Health & Fitness

Half Of Family 'Wiped Out': Sisters Beg Americans To Stay Home

Latest U.S. coronavirus news: Congress approves $900 billion relief bill; travelers ignoring CDC; Bidens get vaccinated on live TV.

Katie Riggs Maxwell cries while hugging a portrait of her father, Mark Riggs, a professor at Abilene, Texas, Christian University. He died of COVID-19 a week ago.
Katie Riggs Maxwell cries while hugging a portrait of her father, Mark Riggs, a professor at Abilene, Texas, Christian University. He died of COVID-19 a week ago. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

ACROSS AMERICA — Two sisters in Louisville, Kentucky, who lost their parents and grandfather to the coronavirus in three weeks have some advice for the millions of Americans preparing to travel for the Christmas holidays to see their families and friends.

Skip it and stay home, sisters Jessica Cheatham and Jama Allen say. It's not worth the risk of contracting the virus that has killed their loved ones, who are among the more than 319,000 people in the United States who have died of COVID-19-related illnesses since March.

No matter how much care their parents and grandfather took to wear masks, socially distance and use hand sanitizer, the virus still found them, the sisters said.

"Personally, I could've went one Christmas without seeing my parents, but now we spend the rest of our lives without ours," Jessica Cheatham told news station WHAS in Louisville. "So I would maybe take that into consideration. It's one Christmas. One Christmas, and then you can spend all the Christmases together. Some people have an option, and we don't."

Allen keeps "waiting for them to pop around the corner," until reality settles in.

"If you would've told me that COVID would wipe out half of the family that we have left, I would have been like, 'No, you're joking,' " Allen said.

The Latest

The sisters aren't the only ones worried that the fatigue that comes with the prolonged isolation of the pandemic will make Americans careless as the winter holidays take place.

As the agency did before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging Americans to celebrate at home with the people who live there.

Traffic at the nation's airports, however, suggest Americans are ignoring the guidance. More than 1 million people passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints Friday and Saturday. The last time that many people were screened at airports was at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, when COVID-19 cases were already spiking.

President-elect Joe Biden also joined the call by asking Americans to stay home and stay safe this Christmas.

During a televised address on Tuesday, Biden noted the ways the pandemic has altered his own holiday celebrations, which typically include up to two dozen relatives. However, not this year, he said.

"This season of reflection carries a much deeper meaning than it usually does," Biden said, encouraging Americans to continue to take precautions to try to stem the spread of the virus. "Jill and I send our prayers, as I'm sure all of you do, to all that are facing this dark winter."

Biden also expressed empathy with struggling families and applauded Congress for passing the coronavirus relief bill as the nation deals with a COVID-19 surge that's casting a shadow over the Christmas holiday.

He called out to front-line workers, scientists, researchers, clinical trial participants and those with deployed family members during the holiday season.

"Our hearts are always with you — keep the faith," he said.

Biden's call comes as hospitals around the country that are already overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients brace for a post-winter holiday wave of illnesses and deaths. The U.S. seven-day rolling average of newly reported coronavirus infections has risen from about 176,000 a day just before Thanksgiving to 215,000 a day now.

Health experts believe at least part of the increase was due to Thanksgiving travel, and they fear that if the early trend for holiday travel continues, there will be more superspreader events where people unwittingly pass the virus along to family and friends.

AAA projects about 34 million fewer holiday travelers than at this time last year, but as many as 84.5 million people are still expected to travel from Wednesday through Jan. 3.

Public health experts emphasize the importance of maintaining social distancing and other measures to control the virus's spread even as more people receive vaccines.

Among the latest are Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Both received their vaccines during a live broadcast Tuesday.

After receiving his first shot, Fauci gave the camera a thumbs-up.

"I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we can have a veil of protection over this country that will end this pandemic," Fauci said at the event.

Biden and his wife, Jill, received their inoculations on live television Monday. They did so to send a message to the nation that the vaccine is safe. "There's nothing to worry about," Biden said.

In other developments this week, a House panel has uncovered evidence of a "political pressure campaign" by Trump administration appointees to block or change more than a dozen government reports that detailed scientific findings about the spread of the coronavirus.

Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, accused political appointees of trying to "bully" professionals at the CDC in what may have been an attempt to "cripple the nation's coronavirus response in a misguided effort to achieve herd immunity."

"Herd immunity" is shorthand for a theory — rejected by most public health experts — that the best way to protect society against diseases such as COVID-19 is to allow young people to become infected and develop natural immunity until the vaccines are widely available.

Clyburn said his coronavirus subcommittee investigators issued subpoenas compelling Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield to turn over reams of documents and emails by Dec. 30.

Finally, Congress on Monday night approved the long-awaited vote on a $900 billion coronavirus relief agreement after a day of technology glitches delayed the release of the text, leaving lawmakers with little time to read the bill before voting on it.

The bill includes $120 billion for additional unemployment benefits through March 14, but will increase weekly payments by only $300, half of what they received in the previous relief package, and also includes a $600 direct payment to most Americans.

It also provides for rental and food assistance, provides money to public schools and universities, and includes funding to acquire more vaccine and help states administer it.

Newest Numbers

At least 1,580 deaths and 182,651 new cases were reported in the United States on Monday, according to a Washington Post database. The Post's reporting shows new daily cases have fallen o.5 percent, new daily deaths are up 6.3 percent and COVID-19-related hospitalizations are up 4.5 percent.

As of Tuesday, 47 states and Puerto Rico remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days. Currently, only Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont and Washington, D.C. are under that threshold.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the United States had reported more than 18.1 million cases and more than 322,600 deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Stay up to date on the latest coronavirus news via The New York Times or Washington Post.

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