On April 15, 2,752 people across the United States were reported to have died from Covid-19, more than on any day before or since.
Now daily deaths are rising sharply and fast approaching that dreadful count again. On Wednesday, 2,300 deaths were reported nationwide — the highest toll since May.
The pandemic has now claimed more than 264,800 lives in the country. But how the virus kills has changed in profound ways. Months of suffering have provided a horrific but valuable education: Doctors and nurses know better how to treat patients who contract the virus and how to prevent severe cases from ending in fatality, and a far smaller proportion of people who catch the virus are dying from it than were in the spring.
Yet the sheer breadth of the current outbreak means that the cost in lives lost every day is still climbing.
And unlike during the peak of the spring wave in April, when the deaths were concentrated in a handful of states like New York, New Jersey and Louisiana, now they are scattered widely across the entire nation. There is hardly a community that has not been affected.
Twenty-five states set weekly death records in November, and Thanksgiving gatherings and the start of the holiday shopping season may cause infections to spread still more widely in the coming days.
“We are at risk of repeating what happened in April,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s coronavirus task force, said of the death toll. “I shudder to imagine what things might be like in two weeks.”
“Once you go over the case cliff, where you have so many cases that you overwhelm the system, basically at that point when you fall off that case cliff, you’re going to see mortality rates go up substantially,” he said.
Texas and Illinois have reported more than 800 deaths over the past week, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and Florida added more than 400 each. In the Upper Midwest, where reports of new cases have started to level off, deaths are still mounting. Nearly 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in Wisconsin have been reported since the start of November. In North Dakota, where military nurses have been deployed in hospitals, more than 1 out of every 1,000 residents has now died.
Around the country, medical examiners and funeral home directors are grappling with a steady rise in the toll. On a recent night, Dale Clock, who along with his wife owns and operates two funeral homes in western Michigan, handled four Covid-19 deaths in just 12 hours, he said. In the past two weeks, nearly half of the families they serve lost relatives to the virus.
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