The month of November registered frightening peaks in the daily number of new coronavirus cases — reaching 100,000 for the first time, as well as spikes in hospitalizations and deaths. On the second day of December, more than 200,000 new cases were reported for the previous 24 hours.
And as the impacts of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings begin to reveal themselves, and hospitals fill to capacity, experts say it is likely only going to get worse.
“Every single day, thousands more people are getting this virus, and we know that means that in a few days, in a week, hundreds of people are going to be coming to the hospital and hundreds of people are going to die,” Dr. Shirlee Xie, a hospitalist and associate director of hospital medicine for Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera, her voice breaking with emotion.
“I think that sometimes when you hear statistics like that, you become numb to what those numbers mean,” she said. “But for us, the people that are taking care of these patients, every single number is somebody that we have to look at and say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do for you.'”
Millions of Californians face stay-at-home orders
In the last week, hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have tripled, and the number of available hospital beds in the area could dwindle to none in two to four weeks if cases continue to climb, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.
In response to the growing threat, the Southern California region will be under a new stay-at-home order beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. The order will apply to Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The San Joaquin Valley also will be under stay-at-home orders at that time, local officials announced earlier Saturday, after the region’s ICU capacity fell below 15%. More than 4 million people live in the region.
While the Bay Area has not met that threshold of less than 15% capacity, officials warned they’re seeing evidence of transmission over Thanksgiving weekend that could fuel a surge in their community.
“I don’t think we can wait for the state’s new restrictions to go into effect later this month,” Contra Costa Health Director Chris Farnitano said Friday. “We must act swiftly to save as many lives as we can. This is an emergency.”
“It really is time for us to pull back on the activity and see if we can turn this thing around before hospitals get overwhelmed,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, pointing out that California has had a “better than average performance” throughout the pandemic.
“I see other parts of the country that are still open, even though the case rates and hospitalization rates are far worse than here,” he told CNN. “So, I think we’re acting correctly.”
Adults must get vaccinated for students to return to school
It will likely be months before all adults in the US can be vaccinated against the virus, and the wait will be even longer for children — but they can still be protected by vaccine distribution, Wachter said.
“I think it’s reasonable to expect that the kids will be back in school in the fall, not so much because all of them have been vaccinated — although I hope they will — but everybody around them has been vaccinated, and the rate of virus in their communities has fallen to a point that is perfectly safe for them to be in school,” Wachter told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield.
The vaccine, which will come in two doses — a challenge to produce and distribute in the necessary quantities — will likely reach healthy, non-elderly Americans with no known underlying health conditions in late March to early April, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
Kids are likely to be vaccinated relatively late in the game because Covid-19 vaccines have been largely untested in children. The National Vaccine Advisory Committee voted Friday to not recommend emergency use of a Covid-19 vaccine in children, noting that children generally experience mild disease.
But Wachter says that if adults get vaccinated, children could reap the benefits.
“If we can get everybody else vaccinated — we can get all the adults vaccinated and get the virus to die out because we get somewhere near herd immunity — the kids may be less important.”
CNN’s Dakin Andone, Christina Maxouris, Tina Burnside, Andrea Diaz, Maggie Fox, Anastasia Graham-Yooll, Jacqueline Howard, Jon Passantino and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.