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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are at new peaks, cities and states are weighing second lockdowns, and flu season is upon us — but we're all looking the other way.

Why it matters: Pandemic fatigue has set in and the nation has collectively stopped caring just in time for the holiday season. This Thanksgiving could be catastrophic for public health.

Compare April's Zoom seders with the in-person Thanksgiving dinners being planned all across the country.

  • The number of Americans driving or flying this Thanksgiving will be in the tens of millions, per AAA (though travel will be down from 2019). According to CBS, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen six million travelers this holiday.
  • Canceled spring proms and graduations have been replaced with fall birthday bashes.
  • The same cities that closed down within days in March are now waffling over shutdowns when case counts are more than double what they were then.

The big picture: "The incoming holidays have the potential to be a real, serious problem in terms of facilitating transmission," says William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

  • Student cross-country travel also has the potential to drive up cases. Of the students who are going home for Thanksgiving, 49% plan to socially distance but not quarantine at home, and 24% plan to take no measures at all, according to new polling from Generation Lab.
  • 59% of students plan to return to campus after the holidays.

Flashback: The Fourth of July and Labor Day sparked travel and new regional coronavirus outbreaks, and that was with the ability to comfortably congregate outdoors.

  • Another warning for Americans: Canadian Thanksgiving, which took place on Oct. 11, spurred countrywide case spikes there.

It's tiring for people to worry all the time, says Meredith Matson, a psychology professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College. "As the novelty of this wears off, that fatigue starts to rise."

  • On top of that, the virus is competing for attention. The election and the holidays have been a distraction, especially for those who have not experienced a loss or a layoff, she says. "There are people who are fortunate enough, who have not had this affect them directly in a way that has forced them to take notice."
  • Selective hearing also plays role as people hear differing information on what's safe and what's not from their friends, their television sets and their president.
  • "If I want to have my family down for Thanksgiving, then I can go looking for peers and news sources and authorities who confirm what I want."

The bottom line: If Americans do plan to move forward with hosting out-of-town relatives or travel, they can take multiple precautions to reduce spread, per the CDC:

  • Quarantining for two weeks or getting a coronavirus test does not excuse people from other mitigation practices like avoiding close contact and crowds, or wearing masks.
  • Even if family members are comfortable with flying or driving, it is ill advised to visit cities experiencing current surges.
  • Ventilation is essential if being indoors is inevitable.
  • Consider your home state's travel or quarantine restrictions upon returning home.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

Ex-CDC director Tom Frieden on the next COVID-19 vaccines

Americans fortunate enough to receive COVID vaccines now, outside of clinical trials, are getting shots made by either Pfizer or Moderna. But newly released data from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson suggests that more vaccines could be on the way, with J&J's requiring a single dose.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the news and why it matters with Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, as COVID-19 variants spread globally.

Updated 18 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Biden to get booster shot on camera — Pfizer vaccine safe, effective in children, company says — The booster vaccine discussion is far from over.
  2. Health: Study: Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years — U.S. death toll surpasses 1918 flu fatalities — Chicago has highest case rates in city worker neighborhoods.
  3. Politics: Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home — Rep. Tim Ryan tests positive — Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers.
  4. Education: D.C. schools to require teachers, staff to receive vaccine without testing option — More schools using "test-to-stay" strategy to minimize quarantines.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.