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It's a now-familiar plea that should be heeded this time above all others. Health officials are begging people not to travel and have big family gatherings during the Christmas and New Year's season.

They made the same recommendation ahead of Thanksgiving, but the "surge" they warned about is happening nationwide anyway. Just a few days ago, the U.S. added a record of nearly a quarter million coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, and deaths nationwide have pushed past 317,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

It is time to take serious safety measures. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, has said he and his wife will not celebrate Christmas with their three adult children, and he urged other Americans to do the same. He also said it would be the first Christmas not spent with his children since they were born.

It’s clear that “even modest-size gatherings of family and friends in a home” are contributing to spread, Fauci said recently during CBS News' Milken Institute's Future of Health Summit. “We’re starting to see infections that are emerging from what otherwise seemed like benign settings, namely a typical gathering of 10 or so people in a social setting."

That plea has been echoed by those who work with nursing homes and other types of long-term care facilities, which have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Nursing homes are currently experiencing the worst outbreak of new cases and deaths since the spring because of a high rate of community spread among the general population, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

“We understand everyone wants to see their family and friends during the holidays, but we really need to consider our parents and grandparents who are living in our nation’s long-term care facilities," said Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for those groups.

It's understandable that people want to celebrate during the holiday season with their family and friends; we all want that.

But that's not our reality this year. We're now seeing firsthand the effect that those kinds of celebrations will have — the virus spreads at a deadly pace.

We've already lost more than 317,000 Americans to this disease; how many more will suffer the same fate once Christmas has come and gone if we're not careful?

To keep yourself and your loved ones not only healthy but alive this holiday season, please move your big get-togethers to a virtual format. If you can't do that, then wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands.

Otherwise it might be a very dark Christmas indeed.

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