The US just recorded more than 2,000 Covid-19 deaths in a day. One model predicts that number will keep growing

Originally Published: 20 NOV 20 03:03 ET
Updated: 20 NOV 20 12:46 ET

(CNN) — More than 2,000 American deaths were recorded by Johns Hopkins University on Thursday — the highest number since early May.

And as the virus runs unabated across US communities, experts warn the coming weeks will likely be brutal and the pandemic’s death toll will keep climbing.

By December 18, more than 2,300 Americans could be losing their lives daily, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

“We expect daily deaths to reach a peak of over 2,500 a day in mid-January,” the IHME modeling team wrote on Thursday.

The group also hiked its Covid-19 death forecast considerably, now predicting a total of 471,000 American deaths by March 1 — up more than 30,000 since their last projection about a week ago.

Health officials predicted a rise in deaths would follow the surge of new infections and hospitalizations much of the country is now experiencing. On Thursday, the US reported a new high of more than 80,600 hospitalized patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

On the same day, another record: more than 187,800 new cases reported across the country, the most ever, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“When you look at what’s happening now, the rate of rise is dramatically different. This is faster. It’s broader,” White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an exclusive interview.

“And what worries me,” she added, “it could be longer.”

On Friday morning, only one state, Hawaii, was showing a decrease in new cases greater than 10% compared to the week prior, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Five states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois — were holding steady, while the other 44 states were showing increases in new cases greater than 10%.

The nation is currently averaging 165,029 new cases per day — the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. Compared to just a week ago, new cases are up 25%.

“It’s sometimes very frustrating because we know what works,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night. “If we had everybody pulling together as a country, doing the fundamental things that we’ve been speaking about, the mask wearing, the keeping the distance, the avoiding congregate settings and crowds, doing things outdoors … that’s not big stuff. It’s easy to do.”

Those simple measures could be lifesaving. According to the IHME team, 65,000 lives could be saved by March 1 if 95% of Americans wore masks.

Birx made it clear that it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“I’m making the personal sacrifices not to infect my parents and my pregnant daughter,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out there who know how to protect one another. And we just need to make sure we’re all doing that.”

Fauci: ‘Double down’ on masks, social distancing until vaccine

In a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing Thursday, Fauci urged Americans to “double down” on lifesaving measures until vaccines become widely available.

Fauci highlighted preliminary data from both Moderna and Pfizer that showed their vaccine candidates were about 95% effective, calling the results “extraordinary.” But that doesn’t mean the country can let up on wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and social distancing.

“We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we are waiting for that help to come, which will be soon,” Fauci said. “If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said they will submit to the US Food and Drug Administration on Friday for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for their vaccine candidate, the first to seek regulatory approval in the US.

An EUA is not a full approval, but allows products to be used under particular circumstances before all the evidence is available for approval.

“Filing in the US represents a critical milestone in our journey to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the world and we now have a more complete picture of both the efficacy and safety profile of our vaccine, giving us confidence in its potential,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses this year and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Fauci has said he expects the first vaccinations to begin “toward the latter part of December,” and logistic preparations are already underway.

Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said Thursday there were 100 million vaccine kits ready to go if and when distribution of a vaccine begins.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a recorded video statement released Thursday that his state has purchased 5 million needles, 5 million syringes and 5 million alcohol swabs to prepare for the distribution of the vaccine. The governor called recent breakthroughs “the greatest rays of hope that we have seen since the pandemic began.”

Doctors, nurses, hospitals ask public to celebrate responsibly

In an open letter on Thursday, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association asked the public to scale back on traditional gatherings to help curb the spread of the virus.

“The record-shattering surge underway is resulting in uncontrolled community spread and infection that has already overburdened health systems in some areas and will ultimately consume capacity of our health care system and may reduce the availability of care in many places in our country,” they said.

The exploding number of cases also prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update their Thanksgiving travel guidelines, recommending Americans not travel for the holiday. Those who travel should wear masks, keep their distance from others and wash their hands regularly.

“What is at stake is the increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then being hospitalized and dying around the holidays,” Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager for the CDC, told reporters in a conference call.

And with the CDC previously estimating at least 40% of infections are asymptomatic, officials are concerned that people could be bringing the infection with them to holiday gatherings without even knowing it and could put other, more vulnerable members of their family at risk.

“I haven’t seen my parents since January,” Walke said. “I’m staying home, and I have older parents who would like to see me and who would like to see my children.”

In the past week, similar messages have been echoed both by leading health experts and state leaders.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned that if residents were planning on a Thanksgiving that looks like previous ones, “You’re making a mistake.” In Utah, where hospitals are overwhelmed and about 45 ICU beds remain vacant, the governor advised that only people from the same household gather for the holiday.

More curfews, measures to curb the spread

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday a limited Stay-at-Home order will be going into effect Saturday for the counties that are in the state’s most restrictive tier. That includes Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Riverside County, Orange County and Sacramento County.

About 94% of California’s population is currently in the most restrictive tier.

Nonessential work and gatherings must stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the governor said, adding the order will remain in effect for one month.

A statewide curfew is also now in effect in Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine clarified police won’t be out pulling people over if they see them driving at night.

“We should assume they have a legitimate reason for being out,” the governor said. “But on the other hand, if there is a number of people congregating somewhere, and the police see that … certainly they’re probably going to pull over and say, ‘Hey, it’s beyond the 10 o’clock, you guys need to go home.'”

The curfew will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will last for 21 days.

In Arkansas, the governor announced an 11 p.m. closure for all businesses that are licensed to sell and allow consumption of alcohol on premises.

The new directive goes into effect Friday and will last until January 3, the governor’s office said, adding that it covers restaurants and bars as well as private clubs with “on premise” permits.

And there could be more restrictions just over the horizon. In New York City, where public schools transitioned to remote learning on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the city could move into the “orange zone” as soon as the week after Thanksgiving, closing indoor dining and gyms, according to state guidelines.

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