Several COVID-19 Advisers Make Grim Predictions

Carolyn Crist

December 01, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Members of both President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory board and the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued grim forecasts this weekend for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

"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," Celine Gounder, MD, one of Biden's advisers and an infectious diseases specialist at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, told CBS News.

COVID-19 symptoms can develop up to two weeks after exposure, she explained, so public health officials are cautiously watching the numbers after millions of Americans traveled during the past week for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"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 said.

New daily COVID-19 cases surpassed 200,000 for the first time on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The previous high was 196,000 on Nov. 20.

Any indoor gathering could be a potential site for transmission, Gounder said, including stores with holiday shopping, music concerts or religious services. Crowded spaces, in particular, could lead to an increased risk for transmission.

As cases rise in December, she added, calls to "flatten the curve" will likely reemerge to prevent health care systems and hospitals from being overwhelmed.

"Healthcare workers have now been fighting this for months. They too would like a break for the holidays to see their own family within their household bubbles," Gounder said. "Unfortunately, I think some people are going to find themselves having to work the holidays to meet the surge."

Several members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force appeared on Sunday news talk shows to warn about the escalating increase they expect in December. Deborah Birx, MD, coordinator of the task force, said the number of COVID-19 cases is up to 10 times higher than the surge after the Memorial Day weekend in some locations.

"It looked like things were starting to improve in our northern plain states, and now with Thanksgiving, we're worried that all of that will be reversed," Birx said on the CBS News show "Face the Nation."

Birx urged people to "take it upon yourself" to implement restrictions, even in states without regulations in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

"It's going to get worse over the next several weeks, but the actions that we take in the next several days will determine how bad it is or whether or not we continue to flatten our curve," Jerome Adams, MD, a coronavirus task force member and the U.S. Surgeon General, told Fox News Sunday.

Those who traveled and attended gatherings during the past week should isolate, get tested this week and wear masks to prevent transmission to others, he said, adding that his mother is currently hospitalized.

"I want people to understand that if cases and hospitalizations continue to go up, not only will it hurt our ability to care for COVID patients, but if someone is having a baby, they may not be able to get a bed," he said. "If someone is having a heart attack or potential stroke like my mother, they may not be able to get a bed."


CBS News, "Biden COVID-19 adviser: Many who celebrated Thanksgiving with family or friends will be in ICUs over Christmas."

Johns Hopkins University, "COVID-19 Daily Video."

CBS News, "Deborah Birx on 'Face the Nation,' November 29, 2020."

Fox News Sunday, "U.S. surgeon general on fast-tracked coronavirus vaccine development: 'Safety has not been compromised.' "