Daily U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 for the first since May and hospitals across the country are already full, portending a surge in mortalities to come as the coronavirus pandemic casts a shadow over the holiday season.
The death toll reached 2,157 on Tuesday — one person every 40 seconds — with another 170,000 people infected, numbers that experts say could grow with millions of Americans defying official warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and travelling for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday. According to Transportation Security Administration figures, more Americans travelled last weekend, around three million, than any weekend since March.
U.S. hospitalizations for COVID-19 surpassed 87,000 on Tuesday, an all-time high, while 30 of the 50 states reported a record number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations this month, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
The daily record of 2,806 deaths came on April 14, in the early stages of the pandemic.
Since the global pandemic began, the U.S. totals of nearly 260,000 deaths and 12.6 million infections lead the world and “all the Thanksgiving travel ensures no one will catch us, either,” said Dr. Tatiana Prowell of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
For the first time since early-May, states reported more than 2k deaths. <a href=”https://t.co/EMr7m6NDC7″>pic.twitter.com/EMr7m6NDC7</a>
“The U.S. ‘each person for himself’ mindset is killing hundreds of thousands of us. Devastating to watch,” Prowell said on Twitter.
Francesca Wimer, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois, flew home to Washington, D.C., wearing an N95 mask and a face shield and checked into a hotel for 14 days, quarantining to protect her parents and grandparents.
“She was returning to a vulnerable set of people. We didn’t trust that a test was enough,” said her mother, Cynthia Wimer.
Others are just staying put.
Luke Burke, studying at Syracuse University in upstate New York, was planning to spend Thanksgiving with his family in New Jersey until his roommate tested positive last week.
“I’m sorry I can’t be there with my parents, but it’s the right thing to do,” Burke said.
‘Slow process’ predicted for vaccine deployment
With caseloads soaring, more than half the nation’s governors imposed or reimposed statewide measures this month. But despite more stringent face-mask requirements, curfews and limits on bars and restaurants, the metrics of the virus have only worsened.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed the need to “hang in there a bit longer” on wearing masks, maintaining distance and avoiding crowds, especially indoors.
“If we do those things, we’re going to get through it. So that’s my final plea before the holiday,” Fauci told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday.
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has promised to make fighting the pandemic his top priority upon taking office on Jan. 20 and will give a speech on Wednesday that is meant to encourage Americans and focus on the sacrifices they are making, his office said.
Outgoing President Donald Trump has remained largely silent on the subject, making a one-minute appearance in the White House briefing room on Tuesday to talk about the stock market.
Meanwhile, school districts across the United States face pressure from all sides as they grapple with how to educate children during the pandemic, a Reuters survey of 217 districts showed.
Many parents are balking at online instruction, seeing it as inferior to classroom learning and disruptive to life at home and work. Other parents worry about sending kids back into classrooms prematurely amid a raging pandemic. Teachers say they are not comfortable teaching in person, fearing infection.
“Every school district across the nation is in the position in which no matter what decision they make and how well thought out it is, it will leave some in the community thinking it’s the wrong decision,” said Larry Rother, senior executive director of pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 educational services in Chandler, Ariz.
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But help may be coming with vaccines showing promise.
Officials from the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program told reporters Tuesday they plan to release 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide in an initial distribution after the first one is cleared by regulators for emergency use, which could happen as soon as Dec. 10.
If all goes well, 40 million doses will be distributed by the end of the year, they said.
The first shipments will be directed to high-risk groups at designated locations, such as front-line health-care workers at hospitals. Federal and state officials are still figuring out exactly how to prioritize those most at risk, including the elderly, prison inmates and homeless people.
But most people will probably have to wait months for shots to become widely available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also each require two doses, meaning people will have to go back for a second shot after three and four weeks, respectively, to get the full protection.
Experts say the logistical challenges of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history and public fear and misinformation could hinder the effort and kick the end of the pandemic further down the road.
“It’s going to be a slow process and it’s going to be a process with ups and downs, like we’ve seen already,” said Dr. Bill Moss, an infectious-disease expert at Johns Hopkins University.