Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday with the pandemic at perhaps its most precarious point yet.
Coronavirus cases in the United States have reached record highs, with an average of more than 176,000 a day over the past week. Deaths are soaring, with more than 2,200 announced on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the highest daily totals since early May. Even as reports of new infections begin to level off in parts of the Midwest, that progress is being offset by fresh outbreaks on both coasts and in the Southwest, where officials are scrambling to impose new restrictions to slow the spread.
The national uptick includes weekly case records in places as diffuse as Delaware, Ohio, Maine and Arizona, where more than 27,000 cases were announced over seven days, exceeding the state’s summer peak.
In New Mexico, grocery stores are being ordered to close if four employees test positive. In Los Angeles County, Calif., restaurants can no longer offer in-person dining. And in Pima County, Ariz., which includes Tucson, cases have reached record levels and officials have imposed a voluntary curfew.
“What we’re trying to do is decrease social mobility,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County health director.
Deaths are also surging, especially in the Midwest, the region that drove much of the case growth this fall. More than 900 deaths have been announced over the past week in Illinois, along with more than 400 each in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Health officials have worried aloud for weeks that large Thanksgiving gatherings could seed another wave of infections at a time when the country can scarcely afford it. In many places, hospitals are already full, contact tracers have been overwhelmed and health care workers are exhausted.
“Wisconsin is in a bad place right now with no sign of things getting better without action,” said an open letter signed by hundreds of employees of UW Health, the state university’s medical center and health system. “We are, quite simply, out of time. Without immediate change, our hospitals will be too full to treat all of those with the virus and those with other illnesses or injuries.”
More than 260,000 people have died of coronavirus in the United States. In a speech on the eve of Thanksgiving, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke of his family’s losses, and urged Americans to “hang on” and called for unity.
“I remember that first Thanksgiving, the empty chair, the silence,” said Mr. Biden, whose son Beau died in 2015. “It takes your breath away. It’s really hard to care. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to even think of looking forward. It’s so hard to hope. I understand.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York accused the U.S. Supreme Court of political partisanship on Thursday after the high court rejected his statewide coronavirus-based restrictions on religious services, playing down the impact of its ruling and suggesting it was representative of its new conservative majority.
Regardless of the governor’s interpretation, the decision by the Supreme Court late on Wednesday to suspend the 10- and 25-person capacity limitations on churches and other houses of worship in New York would seem to be a sharp rebuke to Mr. Cuomo, who had previously won a series of legal battles over his emergency powers.
“You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making,” the governor said, noting worries in some quarters after President Trump nominated three conservative justices on the Supreme Court in the past four years. “We know who he appointed to the court. We know their ideology.”
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, insisted that the decision “doesn’t have any practical effect” because the restrictions on religious services in Brooklyn, as well as similar ones in Queens and the city’s northern suburbs, had since been eased after the positive test rates in those areas had declined.
But less stringent capacity restrictions, also rejected by the Supreme Court’s decision, are still in place in six other counties, including in Staten Island.
Legal experts said that despite the governor’s assertion that the decision was limited to parishes and other houses of worship in Brooklyn, the court’s ruling could be used to challenge and overturn other restrictions elsewhere. “The decision is applicable to people in similar situations,” said Norman Siegel, a constitutional lawyer and former leader of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It’s applicable to any synagogue, any church, to any mosque, to any religious setting.”
Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Instead of 42 giant balloons and floats, there were 30. Many of the high school marching bands from around the country stayed home. And the parade itself covered only a snippet of the traditional 2.5-mile route, confined to a single block of 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan.
But the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade kicked off Thursday morning, with organizers determined to not let the pandemic completely derail the pageantry. So with the New York City Rockettes — minus the famous kick-lines that were scrapped to adhere to social-distancing guidelines — Dolly Parton, and, of course, Santa Claus, the ritual marker of the start of the holiday season got underway on Herald Square.
Planning this year’s event was a singular feat of logistical legerdemain. Starting in March, the parade planners at Macy’s and NBC, which airs the event, had to rip up the carefully calibrated script and come up with an entirely new blueprint.
“What I knew about Thanksgiving Day a month ago is different from what I know now,” said Susan Tercero, who is the executive producer of the event for Macy’s. “How do you plan something in June that’s going to happen in November when you have no idea where the country is going to be at then?”
History set a high bar for canceling the parade, which has gone off every year since 1924, except for three years during World War II.
The planners kept in communication with city and state officials and responded as evidence of a second wave in New York mounted, reducing the number of participants to 12 percent of their typical work force from 25 percent. Instead of about 8,000 people working a packed parade route in a normal year, 960 people will work over three days of filming.
For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe and the United States, a pilot program will allow a limited number of passengers to travel across the Atlantic from Atlanta to Italy without having to quarantine upon arrival, according to a Delta Air Lines news release on Thursday.
The airline said it had worked with officials in both Georgia and Italy and that the program would rely on a strict testing protocol to ensure the flights could be conducted safely and “coronavirus free.”
Starting Dec. 19, all U.S. citizens permitted to travel to Italy for “essential reasons, such as for work, health and education,” as well as all European Union and Italian citizens, would have to test negative for Covid-19 three times:
Once with a polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.) test taken up to 72 hours before departure.
Once with a rapid test at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
And once again with a rapid test upon arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
Passengers departing Rome would again have to pass a rapid test at the airport.
Travelers will also be asked to provide information upon entry into the United States to support contact-tracing protocols set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Airlines, battered by the pandemic, have been working to establish travel corridors that are both safe and reliable.
The International Air Transport Association forecast this week that the sector will lose $157 billion by the end of next year.
“This crisis is devastating and unrelenting,” the organization’s director, Alexandre de Juniac, said in a statement.
Delta, in partnership with Alitalia, said the airlines worked with the Mayo Clinic to devise the protocols and hoped they could serve as a model going forward.
Almost all of England must adhere to the two most severe sets of coronavirus restrictions when a national lockdown ends next week, the government said on Thursday, in an announcement likely to stoke tensions with lawmakers.
London and Liverpool have escaped the most stringent curbs and have been put into the second of three tiers, each based on an assessment of the threat from the virus.
Restaurants and pubs will reopen for indoor dining, but they will only be allowed to serve alcohol indoors to those eating a substantial meal.
In Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester, Newcastle and Hull, cities that must follow the toughest restrictions, pubs and restaurants will stay closed except for takeout service.
Just a handful of areas in the south of England will be in the tier with the lightest rules.
The fact that much of Northern England faces the tightest curbs is likely to revive claims that the region is not being treated the same way as London and the southern parts of the country.
Across the country, some normality will return when the lockdown lifts on Wednesday in England, and stores, gyms and hairdressers can reopen. Religious services, weddings and outdoor sporting events can also take place.
But in dividing the country into three tiers of restrictions, based on regional data, the government is hoping that the system works better than it did earlier this year, when it failed to stem a surge in cases.
This time the rules have been tightened and Thursday’s announcement, made by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, underscores the government’s desire to keep controls on the hospitality trade in the run up to Christmas.
“It is vital that we safeguard the gains we have made,” he told lawmakers on Thursday.
Some critics, however, want regions split into smaller units to reflect local circumstances, and 70 lawmakers from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have expressed concerns about the economic damage of restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
In other developments around the world:
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and state governors agreed to tighten virus restrictions and extend the country’s lockdown through December. “Without a doubt we have difficult months ahead of us,” Ms. Merkel told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Amid a growing caseload, Greece is also extending a lockdown that had been set to end on Monday, until Dec. 7.
Prince Carl Philip and his wife, Princess Sofia, of Sweden tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement from the Royal Court of Sweden. Carl Philip is fourth in the line of succession to the Swedish throne.
South Korea reported 583 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, the biggest daily caseload since early March, as health officials struggled to contain a third wave that began earlier this month. In the past week, officials have banned gatherings of more than 100 people, shuttered nightclubs and allowed only takeout services in coffee shop chains.
The announcement this week that a cheap, easy-to-make coronavirus vaccine appeared to be up to 90 percent effective was greeted with jubilation. “Get yourself a vaccaccino,” a British tabloid celebrated, noting that a shot of the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, costs less than a cup of coffee.
But since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing.
Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results.
Officials in the United States have also said that the results were not clear. It was the head of the U.S. federal vaccine initiative — not the company — who first disclosed that the vaccine’s most promising results did not reflect data from older people.
The upshot, the experts said, is that the odds of regulators in the United States and elsewhere quickly authorizing the emergency use of the AstraZeneca vaccine are declining, a setback in the global campaign to corral the devastating pandemic.
Michele Meixell, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, said the trials “were conducted to the highest standards.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Menelas Pangalos, the AstraZeneca executive in charge of much of the company’s research and development, defended the company’s handling of the testing and its public disclosures. He said the error in the dosage was made by a contractor, and that, once it was discovered, regulators were immediately notified and signed off on the plan to continue testing the vaccine in different doses.
Asked why AstraZeneca shared some information with Wall Street analysts and some other officials and experts but not with the public, he responded, “I think the best way of reflecting the results is in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, not in a newspaper.”
It was 10 months ago that officials identified the first U.S. coronavirus case in Snohomish County, Wash. That area north of Seattle is now reporting its highest coronavirus case numbers of the pandemic.
Snohomish County has recorded an average of about 230 cases per day over the past week, about three times higher than a month ago. Dr. Chris Spitters, the Snohomish County health officer, said hospitalizations in the region have risen about 400 percent in just six weeks.
“Hospitals are rapidly approaching where we were back in March,” Dr. Spitters said this week.
On Jan. 21, federal and local officials announced that a person who had recently traveled from Wuhan, China, had tested positive in Snohomish County, setting off an extensive effort to isolate and treat the patient. Weeks later, the Seattle region emerged as an early epicenter of the virus, although it remains uncertain whether the outbreak was linked to that first person.
Washington State recorded many of the first coronavirus deaths in the nation in March but managed to contain its outbreak in the spring and has kept its numbers low when compared to other states around the country. But in recent days, case numbers have been jumping and setting records. Gov. Jay Inslee has restored coronavirus restrictions, closing fitness facilities and prohibiting indoor dining at bars and restaurants.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said Wednesday the situation was “extraordinarily, urgent” and urged all residents to take action to stop the spread of the virus before hospitals become overwhelmed.
“We must all recommit to flatten the curve now,” Dr. Lofy said.
The Thanksgiving menu behind bars in the United States this year featured extra helpings of loneliness and tension along with the processed turkey.
Most American prisons suspended in-person visits months ago — some as early as March — to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving many inmates able to communicate with loved ones only through mail that can take several weeks to arrive or costly phone and video calls.
This year, the threat of the virus and the long separations from families have added an extra layer of anxiety to one of the most anticipated days of the year, inmates and their relatives say.
Kelly Connolly, whose brother Rory Connolly is serving time in a federal prison in Ohio, said her family felt helpless to relieve her brother’s isolation and fear of getting sick.
The ban on visits “does seem extra punitive, on top of the sentence — the daily tension and terror, in addition to all the other aspects of prison,” she said. “This is by far the longest stretch my brother has gone without seeing family members or friends.”
Prisons, jails and detention facilities have often become coronavirus hot spots. More than 327,000 inmates and guards in have been infected by the virus, and more than 1,650 have died, according to a New York Times database.
The steep recent rise in infections around the nation has meant that a number of prisons and jails that were planning to allow family visits for Thanksgiving have canceled those plans.
After more than two months of unrelenting growth, the United States is poised to see a steep drop-off in new cases on Thursday.
It will be a mirage, not progress.
At least 14 states have said they do not plan to update their data on Thursday as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Other states will likely do the same. And many county and regional health departments will also take the day off.
“Out of respect for our O.S.D.H. personnel who have worked tirelessly since March in response to the Covid pandemic, we will not be reporting data on Thanksgiving,” the Oklahoma State Department of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.
The New York Times reports new cases and deaths on the date they are announced by officials in hundreds of state and local health departments. In a typical week, daily fluctuations are smoothed out by using a rolling average that accounts for spikes on Fridays, when many states report their highest numbers of the week, and drops on the weekends, when some places don’t report any data.
That analysis will become harder after Thanksgiving, which is almost assured to have far fewer cases than the 187,000 announced last Thursday, when 49 states reported fresh data. The country’s seven-day case average, now above 175,000, could fall sharply, at least for a day.
Harder still is knowing what to expect in the days after Thanksgiving. Some states are likely to report artificial spikes when they resume reporting on Friday, which could push the country past 200,000 cases in a single day for the first time.
But the blurry data could persist longer. Health officials in Vermont have said they will forego reporting both Thursday and Friday. And access to testing is likely to decrease for a few days, meaning more infections could go uncounted. In Louisiana, testing sites run by the National Guard will be closed both Thursday and Friday. In Wisconsin, some National Guard testing sites are closed all week.
Numbers aside, public health officials are worried about what the holiday may bring. For weeks, governors and hospital executives have been begging people to skip turkey dinners with people not in their households. The country’s case average is as high as it’s ever been, cases are rising in 40 states and deaths are reaching levels unseen since May, with more than 2,200 announced nationwide both Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Unless we unite behind the belief that each of us has a responsibility to protect others, we will face a devastating holiday season,” said Barbara Ferrer, the public health director in Los Angeles County, Calif., where cases have soared to record levels this week.
Does Canada’s Thanksgiving, which passed well over a month ago, offer a preview of what the United States now faces in terms of the pandemic?
The differences between public health systems in Canada’s provinces and their pandemic rules make it difficult to generalize about the entire country’s holiday aftereffects.
Daniel Coombs, a professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia and an infectious disease modeling expert, said that several “provinces have seen rises that are hard to directly link to Thanksgiving purely from case counts.”
But Professor Coombs said many provinces did find through contact tracing that some new cases were linked to Thanksgiving events.
Over the past six weeks, he said, outbreaks that started at Thanksgiving have continued to grow. “It is not really possible to say what fraction of current cases were specifically seeded by Thanksgiving gatherings but I think it is indisputable that the effect is there,” Professor Coombs said.
Since Thanksgiving, new restrictions have been imposed in many parts of Canada. This week an agreement between the four provinces along the Atlantic coast that allowed quarantine-free travel between them was suspended after a growth of cases in two of them. Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario all imposed new measures in all or some areas this month.
But Colin D. Furness, an assistant professor at Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation of the University of Toronto, cautioned that Canada’s version of Thanksgiving is not an ideal proxy for the American version. It is not even a statutory holiday in some provinces, and Canadians generally wait until Christmas to travel for family get-togethers.
“So for the U.S., where Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend of the year, and where Covid is currently raging in many places, the threat posed by this holiday is enormous,” he said. “If we looked at the Canadian experience, we might underestimate the U.S. risk.”
Gov. Philip D. Murphy has urged New Jersey school districts to open for some face-to-face instruction, repeatedly noting that the coronavirus spread among teachers and students was far lower than expected.
Last week, as New York City was reeling from the mayor’s decision to close the nation’s largest school district, Mr. Murphy joined with six other governors — including New York’s — to release a statement about the importance, and relative safety, of in-person instruction.
His own schools weren’t listening: While most districts in New Jersey had reopened for some in-person instruction, many announced plans this week to return to all-remote learning through all or part of the holidays.
The tensions point to the difficulty governors across the Northeast have had in persuading districts to reopen more fully — decisions that often require school boards to buck powerful teachers unions and to live with the inherent risk of outbreaks as the virus surges.
Parents and children are often caught in the middle, forced to quickly shift routines and expectations in a year already marred by the extraordinary challenges of remote instruction.
Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, has the power to shut down schools, as he did in March when New York and New Jersey were an early epicenter of the pandemic. And he has said that decisions about all-remote instruction need state approval and that districts must be working toward bringing students back to class.
Still, for all the governor’s public exhortations, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education could not point to a single instance when the state rejected a district’s plan to shift to all-remote instruction.
The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut have faced similar pressure from districts and unions as they continue to stress the importance of in-person education. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered a plan to keep New York City’s schools open for at least a few more days, but the mayor rebuffed him.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, when the Dallas Cowboys, as they have nearly every year since 1966, play at home on Thanksgiving, this time against the Washington Football Team.
To control the spread of the coronavirus, state rules limit attendance at the stadium to half its capacity of more than 100,000, and no game has approached that limit. Still, attendance has grown every game, hitting a high of 31,700 on Nov. 8, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were in town. Jerry Jones, the team’s owner, plans to keep selling tickets even as the number of infections surges in Tarrant County, where the Cowboys play home games.
“I see a continued aggressive approach to having fans out there,” Mr. Jones said last week on Dallas sports talk radio. “And that’s not being insensitive to the fact that we got our Covid and outbreak. Some people will say maybe it is, but not when you’re doing it as safe as we are and not when we’re having the results we’re having.”
Local and state authorities have ultimate authority over whether fans can attend games, and the rules in Texas are more permissive than in states like California and New Jersey, where teams have played without spectators this season.
But Mr. Jones’s approach runs counter not just to what other N.F.L. teams have done in recent weeks, but to what medical experts say is prudent public health policy. The number of cases in the county has jumped more than fivefold since the start of the regular season in early September, when there was an average of 1,500 confirmed infections a day.
On Wednesday, the N.F.L. has moved the Thanksgiving night showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to Sunday afternoon after nearly a dozen players and staff members on the Ravens tested positive for the virus.
Pope Francis, writing for the New York Times Opinion section, says that to come out of this pandemic better than we went in, “we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.”
In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.
Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.
To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.
Last week, David Leonhardt invited readers of his Morning newsletter to send six words describing what made them thankful in 2020. Here is a selection of their responses:
The crinkling eye above the mask.
A furtive hug with a friend.
The backyard haircuts are getting better.
My choir still meets on Zoom.
Friends who give me streaming passwords.
Family reunion in January, before Covid.
Miss family, but safer for them.
Saved a lot of lipstick money.
More homemade pasta, no more jeans.
No shame in elastic-waist pants.
Braless at home? No one cares.
Mom, 87, rocking pretty, pandemic ponytail.
Teenage son still likes to snuggle.
My parents live two blocks away.
No better excuse to avoid in-laws.
This stinking year is nearly over.