The US on Thursday surpassed 4 million officially recorded Covid-19 cases — and a quarter of that count came in just the last 15 days.
The country’s rising daily rate of confirmed coronavirus cases, along with a near-record number of hospitalizations, signals the US is far from containing a virus that is straining hospitals and labs, health experts say.
“We’ve rolled back essentially two months’ worth of progress with what we’re seeing in number of cases … in the United States,” Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, told CNN on Thursday.
About 59,600 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the US on Wednesday — roughly 300 short of the country’s peak recorded in mid-April, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
The US has officially recorded 4,032,430 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. At least 144,167 people have died.
The reported count is picking up speed: The national seven-day average of new daily cases was 67,429 on Wednesday, a record.
It took the country nearly 100 days to count its first 1 million cases, from January 21 to April 28. It took only 15 days to rise from 3 million on July 8 to 3.99 million, according to JHU figures.
Many Covid-19 illnesses went undiagnosed, especially early in the pandemic when testing was less available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said true case totals are probably more than 10 times greater than official figures in most places. One study suggested the US might have had more than 8 million cases in March alone.
But physicians are sounding alarms about rising hospitalizations nationwide, and especially in the nation’s hot spots like parts of Florida.
More than 50 hospitals there have reached capacity in their intensive care units, and only 15% of the state’s ICU beds are available, the Agency for Health Care Administration said.
“Any spike in cases or increase in hospitalizations is going to put our ER system and hospital systems in peril,” Dr. Damian Caraballo, an emergency room physician in Tampa, told CNN.The spread has promised a bleak outlook forthe months ahead, according to both health officials and President Trump.
What comes next is unclear: With now at least 41 states requiring face coverings, some have said strict measures like limiting gatherings and enforcing social distancing and masks can be as impactful as another lockdown. But others aren’t as hopeful.
“Masks will help, but I think we need a lot more than masks to contain this epidemic that’s running through our country like a freight train,” said William Haseltine, the chair and president of global health think tank ACCESS Health International.
“Until we see major changes of behavior and until we see the public health services here stepping forward with many more resources, we aren’t sure of containing this.”
Many are calling for a reset: shut everything down again and start over. More than 150 prominent US medical experts, scientists, teachers, nurses and others have signed a letter to political leaders urging them do just that.
“The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible,” they wrote in the document, which was sent to the Trump administration, leading members of Congress and state governors.
“Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but nonessential activities.”