By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
• Grim milestones in U.S.: record one-day deaths and hospitalizations, case tally tops 14 million
• CDC head says coming months could be worst ever for public health in U.S.
• Fauci to meet with Biden transition team for first time
• Iran becomes the 14th country in the world with more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases
The U.S. hit some grim single-day milestones in the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, with a record number of fatalities and more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals for the first time since the start of the outbreak, as a leading public health official warned of a cold, hard winter to come.
At least 2,885 Americans died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, surpassing the spring peak of 2,752 set on April 15. There were 199,988 new cases recorded, the tracker shows. The U.S. has averaged 164,024 cases a day for the past week. And that’s before the surge in new infections that is expected to show up about 10 days after last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans traveled to see family.
Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said December, January and February will be rough. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that it’s going to put on our health-care system,” Redfield said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event.
The U.S. set a fresh record for hospitalizations on Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, at 100,226 COVID-19 patients, exceeding 100,000 for the first time and exceeding the record set a day earlier. Hospital systems, especially in rural areas, are filling rapidly , and many are complaining of staff shortages and exhausted workers.
Redfield noted that 90% of U.S. hospitals are in “hot zones and red zones,” or areas with high levels of spread. He estimated the health crisis has cost the country at least $8 trillion.
Kailee Leingang, a contract tracer in North Dakota, told the Washington Post that she did not expect the job to be as hard as it is. “Coronavirus is everywhere,” she said in a video interview. “It is at Walmart, it is at Target, it is at your family’s Thanksgiving and your family’s Christmas.”
The state’s health-care system is in a triage situation as contact tracers try to get infected people off the street, she said.
Like other health-care workers who have described the anger they encounter from virus skeptics, Leingang said some patients have yelled at her and told her the virus is a government hoax, and many patients she has spoken with, sometimes for days, have died.
“That’s always hard,: she said.
The CDC’s Redfield urged Americans not to drop their guard now that a vaccine seems to be in sight. The U.K. government on Wednesday granted emergency-use authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.02% and BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.96% . The vaccine is still in Phase 3 trials — as are the vaccine candidates from Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +7.05% and from AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.03% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +0.81% in partnership with Oxford University. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet on Dec. 10 to review the Pfizer–BioNTech candidate and possibly issue an emergency-use authorization for the vaccine.
In the meantime, Redfield said everyone should continue to wash their hands frequently, socially distance from others in public and wear face masks.
“These are critical mitigation steps, which to many people seem simple, and they don’t really think it can have much of an impact, but the reality is they are very, very powerful tools. They have an enormous impact,” he said. “And right now it is so important that we recommit ourselves to this mitigation as we now begin to turn the corner with the vaccine.”
In other news:
• Iran has become the latest country to record more than 1 million COVID-19 patients, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. That brings the total number of countries in that category to 14, with Poland, Germany and Mexico also added recently. The U.S. continues to lead the world with 14 million cases and 274,648 deaths, or about a fifth of the global tallies for each, the data shows.
• Swedes are losing confidence in their government’s controversial approach to the pandemic, which did not include lockdowns but relied on individuals to comply with safety measures, the Guardian reported. That comes as the country’s national health agency reported 6,485 new infections and 33 deaths on Thursday. Prime Minister Stefan Stefan Löfven said the country’s high schools would switch to distance learning beginning Monday and remain in that mode for the rest of the term. “This is being done so as to have a slowing effect on the spread of the disease,” Löfven said, adding that the measure was “not an extended break.” What the country did now “will determine how we can celebrate Christmas,” he said. Sweden has had 260,758 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins data, and at least 6,798 Swedes have died. That is far more than the 25,462 cases and 399 deaths in neighboring Finland.
• Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, France’s president from 1974 to 1981, has died at the age of 94 from complications relating to COVID-19, BBC News reported. He is crediting with modernizing France by liberalizing laws on divorce, abortion and contraception. He was surrounded by his family at his estate in central France.
• The Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue a warning later Thursday to “Operation Warp Speed,” the government program set up to accelerate development of vaccines and therapies to treat COVID-19, the New York Times reported . That’s after IBM cybersecurity experts found a series of cyberattacks aimed at the companies and organizations that will be distributing vaccines around the world. It’s unclear whether hackers are seeking to steal technology or to sabotage the effort to conduct mass vaccination. The hacking appears focused on companies and officials involved in the refrigeration effort needed to keep certain vaccine candidates, including the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, at their required ultralow temperatures.