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Maggie Lee

Air travel hit a post-COVID high. And Fulton’s hospitals are seeing more COVID patients.

Delta airplane at concourse Atlanta airport Atlanta airport Tim Dorr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Maggie Lee

Air travel numbers hit a new post-COVID high on Sunday with more expected for Thanksgiving. Hospital bed use in Fulton is also creeping up, with more expected.

A total 1,047,934 people went through an airport security checkpoint somewhere in the U.S. on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That’s about half as many as this time last year, but still the highest daily peak since mid-March.

Meanwhile, Fulton County is watching a growth in daily use of hospital beds for COVID cases, as regular hospital demand gets augmented by both the flu and the pandemic.

“We’re starting to see some pretty alarming trends in hospitalization,” Doug Schuster with Emergency Management Services International, in a Wednesday briefing to the Fulton County Commission, which the company is helping with COVID-19 planning and response.

“Since September 25, we have increased from a plateau of about 160 [beds in use by COVID patients per day] to just under 300. And actually we just went over 300,” Schuster said Wednesday.

That’s about half of the peak daily COVID hospitalization numbers this summer — but 300 people is still about one-tenth of Fulton’s total hospital bed capacity.

 

Graph by EMSI

Graph by EMSI. Numbers tend to edge into the red warning zone on weekdays, as non-COVID patients check in for scheduled procedures.

Fulton’s consultants, drawing on a model from the University of Washington, have been projecting a second wave peak for months — though the date of that peak keeps getting moved further into the future.

The latest forecast puts a peak of 591 COVID hospital beds in use on Feb. 11.

All this comes as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve tempt people into into family meals and crowds.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has urged people to keep it small for Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 deaths are hitting Black and brown communities disproportionally, she pointed out during a Wednesday press conference. And her own husband is having long-haul post-COVID symptoms from his July bout with the disease.

“My mother called me about a month ago and said she thought we could have dinner at my niece’s house and we’d try and keep it to just 50 people this year,” Bottoms said. “I quickly shut that down and reminded her that that was probably 45 people too many. So we’ll be doing virtual Thanksgiving dinner in our family.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control are urging people not to travel for the holidays, which risks carrying infections far from home.

On Friday, at the agency’s first press tele-briefing in about three months, Dr Henry Walke, the CDC’s incident manager for COVID-19 response, said the agency is alarmed with the recent increase in cases.

The CDC had just watched more than a million new cases tally up across the country in a week.

“The tragedy that could happen is one of your family members, from coming together and [a] family gathering, could end up being hospitalized and severely ill and dying,” Walke said.  “We don’t want to see that happen.”

But the CDC also lists practices for safer travel: get a flu shot; always wear a mask; keep six feet apart from people; wash or sanitize your hands often; avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth; and bring extra hand sanitizer and masks.

And anyway, some in public health say it’s not wise to expect people to all stay home; and that officials ought to counsel safer gatherings rather than no gatherings.

One of Atlanta’s top infectious disease experts, Emory’s Dr. Carlos del Rio, said in a Sunday tweet thatWe need recommendations to help people reduce risk, but telling people to avoid getting together as this is safest is like recommending abstinence-only for HIV prevention.”

Walke, at the CDC, said it’s been 11 months and they know people are tired of the outbreak.

“We understand that,” Walke said. “And people want to see their relative sand their friends in the way they’ve always done it.  But this year particularly, we’re asking people to be as safe as possible and limit their travel.”

Documents:

ESMI slides from Fulton County Commission meeting of Nov. 18.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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