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Health Team

Yes, we have a new US President, but you still have to wear your mask and social distance

Posted November 9, 2020 3:39 p.m. EST

— Many people watched with relief as President-elect Joe Biden announced an aggressive plan on Monday to control the pandemic that is escalating at an alarming rate. The United States has now surpassed 10 million Covid-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally. And coronavirus has already infected 50 million and killed over 1.25 million worldwide.

There is even good news from drugmaker Pfizer, which said Monday that data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective.

Biden will use this transition period to mobilize to fight the pandemic, CNN White House Reporter Stephen Collinson noted, but the impact of the virus could be far worse by the time Biden reaches the Oval Office in January, as record infection numbers this past week have shown.

Yes, we have a new President, but CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen says it's no time to be complacent. We still need to protect ourselves from the ravages of the pandemic, she urged.

CNN: What should we be doing right now, after this week's US election, to protect ourselves from the pandemic?

Dr. Leana Wen: We are facing a firestorm of coronavirus around the United States that's much worse than we've seen at any time during the pandemic. There are more than 100,000 people being infected every single day, and numerous hospitals and ICUs are already becoming overwhelmed. But even though the numbers of people getting sick are at such high levels, people's behaviors don't reflect it. We need to keep it mind that we have an extremely contagious virus with us, and it's up to us to stop the spread.

That means we need to keep following the public health guidelines that we know are effective in preventing Covid-19, starting with wearing masks every time we are around others who are not in our household. Masks can reduce transmission by as much as 80%, and it's critical that we wear masks to protect ourselves and others around us.

We also need to avoid crowds and keep up physical distancing. In the wake of elections, people have been celebrating, protesting or otherwise gathering in close proximity to one another. This virus doesn't care why we are getting together. It will spread unless we take steps to prevent it. Please don't gather, and in particular, do not get together with people indoors.

CNN: Can we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving?

Wen: There are ways to see one another safely over Thanksgiving. If different households want to get together indoors, they can all quarantine for 14 days and then get tested. That's going to be very difficult for many people. If that's the case, they should see one another outdoors only, with households sitting at least 6 feet apart.

I urge people to reduce nonessential travel. Even though the travel itself is relatively safe, I worry about people coming from all over the United States, since nearly every part of the country is a coronavirus hotspot at this point.

I know this is going to be very challenging. This has been such a tough year, and people are eager to see one another. But we are heading into some of the worst periods of Covid-19 surge. By Thanksgiving, we could be near 200,000 infections every day.

Things will almost certainly be better by next Thanksgiving, with a vaccine and therapeutics likely to be available in 2021. We need to get through this winter. The best thing we can do for those we love the most may be to not see them, in person, this Thanksgiving.

CNN: But what if we really, really want to see people?

Wen: I understand. I also really want to see my family. My husband and I have a new baby girl, now 7 months old, who has yet to meet her grandparents; our toddler son misses his grandparents a lot, too. As a family, though, we decided that we just can't this year. My father lives in Vancouver, Canada, and my mother-in-law lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. They are both elderly with underlying medical conditions, and it's not safe for them to travel or for us to take our young kids to see them.

We are making plans to visit both places next year. In the meantime, we will celebrate with one another virtually. That doesn't mean we should all stay isolated over the holidays: This is the year for the outdoor "Friendsgivings." Bundle up and be flexible if it turns out that we can't celebrate Thanksgiving on that day because of the weather. Let's be thankful of all the sacrifices that people all over the world have made during the pandemic, and not let these sacrifices go in vain.

CNN: When can we hug again?

Wen: There are ways to hug safely! If it's important to have this physical contact, the safest thing to do is for all who want to hug to quarantine for 14 days, then get tested. Otherwise, there will be risks in hugging. Hug people in your household and use other ways to express your love until you can hug again.

CNN: What are you worried about happening during this presidential transition period?

Wen: By January 20, we could have over 2,000 deaths per day in this country. The next several weeks will determine the trajectory of where Covid-19 goes. That trajectory is only going to go up unless people take necessary actions.

While President-elect Biden doesn't yet have executive power, he has in moral authority as the incoming President. Since his biggest challenge is to regain the trust of the American people, he needs to speak directly to the people in the form of something like FDR's fireside chats. He should have his public health experts provide briefings not only to him in private but also to the American people. And he needs to establish a national framework and get the buy-in of state and local leaders. Our country's governors and mayors have the authority to change policies now that will save lives before January 20.

CNN: We just heard good news about a possible new vaccine. Why can't we relax now?

Wen: There's promising news about the Pfizer vaccine. I hope that there will be more promising news from other manufacturers as well. Even in the most optimistic scenario, though, a vaccine is not going to be approved for use by the general public until early 2021. By the time it's manufactured, distributed and administered to most Americans, we could be in summer or fall 2021.

We need to get to that point. That means we must keep up our public health practices of mask wearing, physical distancing, and hand-washing. The winter that's ahead could be the deadliest in recent history. It's up to each of us to protect ourselves and our family, and in so doing, reduce the spread of Covid-19 until the point that we have a safe, effective and widely distributed vaccine.

Wear your mask, socialize outdoors, and keep a 6-foot distance—we can beat the virus and save lives.

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