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US Coronavirus: US sets record for Covid-19 hospitalizations amid fall surge

CNN logo CNN 11/25/2020 By Jason Hanna, Christina Maxouris and Amir Vera, CNN
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Allen J Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock (11014227b) 360 Clinic health care workers working with the Orange County Health Care Agency and city of Costa Mesa conducts testing at the drive-through self-administered COVID-19 testing super site at the Orange County Fair & Events Center on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 in Costa Mesa, CA. California is approaching 1 million cases, although the spread remains slower in the state than in other hot spots across the country. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times) Covid Orange County, Orange County Fair & Events Center, Costa Mesa, California, United States - 12 Nov 2020 © Allen J Schaben/Los Angeles Time/Shutterstock Mandatory Credit: Photo by Allen J Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock (11014227b) 360 Clinic health care workers working with the Orange County Health Care Agency and city of Costa Mesa conducts testing at the drive-through self-administered COVID-19 testing super site at the Orange County Fair & Events Center on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 in Costa Mesa, CA. California is approaching 1 million cases, although the spread remains slower in the state than in other hot spots across the country. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times) Covid Orange County, Orange County Fair & Events Center, Costa Mesa, California, United States - 12 Nov 2020

There are 88,080 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, setting a record for hospitalizations amid a continuing fall surge, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

This is the highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations the nation has ever experienced since the pandemic hit the US.

Hospital systems around the country have been warning their staffing and ICU bed capacity are being stretched thin. Pennsylvania's top health official warned Monday the state could run out of ICU beds within a week.

In Minneapolis, a doctor tearfully told CNN about caring for five Covid-19 patients the last time she worked. Two were sent to hospice care, and another -- a woman in her 80s -- died as her husband, also a patient, watched, she said.

"I don't think you can describe how that feels to us as caretakers, to have to see that kind of suffering from patients," Dr. Shirlee Xie, director of hospital medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, said Tuesday.

While the hospital can add beds and equipment, "we can't create doctors ... we can't create nurses to take care of patients," she said. " ... I think we're all just really, really scared of what's to come."

This latest surge in coronavirus cases nationwide is mainly being driven by people without symptoms gathering indoors, according to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The real driver of this epidemic now is not the public square," Redfield said in an interview with Fox News. "It really is driven by the silent epidemic -- the asymptomatic infections largely in individuals between the ages of say 12 and 35."

Redford noted transmission patterns are now very different from those seen in the spring in major metropolitan areas because transmission this time around is occurring when people take off their masks and gather in homes.

These silent carriers spreading the virus come as US coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue surging to new heights.

As of Tuesday, there are at least 12.5 million cases nationwide and more than 259,000 people have died in the US since the pandemic's start -- more than any other country by far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"In some areas, we are going to see the health care system overwhelmed," Redfield said. "This is why, again, the vigilance in the mitigation steps is so important to keep those health care systems from going over the top in terms of being able to maintain their resilience -- not just to serve people with Covid, but to serve (people) without Covid."

Experts are now imploring people to stay home for Thanksgiving, and officials across the country are preparing new rules and other steps to help cope with the spiraling pandemic.

States begin cracking down on Covid restrictions

The US has reported more than 3.3 million infections since the start of November -- the most reported in a single month.

The average number of daily new infections across a week reached more than 196,000 on Monday -- the highest on record, Johns Hopkins University data show.

On top of that, the US reported 2,081 deaths Tuesday, according Johns Hopkins data. The country has not seen new death numbers this high since May.

The surge in cases has caused states to reinstate or roll back on restrictions.

Louisiana is stepping back to phase two of its restrictions, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday. This means restaurants, gyms and non-essential businesses are limited to 50% capacity, churches and places of worship limited to 75% capacity. Social distancing and masks must be used, Edwards said.

Edwards is also limiting indoor gatherings to 25% capacity or no more than 75 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 150 people. Spectator sporting events are limited to a 25% capacity.

In Texas' El Paso County, where the National Guard has been deployed to help mortuaries handle a surge in deaths, a county judge said Tuesday he will soon issue a new curfew order to help stem infection spread.

In New York, officials on Staten Island are reopening an emergency Covid-19 facility that had 200 patients in the spring, this time to help handle hospitalization levels that have nearly tripled on the island in the past three weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

North Carolina is tightening its mask mandate, starting Wednesday, to make clear that everyone needs to wear a face covering whenever they are with someone not from the same household, and whenever they are in any public indoor space even when maintaining distance.

Most Americans have changed their Thanksgiving plans, poll finds

Things will get worse in the coming weeks, before they begin getting better with the help of potential vaccines, experts have cautioned.

Millions are traveling for Thanksgiving, despite the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending against it.

But 61% of Americans did alter their Thanksgiving plans in some way because of rising Covid-19 cases, according to poll results released Tuesday by Axios-Ipsos.

The most common changes reported were deciding to see only immediate household members, and having a smaller dinner than originally planned, according to the poll, which was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,002 US adults and conducted November 20-23.

About 9% said they no longer plan to celebrate the holiday at all.

Among those changing their plans: New York's Gov. Cuomo.

Cuomo had told WAMC radio host Alan Chartock on Monday that his mother was planning on traveling to Albany to join him and two of his daughters for Thanksgiving.

In a news conference later in the day, Cuomo warned New Yorkers that coronavirus would make it dangerous to hold Thanksgiving celebrations as usual. The apparent dissonance drew the ire of some people on Twitter.

On Tuesday, his adviser Rich Azzopardi told CNN that the governor had changed his plans.

"Given the circumstances with Covid, he will have to work through Thanksgiving and will not be seeing them," Azzopardi said.

Coronavirus task force calls for 'significant behavior change of all Americans'

As vaccine trials continue, Redfield said it's important to gather safety data on coronavirus vaccines in pregnant women and children.

"Obviously, it's pretty normal that when we bring new products into humans, we really do spare pregnant women initially, but I can tell you that they're going to be targeted to show safety and efficacy in that group very rapidly," Redfield said during his Tuesday Fox News interview.

"I think you're going to see that happen fairly rapidly, just like we're going to see studies begin to look at the safety and immunogenicity in children too."

Redfield said he is hopeful a coronavirus vaccine will be available for the general public by March.

The federal government has said 40 million coronavirus vaccine doses could be available by the end of December.

Even with that prospective timeline, the US Food and Drug Administration could take "days" to discuss issuing an emergency use authorization for a potential Covid-19 vaccine, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn.

A vaccine must go through the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), who will all meet on December 10 to discuss Pfizer and BioNTech's application for an emergency use authorization for their coronavirus vaccine.

"That committee ... will send the FDA its comments and recommendations," Hahn said. "Only then can the FDA make a final decision on a vaccine."

Until the vaccines are distributed, the White House coronavirus task force is calling for "significant behavior change of all Americans."

More aggressive testing efforts, the task force said, "must be combined with significant behavior change of all Americans."

"Ensure masks at all times in public, increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity in public and private indoor spaces, and ensure every American understands the clear risks of ANY family or friend interactions outside of their immediate household indoors without masks," the task force said in a series of November 22 reports obtained by CNN.

The US is pushing to make the kind of tests that were used in the NBA bubble more widely available to the American public, said White House coronavirus testing czar, Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir.

"If it's good enough for LeBron, it should be good enough for the rest of the American people," Giroir said.

The task force also encouraged states to make a plan for testing of university students.

"Ensure all universities returning in the winter move to mandatory weekly testing of all on and off campus students," the reports read. "Planning for that must begin now."

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