Once again, the US smashed its record for people hospitalized with Covid-19 — putting enormous strain on the health care system and threatening to reduce care for even those who don’t have coronavirus.
At least 83,227 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized Saturday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That’s the 12th straight day that the US has broken its record for Covid-19 hospitalizations.
Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 cases reported in the US were recorded just in November, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And health experts say new infections, hospitalizations and deaths will get worse before they get better, as the upcoming holidays and colder weather trigger more indoor socializing.
More than 12 million people in the US have been infected with coronavirus, and more than 256,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins. About 2.8 million of the infections were reported in November.
Testing has increased, but not nearly at the same pace as new infections have increased. As of Friday, the number of daily new cases over the past week was 25% higher than the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins.
By contrast, the number of new tests increased only 14.55%, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Saturday marked the country’s 19th straight day of more than 100,000 new cases reported, according to Johns Hopkins.
And more new infections mean more new hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks ahead.
At least 24 hospital leaders warned the American Hospital Association they’re having staffing shortages, said Nancy Foster, the association’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy.
Why infections might be higher than we know
The real case count is likely to be “multitudes” higher than the 12 million reported because not enough people are getting tested, said Dr. Esther Choo, professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
Choo said she’s especially concerned by how quickly new cases are accelerating.
“So many states have test positivity rates above 20%, which means that we are vastly lagging behind in our confirmed cases,” she said.
A test positivity rate is the percentage of tests performed that turn out to be positive. For context, the World Health Organization has recommended governments not reopen until they keep their test positivity rate at or below 5% for 14 days.
As of Sunday, only Vermont, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia met that WHO standard, according to Johns Hopkins data.
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Of the remaining 44 states, several had test positivity rates of more than 40%: Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa and Idaho.
The CDC urges Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving
With this unprecedented surge of Covid-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against Thanksgiving travel and against celebrating with anyone outside your own household.
The CDC said in new guidance last week that more than 50% of Covid-19 infections are spread by people who don’t show symptoms.
The combination of people wanting to get tested before Thanksgiving and more people getting infected nationwide are causing long lines outside testing sites around the country.
And commercial labs say their capacities are being stretched.
But even a negative test result doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe to see friends and family.
The safest way to enjoy a holiday meal with friends and family outside your household is to strictly quarantine for 14 days beforehand.
“If you do that properly, you don’t need a test,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Americans can now get Trump’s antibody treatment
On Saturday, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail to treat Covid-19 in high-risk patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
It is one of the treatments President Donald Trump received when he was hospitalized.
How Trump’s Covid-19 treatment was far beyond what most Americans get
“What we know is the sooner you receive this treatment, the better it is — for example, like (when) the president received it,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine.
“The reality is if you are over 65, if you have comorbid conditions like diabetes, obesity, or some other immunosuppression, and you get diagnosed with Covid-19, you should be considered for this therapy pretty much immediately. The sooner — within the first three to four days of getting diagnosed — is the best time to receive it,” del RIo said.
“The challenge, of course, is finding it, because it’s actually a limited supply.”
Vaccines are months away for most people
There’s more good news on the vaccine front.
Days after Moderna said its vaccine was 94.5% effective in a clinical trial, another vaccine — from partners Pfizer and BioNTech — applied for an FDA emergency use authorization.
The application came after early data showed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective, even in older adults, and caused no serious safety concerns.
While the application is “encouraging,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America stressed that a transparent review of Pfizer’s data is still needed.
And even if a vaccine gets the green light from the FDA, most Americans probably won’t be vaccinated until the spring or summer of 2021, health experts say.
In the meantime, tens of thousands of lives could be saved or lost — depending on our behavior.
“Measures that include wearing masks, frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distance and restricting the size of gatherings will remain crucial,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America said.