Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the Biden's transition team advising on coronavirus, says he fears the more contagious variants of the virus (specifically B117) could lead to an unprecedented surge in cases "in the next six to 14 weeks . . . something like we have not seen yet in this country".
In January 2021, more than 6,250,000 new cases were reported in the United States (with a high of 308,000 new cases on January 8). There were roughly 98,000 deaths. Back in late May 2020, there was a tremendous amount of media coverage when the US death toll surpassed 100,000. Now that same number of Americans die in only four weeks and it generates a small fraction of the attention.
Osterholm predicts B117, the more contagious strain that has already been detected in 24 of the 50 states, will soon become the dominant strain of the virus in the US. "If we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches tell us we will, we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country."
The US averaged more than 200,000 new cases per day in January. Osterholm says the country should prepare for twice that number in the coming weeks. In an appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, he said the US should make sure it gets "as many one-doses in as many people over 65 as we possibly can, to reduce serious illness and deaths that are going to occur over the weeks ahead".
The January surge in cases and deaths, caused in part by traveling and gatherings during the holidays, overwhelmed the hospital systems in numerous cities, forcing medical staff to ration care. Nearly one-quarter of US hospitals were facing "critical" staffing shortages before the winter holidays, when there were (only) 73,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations. Last month saw that number rise to more than 130,000, before dropping to just under 100,000 for the first time in more than two months.
If hospitals cannot adequately care for the number of patients who are sick right now, what will happen in a few months when, as Osterholm predicts, those numbers double?
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Also: On November 13, 2020, it was reported that according to one simulation, the US death toll would be 438,000 by March 1, 2021. The US passed that number five days ago (January 27) and the death toll is now more than 452,000.