Every day since November 3, more than 100,000 new infections have been reported. Every day for more than two weeks, climbing hospitalizations hit another national record. And every single day, hundreds of Americans die of the virus, with both Tuesday and Wednesday recording a daily death toll of more than 2,100 deaths.
The devastating numbers show no sign of slowing down. One expert predicts daily deaths will double in just a matter of days.
“When you look at people who are hospitalized today, they were infected two weeks ago, maybe more. So, it takes about five to seven days to become symptomatic,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, said. “Usually, it takes about another week to be sick enough to be hospitalized so that’s two weeks at least, and then it takes usually another week for folks to succumb to the illness.”
“I expect that the daily death rate will double in the next 10 days,” he said. “We’ll be seeing close to 4,000 deaths a day.”
More than 262,100 people have died in the US since the pandemic’s start. An ensemble forecast published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday projects nearly another 60,000 could lose their lives over the next three and a half weeks.
‘We will see a surge upon a surge’
With the country deep into the fall Covid-19 surge, local and state leaders made last-ditch attempts all week to get the warning out to Americans: don’t opt for traditional Thanksgiving celebrations this year, or things could get worse.
Phone alerts were sent out in Pennsylvania and parts of Georgia urging residents to stay safe during the holiday. New Orleans officials sent residents a reminder to celebrate within their own household and keep larger celebrations virtual. In a final plea to Kansans, Gov. Laura Kelly said following health regulations “will be more critical than ever in the coming days.” US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said the safest Thanksgiving this year includes only immediate household members.
Similar warnings have poured in during the past week from officials in almost every state. And experts have cautioned of what could happen in the coming weeks if Americans don’t heed the guidance.
“It is kind of serious news here with all those people traveling and then at their destinations spending a lot of time indoors in a warm family relationship with extended families,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said Wednesday night.
“The virus is going to attend some of those Thanksgiving dinners and will spread, I’m afraid. And then people will come home, some of them will become ill, spread it further into their families and into their neighborhoods,” he added.
“In a week, more likely two weeks, we will see a surge upon a surge,” Schaffner said. “We’re in for a tough time.”
About 4.8 million people have boarded airplanes since the CDC warning, with more than 900,000 passing through security at the country’s airports on Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration said.
Hospitalization records for 16 days in a row
A surge stacked upon the current one could cripple the many communities already grappling to respond to the spreading virus.
In Los Angeles County, where Covid-19 hospitalizations have soared by about 70% over the past two weeks, hospitals could face a shortage of both regular hospital and ICU beds within the next two to four weeks.
“What is stretched most thin within both public and private hospitals across Los Angeles County is the availability of staff,” Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said.
The county will be able to find flex space within hospitals, using pre- and postoperative space, unused wings, or the emergency department to hold patients, but finding trained staff will be more difficult.
Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic will bring staff in from other states — like Arizona and Florida — as well as bring back credentialed retirees to combat the stretched capacity during Covid-19 surges in Minnesota, according to Dr. Andrew Badley, chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Covid-19 Research Task Force.
“These are really distressing times,” Badley told CNN on Wednesday. “Right now, at Mayo Clinic, as of a day or so ago, we had about 1,400 of our staff who were out either with Covid or Covid restrictions.”
Washington state health officials said, “case counts have skyrocketed” and predicted that if current disease transmission continues at the same pace as early this month, daily hospital admissions could double by early December.
“The situation is incredibly urgent and there is still time to turn the tide before our hospitals become overwhelmed,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a statement. “I know these are difficult and disappointing times for many, and I am so grateful for everyone who has made the decision to stay at home with their immediate household for Thanksgiving tomorrow. When added up collectively, each action we take to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 matters.”
CNN’s Pete Muntean, Ben Tinker, Shelby in Erdman and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.