COVID-19 Deaths, Hospitalizations Again Set New Records

Carolyn Crist

December 03, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The United States set more milestones Wednesday against the worsening pandemic when more than 100,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and a record number of Americans died from the virus.

The COVID Tracking Project found 100,226 were hospitalized Wednesday and Johns Hopkins University recorded more than 3,100 new deaths – 500 more than the high set April 15 during the first surge in cases.

The increasing toll on U.S. health from the coronavirus comes even before cases related to Thanksgiving travel and gatherings appear in the statistics.

Henry Walke, MD, incident manager for the CDC's covid-19 response, told reporters Wednesday that Thanksgiving's impact has yet to be seen.

"We will, with the Thanksgiving holiday, we would expect to see a tick — a tick up in cases, 7 to 10 days basically after that holiday," he said. Today is one week since Thanksgiving so those cases should start being recorded soon.

While Thanksgiving is now behind us, more holidays approach. Cindy Friedman, MD, chief of CDC's travel branch, said Wednesday that the warnings about Thanksgiving travel and gathering also apply to Christmas.

"Yes, cases are rising and the safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home," she said during the press briefing. "Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving and even if only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another."

Friedman said the CDC continues to advise people not to travel for Christmas, but if they must the agency recommends getting tested a few days before leaving and again 3 to 5 days after returning home. They should also avoid non-essential activities for a full week, Friedman said.

It's not an easy decision, she said, to decide not to travel to see family at the holidays.

"People need to have time to prepare and have discussions with family and friends and to make these decisions and people travel for different reasons, but our recommendations are trying to help give them the tools they need to make these tough choices," she said.

The new mark for hospitalizations continues a recent trend.

More than 93,000 people were hospitalized as of Sunday, breaking records set Saturday with 91,665 patients and Thursday with 90,443 patients.

"Hospitalizations have gone up every day since Oct. 25 except for [Friday], and [Friday's] decrease was probably related to holiday data reported on a one-day delay," the group wrote on Twitter.

At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitalizations reached nearly 60,000 in April, then fell below 30,000 by mid-June and climbed again to nearly 60,000 in late July. Hospitalizations dropped below 30,000 for a large portion of September but have been increasing ever since.

Regionally, hospitalizations seem to be increasing quickly in the Northeast, South and West, the group reported, with the Midwest possibly slowing. The number of hospitalized patients has shot up dramatically in several states, including California, where the number has nearly doubled from 4,000 on Nov. 12 to almost 8,000 on Monday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that he may enact tougher restrictions this week, including a possible stay-at-home order, to counter the current surge that threatens to overwhelm hospitals. Current projections show that ICU admissions could exceed statewide capacity by mid-December unless new policies are enacted.

"If these trends continue, we're going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic action," Newsom said during a press briefing.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have also reached an all-time high in Ohio, with more than 5,000 people in the hospital on Monday. On Nov. 1, about 1,700 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

"There are a lot of concerns about ICU capacity … more hospitals are voicing concerns about their ability to manage this many ICU patients," Andy Thomas, MD, chief clinical officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said during a press briefing on Monday alongside Gov. Mike DeWine.

About one-third of ICU patients in Ohio have COVID-19, Thomas added, and one-third of patients on ventilators have COVID-19.

"COVID patients are going to start crowding out other people who need that level of care as these numbers continue to rise," he said. "The reality is that hospitals are making difficult decisions."

DeWine asked Ohioans to work from home, if possible, and to "pull back" on activities to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He also encouraged those who traveled for Thanksgiving to quarantine once they return to Ohio.

"There is a cause and effect to what we do. We can slow this down," DeWine said. "The scariest thing is that there is no indication that we have plateaued. We haven't seen anything like this for 100 years."

Sources

COVID Tracking Project, "National Data: Hospitalization," and Twitter post, 7:04 p.m., Nov. 28, 2020.

Office of the Governor of California, "CA COVID-19 Update, Nov. 30, 2020 at 3:25 p.m."

The Ohio Channel, "November 20, 2020 #COVID-19 Update with Governor Mike DeWine."

CDC.gov: "Transcript for CDC Telebriefing on the COVID-19 Outbreak"

Johns Hopkins University: "Coronavirus Resource Center"

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