"Don't lose hope. Just fight": Christmas goes on amid COVID-19 spike

Christmas celebrations in pandemic
Christmas celebrations in pandemic 02:59

Last Updated Dec 25, 2020 7:57 PM EST

 More than 120,000 people are being treated for COVID in America's hospitals on Christmas evening. That's not just a record, but double the number of patients that were in hospitals at the peak of the outbreak in April.

More than 18.7 million cases have now been confirmed in the U.S and more than 330,000 Americans have died.

With U.S. hospitals already overwhelmed, and concerns about the new, far more infectious COVID variant now spreading in the United Kingdom, the CDC is cracking down. All passengers have to provide written documentation they've tested negative within the last 72 hours before leaving the U.K. and entering the U.S.

The queen delivered a somber Christmas message to the locked-down nation

"Missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they really want for Christmas is a simple hug  or a squeeze of the hand,  if you are among them, you are not alone," Queen Elizabeth said. 

Some traditions carried on — although without the crowds. From the Vatican to the town of Bethlehem.

Only a handful of parishioners were allowed inside Christmas mass in Los Angeles, where every 10 minutes, someone dies from COVID.

"This is unprecedented," said Dr. Stephen Patterson. He said many of his current patients are in their 20s, with no underlying conditions — and now are desperately ill.

His message to people is to "think about those decisions that you make. 'Will I take my mask off here' or 'will I decide that I would like to go out'. We have to have everyone stay aware of that through the holidays and even beyond."  

But the nation's airports are the busiest they've been since the start of the pandemic. And there are dire warnings of the surge to come.

Researchers continue to estimate over 500,000 U.S. deaths by April.

Despite that grim forecast, there are stories of triumph.

This is Merlin Pambuan, an ICU nurse in southern California who treated COVID patients — then became one.

Four months on a ventilator, 8 months fighting the virus inside the same hospital where she has worked for 40 years.  

Her message tonight to those who treated her and those now battling for their lives: "Don't lose hope. Just fight. Fight."

At LAX, up to three nonstop flights still come every day from the U.K. It's still unclear how effective the vaccines are to the new strain and a Boston doctor had what's believed to be the first severe allergic reaction to the Moderna vaccine.