Government health officials have warned that tens of thousands of Americans will die in the coming weeks as coronavirus continued to surge across the country, shattering more daily records.
In a national forecast, published on Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that within the next four weeks, deaths could climb as high as 282,000.
This would be a significant rise on the current death toll, which as of Thursday stood at 242,423, according to Johns Hopkins university figures.
It came amid warnings of PPE and hospital bed shortages in the midwest and as the US again saw a new record for cases, with 153,496 recorded on Thursday alone, bringing the total to over 10.5m.
“This week’s national ensemble forecast predicts that the number of newly reported Covid-19 deaths will likely increase over the next four weeks,” the CDC forecast said.
In the week ending 5 December alone, it predicted that 5,500 to 13,400 people would die. It added: “The national ensemble predicts that a total of 260,000 to 282,000 Covid-19 deaths will be reported by this date.”
Hospitalisations also reached a new record high on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, with 67,000 people in hospital with the virus. It also reported that cases are rising faster than at any other point in the pandemic, with a 71% increase in the 7-day average compared to two weeks before.
The tracker also found that one in every 378 US residents tested positive for Covid-19 this week. And in North and South Dakota, among the worst affected states, one in under 100 people have tested positive.
States warned of a desperate shortage of hospital beds in the midwest amid a huge surge in the region.
Minnesota governor Tim Walz said there was a “catastrophic” shortage of beds in the Twin Cities, where there were only 22 ICU beds available, reported the Washington Post. State health officials said beds were at 90-95% capacity.
Health officials in Wisconsin said just 8% of its ICU beds are available.
Deputy secretary of Wisconsin’s department of health services, Julie Willems Van Dijk, said: “Covid-19 is everywhere in our state. It is bad everywhere, and it is getting worse everywhere.”
Illinois governor JB Pritzker suggested the state may go into lockdown. “We’re running out of time and we’re running out of options,” he said.
In Chicago, mayor Lori Lightfoot has issued a stay-at-home order, set to begin on Monday. Residents are advised only to leave home for work, school or essential needs.
Meanwhile, in South Dakota one hospital system has said it is not beds, but staffing, that is the problem, which it said was at “stressed capacity” state-wide amid a national shortage of nurses.
In North Dakota, where there are healthcare staffing concerns, governor, Doug Burgum, has said asymptomatic healthcare workers with Covid-19 will be allowed to continue working in Covid-19 hospital units.
Elsewhere in the country, Pennsylvania reported its highly daily increase, New Jersey reached its highest hospitalisation rate since June and Utah, which has a positivity rate of 23%, hit a new record for cases and its hospital association warned that the state was running out of intensive care beds.
In New York, where the positivity rate on Thursday was 2.95% and saw 29 new deaths, governor Andrew Cuomo said the next few weeks would be crucial. “There is no pre-destined future here. It’s a pure consequence of our actions,” he said.
New restrictions come in across the state on Friday including restaurant and bar closures by 10pm.
Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, urged Americans to “double down” on precautions such as mask-wearing and avoiding crowds in order to avoid a national lockdown and urged the public to “hang in there” for a vaccine, which he pledged would come in the coming months.
“The cavalry is coming. We’re going to get this under control, I promise you,” he told ABC on Thursday.