The United States on Wednesday recorded its single-worst daily death toll since the pandemic began, and on a day when Covid-19 hospitalizations also hit an all-time high, the pace of loss showed no signs of slowing any time soon.
Not since spring, during the pandemic’s first peak, were so many deaths reported. The high point then was 2,752 deaths on April 15. On Wednesday it was at least 2,760.
Hospitalizations from the virus topped 100,000 — more than double the number at the beginning of November.
That is a clear indicator of what the days ahead may look like, experts say.
“If you tell me the hospitalizations are up this week, I’ll tell you that several weeks down the road, the deaths will be up.
said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
For all the similarities to the spring pandemic peak, there are some profound differences.
In April, the virus and the deaths were concentrated in New York and New England. Today, the pandemic’s toll is being felt across the country.
Still more sobering: The April peak represented the worst moment of spring. It was followed by a decline in deaths as lockdowns were imposed and many Americans altered their behavior.
And as staggering as it is, the death toll reported Wednesday appears likely only to worsen, experts say, as the delayed effects of Thanksgiving travel are felt. And many Americans are now weighing how to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
“This is a much worse situation. Summer is not going to bail us out. Things are not shut down.”
said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
Still, interpreting daily death tolls can be tricky.
The figure represents what health authorities report on any given day, not when people actually die. So while the total appeared to dip in the days after Thanksgiving, for example, that most likely meant those doing the tallying had time off, not that fewer people were dying.
The April 15 peak included deaths announced that day, as well as probable deaths in New York City which were later reported to have occurred that day.
There are other differences from the spring, some more hopeful.
Though coronavirus cases have exploded recently, with new infections topping one million a week, a far smaller proportion of people who get the virus these days are dying from it.
National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the share of cases resulting in death dropped from 6.7 percent in April to 1.9 percent in September.
But over all, deaths in the United States are still climbing.
“It’s terrible, because it was avoidable. We are a world outlier in this regard.”
said Dr. Leora Horwitz, an associate professor of population health and medicine at the N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine.
The bright spot, Dr. Horwitz said, is that health care workers have gotten much better at treating the virus, and that has cut the death rate.
“There is good news in that these numbers are far fewer than they would have been in March or April."
Dr. Faust said that the pool of people sick with Covid-19 has shifted since the spring, with fewer patients from nursing homes. That has meant a smaller proportion die.
“The concentration of cases is moving into a younger and healthier population, and it takes more of those cases to add up to the eye-popping number that we saw in April. But it is happening.”