Several U.S. states are at a tipping point, public health experts warned Friday, as coronavirus cases hit new records, hospitals and morgues reach capacity, and cases surge faster than anywhere else in the world.
“This wildfire is now outside of the fence. It’s a lot easier to prevent one than it is to start to contain one that’s already outside,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on CNN Friday, noting that Texas lost 105 residents to the deadly virus overnight—its highest single-day increase.
At least 133,420 people have died and 3.1 million more have been infected with the virus—and top infectious disease experts warn that the nation is still “knee-deep” in the first wave of the pandemic.
Months after re-opening their economies and dismissing the CDC’s recommendation to issue face mask mandates or strict social distancing measures, more than a dozen states have seen an explosion in new cases and hospitalizations in the last week.
In Phoenix on Friday, Maricopa County officials said they would be sourcing refrigerated trucks after Abrazo Health hospitals reached their morgue capacity. In Houston, every hospital was full and COVID-19 patients were being held in emergency wards, sometimes for days, according to a ProPublica investigation.
“I would compare the response to the coronavirus here to that of a category six hurricane,” a South Carolina ER doctor told The Daily Beast. “All hands are on deck, all reserved supplies are being used, and I can’t tell you the last time I slept.”
In the Palmetto State, roughly one in five COVID-19 tests is returning positive while 75 percent of total hospital beds are already occupied.
In Arizona, which began reopening in early May, only to lock down again after being hit with a tidal wave of cases, some hospitals are reportedly shipping patients out of state. On Friday, the state’s health department reported 4,221 new cases and 44 new deaths in the new record-breaking tally that brings the state’s total to 2,082 fatalities. The state has a staggering 27 percent positive test rate.
Florida, now considered the epicenter of the pandemic, has been shattering virus records daily over the past few weeks. The Florida Department of Health on Friday reported at least 11,433 new cases—taking total infections to 244,151—and 93 deaths related to the coronavirus, while nearly half of the state’s intensive care units are at least 90 percent full.
Overnight, Florida also set a new hospitalization record of 437 new people. To help combat the wave of new cases, state officials have secured 1,000 nurses for hospitals across a state that has seen hospitalization rates jump by more than 13 percent since July 1, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
The staggering new tallies came as President Donald Trump on Friday visited Florida—which has lost 4,111 residents to the virus—for a fundraiser and a briefing on drug trafficking.
The Harvard Global Health Institute this week recommended a number of states, including Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, and South Carolina, institute a mandatory stay-at-home order to curtail severe outbreaks. And while those five states have been hit the hardest, Harvard suggested that 15 other states should weigh the possibility of a second shutdown.
A New York Times study of the number of daily infections between June 28 and July 5 showed how dire the United States’ uptick is compared to the rest of the world. Arizona and Florida are the two most affected areas in the world—followed by South Carolina, the country of Bahrain, and Louisiana. Hospitals are overwhelmed, understaffed, and short on supplies—unable to keep up with what researchers believe is the “tipping point” before the states lose control of the pandemic.
“I don’t think that Florida or Texas or Arizona for that matter are seeking to crush the virus at this point,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday on CNBC. “I think they are just trying to keep the numbers down so their health-care systems don’t become overwhelmed.”
Hospitals in Mississippi are also seeing a strain, with five of the largest medical hospital centers in the state out of ICU space for new patients—COVID-19 or otherwise. Medical officials have been forced to turn away patients. “Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients,” state health officer Thomas Dobbs said Thursday.
Texas, where state officials have rolled back their reopening plan, is also seeing a sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations. There were fewer than 1,000 ICU beds available in the entire state on Friday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Dwindling hospital capacity is particularly alarming when compared to the rising daily infection rate. Texas has at least 230,346 cases, with 9,869 COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
But despite warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top public health experts, the president still refuses to acknowledge the severity in upticks. Last week, Trump actively downplayed the second surge, falsely claiming that testing showed 99 percent of cases “are totally harmless.”
On Thursday night, Trump went after Fauci in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, stating he has “made a lot of mistakes” after Fauci warned that state officials “should seriously look at shutting down again.” Trump said 45 million people have been tested—and most have recovered quickly.
“We have cases all over the place. Most of the cases immediately get better, they are people, young people, they have sniffles and two days later they are fine and they are not sick to start,” Trump said.
Fauci, who said he “is trying to figure out where the president” got the 99 percent claim, told the Financial Times on Friday that the U.S. is only headed for further disaster if people refuse to heed professional advice and local officials don't take hardline steps to curtail the virus.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we have a serious ongoing problem, right now, as we speak,” he said. “We are living in the perfect storm.”