“We have had one million cases documented over the past week, our rate of rise is higher than it even was in the summer, we have hospitalizations going up 25% week over week,” Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told CNN. “There are so many more cases that we have, that deaths are going up.”
It is what experts have repeatedly warned in the past weeks, as Covid-19 conditions continue to deteriorate across the country: things will get worse before they get better.
Infection numbers in Massachusetts are eight times what they were on Labor Day and hospitalizations have quadrupled. Only 6% of Oklahoma’s ICU beds remain available. In Arkansas, more than 1,000 people could lose their lives in the next five weeks, according to the governor. In Illinois, the virus is now the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.
Thanksgiving week will be critical
Numbers are headed in the wrong direction across the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Only one US state, Hawaii, is showing a decrease in new cases greater than 10% compared to the previous week. Five others — Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Arkansas — are holding steady, while the remaining 44 states are showing increases in new cases greater than at least 10% compared to the week prior.
Nationwide, the 7-day average of new cases is at its highest ever: 161,165 cases a day. That’s up 27% compared to last week.
Just how bad things will get will also be determined by Thanksgiving celebrations next week. Health officials and local leaders have warned against traditional holiday gatherings, saying those will likely help further drive the surge of cases.
But Americans can make the holidays a turning point, by masking up and following other safety precautions, the Infectious Diseases Society of America said Wednesday.
“Virtual gatherings remain the safest way to bring friends and family together from distant points. Outdoor settings can reduce the risks of gatherings with people outside of your household,” the group said, also highlighting the importance of face coverings.
“We have the resources and the knowledge to stem the spread of this pandemic. Keeping our common cause and shared well-being at the forefront of our holiday celebrations will make a difference.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told CNN he wanted people to stay with their immediate family on Thanksgiving and to keep gatherings small — “not just for next Thursday … but for the next couple of months.”
“This is not a normal year, it’s not a normal Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. Folks have got to stay small, stay within the bubble of their own loved ones, and if we do that, that will be a down payment on a back-to-normal holiday season next year.”
Record hospitalizations reported Wednesday
As hospitalizations climb, the nation’s health care systems have been strained, prompting some of its workers to plead with Americans to do what they can to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“As a health care provider we are on 250 days of having a Covid patient in our ICU right now,” said Dr. Nathan Hatton, a pulmonary specialist at University of Utah Hospital. “So every day, you walk into work, someone is super sick, someone is potentially dying that day.”
“We recognized early on that this was going to be a marathon, and you know, we’re on mile 13,” said Dr. Austin Simonson, an internal medicine specialist at Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “It is exhausting.”
Dr. Clarissa Barnes, an internal medicine physician at Avera Health in Sioux Falls, said the hardest thing for her has been witnessing so much grief from families who lose loved ones to Covid-19.
“On a normal day, I don’t have people dying every day,” she said, adding that first week she had three people die in one day — two of them, from Covid-19.
“The amount of palpable grief you can feel from those family members, the wailing that sort of gets etched on your soul — every time someone dies it stays with us forever,” she said. “So I worry about the family members and the friends and all these people that knew this person. But I also worry about us, being witness to so much grief over long periods of time is really, really hard.”
New restrictions issued across US
Wisconsin was one of the first states to be hard hit by this round of surges. On Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers announced he was declaring a new state of emergency and extending the state’s public health emergency until January.
In Minnesota, the governor said the state is at a “breaking point” and announced a four-week dial back that will “help prevent more families from losing a loved one and ensure our hospitals can treat those who fall ill.”
Starting Friday, gatherings that include individuals from more that one household are prohibited, while bars and restaurants will only be allowed to operate takeout and delivery services. Gyms, entertainment venues and event spaces will also close.
“As hospitals near the crisis of turning away new patients, continuing as things are is simply not sustainable,” Gov. Tim Walz said.
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ in vaccine distribution
Distribution is expected to begin within 24 hours after a vaccine receives the green light, according to Gen. Gustave Perna, who is helping oversee Operation Warp Speed.
“This is incredibly important — fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine throughout the country simultaneously,” Perna said during a Wednesday briefing.
But when it comes to the equitable distribution of the highly anticipated vaccines, “there’s no one-size-fits-all” strategy, according to Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In terms of the equity issue, he said he expects that to be addressed at the local level and will differ by community.
“The question that I ask myself every morning when I wake up is ‘Are we ready? I think readiness, preparedness is a process,” Butler said, “And we’re more ready this week than we were last week.”
“We’ll be more ready next week, and if the vaccine is available, we have to go with what we have. We may not be perfect, but every day we’re more prepared than we were the day before,” he added.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Jamiel Lynch, Jacqueline Howard, Brad Parks, Maggie Fox, Jonathan Kubiak contributed to this report.