U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday pleaded with Americans to grasp "the severity of the moment" and remain vigilant against the coronavirus pandemic, as record hospitalizations pushed healthcare professionals to the brink.
"We are almost to a vaccine. ... We've got new remedies out there. We just need you, the American people, to hold on a little bit longer," Adams, a White House Coronavirus Task Force member, told Fox News in an interview.
He urged people to adjust their plans ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, which has led to the busiest U.S. air travel since the early days of the pandemic in March, with millions of people flying despite the hazards of a crowded airport. U.S. health officials last week strongly recommended that Americans avoid travel for the holiday.
Global pharmaceutical companies have reported promising trial results in the development of vaccines, which could be administered to high-priority patients in December. Meanwhile, the U.S. government will begin distributing Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc's newly authorized COVID-19 antibody combination therapy starting Tuesday.
But hospitals need immediate relief.
The United States was on pace to surpass 85,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record, as 30 of the 50 states reported record numbers of patients this month.
That has taxed already exhausted healthcare providers as more than 1,500 coronavirus deaths and 171,000 new cases pile up daily.
After pounding big U.S. cities in the spring, COVID-19 now has engulfed rural and small-town America. Case rates in the 12 Midwestern states are more than double that of any other region, according to the COVID Tracking Project, up more than 20 times from mid-June to mid-November.
Many Midwestern hospitals severely lack beds, equipment and clinical staff, providers say. Some are repurposing areas to accommodate COVID-19 patients or cramming multiple patients in a single room, and are asking staffers to work longer hours and more frequent shifts.
"There's a disconnect in the community, where we're seeing people at bars and restaurants, or planning Thanksgiving dinners," said Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As health workers, she said, "we feel kind of dejected."
Thirty states had a record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in November, including all 12 Midwestern states, according to a Reuters tally of official data. Michigan reported over 4,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Monday, surpassing its previous record on April 13.
"A quarter of all of our coronavirus cases this year have occurred in the last month. ... Those cases are turning into hospitalizations and deaths," Adams warned, saying heart patients, pregnant women and others could be turned away.
"That's the reality."