It’s too soon to tell whether Christmas get-togethers will usher in a new wave of COVID cases, but experts fear it’s likely; The Washington Post reported that Sunday marked the busiest airline travel day since the start of the pandemic. People should continue to avoid crowds and forego New Year’s parties, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
“If somebody brings glitter to the party, when the party’s over, everybody’s got glitter on them, right? And that’s the same thing with COVID,” Jenkins said. “If somebody brings asymptomatic COVID to the party, when the party’s over, we’re going to have COVID.”
Dallas County reported a three-day total of 6,144 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths from Thursday through Saturday, according to the county’s health department. Jenkins said if the county stays on its current trajectory, it will see an average of 2,700 cases per day by Jan. 5.
As of Monday morning, Jenkins said there were 44 hospital beds between Dallas and Tarrant counties, which together count nearly 5 million residents. Should the region’s hospitals become overwhelmed in the coming weeks, there could soon be a rationing of hospital admissions.
“It’s not just COVID — it’s the heart attack and the car wreck and the pregnancy complications,” Jenkins said. “You don’t want a situation where your loved one or you are getting less care than is appropriate because emergency dictates that we can’t do for you what we normally would.”
It’s especially important for younger adults, who may be tempted to attend large New Year's parties, to stay safe at home, Jenkins said. Even if revelers don’t pass the disease to their grandmother, the chain of transmissions could cause someone else down the line to become hospitalized or die, which is a “very, very high price” to pay for one’s shortsighted decision.
“We should be very vigilant during this holiday season to help our health care workers." – Dr. Erin Carlson
Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County’s health department, agrees that now is not the time for big, crowded New Year’s Eve celebrations. People should continue to avoid crowds, host virtual events, stay 6 feet apart and wear masks, he said.
Further dampening the holiday spirit, scientists have identified a mutant strain of the coronavirus. The variant, called B.1.1.7., was discovered in the United Kingdom and may be up to 70% more transmissible, according to Science magazine.
Viruses travel "very, very quickly" around the globe, said Dr. Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington. She said she would be “shocked” if B.1.1.7. was not already in the United States.
At the same time, people shouldn’t be scared of the new strain, she said. Becoming more transmissible is a natural process in the life of a virus because it ensures a greater chance of its survival. The novel coronavirus may evolve over time to become less deadly, she added, similar to influenza.
While the mutant strain’s transmissibility is higher, there isn’t any evidence it makes people sicker, Carlson said. Plus, the COVID-19 vaccine will effectively work against it.
People don’t need to live any differently, but they should continue to take safety precautions to prevent an increased burden on the local health care system, Carlson said.
“We should be very vigilant during this holiday season to help our health care workers," Carlson said. "Our hospitals are still very full from the surge that occurred after Thanksgiving and now, we’re in another holiday season where there could be other cases added.”