Expert predicts US could soon hit 200,000 daily coronavirus cases

"We are watching cases increase substantially in this country far beyond, I think, what most people ever thought could happen."


Video above: Pfizer says early COVID-19 vaccine data show 90% efficacy rate

After topping 100,000 new infections seven days in a row, the U.S. has now surpassed a total of more than 10 million cases since the start of the pandemic.

And that number will likely keep rapidly climbing, one expert told CNN.

"We are watching cases increase substantially in this country far beyond, I think, what most people ever thought could happen," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN on Monday. Osterholm has been named a member of President-elect Joe Biden's Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board.

"It will not surprise me if in the next weeks we see over 200,000 new cases a day," he added.

But it's not just the rising infections that are alarming. On Monday, the U.S. had more than 59,000 people hospitalized nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. On the same day, the nation reported the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations since July 10, the project reported, and the highest total number since July 25.

At this rate, the project says, the U.S. will see record high hospitalizations in just days.

And as more people are infected and more are hospitalized, more American deaths will likely be recorded daily. Last week saw five days in a row with more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths -- the first time that's happened since August.

More than 238,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. Another 110,000 or more deaths are projected in the next two months, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

No states trending in right direction

Across the country, not a single state is trending in the right direction. At least 44 states are reporting at least 10% more new cases than the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins data.

As hospitalizations rise in Nebraska, the governor announced new measures that will take effect Wednesday, including keeping a distance of at least six feet between parties in gyms, restaurants, weddings, indoor gatherings and places of worship. Masks will also be required for both staff and patrons at establishments, including salons, barbershops and bowling alleys and other indoor businesses where staff and patrons are within six feet of each other for 15 minutes or more.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday the state was facing "significant danger" from the virus, with 80 counties in the "red zone as cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase rapidly."

Monday's positivity, the governor's office said, was the highest since May 5.

"We are clearly at the worst place we have been for this disease," Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said in a news release. "It took us almost 15 weeks from the start of this pandemic in Kentucky just to get to the number of cases we had last week alone."

COVID-19 rates are rising quickly in California too. Hospitalizations have increased by more than 28% over the past two weeks while ICU patients increased by more than 27% during that time, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

"People are letting their guard down by taking their masks off. They're starting to get together, outside of their household cohorts. They're starting to see businesses reopen, and we're starting to get to see more people mixing," he said. "As it gets colder, we'll see more still."

Hospitals at 'brink' of hitting capacity

The rising numbers have begun taking their toll on American communities.

In Texas, the hard-hit county of El Paso has six mobile morgues and has asked for four more trailers, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said Monday. That comes as the state nears a million infections since the pandemic's start.

In Ohio, all parts of the state are affected by an "unprecedented spike" in hospitalized patients, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the incoming chief medical officer for the state's health department.

"Every county in the state is feeling the brunt of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations," Vanderhoff said. "If we don't control the spread of the virus and our case numbers, we won't be able to continue caring for the acutely ill without postponing important, but less urgent care."

And among the issues that are concerning officials -- not just in Ohio, but across the nation -- are the strained and exhausted staff that are taking care of the surging number of patients.

"We're exhausting the available supply of trained personnel," Vanderhoff said. "They can't escape the rising numbers of COVID-19 numbers in their communities."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the state's hospital capacity is shrinking and went on to declare a state of emergency and a statewide mask mandate Monday.

"They are really at the brink of not being able to take any more people ... particularly in our intensive care units," the governor said Monday, speaking on the state's shrinking hospital capacity. "We just don't have rooms that have got doctors and nurses that can provide the health care."

And finally, some good news

On Monday, drugmaker Pfizer announced its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be more than 90% effective, based on early data.

The results could mean a vaccine is "right around the corner" for the American people, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN Monday.

It's still unclear how long Pfizer's vaccine will offer protection against the virus, Dr. John Burkhardt, Pfizer's vice president of Global Drug Safety Research and Development, explained Monday, and the company will continue learning more about that timeline as the clinical trial continues.

Pfizer will follow volunteers in the clinical trials for two years "with an emphasis on safety," Burkhardt added, while the company will also collect other types of data.

Fauci said it's likely that once the vaccine is authorized for emergency use, people will be receiving doses before the end of this year.

But the distribution of the company's two-dose vaccine will be a "logistical challenge" as the shot needs to be stored in freezing temperatures, Burkhardt said.

"We're working very hard on that," he added.

"There's a whole suite of very experienced and talented people at Pfizer who are solely working on this, an army of people, and so it's going to be important to work with the authorities with state governments and others to provide that supply chain."