December 8, 2020

15,813 Americans died from the coronavirus last week

Daily Briefing

    As America this week saw a record number of deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, HHS on Monday for the first time released data on Covid-19 patient counts and capacity at individual hospitals throughout the country, offering the most detailed public look yet at how the epidemic is straining the U.S. health care system.

    US coronavirus cases top 15M

    The new data comes as U.S. officials on Monday reported about 202,268 new cases of the novel coronavirus, according to datacompiled by theNew York Times. As of Tuesday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 15 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began—up from about 14.8 million cases reported as of Monday morning.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 201,756—which is up by 16% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    As of Tuesday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; and 39 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, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

    The Times' data also showed that, as of Tuesday morning, the daily average of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in 10 states that had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission. Those states are Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

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

    HHS releases new data on Covid-19's impact on hospitals

    Meanwhile, U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, grew to a new high for the tenth consecutive day on Monday, according to datafromThe Atlantic'sCOVID Tracking Project. The data shows that 102,148 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized for treatment on Monday, including 20,098 who were receiving care in an ICU and 7,073 who were on a ventilator.

    Further, according to new data from HHS, Covid-19 appears to be overwhelming both large and small hospitals throughout the country. For instance, the data showed the 250-bed Memorial Hermann Hospital System and the 31-bed Hereford Regional Medical Center in Texas were above 90% capacity in the past week, NPR's "Shots" reports.

    Overall, an analysis of the HHS data by the Covid-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project at the University of Minnesota found that the average hospital in 126 U.S. counties was at least 90% occupied during the past week, according to "Shots." The states that had the most counties where hospitals were at or above 90% capacity were Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas, "Shots" reports.

    Experts say HHS' new data could help to address longstanding gaps in data on Covid-19 hospitalizations and capacity at the individual hospital level, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some of those gaps resulted from incomplete data reporting by small hospitals with limited resources, while other gaps stemmed from errors involving the federal government's data collection systems, the Journal reports.

    In addition, federal and state agencies—including CDC, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the Texas Department of State Health Services—have said they've released limited hospital data on Covid-19 because of laws protecting the data's public release, according to the Journal. HHS, for example, has previously released hospital data on Covid-19 aggregated at the state, rather than individual-hospital, level, "Shots" reports.

    An HHS spokesperson said, for the new data, the department "worked with hospital associations and industry leaders to determine what could be released without compromising privacy and competitive business concerns."

    According to the spokesperson, HHS released the new data to provide the public with a better understanding of how Covid-19 is affecting their communities and to help guide local responses to America's coronavirus epidemic. "Covid-19 hospitalizations have increased dramatically over the last two months, and the data needs to be available for all of those who can assist in the response, including at the local level. Additionally, the general public needs to be able to see the severity of the impact in their local area at their local facility," and HHS spokesperson said.

    The new data, which HHS intends to update weekly, offers a week-by-week snapshot of the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to individual hospitals, the number of severely ill patients requiring intensive care at hospitals, and the number of beds available at individual hospitals dating back to July 31. According to "Shots," hospitals in 2,200 counties reported information on their capacity for the dataset.

    Pinar Karaca-Mandic, a co-founder of the Covid-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project at the University of Minnesota, said the new data will allow policymakers and epidemiologists to develop a clearer understanding of where the epidemic is straining hospitals the most, which could potentially lead to more targeted public health measures, including stay-at-home orders, intended to combat the novel coronavirus's spread.

    Some experts cautioned that there are flaws with the new data, however. For example, the Journal reports, the data does not include some critical measures of strain on health systems, such as reported staffing shortages and quality data on the numbers of patients who contract the novel coronavirus during their hospital stays.

    Researchers and data journalists in aGitHub FAQabout the data wrote, "The data release is not perfect," but "[it] has been reliable enough to be used in federal response planning for some time and continues to improve each day."

    US reports record-high number of coronavirus deaths in a single week

    As the numbers of new coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations continue to surge, the United States also is seeing record-high numbers of newly reported deaths tied to the virus.

    According to the Times, the United States over the past seven days reported its highest number of coronavirus-related deaths over a weeklong period. The country's seven-day average of newly reported deaths tied to the virus reached 2,249 per day, breaking the country's previous record of an average of 2,232 deaths per day over a seven-day period, which the country reported on April 17. In total, U.S. officials reported that 15,813 Americans died from the coronavirus over the seven-day period ending Monday, the Times reports.

    U.S. officials on Monday reported about 1,522 new deaths tied to the coronavirus. As of Tuesday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 283,835 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 282,313 deaths reported as of Monday morning.

    (Evans, Wall Street Journal, 12/7; McMinn/Huang, "Shots," NPR, 12/7; Wright, New York Times, 12/8; HHS release, 12/7; New York Times, 12/8; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 12/8; Leonhardt, New York Times, 12/8).

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