On November 10, The Atlantic published an article titled “The Worst Day of the Pandemic Since May.” The piece reported that 61,964 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 17 states were at peak hospitalizations, and the nation’s health care system was trembling on the verge of collapse, again.
Two days later, it is much worse.
More than 142,000 new COVID cases — another new daily record — were diagnosed today, bringing the overall count to 10 million total infections nationwide. Nearly 242,000 people have died. “On Wednesday,” reports The New York Times, “65,368 people were hospitalized with Covid-19, a figure that has doubled in little over a month, breaking the record set a day earlier by more than 3,400.”
As ever, the impact of this illness and death will fall hardest on marginalized people, hitting Black, Native, disabled, immigrant and working-class communities where health care is often even more scarce.
The story is in the states. In Wisconsin, every county is not just infected, but infected to such a terrifying degree that the state’s Department of Health Services needed to create a whole new category — “Critically High” — to explain it. “Very High” is no longer sufficient.
“To be considered for the previous top category, ‘Very High,’ a region’s case rate would have to surpass 350 cases per 100,000 residents,” reports Wisconsin news station WMTV. “Every single one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has at least doubled that number, with Washburn Co. reporting the lowest rate in the state at 769.6 cases per 100,000 people.”
The COVID map of Illinois is blood red, virtually from top to bottom. The state on Wednesday reported more than 12,000 same-day COVID infections and 145 new deaths. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not issued a mandatory stay-at-home order, but the Illinois Department of Health recommended that people stay at home except for essential tasks over the next three weeks. “Well, we’re certainly looking at statewide mitigations,” Pritzker told ABC 7 Chicago. “I do think local governments though right now, if they are not imposing new mitigations and enforcing the ones that are already in place, they’re doing it wrong.”
In New York City, where the pandemic wrought so much damage back in the spring, serious discussions are underway regarding the mass closure of schools again, to combat the implacable rise of these COVID numbers. Some 300,000 students could be sent home, and many New York school officials expect the decision to be made by the Thanksgiving holiday. For them, it appears to be a matter of if, not when, this happens.
The grim story is repeating itself in more than a dozen states. Idaho’s hospital system is threatening to be overwhelmed by the tide of new cases. In Michigan, the surge of new cases is likewise overwhelming that state’s medical infrastructure. “Rapidly rising” cases in Indiana has state and local authorities contemplating the mass cancellation of events, along with a possible mandatory lockdown.
Kickoff of the annual holiday season looms like a thundercloud on the horizon. With Thanksgiving set to take place two weeks from today, the country is entering a long run of days traditionally marked not only by social gatherings, but by huge crowds at the stores as people shop for presents.
This will take place in the teeth of a pandemic surge far beyond anything we have seen to date, and it is entirely possible that — lacking seriously taken precautions — the whole country could spend the next several weeks becoming its own mass superspreader event.
The Trump administration is doing nothing. Less than nothing, actually; Trump himself is squatting in the White House like a pouting mushroom, alternately plotting for some long-shot victory and imagining himself as the mogul of a vast right-wing anti-Fox News media empire. As far as this lame duck failure of an administration goes, the COVID crisis — never top of mind from the beginning — may as well be happening on Neptune.
By comparison, President-elect Joe Biden is putting together a profoundly qualified crew to combat the pandemic the moment they hit the door. Ron Klain, a deeply experienced Democratic operative and decades-old friend of Biden, has been tapped to serve as White House chief of staff. Among his other qualifications, Klain served the Obama administration’s “Ebola czar” during the outbreak that challenged that administration in its second term.
Biden’s COVID advisory board/task force is to be co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Marcella Nunez-Smith of the Yale School of Medicine. The newest appointee to the task force is Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Osterholm is pulling no punches about the menace before us. “What America has to understand is that we are about to enter COVID hell,” he told CNBC on Monday. “It is happening.”
Yesterday, Osterholm came out strongly for a weeks-long national lockdown, subsidized with aid money from the federal government, so the population can stay safe while we wait for what sounds like hopeful vaccine news to perhaps come to fruition.
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments,” said Osterholm. “We could do all of that. If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks.”
Mass school closures and lockdowns seem to be more and more unavoidable by the day. All of this is coming while the sitting president has all but quit (not that he did much to address the pandemic when he was “engaged”), the incoming president has no actual power for another 70 long days, and the Senate majority leader sits atop a mountain of federal relief money but won’t allow any of it to be spent. Ideologically unsound, you see.
In the aftermath of the election, it is all too easy to believe Donald Trump’s worst days are behind us. I fear his final few weeks may set the benchmark high above any that have come before.