As the coronavirus fall surge continues to wreak havoc across the U.S., health care workers are describing scenes of depleted resources at medical facilities and are reporting they are overwhelmed.
There were at least 160,000 daily new coronavirus cases Friday in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data. This is the highest single day reported total since the pandemic began.
The U.S. has added more than half a million new COVID-19 cases since hitting 10 million on Monday, the school said.
At this rate, the number should pass 11 million in the next four days, making for the fastest addition of another million yet, Johns Hopkins data show.
"It's well above what we can tolerate right now and still save lives. I don't know why it's continuing to get worse. From a health care standpoint, we're tapped out," Dr. Ashok Rai, Prevea Health president and CEO in Wisconsin, told WBAY-TV on Thursday as he discussed hospitals in his state.
"Our beds are getting full every day. Nurses are exhausted. Physicians are exhausted. We're exhausted," Rai said.
President Trump hails progress on vaccine
President Donald Trump on Friday hailed developments in the race for a vaccine for the resurgent coronavirus as he delivered his first public remarks since his defeat by President-elect Joe Biden, even as he refuses to concede the election.
Trump spoke from the the Rose Garden as the nation sets records for confirmed cases of COVID-19, and as hospitalizations near critical levels and fatalities climb to the highest levels since the spring. He said a vaccine would ship in “a matter of weeks" to vulnerable populations, though the Food and Drug Administration has not yet been asked to grant the necessary emergency approvals. In addition, there’s no information yet as to whether the vaccine worked in vulnerable populations or only in younger, healthier study volunteers.
Public health experts worry that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation’s ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.
And as cases reach new heights, Trump’s campaign prediction that the U.S. was “rounding the turn” on the pandemic has met a harsh reality, with his own White House becoming the focus of yet another outbreak.
November has already proven crippling for American communities battling COVID-19 spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Experts warn it will likely get worse before it gets better.
In one part of Texas, officials have requested more mobile morgues. North Dakota's staffing shortage is so bad that infected, yet asymptomatic health care workers can work in COVID-19 units of medical facilities. In Massachusetts, hospitalizations have increased by 200% since early September and the state — like many others — is working to increase its hospital capacity.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned Thursday the state was in the "worst part of this pandemic to date."
"The curve that we had flattened? Right now, that curve is a straight line and it is straight up," the governor said.
Just like experts predicted months ago, the fall COVID-19 surge is quickly proving to be worse than any other before and new projections offer a glimpse into just how bad things could soon get.
An ensemble forecast published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there could be up to 282,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 5. That means nearly 40,000 Americans could lose their lives to the virus in the next three weeks.
And a projection from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows nearly 2,000 people could be dying of COVID-19 every day by the end of December.
'Less is more this Thanksgiving'
The country may be headed in the wrong direction, but public health measures touted by officials for months — including face coverings, social distancing and regular hand washing — could provide much needed help. More than 17,000 lives could be saved by the end of the year if 95% of Americans wore face masks, according to IHME projections.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu reported most new cases of the virus are occurring from gatherings where people did not wear masks.
"If there are circumstances where it's a family member that's not in your immediate family, even if you're in your own house, you and that member should probably be wearing a mask," the governor said. "The virus doesn't care that it's Uncle Bob."
And the upcoming holidays will also play a critical role in how the pandemic continues to unfold. Experts have cautioned against big gatherings and have urged Americans who want to visit family to quarantine for 14 days.
But "separation should be the norm" this Thanksgiving, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said Thursday.
"Less is more this Thanksgiving," Schaffner said. "It is the COVID Thanksgiving. We don't want to give the virus while we're giving thanks."
Study: New, mutant virus strain spreads more easily
Researchers also now say they've found more evidence that a mutant version of the coronavirus that has overtaken an older strain to spread across much of the world is more easily transmitted — but does not appear to be any more dangerous.
And it hasn't changed its physical shape so should be just as vulnerable to the body's immune response whether natural or induced by a vaccine.
The research team, led by two experts in the genetics of viruses — Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — studied the so-called D614G version of the coronavirus.
After conducting tests in lab animals and in Petri dishes containing the cells that line the human respiratory tract, the team found that the virus variant "exhibits more efficient infection, replication, and competitive fitness in primary human airway epithelial cells."
The team's findings validate earlier studies that showed the new strain spreads more easily and also supports evidence the mutation hasn't made the virus more likely to cause severe disease. What the mutation may do is help the virus thrive better in the nose and upper respiratory tract — something that would help it spread among people.
'Targeted vaccinations' to start December or January, official says
Meanwhile, a top U.S. official said Thursday every American who wants to get a vaccine will be able to do so by April.
"Initially, in December and January, we're going to be having very targeted vaccinations, also helped in large part by some of our largest chains, like Walgreens and CVS," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN.
There will likely be enough vaccines for "all of our most vulnerable citizens" to get vaccinated in December, he said, followed by "all of our senior citizens, as well as our emergency first responders and our health care workers" in January.
"By the end of March to early April, we think across all of the vaccines that we have invested in, we have enough for all Americans who wish to get vaccinated," he said.
While the U.S. doesn't yet have an authorized COVID-19 vaccine, drugmaker Pfizer announced Monday that early data on its vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective. Officials widely expect the company to be able to apply for emergency use authorization by the end of the month.
The company has said it expects "logistical" challenges in distributing the two-dose vaccine because the shots needs to be stored in freezing temperatures.
"We're working very hard on that," Dr. John Burkhardt, Pfizer's vice president of Global Drug Safety Research and Development, said earlier this week.
"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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.