Experts Warn New U.S. COVID Hospitalizations Could Hit 23,000 Per Day After Christmas

The U.S. could see as many as 23,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day on the Monday after the Christmas holiday weekend, while the number of hospital beds needed could surpass 166,000 by New Year's Day, according to the latest projections.

According to forecasts from 12 modeling groups published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "For December 28, the forecasts estimate 2,300 to 23,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day."

The CDC report last Wednesday noted: "Four national forecasts predict a likely increase in the number of new hospitalizations per day over the next four weeks, one forecast predicts a likely decrease, and four forecasts are uncertain about the trend or predict stable numbers."

According to the latest projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the total number of beds needed in the country is projected to reach around 155,901 on Christmas, while the number could rise to around 166,368 by January 1.

The figure is forecast to peak at around 179,985 on January 17, according to the IHME.

The CDC noted Wednesday: "State-level forecasts also show a high degree of variability, which results from multiple factors. Hospitalization forecasts use different sources of data for COVID-19 cases or deaths, with different limitations, and make different assumptions about social distancing."

According to the DELPHI epidemiological model from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the total number of active hospitalized cases in the country may hit 716,064 on Christmas. The figure is projected to reach 763,890 on New Year's Day, before peaking at 788,232 on January 10.

"We define a COVID-19 case as active if it has not yet resulted in recovery or death," the model explained.

"We compare the historical performances of the DELPHI model with the top models used by the CDC over the last three months.

"Country-level projections are modelled based on all historical data to increase the accuracy of future predictions. As such, daily counts extracted from the model may not exactly correspond with reports," the model noted.

The U.S. has seen record current COVID-19 hospitalizations since early November, including Tuesday, when 104,600 coronavirus patients were reported to be hospitalized, according to data compiled by The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project.

The IHME predicts the country could see around 1,005,486 cases per day by January 10 if "governments do not re-impose mandates if cases increase" and "vaccine distribution is scaled up over 90 days."

The 90 day period refers to "the time it takes to scale up to full capacity for [vaccine] distribution," a spokesperson for the IHME told Newsweek.

"So for example, in the reference scenario, the maximum number of doses per day is three million, and that scenario assumes 90 days to reach three million doses per day," the spokesperson added.

Forecasts published by the CDC last week predict up to 19,500 new COVID-19 deaths could be reported in the week of Christmas.

But January could be the worst stage yet of the outbreak in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci warned last week.

Speaking to Newsweek, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House COVID-19 task force explained: "I think January is going to be terrible because you're going to have the Thanksgiving surge super-imposed upon the Christmas surge. So it's entirely conceivable that January could be the worst."

Is there hope for the outbreak to get under control? "Oh absolutely, yes," Fauci told Newsweek. "But it's going to get worse before it gets better because we're having these surges now that are not going to be impacted by the vaccine for at least a few months.

"If people take the vaccine, we could go a long way to really diminishing dramatically [in cases] as we get into the second and third quarter of 2021. Then I think you'll start to see a dramatic diminishing of cases," Fauci noted.

COVID-19 patient Houston hospital Thanksgiving 2020
Medical staff prepare to perform a procedure on a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit on Thanksgiving Day last month at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas. The country could see up to 23,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day just after Christmas, according to forecasts published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

The wider picture

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 68.3 million people, including over 15.1 million in the U.S., since it was first reported in Wuhan, China.

More than 1.5 million people have died worldwide and over 44.1 million have recovered as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The graphic below, produced by Statista, compares average COVID-19 case tallies in the U.S. and the European Union.

COVID-19 in U.S. vs Europe

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows countries with the most COVID-19 cases.

covid, cases, top, ten, countries
A graph shows the number of total confirmed COVID-19 cases by country for the top 10 most infected nations as of December 7, according to John Hopkins University. As of December 7, there have been nearly 64.5 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, and more than 1.5 million deaths. Statista