Dec. 2 was a particularly grim day for the U.S., as the nation set single-day records for coronavirus-related deaths, new COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations. A number of health officials fear that the latest surge of cases will continue post-Thanksgiving, leading to additional record-setting in the days to come.
For the first time during this pandemic, more than 200,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in a single day, according to the Washington Post. It also reported that hospitalizations throughout the U.S. due to COVID-19 surpassed the 100,000 mark, also a new, troubling milestone during the pandemic.
The most concerning single-day record of all, however, may be in deaths. CNN reported that 3,157 people died in the U.S. of coronavirus-related illnesses on Dec. 2, which surpassed the previous record single-day mark of 2,603 — back on April 15— by 20%.
The figures, taken together, point to the distinct possibility of higher numbers of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths throughout the winter.
“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said, via CNN. “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’s going to be put on our healthcare system.”
“If you tell me the hospitalizations are up this week, I’ll tell you that several weeks down the road, the deaths will be up,” Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the New York Times.
The Times noted that at least one statistic, contrasting with the first wave of the pandemic this past spring, may offer a glimmer of hope. Though there’s a current sharp rise in coronavirus cases, with new infections topping 1 million a week, a far smaller proportion of people who contract coronavirus are dying from it. The CDC notes that while 6.7% of those contracting COVID-19 died from it in April, only 1.9% of those who contracted it in September died from it.
Yet there’s still a concern about the rising number of cases and hospitalizations and how that could overwhelm the healthcare system.
Dr. Janis Orlowski, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ chief health care officer, told CNBC that the current situation for hospitals is unparalleled.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen this number. We certainly never saw this number with HIV or any of the other new diseases that we’ve had,” she noted. “It’s an astonishing, astonishing number and the shame of it is it’s a number that we could have impacted and we didn’t.”
Earlier in the week, the AAMC encouraged all health systems to prepare to deploy “Crisis Standards of Care,” typically reserved for severe situations such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Dr. Syra Madad of New York City Health + Hospitals expressed concern that a surge could stretch the healthcare system capacity beyond the numbers of healthcare professionals that can treat patients. “You can add as many beds as you want,” she observed, “but if you have nobody to man those beds and actually be able to provide patient care, then that is absolutely useless. Staffed beds are everything. Beds by itself are nothing.”