A record of nearly 80,000 new COVID-19 infections over the course of a day were reported in the United States on Friday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Between 8.30pm Thursday and the same time on Friday, 79,963 infections were recorded, bringing the total number since the start of the pandemic to nearly 8.5 million in the country.
The United States had already approached the bar of 80,000 daily cases in July, largely due to new infections in southern states such as Texas and Florida, where the virus was then spreading out of control.
US deaths are also trending higher, with 916 fatalities reported on Friday, a day after the country recorded over 1,200 new deaths for the first time since August. COVID-19 deaths are up 13 per cent from last week, averaging 785 a day over the past seven days.
At the same time, the number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals climbed to a two-month high.
There are now nearly 41,000 hospitalised coronavirus patients across the country, up 34 per cent from 1 October, according to a Reuters analysis.
North Dakota, with 887 new cases on Thursday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin. In terms of sheer numbers, Texas reported the most new cases on Thursday with 6,820 new infections, followed by California with 6,365.
Eight states set new records for single-day increases in cases, an ominous trend that is prompting some governors to issue new restrictions, including on bars and restaurants in some parts of Illinois. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah all reported their biggest daily increase in cases since the pandemic started.
Seven states reported record numbers of COVID-19 patients in the hospital: Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The number of hospitalised coronavirus patients in the Midwest reached 11,369 on Thursday, a record high for a seventh day in a row.
‘The picture isn’t rosy’
Dr Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, expressed worry about lack of compliance with public health measures in the state where some groups have challenged Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ COVID-19 restrictions in court.
“If we don’t get that and we have such tremendous prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, I don’t see a great way out of this,” Dr Pothof said. “The picture isn’t rosy.”
The Northeast remains the one region of the county without a significant surge in cases, but infections are trending higher there, forcing Boston public schools to shift to online only learning this week. Vermont is a bright spot with no hospitalised COVID-19 patients and 16 new cases on Thursday.
In New York state, which was devastated by the pandemic in the spring, movie theaters will open their doors to live audiences for the first time in months, albeit at 25 per cent capacity and with restrictions. But in New York City, theaters would remain darkened for now, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive.
Europe is also seeing a surge in cases and globally new infections hit a one-day record high of 423,290 on Wednesday.
Half a million could die in US by end of February
It comes as a new modelling study shows more than a half million people in the US could die from COVID-19 by the end of February, but around 130,000 of those lives could be saved if everybody were to wear masks.
The estimates by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed that with few effective COVID-19 treatment options and no vaccines yet available, the United States faces “a continued COVID-19 public health challenge through the winter.”
“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME Director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.
He said the projections, as well as currently rising infection rates and deaths, showed there is no basis to “the idea that the pandemic is going away,” adding: “We do not believe that is true.”
President Donald Trump said in Thursday’s election debate of the pandemic: “It’s going away.”
The Friday update was the first time the IHME has projected deaths beyond 1 February. Its current forecast on its website is for 386,000 deaths as of 1 February, 2021.
The IHME study forecast that large, populous states such as California, Texas and Florida will likely face particularly high levels of illness, deaths and demands on hospital resources.
“We expect the surge to steadily grow across different states and at the national level, and to continue to increase as we head towards high levels of daily deaths in late December and in January,” Mr Murray said.
The modelling study, which mapped out various scenarios and their projected impact on the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, found that universal mask-wearing could have a major impact on death rates, potentially saving 130,000 lives.
Current mask use in the United States varies widely. While some states, like New York, set strict rules on when to wear masks, others have no requirements. The issue has become political, in which some supporters have taken their cues from Mr Trump, who is often seen without a mask and has repeatedly questioned their usefulness.
“Expanding mask use is one of the easy wins for the United States … and can save many lives,” Mr Murray said.
He added that, just as parts of Europe and some local US areas of high transmission are doing now, many US states would need to re-introduce social distancing measures to curb the winter surge.