Sammie Michael Dent Jr., the grandson of Florence Bolton, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient who died November 2 at Roseland Community Hospital, carries her coffin to Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. USA, December 9, 2020.
Shannan Stapleton | Reuters
December is well on the way to becoming the deadliest month of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. It tops April when more than 60,738 Americans lost their lives to the coronavirus.
Hospitals in the US are being overwhelmed and people are dying in record numbers again – even as US and state officials rush to get life-saving doses of vaccine across the country. December is already the second deadliest month of the pandemic in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 42,500 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday and two weeks left each month.
At the start of the pandemic in April, hospitals in the New York City area were overwhelmed by Covid patients and doctors knew little about how to treat them. The country also didn't test as many people for the virus in April, so the death toll this month could be higher than the original data shows, epidemiologists warn.
The US currently reports more than 2,600 deaths per day based on a weekly average, up from an average of approximately 2,025 deaths per day in April.
The record comes as the US begins to market a vaccine for the disease. But health officials and medical staff are warning that a vaccine won't rid the country of the outbreak immediately.
Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the system-wide program for specific pathogens at New York City Health + Hospitals, described the recent surge in Covid as "a terrible case of Deja Vu."
"It's a terrible PTSD to know that we were first on the front lines and in the epicenter and now see that the whole nation is not learning from the lessons of the Northeast," she said in a telephone interview. "You can't magically think that the virus will go away on its own without a strategy for containment and mitigation."
She added that the outbreak will continue to worsen before it gets better based on current trends.
"If you don't do anything, it will absolutely get worse," she said. "When cases are widespread we need to put restrictions in place, but I think we can be a lot more strategic because we've learned a lot about the spread of the virus."
People need to hold on and limit their interactions with others while the country works to roll out the vaccine, Madad said.
"We have an incredible amount of science benefiting healthcare workers across the country," said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, in a telephone interview. "At the same time, we are seeing an unprecedented number of people getting sick, hospitalized and dying."
According to Hopkins data, the country reported more than 233,200 new infections and more than 3,200 deaths on Thursday. Many hospitals across the country are running out of available intensive care units, standard beds and staff to cope with the surge in patients, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows.
Large states like Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California each reported nearly 3,000 deaths or more this month, which is a significant fraction of the national total. However, many smaller states are disproportionately affected by the virus, with North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, New Mexico, and Kansas topping the list when it comes to population adjustment.
Despite some signs of a slowdown in daily new cases in the Midwest, the number of new cases is still rising across the country, hitting a new high of nearly 217,000 average cases per day as of Thursday.
"Basically, we are now seeing the worst-case scenario of what we predicted a few months ago. This is the deadly winter that we thought could be the case if people don't take the necessary measures to." protect yourself and your loved ones, "said Wen, emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University.
Some state and local officials are introducing new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and keep hospitals safe from congestion. California Governor Gavin Newsom has issued ordinances that trigger restrictions when regions of the state reach a certain level of intensive care occupancy. Several regions have sparked new home stays.
And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has been calling for further restrictions in the last few days, stating that "all forms of restrictions must be on the table". He launched the idea of a strict post-Christmas restriction while Governor Andrew Cuomo said restrictions could hit New York in January if current trends persist.
As officials ponder implementing new restrictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans not to travel for Christmas and restrict all non-essential travel.
"I'm very worried about Christmas," Wen said. "There are so many viruses across the country and I just hope people will remember that the end is not far away. We just have to get through this vacation and this winter."
– CNBC's Nate Rattner contributed to this report.