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January 14, 2021

Covid-19 deaths are up 217%. But some states are lifting public health restrictions.

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    America's coronavirus epidemic is deadlier than it's ever been, with the country twice over the past week reporting more than 4,000 new deaths linked to the virus in a single day. But even as new deaths mount and hospitals are strained by influxes of Covid-19 patients, many states are resisting imposing stricter public health measures intended to stop the coronavirus's spread.

    America grapples with persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases

    America continues to report persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, and public health experts have said they expect those numbers to remain high or spike as a result of people gathering over the recent holidays.

    According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Wednesday reported 230,476 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday morning, officials had reported a total of about 23.1 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began—up from about 22.9 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 246,354—which is up by 34% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    As of Thursday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and every state except Hawaii. According to the Times, those territories and states have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week.

    Hawaii has had comparatively low case rates, but it was seeing those rates "going up" as of Thursday morning, according to the Times. In Guam meanwhile, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Thursday morning, the Times' data showed.

    Hospitalizations for Covid-19 remain high, straining hospitals

    U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, also have reached record-high levels in recent weeks, straining hospitals in many states. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 130,383 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Wednesday, including 23,877 who were receiving care in an ICU and 7,898 who were on a ventilator.

    Many hospitals throughout the United States are now stretched beyond their capacity, Axios' "Vitals" reports. According to "Vitals," Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas all are reporting record numbers of hospitalizations.

    Providers in the four states with the largest share of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients—Arizona, California, Georgia, and Nevada— particularly are struggling to keep up with the spike in patients, USA Today reports. In Southern Nevada, for example, Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican, San Martín Campus in Las Vegas on Saturday issued a disaster declaration, after an influx of patients increased its ICU occupancy to 137%, according to an email obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

    "As we experience a sustained increase in critically ill Covid-19 patients, key resources are in limited supply: hospital beds, ICU and health care staff," Gordon Absher, a hospital spokesperson, said in response to questions about the hospital's disaster declaration, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The declaration means that the "number of patients exceeds current resources and alternate care sites need to be made available," Absher explained in the email.

    In California, meanwhile, Memorial Hospital of Gardena's ICU occupancy level reached 320%, hospitals officials said Wednesday. California's "situation has become so dire" that the state required hospitals to complete crisis care plans that detail how they will prioritize care when they no longer have adequate levels of health care workers, supplies, or space, USA Today reports.

    According to USA Today, hospitals in Los Angeles County have already begun preparing their staff and notifying the community of their plans to shift to crisis mode. At Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, California, for instance, hospital officials have set up a triage team to decide how the hospital will allocate its limited resources when it reaches crisis mode.

    Many states resist implementing stricter measures to curb coronavirus's spread

    In Arizona, hospital officials are hoping they can avoid having to implement crisis and care triage plans, and the leaders of the state's five largest hospital systems on Wednesday called on Arizona residents to follow public health measures intended to mitigate the coronavirus's spread—including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. The hospitals leaders urged Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to enact a statewide mask mandate and implement other mitigation measures that are "based on science and data."

    "During triage ... it does mean that we might have to make very difficult decisions about what type of care would … be available for a patient," said Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health's CCO. "We hope we do not get there. We're asking you, we're imploring you today to help us avoid that."

    However, Ducey, as well as state and local officials in many other states, appear unwilling to impose new restrictions to mitigate the coronavirus's spread, the Associated Press reports.

    Ducey, for example, has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate and close the state's bars, gyms, and indoor restaurant dining, despite receiving calls from hospital leaders to do so.

    In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would not impose the same restrictions he instituted during the state's previous coronavirus surge last spring. "We simply cannot stay closed until [Covid-19] vaccine[s] hi[t] critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open," Cuomo said.

    Officials in some states are even choosing to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions, the AP reports. In Montana, for example, new Gov. Greg Gianfor (R) on Wednesday announced that he would be lifting public health mandates that were put in place by his predecessor. As a result, beginning Friday, the state will no longer require restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries, and casinos to close at 10 p.m. or limit their capacity. Gianfor said the new policies aim to move the state away from mandates and toward "personal responsibility" when it comes to mitigating the coronavirus's spread.

    Elsewhere, some states, including Michigan and Minnesota, are allowing in-person dining to resume.

    America reports highest-ever numbers of new coronavirus deaths

    State and local officials' resistance to implementing stricter public health measures comes amid America's deadliest point in the country's coronavirus epidemic so far.

    Over the past week, the United States twice reported records of more than 4,000 new deaths tied to the novel coronavirus in a single day, and the Times' data shows that, on Wednesday, U.S. officials reported 3,922 new deaths tied to the virus. As of Thursday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 384,804 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 380,882 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.

    Data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project show that the daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus have increased by at least 10% since last week in 25 states, "Vitals" reports. According to CNN, as of Wednesday, the United States' average daily number of newly reported deaths linked to the virus over the past week was about 3,300, which was up by more than 217% from mid-November.

    And experts fear that, without stricter measures to curb the virus's spread, things could get worse. In an ensemble forecast published Wednesday, CDC predicted that an additional 92,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus over the next three weeks, on top of the roughly 38,000 who died from the virus during the first two weeks of this year (Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 1/14; Alltucker, USA Today, 1/12; Hynes, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/12; Smith et al., Los Angeles Times, 1/13; AP/Modern Healthcare, 1/13; Maxouris, CNN, 1/14; Maxouris/Yan, CNN, 1/14; Watson/Tang, Associated Press, 1/13; Samuels, Associated Press, 1/14; New York Times, 1/14; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 1/14).

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