The US recorded 195,000 new Covid-19 cases in a day. An expert says spread is now ‘faster’ and ‘broader’ than ever
November has been a month full of devastating Covid-19 records in the US.
Almost every single state has sounded the alarm on a rapid surge in cases and nationwide numbers have been climbing much faster than ever before — with the country reporting a staggering 2.7 million infections since the beginning of the month.
On Friday, more than 195,500 new infections were reported — a number many considered unheard of just weeks ago. The highest number of single-day cases during the country’s summer surge was a little more than 77,100 in July.
And while infections continue to soar, hospitalizations are also hitting grim records, with now more than 82,100 Covid-19 patients across the US, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
A rising death toll follows. In just the past week, more than 10,000 American deaths have been reported — nearly double the weekly death toll of just a month ago.
The numbers offer just a glimpse at the devastation the pandemic has unleashed across American communities, with some cities ordering mobile morgues to handle the excess deaths, while hospitals in other parts have reported overwhelmed ICUs and exhausted staff.
The spread is ‘faster’ and ‘broader’ than ever
Despite the alarming numbers, multiple experts this week predicted things will likely get worse before they get better.
The virus is still running unabated in the US and the rate of rising cases is now “dramatically” different from what it was before, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
“This is faster. It’s broader. And what worries me, it could be longer,” she said.
Louisiana’s health department announced that about 90% of new cases reported were community spread, while 10% of them were in congregate settings. Colorado officials said a new modeling report estimates about one out of every 49 residents in the state is infected with Covid-19 — by far the highest prevalence since the virus arrived there. In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee said the “state is on fire,” with the virus “raging” across its communities.
Those announcements come ahead of Thanksgiving week, when health officials fear many Americans will opt to visit family and friends and further fuel the spread of the virus — many times, without knowing it.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which this week urged against holiday travel — has previously estimated about 40% of Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic. In newly updated guidance, the CDC now says most Covid-19 infections are spread by people who have no symptoms.
“CDC and others estimate that more than 50% of all infections are transmitted from people who are not exhibiting symptoms,” the agency said on its website.
“This means at least half of new infections come from people likely unaware they are infectious to others.”
What this means for the country
The rising numbers have brought some hospital systems to their knees and prompted state leaders to take action to help curb the spread.
At least 24 hospital leaders warned the American Hospital Association they are experiencing staffing shortages, Nancy Foster, the association’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy, said. Those concerns have been raised in states including Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and North and South Dakota, all of which have recently seen infections climbing, she added.
And those shortages are hard to fix when pulling from a workforce of health care employees “justifiably experiencing a significant emotional and physical toll due to the impact of the pandemic,” Foster said in a statement to CNN.
And in rural parts of the country, the challenge is often greater.
Of about 2,000 hospitals considered to be rural, about 1,700 have 50 beds or fewer and about 1,300 of them have 25 beds or fewer, according to Tom Morris, associate administrator for rural health policy in the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration.
“We’re not talking about large facilities. We’re not talking about a lot of ICU capacity,” Morris said during the National Institutes of Health rural health seminar.” In a lot of these hospitals, they’re able to offer an ICU of one of two beds.”
Responding to the crisis, multiple governors this week announced new measures to combat the surging infections and relieve strained hospital systems.
California’s governor issued a limited stay-at-home order for the counties in the state’s most restrictive tier, saying nonessential work and gatherings must stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Minnesota’s governor announced a “four-week dial back,” which among other measures placed new limits on social gatherings and ordered bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery services only.
A statewide curfew went into effect Thursday in Ohio, lasting from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The Navajo Nation, which reported its highest number of daily cases Friday, is also currently under a “stay-at-home lockdown” that began earlier this week.
There is good news, too
The good news? Experts say promising vaccines are on the horizon and until then, there are things the American public can do to help hold down the virus.
Those include wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing hands regularly. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected this week about 65,000 lives could be saved by March 1 if 95% of Americans wore masks.
And according to new research published Friday by the CDC, masks worked to slow the spread of the virus in parts of Kansas. The state’s governor signed an executive order on July 2 that made masks mandatory in public places. The majority of the state’s counties opted out of the order, but about two dozen opted in or created their own mask mandate.
The CDC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment looked at case trends the month before the mandate and for the month after the mandate and found that in the 24 counties that required people to wear masks in public, there was a net decrease of 6% in cases. Meanwhile, in counties without the mandate, the disease continued to surge, with a net increase in cases of about 100%.
And soon, there could be more reinforcements in the battle against Covid-19.
On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine candidate. Earlier this week, Pfizer said a final analysis of the Phase 3 trial of the vaccine showed it was 95% effective in preventing infections, even in older adults, and caused no serious safety concerns.
While the application for EUA is “encouraging,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America stressed Friday that a transparent review of Pfizer’s data is still needed.
And if the vaccine is given the green light, “clinical trials and data collection must continue,” Dr. Barbara Alexander, president of IDSA, said in the statement.
“Measures that include wearing masks, frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distance and restricting the size of gatherings will remain crucial,” the statement said. “Finally, new federal funding must be provided for widespread, fair and equitable vaccine distribution in addition to campaigns to build vaccine confidence.”
CNN’s Michael Nedelman, Andy Rose, Jen Christensen, Jacqueline Howard, Maggie Fox and Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.