By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The U.S. shattered records for daily cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 and hospitalizations on Friday, as states and cities announced new restrictions while others warned that full lockdowns may be needed to contain the spread.
The U.S. counted 163,405 new infections on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, smashing the record of 142,860 cases set the day earlier, and at least 1,171 Americans died. The U.S. has averaged 134,078 cases a day for the last week, a 72% increase from just two weeks ago.
Hospitals are filling across the nation but are most stretched in the Midwest, led by the Dakotas and neighboring states. There are currently 67,096 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, or about 2,000 more than a day ago, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and a 91% increase from a month ago. Eighteen states are seeing record numbers of hospitalized patients and hospitals are running out of beds, staff and personal protective equipment.
Wisonsin’s seven-day new case average is higher than New York’s was at the height of its crisis in spring. Wisconsin averaged 6,209 cases in the past week, compared with New York’s April average of 5,292.
Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory panel, told the Washington Post the U.S. needs to lock down fully for four to six weeks to control the spread, although he conceded that was unlikely to happen. Osterholm said current measures being enacted at local levels “at best, would have a marginal impact.”
Incumbent President Donald Trump has mostly tweeted his anger at election results he falsely claims are fraudulent and has not commented on the surge of infections. The U.S. leads the world by case tally at 10.6 million and death toll at 242,477, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump and his GOP allies of engaging “in an absurd circus right now” over the election results.
“Unless people celebrate safely, we will see a huge increase about two weeks after Thanksgiving and then again two weeks after Christmas.”
Dr. Tista Ghosh, epidemiologist and senior medical director, Grand Rounds
Republicans are “shamefully pretending” that Trump can overturn the outcome, “making it even harder to address the massive health and economic crisis that we’re facing,” Pelosi told reporters at a briefing.
The vacuum has left state and city officials to take matters into their own hands. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he may impose a lockdown and berated local officials for not enforcing face-mask rules.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a new stay-at-home advisory on Thursday and urged residents to cancel Thanksgiving plans that involve gatherings of guests from different households.
“Here’s the bottom line, and I want people to be very clear about this. If we continue on the path we’re on, and you and me and others don’t step up and do more, our estimates are that we could see 1,000 more Chicagoans die from this virus by the end of the year,” Lightfoot said.
Maryland and Washington are also mulling restrictions including forcing businesses to close temporarily.
The surge in infections reflect the “pandemic fatigue” weighing on Americans after months of anxiety and being asked to isolate and wear face masks. Trump has repeatedly said the virus will disappear and disparaged opponents for wearing masks, encouraging his supporters to stage protests at restrictions.
On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy snapped during a news briefing.
Experts are now concerned that Thanksgiving could become a superspreader event if Americans gather in large numbers indoors, the perfect setting for transmission.
“Unless people celebrate safely, we will see a huge increase about two weeks after Thanksgiving and then again two weeks after Christmas,” said Dr. Tista Ghosh, epidemiologist and senior medical director at Grand Rounds in Colorado.
“One of the main drivers will be eating indoors in poorly ventilated spaces. Eating necessitates removing masks, and the cold weather in certain states will drive people to eat together inside — a recipe for viral transmission. I think we can prevent this by eating with our household members only during festivities, or with family via zoom, and then meeting afterward for a post-meal outdoor walk. Or if you must eat indoors together, open windows, stay more than 6 feet apart if possible,” she said.