The spread of the coronavirus across the U.S. swiftly accelerated this week, prompting state and local officials to levy new restrictions as the nation reported more than 100,000 new cases each day over the past 10 days.
More than 150,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported Thursday, a record-breaking milestone that is more than triple the number of daily cases reported on average in early October, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. In 48 states and Washington, D.C., the pace of new cases recorded over the past week rose faster than the week prior, signaling increased levels of spread nationwide.
Last Friday, as the U.S. awaited results from the 2020 presidential race, the seven-day average of new cases reported in the nation daily sat at 103,398. In less than a week, that average has grown by nearly 30,000, to an average of 131,445 new cases Thursday.
A record 67,096 coronavirus patients were being treated in hospitals Thursday, with 12,796 of those patients in intensive-care units, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The surge in hospitalizations threatens to overwhelm hospitals and stretch health-care workers thin.
Hospitals in hard-hit areas like Wisconsin and North Dakota have been inundated with coronavirus patients. Hospital capacity in North Dakota is at 100%, the governor said earlier this week. In El Paso, Texas, 67 patients have been airlifted to other hospitals in the state and New Mexico to make more room, an official from the city’s Office of Emergency Management said Thursday.
Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, Wisc., said he is grappling daily with how to manage the surge in new hospitalizations — and is worried about the future.
“We are on this path toward potentially having to ration care. It just seems like that’s impossible; that cannot happen in a country like ours. And I just ask myself, ‘Why are we in a position where we’re trying to figure out who we can take the best care of and who are we going to compromise care on?’” said Dr. Pothof.
“Not there today,” he added. “But, I don’t know, I don’t have a plan that gets me feeling confident that’s not the direction that we’re heading.”
As cases began to rise last month, some epidemiologists said the severity of this new tide of new coronavirus infections was avoidable. But widespread pandemic fatigue has fueled more risky behavior and flouting of basic guidelines like social distancing, scientists and public-health officials say. Inconsistent messaging from federal and local authorities and the politicization of preventive measures have led to confusion throughout the pandemic. Some epidemiologists have called restrictions and public health a false dichotomy.
The effects of new measures announced this week won’t be known for several more weeks due to the incubation period of Covid-19 and other factors. Governors in states including New York, New Mexico, Virginia, Iowa, Utah, Minnesota, Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio, as well as city leaders in Chicago, Newark, N.J., and Saint Louis, announced new restrictions this week in varying degrees.
Other governors said they are considering changes, as they urged residents to exercise caution. “We’ve relied on people to be responsible, and they’re being irresponsible,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said Friday.
School districts in Detroit, Boston and Baltimore have announced plans to return to remote learning or lessen in-person instruction, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told parents to prepare for public schools to close as soon as Monday.
James Lawler, an infectious-disease physician and co-director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said more direct mandates from government officials and compliance with these strategies are needed to effectively slow the spread of the virus.
“Ultimately, we need people to take these actions seriously and to do them,” Dr. Lawler said.
“If we can get people to understand the fact that this is just a virus, it’s not a political statement, it doesn’t really care who you voted for,” he added. “We have lots of people, I’m willing to bet, in our hospital right now who voted for both political parties in our election, and they’re being intubated and cared for by the same health-care team.”