NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - They are hooked up to ventilators, relying on the machines to breathe. They are taking experimental drugs that doctors hope will ease their agony. They are isolated from their families, fighting to recover on their own.
More people are on track to be hospitalised with the coronavirus in the United States than at any point in the pandemic, a disturbing sign of how the current surge has spread widely and is seriously sickening as many people as ever.
Across the country, 59,628 people were being treated in hospitals on Wednesday (July 22), according to the Covid Tracking Project, nearing an earlier peak of 59,940 on April 15, when the centre of the outbreak was New York.
The country is averaging more than 66,000 new virus cases per day, more than twice as many as a month ago, and deaths have also started trending upward, with an average of more than 800 daily.
But hospitalisations may be the clearest measure of how widely the virus is causing the most serious illnesses, and could offer a glimpse of what is ahead.
Not long ago, things seemed to be improving. Fewer than 28,000 patients were hospitalised as of mid-June, when a new surge of cases was appearing throughout the Sun Belt.
The uptick in hospitalised patients around the country reflects a different phase of the pandemic - a widening geographic area, especially across the South, for the most serious illnesses compared with what had been a relatively concentrated crisis in the spring.
Back then, nearly one in five hospitalised patients were in New York, and the city had to set up mobile morgues.
Now the situation looks different, and California, where the virus is surging, has reported more cases than New York.
In the past week, both Florida and Texas have added an average of more than 10,000 reported cases each day, with California not far behind.
The spike in hospitalisations for the virus has been driven in part by people younger than 50.
That group made up nearly 40 per cent of the hospitalisations as of earlier this month, compared with 26 per cent in late April, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The majority of hospitalisations - about 60 per cent - are in the South, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which is run by The Atlantic and collects state hospitalisation data.