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As the United States heads into the holiday weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving, masses of Americans are choosing to ignore experts’ recommendations to avoid travel and instead hold small or virtual gatherings at home, all while the coronavirus surges across the country. There have been dramatic increases in caseloads and hospitalizations in recent weeks in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, and overall deaths are approaching totals last reached in spring.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Daily coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have reached levels not seen since the early throes of the pandemic, an ominous sign that grim months lie ahead.
  • The top official in charge of the U.S. Agency for International Development, John Barsa, has tested positive for the coronavirus, U.S. officials said.
  • AstraZeneca will probably conduct an additional trial to evaluate the efficacy of its vaccine candidate, the company’s chief executive said Thursday, according to Bloomberg News.
  • The Supreme Court blocked New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) from enforcing attendance limits at religious services.
  • Six members of Pakistan’s cricket team have tested positive while on tour in New Zealand and have been moved into isolation.
  • The D.C. region is on the brink of the toughest season of the pandemic, experts say, with the coming winter poised to eclipse the virus’s impact in the spring.
  • Delta Air Lines announced Thursday it will be launching “quarantine-free” flights from Atlanta to Italy, which will entail testing passengers for the coronavirus to avoid the need to quarantine.

The much-anticipated Thanksgiving holiday weekend is here, offering Americans an opportunity to unwind and take a breather from a long, bleak year tarnished by sickness and economic hurdles that have affected the lives of millions. But with it has come a much-feared peak of coronavirus cases.

With the nationwide coronavirus surge, heated debates over possible shutdowns and stricter measures have played out in different states, with government officials scrambling for ways to reduce the spread of the virus while facing resistance from the public, and in some cases, legal challenges.

The Supreme Court late Wednesday blocked New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from enforcing attendance limits at churches and synagogues in areas designated as virus hot spots. The decision contradicts the court’s previous rulings on other similar cases that deferred to local officials on pandemic-related restrictions.

Cuomo described the decision as “irrelevant” because the Brooklyn zone the court ruled on is no longer considered a cluster. The ruling is not a final legal decision and has now passed to an appeals court, the governor said at a news conference Thursday.

“I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics. It doesn’t have any practical effect,” Cuomo said. “I would agree with those people who say it’s a different court, and they wanted to make a statement that it’s a different court.”

“I mean we know who we appointed to the court; we know their ideology,” he added, referring to conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom President Trump chose to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is likely to conduct an additional global trial to evaluate the efficacy of its vaccine candidate after studies raised questions over its level of protection, chief executive Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg News on Thursday.

AstraZeneca is one of three companies in the final stages of their quest to develop a vaccine, claiming 70 percent effectiveness of its candidate. Yet, earlier this week, the company faced mounting questions about its study results, admitting that a manufacturing error had led to some participants receiving a half dose instead of full one.

At a Thursday evening news conference at 10 Downing Street, Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, was asked about doubts being raised over the AstraZeneca candidate. He said it was up to the regulators to make a decision. “This vaccine works, and that’s very exciting, and it’s going to be put forward for approval,” Vallance said. “The regulators will need to look at it and decide — and that will be true for all of the vaccines.”

The virus continues to cause havoc across the globe as some countries experience more deaths and others prepare for a second wave that would devastate the health systems.

In the Middle East, Turkey reported 174 deaths in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s coronavirus-related death toll to more than 13,000, Reuters reported.

Africa’s top health official is preparing for a second wave of the virus with hopes of leaders mobilizing to vaccinate about 60 percent of the continent’s population by mid-2021, according to Voice of America.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it will cost about $10 billion to $12 billion, including costs for buying vaccines and distributing delivering the vaccines to achieve the goal, the outlet reported.

In the meantime, dramatic increases have been reported in many major U.S. cities in recent weeks, with some surpassing even their previous peaks.

In Cook County, where Chicago is located, the seven-day average of new cases hit a record high of 4,654 on Nov. 17 — outpacing the peak of 1,690 during the spring. A similar surging trend can be observed in metropolitan areas across the country.

In recent weeks, counties home to large cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Las Vegas and Minneapolis, have seen record highs in case numbers. Miami-Dade County has seen a recent uptick, and Salt Lake County is experiencing its first major peak.

In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, the seven-day average of new cases, which hovered around 500 a day in late October, exceeded 2,000 on Monday.

“The dreaded fall wave, in many places, is upon us,” said Josh Michaud, an epidemiologist and associate director for global health policy at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Washington Post. “And that includes in metropolitan areas.”

The country’s two largest states Wednesday broke the nationwide record for most new coronavirus infections reported in a single day, with California tallying 18,350 and Texas nearly 16,100.

The records come amid surging trends in infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the country. Wednesday was the 33rd consecutive day that the United States set a record in its seven-day average of reported cases, according to data compiled by The Post. Nearly 90,000 people are in hospitals with covid-19, another record.

The United States logged nearly 2,300 coronavirus-related fatalities Wednesday — the highest single-day increase since May 6. Total U.S. deaths now exceed 262,000.

In the meantime, the world watches with bewilderment and disbelief as scores of Americans decide to travel to visit family and friends for this weekend’s holiday, despite health officials’ recommendations and a staggering number of cases and fatalities. Others have hesitated over which are the best and safest ways to spend the holiday.

As the public experiences fatigue after a grueling year with months of social-distancing measures and disease affecting millions, along with colder weather, experts say it is becoming more difficult for the public to follow precautionary measures.

“From Australia, this looks like a mindbogglingly dangerous chapter in the out-of-control American COVID-19 story,” Ian Mackay, an associate professor of virology at the University of Queensland, wrote in an email to The Post. “Sadly, for some, this will be a Thanksgiving that is remembered for all the wrong reasons.”