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December 3, 2020

The Covid-19 'risk to all Americans is at a historic high'

Daily Briefing

    The United States on Wednesday reported record highs of new deaths and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus, with nearly 3,000 new U.S. deaths and more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with Covid-19.

    Amid the striking surge in America's coronavirus epidemic, federal officials are urging Americans to practice measures intended to mitigate the virus's spread—and CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that, if Americans don't buckle down on those efforts, the United States could see it's "most difficult time in [its] public health history."

    America's surging epidemic

    U.S. officials on Wednesday reported about 199,988 new cases of the novel coronavirus, according to data compiled by the New York Times. As of Thursday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of nearly 14 million cases of the novel coronavirus since America's epidemic began—up from about 13.7 million cases reported as of Wednesday morning.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 164,024—which is nearly the same as the average from two weeks ago. However, the latest average includes a lull in newly reported cases that occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday, which likely resulted from a dip in coronavirus testing over the holiday.

    As of Thursday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; and 35 states that have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

    The Times' data also showed that, as of Thursday morning, the daily average of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in Guam and 12 states that had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission. Those states are Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    The U.S. Virgin Islands has had comparatively low case rates, but it was seeing those rates "going up" as of Thursday morning, according to theTimes. In Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont, meanwhile, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Thursday morning, according to theTimes' analysis.

    On Wednesday, U.S. officials also reported about 2,885 new deaths tied to the novel coronavirus—the highest number of deaths tied to the virus that the country has ever reported in a single day.

    As of Thursday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 273,518 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began—up from about 270,627 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.

    Hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, also surged to a new high on Wednesday. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, 100,226 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized for treatment on Wednesday, including 19,396 who were receiving care in an ICU and 6,885 who were on a ventilator.

    According to Axios, the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 increased by 11% over the past week and 26% over the past two weeks, and Covid-19 hospitalizations are rising in 38 states. As Axios reports, "That represents an enormous influx of new patients, on top of all the other people who are in the hospital for other reasons—which puts a serious strain on hospitals' overall capacity, and on the doctors and nurses who staff them."

    Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), told CNBC that the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations may be the highest number of hospitalizations for one disease that the United States has ever seen at one time. "I don't think we've ever seen this number. We certainly never saw this number with HIV or any of the other new diseases that we've had," Orlowksi said. "It's an astonishing, astonishing number and the shame of it is it's a number that we could have impacted and we didn't."

    Orlowski said AAMC earlier this week announced that it's encouraging all U.S. health systems to get ready to implement "Crisis Standards of Care," which typically are used to respond to natural disasters and severe situations such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Orlowski explained that those standards essentially mean hospitals would ration care if necessary, CNBC reports.

    Federal officials warn of 'most difficult time in' America's 'public health history’

    Amid the striking surge in America's coronavirus epidemic, federal officials are urging Americans to buckle down on practicing measures intended to mitigate the virus's spread, including physical distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding gathering inside with individuals who don't live in their households—even over the holidays.

    According to documents obtained by CNN that are dated Nov. 29, the White House's coronavirus task force warned state officials that the Covid-19 "risk to all Americans is at a historic high." CNN reports that the task force explained in the document, "The national daily [Covid-19] incidence after Memorial Day, but before the summer surge, was fewer than 25,000 new cases/day and is now more than 180,000 new cases/day; [Covid-19] inpatients then were fewer than 30,000 but are now more than 90,000; fatalities have more than doubled. … We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high [Covid-19] baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise [Covid-19] patient care, as well as medical care overall."

    The task force in the documents urged state and local officials to implement more stringent measures to curb the virus's spread, such as mask mandates and restrictions on indoor dinning, CNN reports. According to CNN, the task force noted, "In many areas of the [United States], state mitigation efforts remain inadequate, resulting in sustained transmission or a very prolonged time to peak."

    The task force wrote, "If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly," CNN reports.

    Separately, Redfield on Wednesday warned that, if Americans don't start buckling down on efforts to mitigate the coronavirus's spread, "close to 450,000" Americans could die from the virus over the next two months.

    "The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times," Redfield said. "I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

    Redfield continued, "We're in that range potentially now, starting to see 1,500 to 2,000 to 2,500 deaths a day from this virus. … The mortality concerns are real, and I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans" dead from the novel coronavirus.

    However, Redfield noted, "We're not defenseless. The truth is that mitigation works. But it's not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. Probably not even if three-quarters do" (New York Times [1], 12/3; New York Times [2], 12/3; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 12/3; Baker/Alberti, Axios, 12/3; Feuer, CNBC, 12/2; Klein, CNN, 12/2; Gorman/Trotta, Reuters, 12/2).

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