US sees rise in COVID hospital cases, deaths, community spread

With no let-up in the nation's COVID-19 surge, hospitalizations climbed to record levels, with daily death totals increasing as well, a sobering theme as the nation nears Thanksgiving.

Record hospitalizations, wider spread

Hospitalizations are known alongside deaths as a lagging outbreak indicators, and yesterday, the number of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 reached a record 85,836 cases, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project. Meanwhile, the daily average for deaths topped 1,500 for the past 2 days, the highest level since May, CNBC said in an analysis of Johns Hopkins data.

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force memo to governors said 48 states are now in the "red zone" for cases, up from 47 the previous week, with Vermont added to the list. The task force's weekly memos aren't publicly available, but the Center for Public Integrity obtains and shares them. The only 2 states not in the red zone, meaning new cases there do not yet exceed 100 per 100,000 residents per week, are Hawaii and Maine.

States that took aggressive actions are seeing an impact, even as the weather cools, but all states need to flatten their curves, the memo said. For example, Maryland's rate of new COVID-19 cases increased 49% from the previous week, an alarming sign of a viral surge, the group said. The experts added that aggressive, rapid, and expanding community spread is occurring across the country.

The task force pushed states to increase antigen testing of asymptomatic people, encourage mask wearing in public, limit the size of private and public gatherings, and educate people about the risks of unmasked interactions.

The steady rises have swept up rural and small-town communities, hitting rural hospitals with severe shortages of beds, equipment, and clinical staff, Reuters reported, based on interviews with more than a dozen medical providers and public health workers.

And in another alarming development, 9 months into the pandemic, the Strategic National Stockpile is short of the critical personal protective equipment that federal officials hoped to have on hand for a winter surge, NPR reported. For example, the story said there are 142 million N95 respirators in the stockpile, less than half of the 300 million goal.

Vaccination strategies, challenges

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine advisors yesterday met to continue their discussions on what groups should be prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

They signaled they could recommend that essential workers would be placed ahead of adults over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions, Stat reported. Their rationale is to get people of color higher up on the priority list, given that they are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) didn't take a vote, but will make a final recommendation after the Food and Drug Administration authorizes COVID-19 vaccines under emergency use authorization, which could come in the middle of December.

Meanwhile, groups are testing the waters to see how likely Americans will be to take the vaccine. In the latest findings, a new survey from the nonprofit COVID Collaborative found that only 14% of black Americans and 34% of Latinos trust in vaccine safety, with trust in vaccine effectiveness slightly higher at 18% and 40% in the two respective groups. And a survey of New York voters by the Siena College Research Institute revealed that nearly 70% would definitely or probably get the vaccine when it's available, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Yesterday, the Ad Council announced the launch of a $50 million fund to support a communications effort to encourage Americans to be immunized against COVID-19.

In other US developments:

  • Now that the General Services Administration has signed off on the transition process, President-Elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 task force will be able to start communicating with federal agencies that are leading the response, the New York Times noted. Also, Biden said he plans to restore trust in the CDC by bringing back regular media briefings and giving key roles to CDC officials such as Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and Anne Schuchat, MD, the CDC's principal deputy director, Politico reported.

  • Workers at Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, and other retailers are urging their employers to bring back hazard pay and strengthen safety protocols ahead of the holiday shopping season, the Washington Post reported. And in another employee safety development, workers in the Chicago area have filed more than 1,000 complaints related to COVID-19 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), WBEZ reported. Nationally, the number of COVID-19 complaints totals 31,000.

  • The United States added 160,190 new cases yesterday, and its current total stands at 12,518,916 cases with 259,045 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

France to gradually ease lockdown

In a televised address today, French President Emmanuel Macron said with a decline in cases in the wake of its current lockdown, it will begin easing restrictions this weekend to allow people to begin preparing for Christmas, France 24 reported. Macron said shops, theaters, and cinemas will reopen and people will be able to spend the holiday with their families; however, restaurants, cafes, and bars will remain closed until January.

He outlined a 3-step process for easing the lockdown, which will include easing travel restrictions between the country's regions on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. France's infection rate is a third of what it was when the lockdown began on Oct 30.

In other global headlines.

  • Bulgaria became the latest country in Europe to plan a lockdown to slow the spread of COVID, Reuters reported, adding that cases have doubled in the past week.

  • Germany yesterday reported record-high intensive care unit admissions, though it is not near capacity, CNN noted.

  • Italy is seeking a common European solution to address COVID-19 spread at ski resorts, according to CNN.

  • In Asia, Hong Kong today announced the closure of bars and nightclubs to slow the latest spike in COVID-19 cases, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, a Malaysian company that makes about one quarter of the world's medical glove supply had to shutter 16 of its 46 factories after an illness cluster unfolded in Selangor state, where it has several facilities, CNN reported. The company ordered a lockdown for factory worker dorms and houses and is testing 5,900 workers in the affected area.

  • The global total today rose to 59,561,488 cases, and 1,405,125 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

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