NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. keeps setting records for coronavirus cases. Some states are warning that their hospital systems can't deal with this many patients week after week. Plus, we're getting closer to the holidays, and health experts worry that's only going to make things worse. Will Stone is reporting on the search for NPR. Good morning, Will.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So we just got updated numbers. There was a day this week, a single day, when we had 144,000 cases in this country. What does that tell you?
STONE: It's really bad. Remember, it was only last week that the country hit 100,000 cases in a single day for the first time ever. And now the U.S. is averaging well over 121,000 cases a day. Cases are up about 70% nationwide on average over the past two weeks. And many parts of the country are starting to see exponential growth of the virus. It's still growing the fastest in the Midwest. When you look at the top five states with the most cases in the past week, three are in the Midwest - Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. But it's all over the place. Texas has high numbers, so does Florida, parts of California. Quite a few states that had kept the numbers low are now speeding in the wrong direction. New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming - in all those places, daily cases have close to doubled, if not more, over the past two weeks.
KING: That's a lot of states. And the problem, as I understand it, is that it's not just cases, right? It's the fact that more people are actually going into the hospital.
STONE: Yes. The U.S. is at an all-time high for COVID hospitalizations. Across the country, there are now more than 65,000 people in the hospital, and that's above what we saw during the spring and summer peaks. And there are now at least 18 states where the number of people hospitalized has crossed into a very dangerous zone. One of those states is Iowa. Here's what that state's Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, said the other day.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KIM REYNOLDS: The overall increased patient volume is stressing our health care system, and it is putting capacity at risk. Surge plans are in place, and while beds still are available for patient care, staffing them is becoming increasingly challenging.
STONE: And when this happens, hospitals don't have the bandwidth to care for all kinds of patients. ICUs fill up, and they start considering who to prioritize. So this is where lots of states are headed, absent some big turnaround or government intervention.
KING: Should we be looking out for new restrictions, do you think?
STONE: Yes, and some states have done that. California has shut down indoor dining in certain areas. Starting Friday, Minnesota is telling restaurants to stop serving after 10 p.m. and has limited gatherings. But some places are only willing to go so far. We just heard how concerned Iowa's governor, Reynolds, is. She and other states have resisted putting in place a sweeping statewide mask mandate. This week, Reynolds did announce a limited face mask requirement, mostly aimed at large gatherings, and she did limit how many people can get together. But she made it clear that her state is still open for business. You can still go to the gym. I asked Anne Rimoin, who studies infectious disease at UCLA, if states need to do more. She says everything is a trade-off.
ANNE RIMOIN: You know, you want to have bars open. You might not be able to have schools open. You want to not wear a mask, you're going to see more COVID. So every action has a reaction here. I don't think that we necessarily have to go into a lockdown. It doesn't have to be an either/or choice.
STONE: So ultimately, she says, a lot of states may make this decision based purely on what they need to do to keep their hospitals from being overrun.
KING: What can hospitals do so that they're not overrun? Do they have any options?
STONE: Well, they can add more physical space, more beds. Remember, hospitals in New York City did that during the spring. Now we're seeing field hospitals in other states. But there are finite resources. It's not just beds. They need nurses, doctors and others to staff them. And I'm hearing there's a huge bidding war for health care workers in the country right now because so many places are under pressure at the same time.
KING: NPR's Will Stone. Thanks for that, Will.
STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.