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COVID-19 becomes top killer in U.S. as hospitals fill up: "It's one giant ball of anxiety"

COVID death toll surpasses heart disease
COVID-19 surpasses heart disease as leading cause of death in U.S. this week 03:15

The coronavirus surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States this week, as many of the nation's hospitals are overwhelmed and officials implement new COVID-19 restrictions. 

A record-breaking 227,00 new cases were reported in the U.S. on Friday alone — the first time the daily case count has topped 220,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. 

An average of 2,000 people have died of the disease each day since last Saturday. The total U.S. death toll is over a quarter-million, and projections coming from the White House show it could hit half a million by March, CBS News' Michael George reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its strongest call for masks yet on Friday, urging Americans to wear masks indoors when not at home, in an effort to control the spread of the virus. 

This week, 11 states broke records for new cases reported in a single day. Across the country, 100,000 people are in hospitals, and with each day, fewer beds are available.  

"It's one giant ball of anxiety trying to figure out where the next patient's going to go," Wisconsin respiratory therapist Donovan Boetcher said.

Charge nurse Mavic Tjardes, who works with Boetcher at the UW Health University Hospital, called the situation "difficult."

"Nurses are the first person that our patients see, and nurses are the last person that they will see at their last breath," she said.

A medical worker adjusts her gloves on December 4 as she cares for a COVID-19 patient at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, which converted one of their cardiac step down units into a COVID-19 ICU due to a surge in patients.  ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images

The strain on health care workers is made worse by people who don't do their part.

"I feel like on social media, there's a lot of talk of health care heroes and all that," Boetcher said. "Well, if you really want to respect people in health care or anyone that has to work right now, stay home. Wear a mask."

Their pleas don't reach everybody. A Young Republican gala in New Jersey drew 150 mostly massless attendees, as well as Congressman Matt Gaetz from Florida. 

"It is beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state, never mind their own," said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who shut down the venue. 

Murphy singled out Gaetz for criticism this week in a COVID-19 briefing. 

"I hope you're watching Matt. You are not welcome in New Jersey," Murphy said. "And frankly, I don't ever want you back in this state."

California is also pulling back its welcome mat. Bars, wineries and salons will close in counties where intensive care beds are in short supply. Restaurants in those regions will be closed save for takeout, and even attending private gatherings will be prohibited.

While the order is hard on small businesses, state officials are trying to avoid more heartbreaking stories, like that of 33-year-old Erika Becerra.

Becerra was eight months pregnant when she got sick. "We prayed for her, we talked to her, we comforted her to the last moments," her brother said.

Doctors delivered her baby, but could not save her. 

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