Since the pandemic began, 255,900 people have died of the virus and more than 12 million people have been infected — more than 2.8 million of which were reported in November, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The US has seen staggering pandemic numbers this year, but this resurgence has been unprecedented. With weather growing colder and major holidays approaching, experts have warned that spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths could get worse before they get better.
And for many of those metrics, they are already the worst they have been so far.
Saturday was the 19th day in a row that the US reported over 100,000 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins. The spring and summer peak records of new cases did not exceed 60,000.
At least 24 hospital leaders warned the American Hospital Association they are experiencing staffing shortages, Nancy Foster, the association’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy, said. Rises in hospitalization rates are often followed by climbing death tolls.
There were 24,291 deaths so far reported in the month of November. That accounts for 9.5% of deaths during the pandemic.
States report daunting milestones
The real case count is likely to be “multitudes” higher than the 12 million reported because not enough people are getting tested, said Dr. Esther Choo, professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
Choo said she is particularly concerned by how quickly new cases are accelerating.
“So many states have test positivity rates above 20%, which means that we are vastly lagging behind in our confirmed cases,” she told CNN’s Erica Hill.
And test positivity is just one of the metrics reaching daunting heights across the US.
Mississippi reported a single day record in the state with 1,972 cases on Saturday, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
In New Mexico, records were set on Saturday with 825 hospitalizations, a tweet from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
Thanksgiving travel despite CDC’s recommendation against it
Due to swelling numbers, health experts have cautioned those fatigued of social distancing not to let up over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I would say to those who are homesick … just hold the line,” Dr. Chris Pernell, a public health physician at New Jersey’s Newark University Hospital, told CNN on Saturday. “Hold on a little bit longer until we can get to the point in the nation where we know that the pandemic isn’t accelerating. Otherwise it could be deadly.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week urged against Thanksgiving travel, and against celebrating with anyone outside your own household, because cases are soaring. But health officials suspect many will visit family and friends and further spread the virus — many times, without knowing it.
The CDC says in new guidance last week that more than 50% of Covid-19 infections are spread by people who exhibit no symptoms.
With people increasingly getting sick, and others without symptoms seeking reassurance ahead of the holiday, long lines are forming outside testing sites around the country, appointments are filling up, and commercial labs are warning that their capacities are being stretched.
Health experts, however, stress a negative test result will not guarantee a person isn’t carrying the virus to a Thanksgiving gathering, because a test won’t necessarily pick up on fresh infections. An already-infected person could test negative, travel to a dinner days later and then spread the disease.
People who want to attend an indoor Thanksgiving dinner with a different household, experts have told CNN, should have planned to quarantine 14 days beforehand.
“If you do that properly, you don’t need a test,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CNN.
Holding down the virus
For now, experts urge the public to use measures including wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing hands to curb the spread until promising vaccines and treatments are available.
The US Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail to treat Covid-19 in high-risk patients with mild to moderate symptoms. It is one of the treatments President Donald Trump received when he was hospitalized.
A race to develop a vaccine effective against the virus has brought some promising results, with Moderna announcing earlier this month that its vaccine candidate was 94.5% effect against coronavirus.
On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted an application to the FDA for emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine candidate. Earlier this week, Pfizer said a final analysis of the Phase 3 trial of the vaccine showed it was 95% effective in preventing infections, even in older adults, and caused no serious safety concerns.
While the application for EUA is “encouraging,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America stressed Friday that a transparent review of Pfizer’s data is still needed.
And if the vaccine is given the green light, “clinical trials and data collection must continue,” Dr. Barbara Alexander, president of IDSA, said in the statement.
“Measures that include wearing masks, frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distance and restricting the size of gatherings will remain crucial,” the statement said. “Finally, new federal funding must be provided for widespread, fair and equitable vaccine distribution in addition to campaigns to build vaccine confidence.”