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Coronavirus Cases, Hospitalizations And Deaths Surge Across The U.S.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Coronavirus cases are surging to record levels around the U.S. Tens of thousands of Americans are being hospitalized, and hundreds are dying every day. And these trends are all going in the wrong direction. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now for an update on the pandemic.

Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, that's a really grim outline of the state of things. What more can you tell us about how and where the virus is surging here in the U.S.?

STEIN: Yeah, Ari. Unfortunately, it's pretty bad. More than 70,000 cases are being reported every day in this country now. And, you know, 83,000 were reported last Friday, which is more cases than have been reported in any single day than any other day since the pandemic began. That's more than the U.S. experienced during the previous spike in the summer. You know, in some ways, this couldn't be coming at a worse time. It's just as winter is coming. That's bad because, you know, that usually forces people to spend more time indoors, which is where this virus likes to spread the most. It's also when the flu season may hit hard. And it's also right before lots of people typically travel and get together for the holidays. You know, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas - they're all coming up. College kids could be coming home to see their families, potentially bringing this dangerous virus home to their parents and their grandparents. I talked about this today with Carlos del Rio at Emory University.

CARLOS DEL RIO: I think we're in a very concerning place in which, you know, pretty much all of the country is burning up. There's epidemic out of control in the great majority of states.

SHAPIRO: Wow. The great majority of states, it's out of control, he says. So where are the most worrisome hotspots?

STEIN: You know, Ari, what's so disturbing about the current situation is that it's pretty much happening all over the country. The first big surge happened in the spring and was mostly in the Northeast, you know, states like New York and New Jersey. The second big surge was over the summer, and that was mostly in the Sunbelt, in states like Texas and, you know, Arizona. But this surge is nationwide. If you look at a map of the United States, you see states on fire with the virus from coast to coast. You know, that said, the pandemic has really now invaded the nation's heartland. Midwest states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas - we're seeing record numbers of cases in many of these places. And many of them are rural places, and that's really worrisome because those places don't have nearly as many doctors and hospitals and can easily get overwhelmed.

SHAPIRO: And are we seeing that yet - hospitals that are at or above capacity?

STEIN: We are starting to see some very concerning signs. You know, more than 40,000 people are already hospitalized, and it's been a big increase over the last couple of weeks. And there's no sign of it slowing down. Wisconsin, for example, has already set up a field hospital to try to help with the overflow of patients. Hospitals in, you know, El Paso, Texas, are hitting capacity. So the fear is if things keep going in this direction, hospitals could get overwhelmed and may not - you know, and may have to start to do the unthinkable, which is start to pick and choose which patients they can really treat and who they can't. And the fear is that the death toll will really start rising. And already, more than 800 people are dying every day. Public health experts say just, you know, look what's happening in parts of Europe, places like France and Germany. They're probably a few weeks ahead of us, and they just announced some new restrictions because things are starting to get really bad.

SHAPIRO: So what does the U.S. have to do to avoid that dire future?

STEIN: You know, all hope is not lost - you know, far from it. We know a lot more about this virus now than when this all started. You know, if everyone finally gets the message and does these things we've been hearing about for so long, it could help. I spoke about this with Tom Frieden. He used to run the CDC.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: The virus is not tired of making us sick, even if we're sick and tired of it.

STEIN: So, you know, public health experts like Frieden say wear those masks and wash your hands like crazy. Stay at least six feet away from other people, and don't spend time indoors with people outside your immediate family if you can help it. You know, think about, you know, maybe a Zoom Thanksgiving. You know, it's not what any of us want, but it could help save a lot of lives. And, you know, more than 220,000 Americans have already died from the pandemic. Some are predicting tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands more could die, so the stakes really are really high right now.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thank you.

STEIN: You bet, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.