And in one third of all hospitals, more than 90% of all ICU beds were occupied. Coronavirus patients occupied 46% of all staffed ICU beds — up from 37% in the first week of November.
“Things are really bad,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“What we have seen over the last few weeks is a sharp rise in infections. And what we know — from the beginning of this pandemic — is infections are followed by hospitalizations, which are then followed by death.”
“The impact is not just on people with Covid. It’s an impact on anybody who needs hospital care,” Jha said. “The hospitals are running out of beds for everybody. So it’s a much broader public health problem than just a Covid problem.”
A day of extreme hope and despair
But it’s also a day of devastating loss. The single-day death toll from Covid-19 reached a record high of 3,124 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And more than 221,000 new infections were reported Wednesday — inevitably leading to even more hospitalizations and deaths.
“We are in a totally unprecedented health crisis in this country,” former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
“The disease is everywhere — Midwest, West Coast, East Coast, North, South. Health care workers are exhausted. Hospitals are totally full.”
The ‘light at the end’ of a very long tunnel
That means the first Americans outside of clinical trials should start getting inoculated in the coming weeks.
The FDA will take the next step toward authorization by deciding whether to accept the recommendation. Officials have signaled that the agency will issue the emergency use authorization.
Covid-19 vaccines are a “really significant light at the end of the tunnel,” Sebelius said.
But the US probably won’t see any significant impact from vaccines until well into 2021 — and that’s only if enough people choose to get vaccinated, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Let’s say we get 75%, 80% of the population vaccinated. I believe if we do it efficiently enough over the second quarter of 2021, by the time we get to the end of the summer … we may actually have enough herd immunity protecting our society that as we get to the end of 2021, we could approach … some degree of normality that is close to where we were before,” Fauci said at a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health virtual event Wednesday.
But with many more infections and deaths expected before widespread vaccinations, personal responsibility is key to getting through this winter.
“We’ve got to take what we’ve learned in the last eight months and really put it into practice so we don’t continue to have this unthinkable death toll and disease toll,” Sebelius said.
Some Idaho morgues are full
The governor of Idaho said several counties will need to use mobile morgues.
“The morgues are full and they are starting to ask for refrigerated trailers to hold bodies,” Gov. Brad Little said. In some parts of the state, “emergency calls for Covid-19 victims are up 300%.”
The governor warned that the surge in cases is “taking up ICU resources and staff, has pushed capacity to nearly full.”
Covid-19 was the No. 1 cause of death in Idaho in November. Health officials on Wednesday reported 2,298 new coronavirus cases, the most announced in one day.
“We are fast approaching a point where we simply may not have enough beds, critical care doctors, nurses, and technicians to handle the number of Covid-19 patients in need of care,” Little said.
New shutdowns and extended mask mandates
State and local leaders from both parties are doubling down on safety mandates as coronavirus runs amok across the country.
Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott announced the temporary shutdown of all restaurant dining and indoor recreation like bowling alleys, pool halls and hookah bars.
“Unfortunately, with the volume of new cases that we are seeing and the implications it has on hospital utilization, during a period of widespread, community transmission, activities such as eating, drinking and smoking in close proximity to others, should not continue.”
In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said state officials are extending a curfew until January 2.
“We believe that the curfew, along with the enforcement of mask wearing in retail — that was also started about the same time — have had an impact,” DeWine said.
“We cannot afford, on the very eve of a safe and effective vaccination, to further overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers with a holiday tsunami,” he added.
In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a new executive order adding stricter limitations on indoor and outdoor gatherings and moving more counties to the state’s mask mandate list — meaning 61 of the state’s 82 counties are under a mask mandate.
Indiana’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered hospitals to postpone or reschedule non-emergency procedures done in an inpatient hospital setting from December 16 through January 3 to preserve hospital capacity.
Holcomb also announced new caps on social gatherings starting this weekend, based on which color zone (determined by weekly cases per 100,000 and seven-day positivity rate) counties are in.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Haley Brink, Konstantin Toropin, Amanda Watts, Ben Tinker, Jamiel Lynch, Ganesh Setty, Melissa Alonso and Kay Jones contributed to this report.