Coronavirus outbreaks that once swept through the East Coast and America’s Sun Belt states are now surging in the nation’s Great Plains as North Dakota and South Dakota report more new Covid-19 cases per capita than any other state across the nation.
South Dakota is reporting roughly 57 daily Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest of any state in the U.S. based on a weekly average as of Wednesday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. North Dakota, which ranks closely in second, is reporting just over 56 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
Nationwide, coronavirus cases were growing by 5% or more, based on a weekly average, in more than 30 U.S. states as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins data. New coronavirus cases grew by more than 8% compared with the week prior, averaging over 45,200 daily new cases.
North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado and Alaska reached record highs for average new cases, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Wisconsin activates surge hospital
In Wisconsin, which is reporting the third-highest number of infections per capita in the U.S., the state’s outbreak has started to take a “dire” turn as Covid-19 hospitalizations reach record levels. Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that the outbreak threatens to overwhelm the state’s health care systems and their ability to treat severely-ill patients.
Evers announced that the state would activate a 530-bed alternative care facility at the Wisconsin State Fair Park for overflow coronavirus patients. As of Wednesday, there were more than 870 people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Wisconsin, according to state data.
“We hoped this day wouldn’t come, but unfortunately, Wisconsin is in a much different, more dire place today and our healthcare systems are beginning to become overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases,” Evers said in a statement.
Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, said that hospitals across the state are experiencing critical staffing shortages largely because health-care workers are “experiencing infection or exposure to the virus in their communities.”
Only 16% of Wisconsin’s licensed hospital beds are immediately available, with a quarter of their hospitalized coronavirus patients in the intensive-care unit, according to the state’s dashboard. More than 300 health-care workers said they were experiencing Covid-19 symptoms or tested positive as of late September.
Utah struggles with contact tracing
Utah County, just South of Salt Lake City, has reported a large percentage of Covid-19 infections compared with the rest of the state, triggering more restrictions from Gov. Gary Herbert in some of its cities last month.
While Utah County has reported the highest rate of new cases, that figure has declined steadily during the past week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. However, the rate in the Salt Lake City area is now rising rapidly.
“We were seeing quite significant increases quite quickly,” Utah County Public Health Department spokeswoman Aislynn Tolman-Hill told CNBC, noting that daily new cases went from around 130 to more than 500 in a matter of days. “It has been a genuine uptick,” she said.
The surge in Covid-19 cases over the last few weeks have also hampered the county’s contact tracing efforts, which has been working with “all hands on deck” through the latest spike in cases, she said.
“At times we’ve had to only contact high-risk individuals and then ask them to reach out to anyone who they’ve been contact with, providing them guidance on what that means and who they need to reach out to,” Tolman-Hill said.
Rural communities at risk
Infectious disease experts previously warned that the coronavirus pandemic could take weeks to peak in more rural areas of the nation, which could face severe shortages of hospital beds and health-care professionals to tend to patients.
The coronavirus pandemic presents a distinct risk to people who live in rural communities because they tend to have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity as well as less access to healthcare and are less likely to have health insurance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
In Nebraska, there has been a “disturbing trend” of increasing coronavirus hospitalizations, Dr. Angela Hewlett, a member of the Infectious Disease Society of America and an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told CNBC late last week.
Unlike Nebraska’s previous peak in the spring, however, hospitals are now allowed to conduct elective surgeries, which has caused an even further decline in available hospital resources, said Hewlett, who directs a Covid-19 infectious disease team at the university’s medical center.
“Having an empty bed in a hospital is not indicative of the ability to care for a patient because those beds need to be staffed by health-care workers,” Hewlett said. “And there is currently a shortage of ICU nurses and others to care for these patients.”
— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.