The number of hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 has hit an all-time high after medical facilities across the U.S. reported that 61,964 patients were hospitalized on Tuesday with serious cases of the virus, the latest sign that the worst of the pandemic may lie ahead.
The figure was tallied by the COVID Tracking Project, an organization affiliated with The Atlantic. Hospitals have once again issued dire warnings about running out of bed space amid an influx of patients with severe symptoms. Some states have already said the most recent surge is the worst since the pandemic began.
The previous hospitalization high was in the early days of the pandemic, on April 15, as the nation’s top health officials were still working on messaging to get the virus under control. A series of state lockdown measures helped bring that April high of 59,940 hospitalizations down by more than half in June. The numbers began to rise again in mid-July after lockdown measures were lifted, hitting an almost identical high of 59,718 on July 23 before hospitalizations fell once more.
Tuesday’s figures exceed both those tallies.
“We have legitimate reason to be very, very concerned about our health system at a national level,” Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR this week.
Now, however, the virus’ grip on the nation is tighter than ever. The seven-day average of new cases now exceeds 111,000, and 10 million Americans have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. The U.S. reported 1 million new cases in November alone, even though we are just 10 days into the month.
More than 239,000 people in the U.S. have now died due to COVID-19.
Medical facilities around the country are already strained, and some regions have issued dire warnings about the future as the nation prepares for a long winter and a holiday season that could tempt people to travel around the nation after months of staying home.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that El Paso, Texas, has doubled its supply of mobile morgues as hospital beds fill up, a bleak response that occurred in New York City earlier this year. In Idaho, one of the state’s largest hospitals had to temporarily stop taking in new patients.
Other states, including Maryland, have begun reinstituting restrictions to rein in infection rates.
There are signs of promise. Pfizer released early data that signaled its experimental vaccine could be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 and said it planned to file an emergency use application with the FDA later this month. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the results were “impressive.”
“I believe, with the impressive nature of the data, that that should go through smoothly, that by the time we get into December, we will be able to have doses available for people who are judged to be at the highest priority,” Fauci said on MSNBC on Tuesday.
President-elect Joe Biden recently assembled a COVID-19 advisory board filled with experts, and while he doesn’t enter the White House until January, he has urged all Americans to wear masks in hopes of “defeating this virus.”
“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day,” the president-elect said on Monday. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We could save tens of thousands of lives if we just wear masks for the next few months.”