As coronavirus cases across the United States climb toward a third peak, the country surpassed a total of eight million total known cases on Thursday afternoon, according to a New York Times database.
Epidemiologists warned of a new, worrisome phase as 17 states are seeing surges unlike anything they experienced earlier in the pandemic. States including Alaska, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin reported more new cases during the seven-day stretch that ended on Wednesday than in any other week since the virus arrived in the country.
Reports of new cases are trending upward in 41 states over the last two weeks, while nine states are holding case numbers roughly steady. No state in the country is seeing a sustained decline.
Many of the 17 states seeing more new cases than ever — located mostly in the Midwest or in the Mountain West — had relatively few cases until recently. But cases are now steadily climbing. Intensive care unit beds in hospitals are few and far between in some rural communities, experts said, raising concerns about crowded facilities.
“What’s happening in the Upper Midwest is just a harbinger of things to come in the rest of the country,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.
The number of cases alone is not a full measure of the nation’s outbreak — it is difficult to compare the current numbers with earlier points in the U.S. outbreak when testing was less widespread — and deaths from the virus have been relatively flat in recent weeks, with an average of about 700 per day. But “we are headed in the wrong direction,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.
“That’s reflected not only in the number of new cases but also in test positivity and the number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “Together, I think these three indicators give a very clear picture that we are seeing increased transmission in communities across the country.”
High levels of infection in colleges and universities, Dr. Osterholm said, are serving as one source of the spread. Transmission also has been prevalent at events such as funerals, family barbecues and birthday parties, he said, adding that the comeback of sporting events and dining has also added to the spread this fall.
“Pandemic fatigue has clearly set in for large segments of the population,” he said. “This is not even an uptick, this is a major surge of cases that is happening.”
He added, “It’s only going to get worse, we have to be prepared for that.”
Even as cases increased, President Trump continued to downplay the resurgence of this virus this fall during an appearance on Fox Business on Thursday morning. He added he did not support strictest restrictions by local officials to limit its spread. “We’re not doing any more lockdowns, we’re doing fine,” he said.
But Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also warned on Thursday morning that the increase in cases across multiple regions of the country could have dire consequences over the coming months.
“The issue is that as we enter, as we are now, the cooler season of the fall, and ultimately the coldest season of the winter, you don’t want to be in that compromised position where your baseline daily infection is high, and you’re increasing as opposed to going in the other direction,” he said on “Good Morning America.” “So we’ve really got to double down on the fundamental public health measures that we talk about every single day, because they can make a difference.”