Medical workers examine a patient in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, USA on Sunday, November 8, 2020.
Go Nakamura | Bloomberg | Getty Images
There was a “unprecedented top“in Covid-19 hospital admissions in Ohio. ICU beds in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are full. North Dakota’s hospitals I don’t have enough doctors and nurses. And Iowa hospital administrators are warning they are reaching their limits.
The USA is facing a “dark winter”, a “Covid Hell”, the “darkest days of the pandemic”. However you describe it, the next few months of the coronavirus pandemic will be unlike anything the nation has seen to date. Even as drug makers make advances in vaccines and treatments, epidemiologists, scientists and public health officials warn that the US has not yet seen the toughest days of the outbreak. These should come in the next three to four months.
“What America needs to understand is that we are going to enter the hell of Covid,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. said in an interview with CNBCs “Squawk Alley“On Monday.” It happens. “
Osterholm, who was appointed to the coronavirus advisory board of President-elect Joe Biden, correctly predicted months ago that there would be an “astronomical” increase in new cases after Labor Day. He says now, “That number will keep increasing significantly” from here.
“We haven’t even come close to the summit and as such our hospitals are now being overrun,” said Osterholm. “The next three to four months will be by far the darkest of the pandemic.”
The U.S. is currently reporting an average of more than 120,000 new Covid-19 cases per day – an astonishing number that, according to medical experts, sets a deadly tone for the holiday season. The sheer volume of new cases cannot be explained by increased testing alone, as new cases are outpacing the surge in tests every day, health officials admit.
According to a CNBC analysis of the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with the seven-day average rising by around 33% over the past week, cases are increasing. The number of people currently hospitalized in the United States is 61,964, according to the Covid Tracking Project run by journalists at The Atlantic.
The upcoming holiday season prepares the country for a deadly winter and spring as hospital stays and deaths lag a few weeks behind newly diagnosed infections, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, Infectious Disease Specialist at the University of Toronto.
“The upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years create the potential for myriad extremely widespread events across the country,” he said. “This has the potential to introduce and reintroduce the virus to new areas and further exacerbate community transmission.”
More lives will be lost in December than in the US in March and April, said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Global Health at the Institute of Health Metrics and Assessment at the University of Washington. The country reported around 20,000 to 30,000 new cases and more than 2,000 deaths per day this spring.
The centers for disease control and prevention are also Warning that daily deaths are increasing. It said “Newly reported COVID-19 deaths are likely to increase over the next four weeks, with an estimated 4,600 to 11,000 new deaths reported in the week ending November 28”.
Based on current trends, Mokdad’s forecasting team at IHME, which has put out Covid-19 projections for the White House, estimates the country will see this more than 2,100 Covid-19 deaths per day this winter. That number could change if further restrictions are put in place to contain the spread of the virus or if state and local officials ease off.
“Unfortunately, the worst days are ahead of us,” said Mokdad. “We are assuming a worse position because we did not do a good job in the summer to bring it down, and then right now we are seeing a rapid rise in cases, so the fall and winter rise has begun. The worst days are lying infront of us. “
Of course, the US has more tools to fight the virus than ever before. Pfizer released early data from its late-stage vaccination study on Monday suggesting they could be 90% effective. If approved, Pfizer’s vaccine could be available to a limited number of people as early as Decembersaid Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Pfizer said it could make enough doses of its two-dose vaccine to immunize about 25 million of roughly 331 million Americans before the end of the year.
Doctors also have an arsenal of treatments that were not available when the outbreak began. Treatments like the antiviral drug Remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone have helped speed recovery and save lives. But today’s outbreak looks very different from the US at the start of the pandemic. The cases are so high that some hospitals are already operating at maximum capacity, setting up Covid-19 tents in Illinois, Texas and other parts of the country to handle the surge in patients.
“This virus is now spread across the United States. When the first surge occurred it was localized in northeast New England, New York, New Jersey. In the second wave, it was the south and southwest,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency doctor at Brown University, said. “But now we’re seeing it literally taking over hospitals across the country.”
During the spring and summer, the federal government put scarce resources such as personal protective equipment, ventilators and trained health workers in hard-hit areas of New York, New Jersey, Florida and Texas. But now with so many churches in dire straits, reallocating those resources won’t be easy, Ranney said.
The virus is quickly overwhelming parts of the country that haven’t been hit as badly this spring and summer, said Christine Peterson, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa. In many other rural states like Iowa, hospitals and health workers are unable to cope with an increase in Covid 19 patients, just as large medical centers in larger cities were earlier in crisis.
While the medical community knows much more about how to effectively treat the disease than before, there is still a steep learning curve for places that have not yet had widespread outbreaks and that do not have much experience in treating the disease.
“That doesn’t mean the doctor in northeast Iowa saw this disease. You’re seeing it now,” she said.
She said the outbreak was “going to get bad,” but different from what happened this spring in New York City.
“Instead of having these pictures of morgues and densely populated areas with lots of patients, these will be lots of smaller places,” she said. “So it’s going to be harder to see the obvious effects because they’re so prevalent in these really small urban hospitals, but they’re really going to have problems.”
New York City in the spring and Arizona in the summer received a lot of help from nurses and doctors who had volunteered to treat patients at the so-called hot spots. But with the virus rising all over the country, there may not be many idle medical workers ready to work in hard-hit areas, said Dr. Lewis Kaplan, President of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
Health workers could be the next scarce resource in the pandemic, and many of the most skilled doctors and nurses are already depleted, Kaplan said. He’s worried if they can keep up with the pace of the virus.
“We depend on having these experienced people when we are back in new intensive care units and have people who normally do not work in the intensive care unit by their side. The floor nurse will now provide critical care under the guidance of the experienced intensive care nurse.” said. “What if that experienced nurse in the intensive care unit says, ‘I’ve had enough.’ This is a potentially very scary future. “
Dr. Angela Hewlett, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said her hospital was “under significant stress” and the beds fill up as quickly as they are open. The hospital recently cleared an entire floor with 48 beds for Covid-19 patients. That reached capacity within a few days, she said.
“This is not a natural disaster where this influx of healthcare workers can come from anywhere to deal with this. Everyone is facing an increase in patients with Covid-19, especially here in the Midwest,” she said. “And so there is no emergency health team that falls down and comes in and saves us.”