The weekly tallies of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the United States have never been higher, and state officials are warning of more alarming patterns following the holiday season.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state was seeing a “real and significant increase in cases and our positivity rate from people’s gatherings around the holiday.”
“This surge that we’re in right now is at least twice the rate, the seriousness, of the previous surges that we have seen,” the governor said Friday. “This is our most dangerous time.”
Colorado’s state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy on Friday warned of “early signs” of a rise in Covid-19 cases. “We are starting to see the impact of the holidays show up in our data,” she said. Health experts believe about one in 105 residents are currently contagious, Herlihy added.
“We continue to see a large percentage of Colorado’s population actively infected with Covid-19 and having the potential to transmit infection to each other, so contact between individuals continues to be high risk in this state,” Herlihy said.
It’s been a warning repeated in other states since the start of 2021.
Arkansas’ governor said earlier this month the state was “certainly in the surge after Christmas.” And Mississippi officials said on Monday the state had experienced more Covid-19 patients in the ICU than ever before and was bracing for another rise in virus numbers following the holidays.
Health officials are also concerned Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol may have consequences for the pandemic.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the riot would likely be a “surge event” that will have “public health consequences.”
“You had largely unmasked individuals in a non-distanced fashion, who were all through the Capitol,” Dr. Robert Redfield told the McClatchy newspaper group. “Then these individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now.”
“So I do think this is an event that will probably lead to a significant spreading,” he added.
The US has averaged about 247,200 Covid-19 cases a day over the last week as of Friday — an all-time high, and more than 3.7 times greater than a summertime peak set in late July, Johns Hopkins data shows.
And the country has averaged 2,982 deaths a day over the last week — the highest figure of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins. This week also saw the first time the US reported more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths in a single day, on Thursday.
Hospitalizations, meanwhile, have been pushing some facilities and medical staffs to their limits. Some 131,889 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Friday — the third-highest figure recorded, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
California especially has been struggling with brutal surges in cases and hospitalizations.
And the daily death rates there have been so overwhelming, the state has sent 88 refrigerated trailers to hospitals and counties to give coroners the space they need to store bodies, officials said Friday.
Coroners hold the bodies until they can be sent to funeral workers — and the trailers are needed to “mitigate the bottleneck caused by a surge in fatalities,” the state’s emergency services office said
Los Angeles County — the most populous county in the nation — has been averaging a Covid-19 death roughly every eight minutes, city Mayor Eric Garcetti said this week.
Hospitals there are so strained, the county health department issued new guidelines for how the county’s four public hospitals can assign triage officers to decide which patients receive what treatment.
Once a hospital reaches a phase called “crisis care mode,” triage officers will be tasked with deciding how to allocate and reallocate scare resources like ventilators for critically ill patients with a focus of “doing the most good for the most people,” according to the guidelines.
Already in that county, because hospitals are strained, ambulance crews have generally been instructed not to transport a patient in cardiac arrest if they can’t first be resuscitated in the field.
On Friday, county health officials reported the most Covid-19 deaths ever reported there in a single day: 318.
Meanwhile, more than 60 cases of a Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK have now been identified in eight US states, according to data from the CDC.
The CDC said that’s not the total number of cases circulating in the country, but only those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. While the variant appears to spread more easily, there’s no evidence that it’s any more deadly or causes more severe disease, the agency said.
The CDC also shot down a January 3 report from the White House coronavirus task force that speculated about the existence of an easily transmissible “USA variant.”
There is no evidence yet that such a homegrown variant exists, the CDC said Friday.
“There is a strong possibility there are variants in the United States; however, it could (take) weeks or months to identify if there is a single variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 fueling the surge in the United States similar to the surge in the United Kingdom,” a spokesman said in an email to CNN.
As for the task force’s speculation, it began on a call with governors, during which officials were discussing whether the country’s steep climb in Covid-19 cases could be due to a more transmissible variant similar to one detected in the UK, an administration official told CNN.
The speculation made it into the written report. Like the CDC, the official emphasized to CNN that no such variant has actually been identified.
Scott Hensley, an expert on viruses and immunity at the University of Pennsylvania, said he was puzzled by the speculation.
“There are a lot of reasons why the infection rates have increased over the fall and winter,” Hensley said. “The rise in cases does not necessarily need a genetic explanation.”
In the US, nearly 6.7 million people had received their first doses of a vaccine as of Friday morning, and more than 22 million doses had been distributed, according to the CDC. The doses administered are far short of the amount some officials had hoped for by now.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Friday he was encouraging states to broaden the criteria for who can be vaccinated now against Covid-19, as some states have utilized only about 30% to 35% of the vaccines they have.
But states have struggled with having enough people to deliver the shots and now some are tapping non-traditional vaccinators to help. California officials approved an emergency waiver that allows dentists to administer the vaccine to people ages 16 and up.
In other parts of the country, health systems are pulling from a well of newly trained, nursing, medical and dental students to aid in the effort. And others are looking to retired health care workers who have the skills to administer vaccines and aren’t actively attending to Covid-19 patients.
Some states also have called in the National Guard to help.
Covid-19 deaths are at unprecedented levels in US The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ CNN.