The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals passed 100,000 for the first time as a leading public health official warned that the country’s medical facilities would come under unprecedented stress this winter.
Covid Tracking Project data on Wednesday showed that hospitalisations have more than doubled since the end of October to reach a record 100,266. New cases jumped by a record 195,695, while 2,733 deaths were reported, the second-biggest one-day increase of the pandemic.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Americans faced a winter like no other because of high infection rates across the country.
“The reality is that December, January and February are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that it is going to put on our healthcare system,” Dr Redfield said.
US coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths have all soared in recent weeks, with more than 1m people being diagnosed nearly every week in November. While the US is expected to approve a vaccine in the coming weeks, it will not be universally available until next summer.
California, Texas and Florida — the three most populous US states — have each registered more than 1m cases since the start of the pandemic.
Dr Redfield said hospitals were already overstretched by high rates of infection across much of the country. With virtually every region affected, there were fewer places with available healthcare resources and staff that could be shifted to hotspots, he said.
“Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving,” Cindy Friedman, chief of the travellers’ health branch at CDC, told reporters on Wednesday. “Even if only a small percentage of those people were carrying the disease and passed it on to other people, that can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections.”
The CDC is urging people not to travel for Christmas. Those who do should get a Covid-19 test between one and three days before travelling, and again between three and five days afterwards, the agency recommended. People should avoid non-essential activities for the week after travelling, it added.
Meanwhile, the CDC relaxed its guidelines on how long people have to remain in quarantine if they come into contact with an infected person.
Instead of remaining at home for 14 days, anyone exposed to the disease can now leave quarantine after 10 days if they have no symptoms, or seven days if they test negative for the virus.
A CDC official said: “If you reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall with people completing a full seven days. If we get full compliance overall that will result in fewer infections.”
Officials have calculated the risk of someone infecting another person even after completing a 10-day quarantine period at 1 per cent, and the risk of doing so after seven days at 5 per cent.
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