Health & Fitness

'A Little Cheer Can't Hurt': Nurses Seek Joy Amid ICU Christmas

Latest U.S. coronavirus news: Trump criticizes stimulus; deal reached for millions more vaccines; Biden, CDC urge people to stay at home.

The nurse's station is decorated for Christmas in the intensive care unit at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama.
The nurse's station is decorated for Christmas in the intensive care unit at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

ACROSS AMERICA — While millions of people across the nation settle in to enjoy the holidays, nurses and doctors who've spent months caring for those sick with COVID-19 are doing what they can to get their patients through the holiday season while simultaneously sacrificing their own celebrations.

Many are afraid that a time of joy will only continue to spread the disease and add to the more than 322,000 deaths the United States has now recorded.

Still, at East Alabama Medical Center, about 60 miles northeast of Montgomery, staff hang decorations on patients' doors even though they can't attend after-work Christmas parties. A cheerful Santa doll stands atop the desk at a nursing station, but big gatherings with relatives are out.

A nurse for five years, Carla Fallin told The Associated Press that Christmas just doesn't feel right this year. She and her husband did not take their two sons to local Christmas events that drew hundreds of people, many without masks.

The decorations in the ICU, however, help lighten the mental load a little, she told the AP, if only until another patient nears death.

Dr. Meshia Wallace, a pulmonary physician who works in critical care at the hospital, echoed Fallin. After so much suffering and so many tears, any ray of brightness helps — even if it's just a candy cane sticker on an ICU window.

"Families come in, and all they're getting, for the most part, is bad news: 'Your family member is sick, they've moved down from the seventh floor to the ICU,'" Wallace told the AP. "A little bit of Christmas cheer is not going to hurt. It can only help."

The Latest

Just a day after Congress came to an agreement on a new $900 billion stimulus measure that includes $600 direct payments to most Americans, President Donald Trump is making new demands that could torpedo the bill before it even leaves Capitol Hill.

In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Trump assailed the legislation and threatened to not sign it. He railed against a range of provisions in the bill, telling lawmakers to "get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill."

He also called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.

While Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, the U.S. Constitution provides the president 10 days to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law.

When it comes to presidential vetoes, there are two types: the "regular veto" and the "pocket veto." With the regular veto, the president would return the unsigned legislation to Congress within the 10-day period, usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a "veto message."

Congress can override the president's veto if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. In the case of this stimulus package, there may be enough support for Congress to override Trump if he does veto it.

There's also the pocket veto, which is absolute and cannot be overridden. The veto becomes effective when the president fails to sign a bill after Congress has adjourned and can no longer override the veto.

The president's demands come as 803,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is still on the rise. Cases surged past 18 million on Tuesday, and 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, suggests 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 joined the CDC's 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."

Health experts believe at least part of a recent surge in cases 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.

When it comes to travelers from outside the United States, some states are cracking down by implementing new travel restrictions.

Alarmed by a new coronavirus variant spreading in Britain, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced on Monday that British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines have agreed to require a negative coronavirus test result from passengers boarding flights from Britain to New York, the New York Times reported. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state also ordered that travelers from Britain and South Africa undergo a 14-day quarantine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new strain — called B.1.1.7 — has been predicted to be more rapidly transmissible than the current COVID-19. However, there is reportedly no evidence to suggest that the new variant causes more-severe illness or increased risk of death.

As vaccinations are distributed across the country, the Trump administration on Wednesday announced a new deal with Pfizer to purchase an additional 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the latest deal can give people confidence "that we will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June 2021."

The government also has the option to acquire up to an additional 400 million doses.

Newest Numbers

At least 3,147 deaths and 191,870 new cases were reported in the United States on Tuesday, according to a Washington Post database. The Post's reporting shows new daily cases have fallen 1.5 percent, new daily deaths are up 5.4 percent and COVID-19-related hospitalizations are up 4.7 percent.

As of Wednesday, 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 Wednesday morning, the United States had reported more than 18.2 million cases and more than 323,500 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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