The US reported a daily global record of more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday as infections rose in the vast majority of states and America’s top public health expert spoke of a “very disturbing week”.
Hospitals in some of the new hotspots in the US south and west put themselves on a crisis footing and face becoming overwhelmed. Florida reported almost 10,000 new cases in the past 24 hours and that state along with Texas, Arizona and California together made up almost half of the total of new infections.
The daily US tally stood at 55,274 new cases late on Thursday, topping the previous single-day record of 54,771 set by Brazil on 19 June and exceeding single-day tallies from any European country at the height of the outbreak there.
“What we’ve seen is a very disturbing week,” Anthony Fauci, a top federal health expert on the White House coronavirus taskforce and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a livestream with the American Medical Association.
The surge this month, after a steady improvement in California and a continued improvement in the previous center of the pandemic, New York, has been blamed in part on Americans not covering their faces in public nor following other social distancing guidance or rules as states swiftly lifted their lockdowns.
Fauci warned that if people did not start complying, “we’re going to be in some serious difficulty”.
Cases are now rising in 37 out of 50 states. Donald Trump went to the golf club on Friday morning, before planning to fly to South Dakota for a pre-Fourth of July celebration on Friday night at Mount Rushmore, where fireworks will be detonated and no social distancing mandated despite warnings of both wildfires and Covid-19 transmission and also despite protests from Native Americans that the monument is on stolen land.
The US president also tweeted late Thursday night (sic): “There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country. This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!”
There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country. This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2020
California has seen positive tests climb 37% but hospitalizations are up 56% over the past two weeks.
Patients with serious cases of Covid-19 are flooding into hospitals across the southern and western states. Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Nevada and Arizona set records for hospitalizations on Thursday.
Fauci has warned that the virus is “nowhere near” under control in the US.
Some Arizona hospitals are rushing to expand capacity in the way many New York City hospitals were forced to at the height of the outbreak there, when up to 800 people were dying every day in April, the Washington Post reported on Friday. That means doubling up hospital beds in rooms, stopping non-essential surgery and recruiting extra health workers from outside their regions.
Arizona officials have activated “crisis standards of care” – protocols for who gets urgent care first or a ventilator. State officials reported a record 3,013 Covid-19 hospitalizations in Arizona on Thursday.
Fauci said of the US situation: “We’re setting records, practically every day, of new cases in the numbers that are reported. That clearly is not the right direction.”
Younger people are accounting for more of the new cases than previously, because of a swift return to social gatherings, against federal guidelines.
But infections and deaths are also increasing overall. A month ago, the US was reporting approximately 20,000 new infections a day and that has more than doubled. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the US have reached 2.75 million. There have been 128,000 deaths and the toll is rising.
“We are not flattening the curve right now,” Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
“There’s a lag between confirmed case and hospitalization, and between hospitalization and death. So you look at the numbers and you can see how hospital capacity could quickly become strained in coming weeks,” Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, told the Washington Post.
The US’s neighbor to the north, Canada, has so far flattened its coronavirus curve with early and widespread testing, extensive mask-wearing and social distancing and slow reopening. The US is currently reporting more than 10 times more positive cases per capita than Canada, CNN reported.
Meanwhile, several US Secret Service agents assigned to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for Covid-19, or exhibited symptoms just before his planned trip to Arizona earlier this week, according to several reports. CNN claimed that eight secret service agents had tested positive, causing a delay in the trip while people were replaced.
Pence has recently started wearing a mask in public, after shunning them earlier despite the official federal public health guidance that they help to stop the spread.
Trump has refused to wear a mask in public or actively encourage Americans to do so.
Jonathan Reiner, an adviser to the White House medical team under President George W Bush, said the president was “clearly flirting with disaster” by holding election rallies without social distancing or mask-wearing among the crowds and attending events mask-free.
“Just because he’s tested frequently, [that] isn’t a Superman cape,” he told CNN. “He can get the virus. The more he flirts with this, the higher the likelihood that he’ll get it.”