On April 15, the United States reached a grim nadir in the pandemic: 2,752 people across the country are believed to have died from Covid-19 on Wednesday, more than any day before or since.
For months, the record remained a reminder of the pain the coronavirus inflicted on the nation and a warning of its deadly potential. But now, after seven desperate months of trying to contain the virus, daily deaths are rising sharply and quickly approaching that appalling number.
The way the virus kills in America, however, has changed dramatically.
Months of suffering have provided a horrific but valuable education: Doctors and nurses know better how to treat patients who contract the virus and how to prevent severe cases from ending in death, and a much smaller proportion of people who do. catch the virus die of it. than in the spring, experts say.
Yet the sheer scale of the current epidemic means the cost in lives lost every day continues to rise. More than 170,000 Americans now test positive for the virus on an average day, straining hospitals across much of the country, including many states that appeared to be avoiding the worst of the pandemic. More than 1.1 million people have tested positive in the past week alone.
At the height of the spring wave in April, around 31,000 new cases were reported each day, although this was a considerable undercount as testing capacity was extremely limited. Still, the toll of the virus was an abstraction for many Americans, as deaths were concentrated in a handful of states like New York, New Jersey and Louisiana.
Today, the dead are scattered across the country, and there is hardly a community that has not been touched. As 2,300 deaths were reported nationwide on Wednesday – the highest toll since May – only three counties reported a toll of more than 20.
Forty-four states set weekly case records and 25 states set weekly death records in November, with the country’s death toll surpassing 264,000 and officials fearful the Thanksgiving gatherings could cause an even wider spread. infections in the next few days.
As of April 15, more than half of those who died were in just three states: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland and California also each reported more than 100 deaths that day.
But in much of the country, spring was much different.
In Oklahoma City, Lizanne Jennings, an intensive care nurse, was part of a team at her hospital planning the attack on the disease they were hearing about in places like Italy and New York. The staff counted the beds and calculated the number of people they could accommodate in the units.
“It was just always a ‘it comes, it comes’ feeling,” Ms. Jennings said, describing it as ‘pre-traumatic shock syndrome’.
In March, Ms. Jennings recalled sitting after work one day with her husband, Dennis Davis, a machinist and former bodybuilder.
“I need you to be careful,” recalls Ms. Jennings, 53, telling him. “Look at me: the people we know, the people we love – our family, our friends – people are going to catch this virus. And the people we know are going to die.
New York City alone recorded hundreds of deaths on April 15, highlighting its unique role in this spring wave.
“The city was silent except for the ambulances,” said Dr. Steven A. McDonald, emergency physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
In a locked city, emergency rooms were endlessly frantic, filled with breathless patients.
Dr McDonald went to work every day with the same thought in mind. “You know someone is going to die in your care that day,” he said. “The question is: how many people?”
The emergency began to fade in the city in early summer, but not before the virus had killed more than 20,000 people and infected, by one estimate, more than a fifth of New York’s population.
Today, the number of daily cases in New York City has started to rise again, averaging 6,600 per day in the metro area, a five-fold increase from the start of October. Yet, so far, the surge has nothing compared to that of spring.
Patrick J. Kearns, a funeral director in Queens, who in the spring had to regularly transport bodies to a crematorium in Schenectady, New York, nearly three hours away, noticed that a backlog of two or three days was was forming again in the city’s crematoria. He called Schenectady’s crematorium, he said, to let them know he could return in the coming weeks.
“We risk repeating what happened in April,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s coronavirus mission. Jr. force, said of the death toll.
“Once you get over the cliff of cases, where you have so many cases that you overwhelm the system, basically when you fall off that cliff, you’re going to see the death rates go up dramatically,” he said. he declares. “I shudder to imagine what things might look like in two weeks.
With an inconsistent and shifting response from government officials, the virus surged into the solar belt in the summer, then began to increase steadily in the Midwest and the Great Plains – and then everywhere in recent weeks. The country hit a seven-day average high of 176,000 reported cases on Wednesday, and there are concerns the worst could happen. Epidemics continue to develop in southern California, western Texas and southern Florida.
After the increase in cases came the new wave of deaths.
Texas and Illinois have reported more than 800 deaths in the past week, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and Florida have added more than 400 each. In the Upper Midwest, where reports of new cases have started to level off, deaths continue to rise. Almost 40% of all coronavirus deaths in Wisconsin have been reported since early November. In North Dakota, where Nursing Sisters have been deployed to hospitals, more than 1 in 1,000 residents have now died.
The scattered nature of the disaster means it appears invisible in many places. The emergency is too widespread to attract teams of health care workers from other places to help. The sounds of ambulances are heard in many states. Families say their losses have at times been eclipsed in communities amid fatigue and impatience after more than eight months of social distancing and economic turmoil.
Across the country, forensic pathologists and funeral home directors are grappling with a steadily rising toll. “Our volume is exploding,” said Dale Clock, who with his wife owns and operates two funeral homes in western Michigan. Recently, they treated four deaths from Covid-19 in just 12 hours, he said. In the past two weeks, nearly half of the families they served had lost loved ones to the virus. This is all because a worker had to quarantine themselves because of the virus and staff are working overtime.
As of spring, Mr Clock said, homes had seen only a few deaths from Covid-19 every few weeks.
For Mrs. Jennings, the Oklahoma nurse, it’s been eight months.
His hospital’s surge in the spring never materialized, at least not in large numbers. In July, she traveled to Texas to work with Covid-19 patients at a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, to find a community that was taking the virus seriously. But “the damage was done,” she said. Many patients, she says, did not survive.
Back in Oklahoma, she said many people didn’t seem to believe the virus was real or take it seriously. It frustrated her, she said.
Last Friday, her mother, Linda Jennings, who had been infected with the coronavirus, died.
“I’m tired and unhappy,” she recalls her mother, who was 78, as she lay in a hospital bed. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Then, on Monday, Ms Jennings sat next to her husband, eight and a half months after warning him of the dangers of this frightening new virus. He was lying face down in a hospital bed, hooked up to a machine that helps him breathe. He had been admitted 11 days earlier, she said, with a diagnosis of Covid-19.
“I love you so much,” recalls Ms. Jennings, holding his hand in the last hours before her death. “I said, ‘You’re going to go, okay? I let you go. You will be at peace. ”
Rick rojas contribution to reports.