Some 117,000 Americans were in hospital receiving Covid-19 related treatment on Tuesday — the highest number logged since the Covid Tracking Project (CTP) began recording figures in March.
It comes as millions of Americans begin to gather with family and loved ones for the Christmas holidays, raising the prospect of a surge in infections and further hospitalisations going into the new year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to remain at home and celebrate the festivities with the people they live with. But millions of Americans are already on the move.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this week said it had screened more than 4 million air travellers between Friday and Monday — a pandemic record.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, is concerned that increased travel over the festive period could further fuel the crisis.
“As you might imagine, it’s quite concerning to me,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “This type of travel is risky, particularly if people start congregating when they get to their destination in large crowds, in indoor settings.
“I’m afraid that if, in fact, we see this happen, we will have a surge that’s superimposed upon the difficult situation we are already in.
“So, it could be a very difficult January coming up if these things happen.”
Dr Fauci said he appreciated that people wanted to have Christmas as normal due to what has been a difficult year, but “the situation is different now” as hospital beds fill up across the country.
New coronavirus cases began to dip slightly towards the end of last week, according to New York Times data. Just over 250,00 cases were logged on 18 December.
That number fell to 179,000 by 20 December. But cases are now on the rise again; 201,000 were reported on 21 and 22 December after the weekend when the TSA reported its pandemic-record air travel figures.
Many states saw a surge in coronavirus cases after the Thanksgiving travel rush and health experts fear the same thing will happen over Christmas and the new year, heaping pressure on hospitals.
California is one state that is feeling the impact of increased infections following the Thanksgiving period. Most of the state has been placed under draconian lockdowns while hospitals near capacity.
And according to the CTP, there were just over 18,000 Sunshine State residents getting hospital treatment for the disease on 21 December.
That figure has almost doubled since 1 December, CTP data shows. Just under 4,000 of those patients are in intensive care units.
“With Christmas at the end of the week, the potential for catastrophe is high,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco.
“We have quite a ways to go, and the ERs and the ICUs are just being hammered.”