Fauci warns of post-Christmas COVID-19 surge in the US

Infectious diseases expert says prospects for spreading the virus ‘may be even more compounded’ than Thanksgiving.

Dr Anthony Fauci said the US was facing a 'very critical time' with the virus surging [Graeme Jennings/AFP]

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has warned that the upcoming holiday season may be even worse than Thanksgiving in terms of spreading the coronavirus.

Fauci told CNN on Monday that because the traditional Christmas season is an extended period that stretches into New Year’s, the prospects for spreading the virus as people travel “may be even more compounded than what we saw at Thanksgiving.”

After millions ignored expert advice and travelled for the Thanksgiving holiday in November, Fauci anticipated Americans would once again behave recklessly during Christmas and New Year’s Eve festivities.

Fauci said the US was facing a “very critical time” with the virus surging and more important than ever for people to take precautions like avoiding indoor gatherings, wearing masks and social distancing.

“Nobody wants to modify, if not essentially shut down, their holiday season, but we live in a very critical time in this country right now,” Fauci said

Fauci’s warning comes as California compelled much of the state to shut down and for residents to stay at home on Monday, when some of the harshest coronavirus restrictions in the United States came into effect one day after the state set a record with more than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases.

In the most populated state of the United States, confirmed infections have surged past 1.3 million, bringing dire new records in hospitalisations and deaths.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s order was triggered in areas where fewer than 15 percent of intensive care hospital beds were available, affecting more than 23 million people in southern California.

The new order, which will last at least three weeks, bans private gatherings of any size, shuts all but critical infrastructure and retail operations, and requires everyone to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing [Eric Risberg/AP Photo]

In addition, five counties in northern California surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area have voluntarily imposed the restrictions even before reaching the intensive care unit threshold.

Newsom, a first-term Democrat, has threatened to withhold funds from local governments that refuse to comply.

California has been under a stay-at-home order for all but essential services since March. The new order, which will last at least three weeks, bans private gatherings of any size, shuts all but critical infrastructure and retail operations, and requires everyone to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.

Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, on Monday blasted the new measures and said ending the transmission of the disease can only be achieved by vaccinating the majority of Americans, a goal which he said the nation expects to achieve by May or June of next year.

California reported more than 30,000 new cases on Sunday, exceeding the state’s previous high of 21,986 set on December 4, and marked a new record for hospitalised COVID-19 patients [Jeff Chiu/AP Photo]

“You don’t have to close your major industries, you do need to wear a mask that’s critically important when you’re in public and can’t physically distance,” Giroir told Fox News.

He said he planned on taking a vaccine once one becomes available, and that there is currently no data to support the closure of schools, universities and outdoor dining.

“And we see that these measures, they can be counterproductive,” he added, “people get mad and upset because the science don’t support them, the science does support limiting indoor dining and bars.”

The sheriffs of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties have said they will refuse to enforce the order, emboldening non-essential businesses to remain open.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a videotaped message his office “will not be blackmailed” into enforcing the governor’s orders, and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement his deputies would not respond to calls to enforce violations of the mask mandate, stay-at-home orders or the ban on social gatherings.

People waiting in line to be tested for COVID-19 at a testing site in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles [Richard Vogel/AP Photo]

But the mayor of one Los Angeles County town backed tougher enforcement measures.

“People absolutely should be arrested for not wearing masks,” Lancaster Mayor R Rex Perris told the Orange County Register. “Most of these people have never been arrested before. Spend one night incarcerated, and they won’t do it again.”

Nationwide, COVID-19 infections have reached a new peak with an average of more than 191,000 daily cases reported over the past seven days, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

There have been 14.7 million infections and 282,375 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies