Coronavirus cases reported in the United States passed 11 million on Sunday, as the nation shatters records for hospitalizations and daily new infections and as leaders turn to new, painful restrictions to stem the pandemic’s long-predicted surge.
The milestone came one week after the country hit 10 million cases, a testament to just how rapidly the virus is spreading — the first 1 million cases took more than three months. This new wave has increased covid-19 hospitalizations past the peaks seen in April and July, straining health-care systems and pushing some reluctant Republican governors to enact statewide mask mandates for the first time.
Other states are reenacting stay-at-home orders and store closures. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on Sunday announced sweeping new limits on gatherings for three-weeks — including a ban on indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and a halt to in-person classes at high schools and colleges. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) also laid out a slew of new rules, which prohibit indoor social gatherings with people outside one’s household and indoor service at restaurants, bars and more.
“As hard as those first months were for our state, these next few are going to be even harder,” Whitmer said at a news conference, as health experts fear that winter weather driving people indoors will accelerate the crisis.
Inslee acknowledged that slowing the virus would come at a steep price for struggling businesses, even as the state works to distribute millions more in aid. He and Whitmer both appealed to the federal government to step in with more help. Congress remains deadlocked on a stimulus package, and President Trump — still denying his election loss — has largely tuned out the pandemic’s surge; his refusal to concede is also stalling the transition to a new administration, including the formal transfer of information on the nation’s pandemic response.
Whitmer said that Trump has “an opportunity to meet the needs of the people of this country” and emphasized the importance of his final months in office. Inslee was already looking ahead to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“All of us who feel, as I do, the pain of the small-business people ought to be pounding the doors of the Congress and the new president, who I’m glad we’re going to have, to really get this job done,” Inslee said.
Washington’s restrictions are not as tough as its stay-at-home order issued in March but extend into nearly every aspect of daily life. Wedding and funeral receptions are forbidden. Religious services and in-store retail are forced to operate at reduced capacity. Even outdoor social gatherings must be kept to a maximum of five people from outside one’s household.
Inslee and other leaders in the state emphasized the need to intervene early amid spiraling statistics, even as Washington posts some of the lowest numbers for new coronavirus infections in the country. The number of hospital patients with covid-19 recently rose about 40 percent in a week, officials said, and Seattle’s mayor said that nearly a fifth of the city’s cases have come just in the past two weeks.
Clint Wallace, an ICU nurse in Spokane, joined Inslee at Sunday’s news conference to plead with residents for their help. He called the ICU “as busy as I’ve seen it.”
“We are exhausted,” Wallace said of health-care workers around the state.
State and local officials nationwide are reinstating restrictions to fight the virus. New Mexico and Oregon on Friday ordered extensive new statewide shutdowns, while the Navajo Nation — devastated early on by the virus — reissued its stay-at-home order for at least three weeks. The Navajo Nation said cases threaten to swamp the health system on the southwestern reservation without immediate action.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Friday issued a statewide mask mandate and new capacity limits on businesses, less than a week after Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) announced a similar mask order in the face of overwhelmed hospitals warning that they might have to ration care.
“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a late-night video message.
But state rules are just one piece of the puzzle, and some leaders are looking to Congress and the incoming president to take stronger action.
Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday it’s critical for the president-elect’s transition team to start working with Trump administration officials to ensure “nothing drops in this change of power” that could imperil the distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
“Joe Biden is going to become president of the United States in the midst of an ongoing crisis. That has to be a seamless transition,” Klain said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”
President Trump’s White House is blocking the administration from formally cooperating with Biden, forcing the president-elect’s transition team to continue preparations with recently departed government officials and other experts. That means Biden’s team has not heard from Trump’s about vaccine development and other work to combat the pandemic.
A health expert on Biden’s covid-19 advisory board said there’s “a lot of information that needs to be transmitted. It can’t wait until the last minute.”
It is in the nation’s interest that the transition team get the threat assessments that the team knows about, understand the vaccine distribution plans, need to know where the stockpiles are, what the status is of masks and gloves,” said Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, compared the process Sunday to “passing a baton in a race.”
“I’ve been through multiple transitions now, having served six presidents for 36 years, and it’s very clear that transition process that we go through … is really important in a smooth handing over of the information,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Of course it would be better if we could start working with them,” he added when asked whether working with Biden’s team would serve the public interest.
On “Meet the Press,” Klain said there is “not that much Joe Biden can do right now to change things,” because he is not yet president.
“Right now we have a crisis that’s getting worse,” Klain said. “We had never had a day with 100,000 cases in a single day until last week. By next week, we may see 200,000 cases in a single day.”