Already, grim indicators offer a glimpse of what’s to come: A little more than a week after the US first topped 100,000 daily infections, it reported a record of more than 184,000 new cases Friday. Hospitalizations also hit a new high — for the fourth consecutive day — with more than 68,500 Covid-19 patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And the country’s death toll has topped 1,300 at least three times this week. In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday a temporary “statewide order closing in-person services for all nonessential activities in order to blunt the unprecedented spike of COVID-19 illnesses and to attempt to relieve dramatically escalating strain on hospitals and health care providers across the state.” The order is in effect November 16 through November 30, the governor said.
Residents are instructed to stay home except for essential trips, including emergency medical care or getting food.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a statewide “two-week freeze” Friday, with a list of new measures including limiting gatherings to six people from a maximum of two households, allowing only takeout and delivery for eating and drinking establishments, closing gyms and indoor recreational facilities and requiring businesses to mandate work from home as much as possible. The measures take effect Wednesday, the governor said, and will likely last “much longer” than two weeks for “hot spot” counties.
“This situation is dangerous, and our hospitals have been sounding the alarms,” Brown said. “I know this is hard, and we are weary. But we are trying to stop this ferocious virus from quickly spreading far and wide.”
The two leaders announced some of the strictest statewide measures this season but they’re far from alone in scaling up efforts to combat alarming Covid-19 trends.
Idaho’s governor has mobilized the state’s National Guard Friday to help the pandemic response and rolled the state back to a modified Stage 2 of its reopening plan. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of a winter Covid-19 task force in preparation for what’s to come. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday there will be an emergency meeting this weekend with the state leaders of six northeastern states to discuss additional steps.
A ‘grim day’ for the US
How people act over the coming weeks will have a “profound impact” on controlling the spread of the virus, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Friday.
“This is a grim day for the country, because we’re seeing cases skyrocketing, we’re seeing hospitals fill up and we’re also seeing the death toll march up,” Murthy, co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s newly appointed Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board, said.
“We’re at a point now, even pre-Thanksgiving, where we are surging beyond any level that we have seen over the last eight months,” he added.
As the holiday season starts, it’s important for people to wear masks, keep a distance from one another and wash their hands regularly, Murthy said.
“If you’re thinking about going home for Thanksgiving, ask yourself if you can observe these kinds of precautionary practices, because if you can’t, then you may be putting yourself and others at risk,” he said.
Health officials have urged Americans to use masks during outdoor Thanksgiving celebrations but fear the holiday, and the friend and family gatherings that are likely planned, will further fuel the Covid-19 surge. Experts have recommended people who do want to visit family quarantine ahead of the holiday.
Another expert said the best way forward for the country right now includes a national mask mandate.
“A vaccine will take a couple of months to really make an impact,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University said Friday. “If you’re having a heart attack and you call 911 and I tell you that the ambulance is coming two months from now, that should offer you no comfort.”
“What people need is a mask mandate, and they need it now.”
Less than 9% of North Dakota staffed hospital beds are available
The rampant spread has put a massive strain on the country’s health care system that’s now hosting the highest number of Covid-19 patients ever.
Data from North Dakota’s health department shows only about 8.5% of staffed hospital beds remain available, with at least 421 people currently hospitalized who tested positive for the virus. About 50 patients are in the ICU.
In Oklahoma, health officials reported a 7% ICU bed capacity Friday, up from 5% a day earlier — with now 64 ICU beds available.
In Massachusetts, where reported infections have increased “by seven times” since Labor Day and hospitalizations have increased “by two times,” the governor announced a field hospital with 240 beds will be reestablished at the DCU Center — an indoor arena and convention center complex in downtown Worcester.
“Today, we have about 661 individuals in the hospital, compared to about 178 on Labor Day,” Gov. Charlie Baker said, adding the state’s hospitals are operating at about 73% capacity and overall ICU capacity is at about 50%.
The DCU field hospital is expected to be available for patients by the first week of December, he said.
Vaccines will be distributed by population, official says
When a Covid-19 vaccine is approved, it will be distributed across US states and territories based on population, a top Operation Warp Speed official said Friday. Drugmaker Pfizer, who this week announced early data shows its vaccine is more than 90% effective, is expected to apply for emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of this month.”We expect to have tens of millions of doses immediately following EUA and we will distribute them as soon as the FDA applies the EUA,” Gen. Gustave Perna, who is helping oversee Operation Warp Speed, said. “We will do that within 24 hours of the EUA.”
“Vaccines will be allocated pro rata by population,” Perna added.
Pfizer has said it will distribute its vaccine outside the federal framework. State health officials have said they have not heard many details from the federal government about how the vaccine distribution will be organized, and they have not received the funding they need to get infrastructure in place.
“We are working closely, along with the CDC, the 64 jurisdictions and states, to ensure the vaccine can safely and quickly get to those who need it first,” Perna said. “And then we have plans to ensure that it spreads exponentially across our country and that no place is left without a vaccine.”
Meanwhile, retail drug chain Walgreens says it’s “rapidly expanding” its ultra-cold storage capabilities to accommodate a potential Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine — which will need to be stored at temperatures below freezing. That comes after an announcement from the US Department of Health and Human Services that it’s partnering with large chain pharmacies and networks representing independent pharmacies to help distribute a vaccine once it’s authorized.
“(We) feel confident we can support the successful administration of these vaccines once available,” a Walgreens spokesperson told CNN.
CNN’s Kay Jones, Elizabeth Cohen, Tina Burnside, Samira Said, Maggie Fox and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.