The fall coronavirus surge that intensified in Pennsylvania throughout November appears to be taking an even deeper hold in December, as the nation girds for what could be the worst period in the pandemic. Pennsylvania reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row Friday, again setting a record.
In New Jersey, the number of coronavirus patients in intensive-care units reached the highest level in months, the governor said. And in Philadelphia, the death toll surpassed 2,000, marking what Mayor Jim Kenney called “another tragic milestone.”
“Each soul lost is another stark reminder that we must take every precaution seriously to flatten the curve,” Kenney said. “We must work together by masking up, staying home, and maintaining social distance to prevent future loss of life.”
Pennsylvania’s 11,763 new infections surpassed the 11,406 reported Thursday, which had been an increase of 3,000 over the state’s previous single-day record.
Before November, the state had never reported more than 3,000 cases in one day; the highest number reported in one day during the spring wave was 1,985 on April 11.
The spike just one week after Thanksgiving has raised red flags, but Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday he doesn’t expect “to see the full brunt” of new cases related to the holiday travel and gatherings for two to three weeks.
Fauci, the nation’s best-known public health expert, said Americans should not react to CDC projections that coronavirus deaths could reach “close to 450,000” by February with despair.
It is not inevitable, he stressed. “That’s the reason why all of us are out here telling people, literally pleading with them, about the fact that we can do something,” Fauci said. “If you do the fundamental things of public-health measures, you can blunt it.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, too, said residents could thwart projections that his state’s hospital census could double in the coming weeks.
This week, New Jersey had more than 600 coronavirus patients in ICUs for the first time since June, with 615 beds occupied on Friday. In total, 3,073 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.
“We’re in for a very rough couple of months. Our behavior can make it less rough,” Murphy said, noting the state “saved our health-care system” by flattening the curve in the spring. But if nothing changes, he said, “we will have thousands of people in the hospital and many people will die.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday advised Americans to wear masks at all times indoors when not at home — a guideline Pennsylvania put in place in mid-November — and said mask-wearing is “critical” to reducing transmission.
On Nov. 1, Pennsylvania was averaging 2,235 new cases a day; by Friday, it was averaging 7,855 new cases a day. The spike has been less severe but still notable in New Jersey, which went from averaging 1,595 new cases a day on Nov. 1 to 4,090 as of Thursday.
New Jersey reported 5,673 newly confirmed cases and 48 deaths Friday.
Pennsylvania reported 169 new deaths. More than 5,000 people were hospitalized Friday with COVID-19, including 1,065 patients in intensive care. Philadelphia reported 1,816 newly confirmed cases and 850 hospitalizations.
Also in Philadelphia, the city health department has ordered 16 businesses to temporarily cease operations since new COVID-19 restrictions went into effect on Nov. 20, said a spokesperson with the mayor’s office. The businesses were not identified. They will be allowed to resume operations once they’ve addressed the violations, the spokesperson said.
Several New Jersey hospitals are preparing to receive their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Murphy said, which is expected to be approved soon. An estimated 76,000 doses will be included in the first shipment, he said, with additional shipments expected weekly. Murphy estimated there could be 305,000 doses distributed to the state by the end of the month.
Murphy also slammed U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, as a “putz” and a “fool” for attending a Thursday night gala in Jersey City where attendees were not wearing masks.
The fund-raising event by the New York Young Republican Club, whose location was reportedly kept secret after organizers had difficulty finding a venue in New York, is now under investigation by Jersey City authorities, Murphy said. In photographs circulating on social media, Gaetz can be seen posing in the center of a large group of formally dressed people who are mask-less and crowded together indoors.
“It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state, never mind their own,” Murphy said, speaking at his regular coronavirus briefing. “It is also beyond the pale that a member of Congress would participate in this.”
Murphy said in the news conference and on Twitter that the congressman was not welcome in New Jersey. Gaetz responded by tweeting, “You’re gonna regret this tweet when you move to Florida like the rest of New Jersey.”
Murphy also signed legislation expanding eligibility for the state’s 20 weeks of extended unemployment benefits.
The governor said more information about how the state will distribute vaccines will come next week. He cautioned that although a vaccine is coming, residents will have to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions.
“To be clear, the mere presence of a vaccine in our state does not mean that we can flip a light switch and remove all restrictions,” he said. “This is going to be more like a dimmer, and the light will get brighter, and brighter, and brighter over time.”
Staff writers Laura McCrystal, Oona Goodin-Smith, and Bethany Ao contributed to this article.