Thanksgiving this year will be much different than last year, but far from risk-free, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country and millions of Americans remain unvaccinated.
The daily case rate in the United States is about half of what it was at this time last year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the current pace — about 92,000 new COVID-19 cases each day — is up 16% from just a week ago.
Cases dropped off quickly at the tail end of the summer surge, but have started to climb again over the past couple weeks and are now back to levels last seen in August.
Nearly a third of new cases are in Midwestern states, with Michigan and Minnesota reporting more cases per capita than any other states. But the trend is nationwide; all but a dozen states saw cases rise over the past week, JHU data shows.
The latest uptick in cases is "not unexpected," as people spend more time inside during the cold-weather season and as immunity wanes, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on "State of the Union" Sunday.
"We have a lot of virus circulating around," Fauci said.
With millions still unvaccinated, that "results in the dynamic of virus in the community that not only is dangerous and makes people who are unvaccinated vulnerable, but it also spills over into the vaccinated people because no vaccine is 100% effective," he said.
Unvaccinated people continue to drive new infections
People who are still unvaccinated are "the major source" of coronavirus infections in U.S. communities right now, Fauci said Sunday on "ABC This Week."
Nearly 60% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but about 82 million people — more than a third of those eligible — have not yet received their first dose, a CNN analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Unvaccinated people face a higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people do, and the gap is even greater in terms of risk of hospitalization or death.
Unvaccinated people were six times more likely than fully vaccinated people to test positive for COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19, according to the latest CDC data.
Fully vaccinated families can safely enjoy the holidays mask-free, Fauci said.
"Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if you're not, please be careful," he said.
On Friday, the CDC updated its recommendations for booster shots, making all adults who completed their initial vaccine series at least six months ago eligible to receive an additional dose. But of the 117 million eligible adults, only about 35 million have actually received a booster shot, CDC data shows.
Hospitalizations are also increasing
Following a rise in cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations are starting to tick up again, too. More than 50,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Three-quarters of beds in intensive care units are full — more than one in seven of them for COVID-19 patients.
And more than 1,100 people are dying of COVID-19 each day, according to JHU data.
"Since vaccines became widely available, the vast majority of those who are dying are the unvaccinated. People who, for one reason or another, have been led to believe this is something that they do not want to take advantage of," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday.
"Those are preventable deaths. Probably at least 100,000 of the deaths that have happened this year didn't need to," Collins told CNN.
Asking Thanksgiving guests to get a COVID-19 test before gathering is "a reasonable idea for that extra level of protection," Fauci said on "CBS Mornings" Monday.
"It isn't a firm requirement, but I think if you want to go that extra step, particularly when you're in a region where there's a lot of infection and people are traveling, it is not at all unreasonable to tell people to get a test, one of those rapid tests, 24 hours or so before you go in in an indoor setting with people."