a large or moderate risk in seeing loved ones for Thanksgiving. This year, that figure is down to 31%, per the Axios/Ipsos poll.
Nearly 60% of the US population is fully vaccinated. But, as CNN’s Deidre McPhillips writes, “about 82 million people – more than a third of those eligible – have not yet received their first dose, a CNN analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.”
She notes that unvaccinated people were six times more likely than fully vaccinated people to test positive for Covid-19 and 11 times more likely to die of the disease, according to the latest CDC data.
“Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if you’re not, please be careful,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN over the weekend.
Should you celebrate with your unvaccinated relatives? CNN’s Madeline Holcombe talked to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, about this exact question earlier in November.
The answer is: it depends. Holcombe wrote: First is the medical risk you and your loved ones face. In assessing your own risk, it’s important to think about the level of infection in your loved ones’ communities, Wen said. Then look at if they are taking other precautions like avoiding crowds and wearing masks indoors, she added.
“A third thing I would look at is how vulnerable are you, the person making this decision, and the people in your immediate household?” she said. “If you are fully vaccinated and you’ve got your booster and you’re generally healthy, the chance of you having a breakthrough infection that lands you in the hospital is relatively low.”
Other considerations. Are you the host or the guest? Is the vaccination question likely to cause a confrontation? What about the kids ages 5-11 who aren’t yet fully vaccinated?
There’s also the question of whether you can trust your friends and relatives about what they say regarding their vaccination status. People lie and mislead on this point. Ahem, Aaron Rodgers.
A winter surge. Americans who are nervously watching the fourth spike of Covid-19 cases in Europe are anxious for good reason. There’s an uptick brewing in the US as well, driven by the unvaccinated population and colder weather pushing people indoors.
More than three-quarters of US states are seeing increased case numbers. Many of the new cases are in the Midwest, particularly Michigan and Minnesota.
There are still more than 1,000 Americans dying from Covid-19 each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That means by Thursday, more than 775,000 Americans will have died since the start of the pandemic.
Certainly more people will be exposed during this major holiday and travel event. The US Transportation Security Administration screened 2.24 million airline passengers last Friday, the most since the start of the pandemic. About 20 million people are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving travel period.
Delta Air Lines said it would fly up to 5.6 million passengers during Thanksgiving week, a huge increase over 2020, but shy of the 6.3 million passengers it flew during the 2019 holiday.
The burst of travel will test the airlines. They are struggling like many companies with staffing issues. Shortages led to the canceling of thousands of Southwest Airlines and American Airlines flights in October, but airlines today say they’re ready for the return to a more normal Thanksgiving surge.