On April 15, the United States reached a grim low in the epidemic: 2,752 people nationwide died on Wednesday at Covid-19, more than in the days before or since.
For months, this record reminded me of the pain the coronavirus had caused the nation and warned of its deadly potential. But now, after seven desperate months of trying to curb the virus, daily mortality is rising sharply and rapidly, and is approaching that horrible number again.
However, killing the virus in America has changed profoundly.
The months of suffering provided terrible but valuable education: Doctors and nurses know better how to treat patients infected with the virus and how to prevent severe cases from being fatal, and a much smaller proportion of people catching the virus die from it. as in the spring, experts say.
Yet the sheer scale of the current epidemic means that the cost of life lost every day continues to rise. More than 170,000 Americans test positive for the virus on an average day, burdening hospitals in much of the country, including several states that appear to have escaped the worst of the pandemic. Last week alone, more than 1.1 million people tested positive results.
At the peak of the April spring wave, about 31,000 new cases were reported daily, although this was extremely low because testing capacity was extremely limited. Nevertheless, the number of viruses was an abstraction for many Americans because some of the deaths were concentrated in states such as New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana.
Now, deaths are widely scattered across the nation, and there is hardly a community that would not be affected. On Wednesday, when 2,300 deaths were reported nationwide – the highest number of casualties since May – only three counties reported more than 20 casualties.
Forty-four states set weekly records and 25 states set weekly mortality records in November as the country’s death toll exceeded 264,000, and officials fear Thanksgiving gatherings could spread infections even more widely in the coming days.
On 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 reported more than 100 deaths that day.
But in much of the country, spring looked much different.
In Oklahoma City, Lizanne Jennings, an ICU nurse, was a member of a hospital team that planned to attack an illness that had been heard of in places like Italy and New York City. The staff counted beds and calculated how many people could fit in the units.
“I always just had the feeling of ‘coming, coming,'” Ms. Jennings said, describing it as “pre-traumatic shock syndrome.”
In March, Ms. Jennings remembered sitting one day after work with her husband, Dennis Davis, a mechanic and former bodybuilder.
“I need you to pay attention,” Ms. Jennings (53) reminded her when she told her. “Look at me: People we know, people we love – our family, our friends – get this virus. And the people we know are dying.
New York City alone registered hundreds of deaths on April 15, underlining its unique role in that spring wave.
“The town was quiet except for the ambulances,” said Dr. Steven A. McDonald, a physician in the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
In the closed city, the emergency rooms were relentlessly insane, full of patients gasping for air.
Dr. McDonald thought with the same thought every day at work. “You know someone in your care will die that day,” he said. “The question is, how many people?”
The emergency began to ease in the city as early as the summer, but only when the virus killed more than 20,000 people and an estimated more than one-fifth of New York City’s population became infected.
New York’s daily case counts have resumed, averaging 6,600 a day in the subway area, increasing fivefold since early October. Nevertheless, the fluctuations so far have not been like in the spring.
Patrick J. Kearns, the Queens funeral director who regularly had to transport corpses to a Schenectady crematorium in New York City nearly three hours away in the spring, noticed that two or three days behind the city’s crematoria were developing again. He called the crematorium to Schenectady, 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 the coronavirus mission of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. force, he said of the number of dead.
“If you go through the case rock where you have so many cases that you overload the system, basically at the point where you fall off the case rock, you’ll see that the mortality rate increases significantly,” he said. “I’m shivering to imagine what things might look like in two weeks.”
With the inconsistent and variable response of government officials, the virus spread in the Sun Belt in the summer and then began to grow steadily through the Midwest and the Great Plain – and then in recent weeks. The country reached a seven-day high of 176,000 reported cases on Wednesday, and there is reason to fear that the worst is yet to come. The epidemic continues to grow in southern California, western Texas and South Florida.
The number of new deaths occurred after the increasing number of cases.
Texas and Illinois have reported more than 800 deaths over the past week, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and Florida have each reported more than 400. In the Upper Midwest, where reports of new cases are beginning to level off, deaths are still rising. Nearly 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in Wisconsin have been reported since early November. In North Dakota, where military nurses were deployed in hospitals, more than 1 in 1,000 residents died.
The scattered nature of the disaster means that it seems invisible in many places. The emergency situation is too prevalent to help teams of health workers from elsewhere. The voices of ambulances can be heard in many states. According to families, after more than eight months of social isolation and economic turmoil, they sometimes overshadow their losses in communities amid fatigue and impatience.
Nationwide, medical examiners and funeral director directors are struggling with steady increases in tolls. “Our volume is explosive,” said Dale Clock, who and his wife run and operate two funeral homes in western Michigan. One Covid-19 death was treated last night in just 12 hours, he said. In the past two weeks, nearly half of the families they serve have lost relatives to the virus. All of this means that a worker has had to be quarantined for the virus and staff are working overtime.
According to Mr. Clock, only a few Covid-19 deaths per week were experienced in homes in the spring.
It has been a long eight months for Ms. Jennings, the sister of Oklahoma.
The wave of the hospital that intensified in the spring never materialized, at least not in large numbers. In July, he traveled to Texas to work with Covid-19 patients at the Rio Grande Valley Hospital and arrived to find a community that takes the virus seriously. But “the damage has happened,” he said. Many patients, he said, did not survive.
Even in Oklahoma, he said, many seemed to not believe the virus or take it seriously. That frustrated him, he said.
His mother, Linda Jennings, who died of the coronavirus, died last Friday.
“I’m tired and miserable,” he recalled his mother, who was 78 when he was lying in hospital. – I can’t do this anymore.
Then on Monday, Ms. Jennings sat next to her husband, eight and a half months after warning her of the dangers of a scary new virus. He was lying on his stomach in a hospital bed tied to a breathing machine. It was taken 11 days earlier with a diagnosis of Covid-19.
“I love you so much,” Ms. Jennings recalled as she took her hand in the last hours before she died. – I said, – You’re going, okay? I’ll let you go. You will be at peace.
Rick Rojas contributed to the reports.