For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. is reporting a weekly average of more than 2,000 Covid-19 deaths every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as infections rip through the country and record hospitalizations tax the nation's health-care system.
More than 2,600 people died from Covid on Friday after more than 2,800 fatalities were reported on Thursday, a single-day record of the pandemic. More than 2,000 people have died everyday from the virus since the month began.
The U.S. reported more than 227,800 Covid-19 cases on Friday, a record-breaking spike as more people are hospitalized with the virus than at any other point during the pandemic.
The U.S. is reporting a record weekly average of 182,663 cases a day as states work to catch up to normal reporting schedules after building a backlog over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins.
However, the nation's hospitals are reporting a record number of patients — 101,276 people — sickened with Covid-19, a sign that the outbreak is growing more severe, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic.
"The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that's going to be put on our health-care system," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday.
In a dire warning on Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden said that 250,000 more people "between now and January" are projected to die from Covid "because people aren't paying attention." More than 279,000 people in the U.S. have already died since the pandemic began and more than 14.3 million have been infected with the virus, according to Johns Hopkins data.
To slow the virus' spread, Biden said on Thursday that he would mandate mask wearing on all federal property and on interstate transportation as soon as he's sworn in. He said he would also ask all Americans to wear a mask for 100 days to reduce transmission.
"Just 100 days to mask," Biden said. "Not forever. 100 days."
The wave of Covid patients is adding stress to hospital systems nationwide. States like New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have erected field hospitals to prepare for an influx of sick patients.
Unlike the spring when the rush of coronavirus patients spurred health-care workers from across the country to travel to hotspots like New York to help treat the sick, hospital systems across the country are facing their own emergencies with no room to spare, experts say.
"If we talked about these two issues of capacity and staffing, it's really about having the staff to care for people," Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association, told CNBC earlier this week. "You can get creative without a bed, but nurses and doctors and respiratory therapist and other staff are critical. And you can't just invent those overnight."
In Iowa, rural critical access facilities have historically struggled to recruit health-care workers like nurses, respiratory therapists and physicians, said Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at the University of Iowa. The state is reporting a weekly average of 43 Covid-19 deaths every day, its highest level since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins data.
"It's a major issue even without the pandemic, and then when you add that the hospitals are being kind of overwhelmed and when you have staff being sick all the time, it's been really untenable," Perencevich told CNBC on Saturday.
Health-care workers will be spread thin as the number of patients grows, with some of them falling ill with Covid-19 themselves.
While the medical community has learned how to better treat Covid-19 patients, "the number one risk for dying from coronavirus in the hospital is whether or not doctors and nurses are overwhelmed, overstretched, or if they have the time to spend with every single patient really carefully monitoring everything," Dr. Celine Gounder, a Covid-19 advisor to Biden and an infectious disease specialist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told MSNBC on Thursday.
Covid-19 cases were already on the rise before Thanksgiving when more than 3 million people traveled through the nation's airports, marking the busiest travel weekend since lockdown orders hit in mid-March. The CDC now advises that people avoid traveling and gathering through the winter holidays.
"I know how difficult that is, we all have a strong degree of empathy knowing — and myself included — about wanting to be with your family, wanting to have a large Christmas dinner with family and friends over," White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on Thursday.
"Right now that just should not be done. To the best of our capabilities we should avoid travel and avoid congregate settings," he said.
The U.S. is likely to see a "surge upon a surge" of Covid-19 cases, with crowds of shoppers and ill-advised holiday parties threatening to compound an already raging outbreak, Fauci told Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday.
"If you look across the United States, we are really in a public health crisis right now," Fauci said. "Now that we're in the mid to late fall, merging on into the winter, we've seen, because a variety of circumstances, a surge that has really surpassed the others."
Earlier this week, the CDC also announced new shortened alternatives to its recommended quarantine for people who were exposed to someone with Covid-19. The agency now suggests that someone can end quarantine after 10 days if the person has not developed any symptoms, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's Covid incident manager, said.
Quarantine can end after just seven days if the asymptomatic person also tests negative for the virus, he said. Some public health experts, however, have criticized the new guidance, saying that it would've been better to provide services such as free food delivery or even lost wage compensation to encourage compliance with the previously recommended 14-day quarantine.
Two companies — Pfizer and Moderna — have now applied for emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccines, which could be given the green light at some point in mid-December.
With vaccines doses inching near distribution, infectious disease experts like Fauci have said there's "light at the end of the tunnel" while urging people to continue following recommended public health measures like mask wearing and social distancing until doses are delivered and the population is vaccinated.
Moncef Slaoui, chief science advisor for the White House's Operation Warp Speed, told The Washington Post in a livestream interview on Tuesday that the entire U.S. population could be vaccinated by June, and there could be enough doses to immunize the rest of the nearly 8 billion people in the world by early to mid-2022.
However, the World Health Organization is concerned that "there is a growing perception that the pandemic is over," Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday. Even with the vaccine's rollout, the U.S. is projected to report 539,000 coronavirus deaths by April 1, according to a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
"The truth is that at preset, many places are witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive-care units and health workers" Tedros said during a press briefing.