As the coronavirus continued its unrelenting spread, more patients were hospitalized in Pennsylvania on Wednesday than ever before, surpassing the state’s late April peak as officials also reported more than 6,000 new cases — the first time the state has seen that many people test positive in one day.
In just the last seven days, more than 38,000 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive. That’s about enough people to fill the Wells Fargo Center — twice.
New Jersey reported more than 4,000 cases, with more than 26,000 people testing positive in the last week. Meanwhile, hospitalizations and the average number of daily deaths are rising in both states.
“There is no way to sugarcoat any of these numbers,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said. “They are not good, and they are trending worse.”
Another sign of the virus’ troubling spread came from Philadelphia, where officials asked anyone who tests positive to trace their own contacts. Officials a few weeks ago warned the virus had begun spreading too fast for the city to continue tracing all cases. Pennsylvania officials, too, said they were prioritizing tracing certain cases.
More than 250,000 Americans have now died of the coronavirus, according to numbers reported Wednesday by Johns Hopkins University. As Pfizer said its vaccine was 95% effective after trial and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first at-home coronavirus test, states and localities continued attempts to slow the surge without a coordinated federal response.
New York City officials announced Wednesday that public schools will close Thursday after being open in-person for less than two months. New Jersey, joining in calls from Pennsylvania and other states grappling with the prospect of college students traveling for Thanksgiving break, urged colleges to make coronavirus testing widely available to students before they leave campus.
And the new requirement that anyone coming to Pennsylvania get a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours prior to arriving goes into effect Friday.
Pennsylvania reported 6,339 new cases and 110 deaths on Wednesday. Though the death rate is much lower than in the spring surge — while case numbers are now higher — the seven-day average was 46 deaths a day Wednesday, an increase from 22 on Nov. 1, according to Inquirer data analysis.
The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus reached 2,904, according to state data. The previous high was 2,800 on April 27.
As cases continue to rise to record levels, health officials are prioritizing residents of care facilities and people with “significant underlying health conditions” when it comes to contact tracing efforts, said Michael Huff, the commonwealth’s director of testing and contact tracing. The state will try to reach people in lower-priority categories afterward.
The state aims to trace every confirmed case, but the surge in case numbers means only about a quarter of people who test positive are contacted by case investigators within 24 hours — down from about 80% over the summer.
Huff asked residents to continue to follow safety measures and to hold holiday gatherings only with immediate household members.
“Public health controls,” he said, “are only as effective as the willingness of individuals to carry them out.”
Philadelphia, which has been seeing its highest-ever averages for new daily cases, reported 831 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday.
City officials asked residents who test positive for the virus to determine their close contacts starting two days before their symptoms began and to share the city’s quarantine instructions with them. Residents can visit bit.ly/TraceYourContactsPHL to review the steps and access a website to use for informing contacts if they wish to remain anonymous.
Huff also said the state is still prioritizing people with coronavirus symptoms for testing and has not been able to do widespread surveillance testing of asymptomatic people. The turnaround time for tests is generally within 48 to 72 hours, a marked improvement from the spring and summer, he said.
Tests remain readily available, but some health-care systems are testing only people with symptoms. If people stay home and limit travel, a Department of Health spokesperson said, that will help conserve tests by reducing the need for asymptomatic people to be tested.
Montgomery County officials also warned Wednesday of rapidly escalating cases and hospitalizations.
The county’s 14-day average positivity rate is about 7%, said County Commissioners’ Chair Val Arkoosh, which is about 2 percentage points higher than the week before. A positivity rate below 5% indicates a suppression of the virus, she said.
“If case numbers continue to rise, we will continue to see an increase in hospitalizations and eventually an increase in deaths,” Arkoosh, a physician, said at a news briefing.
She said 378 Montgomery County students have tested positive since the school year began, with 110 testing positive in the last week. Staff coronavirus cases have increased by 38 since last week, bringing the total staff numbers to 138.
At least five student cases were transmitted in school, with two more likely cases being investigated, she said.
New Jersey reported 4,063 cases and 27 deaths. The state was averaging 24 deaths per day, an increase from 10 a day on Nov. 1. Murphy said more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized.
He again told residents to limit social gatherings for Thanksgiving, saying that small group events are spreading the virus.
“This is not the year to squeeze around a dinner table,” he said.
He cited a doctor quoted in a Mississippi Free Press story who said, “We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas.”
“Please let that sink in well before the turkey defrosts,” Murphy said.
Staff writers Ellie Rushing, Laura McCrystal, and Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.