US medical associations urge 'scaled-back' Thanksgiving in open letter to Americans

U.S. doctors, nurses and hospital officials have collectively penned an open letter to the American people, urging that any holiday gatherings be “scaled-back” in order to keep people safe and overburdened hospitals freed up during the worsening coronavirus crisis.

“In the strongest possible terms, we urge you to celebrate responsibly,” the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association said in the letter to the U.S. public, dated Nov. 19.

New cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have skyrocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring.

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The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths in the U.S. and over 12.5 million confirmed infections, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

“We are all weary and empathize with the desire to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but given the serious risks, we underscore how important it is to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash your hands,” the groups wrote.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks their dog past an inflatable turkey ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday during increased COVID-19 restrictions on Nov. 21, 2020 in Manhattan Beach, California. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

The advice echoes guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which last week begged Americans not to travel or spend the holidays with people outside of their household. The agency recommends virtual gatherings with distant relatives or friends, or limited in-person celebrations with social distancing, mask-wearing and other precautions.

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In the letter, the groups noted a similar pattern of increased spread around holidays and mass gatherings, including a spike in positive cases following Memorial Day, after the Fourth of July, after Labor Day, and now – more than two weeks after Halloween.

“The record-shattering surge underway is resulting in uncontrolled community spread and infection that has already overburdened health systems in some areas and will ultimately consume capacity of our health care system and may reduce the availability of care in many places in our country,” the groups wrote.

On Monday, a top Cleveland Clinic official said hospital systems in northern Ohio are running out of ventilators due to the worsening COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Robert Wyllie, the chief of medical operations at Cleveland Clinic, also said a record number of medical workers are currently out because they either have COVID-19 or are under quarantine from being exposed.

Wyllie added that many of these caregivers are becoming infected in the community, rather than in the hospital. 

The groups concluded in the letter: “We will get through this pandemic, but the only way out is to follow the science and adhere to the public health steps we know work.”

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.