Nov. 10, 2020, 2:23 p.m. EST

Coronavirus update: U.S. adds another 130,000 cases in a day: ‘This is what exponential math looks like,’ says expert

Per capita new case numbers are highest in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, filling hospitals and raising concerns that systems will be overwhelmed

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

AFP/Getty Images

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed above 51 million on Tuesday with new cases racing across the U.S. and Europe, leading more localities to impose restrictions on movement to curb the spread.

The U.S. counted 130,553 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 745 people died. The U.S. has averaged 116,447 cases a day in the past week, up 64% from two weeks ago. Cases are rising in 47 states and at least 12 set records on Monday.

Per capita new case numbers are highest in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, filling hospitals and raising concerns that health systems will be overwhelmed as winter sets in.

More than 10.1 million Americans have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and 238,251 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, accounting for about a fifth of both global counts.

“This is what exponential math looks like,” Malia Jones, a social epidemiologist with the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory and the UW-Madison Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, told MarketWatch.

‘This is what exponential math looks like.’

Malia Jones, social epidemiologist, University of Wisconsin

“Everything seems fine until quite suddenly it seems completely out of control. We’ve been seeing the slow build to this for a month, and we have also seen little or no action to put the brakes on it. This is a predictable outcome, unfortunately. And we will keep on posting record numbers of cases day after day unless something changes,” she said.

Wisconsin’s hospital system is at 88% capacity, according to the state’s health department, and health-care workers are bracing for a wave of admissions. That’s a worry because those patients will need hospital care to survive and there is only so much space, said Jones.

“100,000 cases diagnosed today means a huge wave of people coming into the hospital next week, expecting access to staff, medicine, ventilators, and all sorts of interventions to keep them alive,” she said. “We only have so much to go around. Once we run out of space in hospitals, what do we do? Do we turn away people who are struggling to breathe? Do we turn away people who are having heart attacks or motorcycle accidents?

“Having to make calls like that is not a place anyone wants to be. We saw Italy and parts of New York City in that exact position in the spring. That is the situation we’ve all been working to prevent.”

There are currently 59,275 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project , the highest number since July 25 and up 70% from a month ago. North Dakota is at 89% capacity, according to its state health department, while South Dakota is at about 64% capacity.

The problem in rural areas is exacerbated by the fact that so many hospitals in remote areas have shut down in recent years. Since 2005, 174 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, a unit of the University of North Carolina that tracks the data. Since 2010, 132 rural hospitals have closed, the data shows.

“We are already seeing people being transferred from Northern Wisconsin — which is a 4 or 5 hour drive from here — to UW-Madison’s hospital for COVID care,” said Jones. We’ll be seeing more of that in the coming weeks. ... It’s going to be a double whammy when the COVID positive numbers we are seeing posted this week come home to roost.”

As the virus continues to spread by community transmission, nursing homes in the Midwest states are suffering a spike in new infections, which rose 120% in the week of Oct. 18, according to the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living.

“As we feared, the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S., combined with the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus, has unfortunately led to an increase in new COVID cases in nursing homes,” said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “It is incredibly frustrating as we had made tremendous progress to reduce COVID rates in nursing homes after the spike this summer in Sun Belt states. If everybody would wear a mask and social distance to reduce the level of COVID in the community, we know we would dramatically reduce these rates in long term care facilities.”

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