Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The pandemic in the United States is reaching fearsome new levels, as the country’s seven-day average for new cases exceeded 70,000 for the first time and more than 26 states are reporting case numbers at or near record levels.

Nowhere is the situation more acute than in regional hospitals in places like Idaho, Utah, Missouri and New Mexico, which were spared earlier waves of infection but are now reeling as the latest surge across the country has caught up with them.

The number of people hospitalized in the United States has climbed about 45 percent from a month ago and the exploding case numbers in such states point to a volatile new phase in the pandemic. While earlier waves hit large cities such as New York and then Sunbelt states like Arizona, the surge of hospitalizations is now slamming various regions at once.

In El Paso, where the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has more than tripled over the past three weeks, our colleague Simon Romero, a national reporter, told us that he was seeing clear signs of hospital overflows, and that a cold snap was complicating matters.

“At University Medical Center, a crucial source of trauma care on this part of the border, health workers were caring for patients in a field hospital set up near the parking lot,” he said. “This is happening in outdoor tents, so the dusting of snow overnight in the city is adding to the challenges of providing care, as well as moving more people indoors where they are at risk of spreading the virus.”

And it’s not just small-town and rural hospitals that are feeling the surge. Even well-equipped hospitals are being stretched thin, and their staffs are working harder and for longer hours than before.

Our colleague Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, also a national reporter, spent the morning in an I.C.U. at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, where the influx of patients was taking a huge toll on the mental health of staff.

“Right before I left, a person who had passed away in the morning was wheeled out of the room under a white sheet,” she told us. “A nurse who had become close to the patient was just watching the body roll away in the hallway. And she just stood there and looked and was crying.”

Latin America has one-third of all Covid-19 deaths and has suffered more acutely from the virus than any other region in the world.

Why has it fared so poorly?

New York Times reporters looked into this question in the latest installment of the Behind the Curve series, which explores the missteps and misunderstandings that have allowed Covid-19 to spread around the world.

In Latin America, weak health systems and overcrowded cities made the region inherently vulnerable to the coronavirus. But President Trump and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, with their shared disregard for science and fierce opposition to leftist governments, made a bad situation worse by dismantling the region’s defenses.

  • Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro drove 10,000 Cuban doctors and nurses out of impoverished areas of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador. Many left without being replaced only months before the pandemic arrived.

  • The two presidents attacked the international agency most capable of fighting the virus — the Pan American Health Organization — citing its involvement with the Cuban medical program. With help from Mr. Bolsonaro, Mr. Trump nearly bankrupted the agency by withholding promised funding at the height of the outbreak, to an extent not previously disclosed.

  • And with help from Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro made hydroxychloroquine the centerpiece of Brazil’s pandemic response, despite a medical consensus that the drug was ineffective and even dangerous.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I’m reconnecting with the beauty of nature. I am awake before sunrise nearly every day. I drive to the Forty Foot (where James Joyce’s “Ulysses” starts) and with other intrepid people plunge into the cold sea. Joyce described it as “snot green, scrotum tightening.” It is black to navy blue at this time and later reflects the hues of the sky. It is definitely a great place to be as the sun rises for a new day.

— Micaela Kuh, Dublin, Ireland

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