The United States is living in the most dangerous public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic, and health experts say it doesn’t look like the coronavirus will be slowing down anytime soon with the arrival of the holiday season.
The US reported 2,046 deaths Wednesday – the highest one-day coronavirus death toll the country has reported since early May, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
The country also hit a new daily hospitalization record, with 89,954 people currently hospitalized for Covid-19, according to the Covid Tracking Project. This is the 16th straight day that figure set a record for the pandemic.
“I worry that the Thanksgiving Day surge will then just add into what will become the Christmas surge, which will then make this one seem as if it wasn’t so bad,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an ensemble forecast Wednesday that projects between 294,000 and 321,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by December 19.
“We have to understand we’re in a very dangerous place. People have to stop swapping air,” Osterholm said. “It’s just that simple.”
Osterholm told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Wednesday Americans need to understand how dangerous the virus is and how much more dangerous it will become.
“We are going to see our hospitals literally on the verge of collapse,” he said.
The federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a plan Wednesday to deliver acute hospital care at home and relax regulations on surgical care outside of hospitals as part of an effort to increase care capacity as coronavirus hospitalizations surge around the nation.
The centers will make it possible for vulnerable people to access critical non-coronavirus care without entering a setting where they may be exposed to the virus.
“We’re at a new level of crisis response with Covid-19,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “With new areas across the country experiencing significant challenges to the capacity of their health care systems, our job is to make sure that CMS regulations are not standing in the way of patient care for Covid-19 and beyond.”
Osterholm and Verma are not the only experts pleading with and trying to warn the public, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that his final pre-Thanksgiving plea is to keep any indoor holiday gatherings as small as possible
“What we don’t want to see is yet another surge superposed upon the (current) surge … which we’ll realize three (to) three and a half weeks from now” if people aren’t careful, Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC.
Public health officials have generally urged Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving only with members of the same household, or at least gather outdoors, to avoid further virus spread. The CDC also recommended last week that Americans should not travel for Thanksgiving.
Still, air travel is robust compared to previous weeks during the pandemic. Sunday saw the biggest day for air travel since March 16, with 1.05 million people screened, while more than 900,000 people were screened Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration said.
As of Wednesday evening, there were 12.7 million cases of Covid-19 in the United States and more than 262,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Physician fears ‘the darkest days in modern American medical history’ are coming
As grim as the current numbers may seem, physicians and officials throughout the country are projecting an even harder next few weeks.
In Houston, Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center, said he has been working for 251 straight days because of the pandemic.
He said he suspects caseloads at the hospital will get worse as the country awaits a vaccine, especially if people don’t take seriously public health officials’ exhortations to socially distance and wear masks.
“My concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don’t do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history,” Varon told CNN Wednesday.
“My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days, because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving,” he said.
“My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it’s a never-ending story,” Varon said. “When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient getting admitted.”
To curb spread, more restrictions
More restrictions were announced in Nashville this week, where Mayor John Cooper said restaurants and bars will be limited to a maximum of 50% capacity, with social distancing.
Additionally, there will be a 10 p.m. last call and service for food and beverages and no entry to establishments after that time. The new limits are set to go into effect November 30.
“The additional modifications are being made in response to the continued spike in Covid cases and concerns about hospital capacity,” Cooper wrote on Twitter.
In New York, which closed schools last week because local test-positivity rates rose above 3%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he and the governor were working on a plan to reopen the buildings.
The plan will include increased testing in schools, which had been once a month. “We want to have every child able to be tested at every point,” de Blasio said.
In the hard-hit Texas community of El Paso, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced Tuesday a partial curfew that would work to address social and recreational activities but does not apply when residents are out for essential or nonessential business. The curfew will run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will expire Monday.
“You will be able to be purchasing, shopping, whatever it is that you need to do of any essential or nonessential businesses under the conditions that are placed,” he said. “We’re trying to create a balance on the health of our community and the economy.”
“But let me emphasize the following,” the judge said. “It is a shelter-at-home order. Residents are strongly urged to shelter at home. If leaving home to obtain essential or nonessential service, this order strongly recommends that only one person per family participate in obtaining goods and services.”
In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state was imposing more restrictions starting Wednesday, amid an “aggressive third surge of Covid-19.” Restaurants, gyms, barber shops, nail salons, movie theaters and nonessential businesses are limited to 50% capacity.
“There is not a single region of our state that is not seeing increases in new cases, hospitalizations and growing positivity of Covid tests, and I am incredibly concerned by Louisiana’s trajectory and our ability to continue to deliver health care to our people if our hospitals are overrun with sick patients,” Edwards said.
“Now is the time to make changes,” he added.
CNN’s Pete Muntean, Kristina Sgueglia, Naomi Thomas, Lauren Mascarenhas, Artemis Moshtaghian, Cheri Mossburg and Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report.