Coronavirus cases increased across the US this week at the fastest pace since the start of the pandemic, with Midwestern states leading an autumn wave of rising infections, hospitalisations and deaths that is sweeping across the country just days before the presidential election.
The US reported its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases on Thursday, with more than 88,000 new infections, and more than 1,000 deaths for the second day in a row.
Over the past week, the US has confirmed about 534,000 infections, a record for a seven-day period since the disease started spreading across the country in March. On average, it has added more than 76,300 cases a day during that time.
The sharp rise coincides with the final sprint to elections on November 3, as Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden and their allies barnstorm across the country to woo voters. Mr Biden has been highly critical of Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic, while the president has complained that too much attention has been paid to the disease and argued that the US has already turned a corner on the outbreak.
But Mr Trump’s claim has belied a sharp rise in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks across the US, coinciding with a new wave of infections besetting Europe.
As cooler weather sets in, Midwestern states in particular have seen cases surge. The seven-day average across the region hit a record 26,498 new cases a day on Thursday.
Illinois and Ohio on Friday set single-day records for new infections, 6,943 and 3,845, respectively. Wisconsin had 5,096 new confirmed cases, its second-highest daily increase since Tuesday’s jump of 5,262, according to the state health department.
Attention has been particularly focused on this region as it contains some of the most closely watched swing states, and the consequences of rising infections could spill over into the polling booth.
It is not the only region that has seen cases climb over the past week, however. As of Thursday, the seven-day average of cases in 48 states and the District of Columbia was higher than a week ago, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. Hawaii is the only place in the US with a seven-day average below where it was four weeks ago.
Largely rural western states such as Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota have seen cases shoot higher in recent days, while they are also increasing once again in East Coast states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which were hardest hit by the pandemic in its early months.
New York this week reached the half-a-million case mark and Florida on Friday became the third state to top 800,000 infections, providing a potential warning that some big states have seen their multi-month efforts to “flatten the curve” stall or go into reverse.
Seven-day average case rates in the most populous states of California and Texas, as well another summer hotspot, Arizona, are up by at least 40 per cent over the past four weeks. Over the same period, the level of hospitalisations in Texas has jumped by 75 per cent, and by 41 per cent in Arizona, although it was down 4 per cent in California.
At least half of all US states are on track to record their biggest monthly volume of cases in October. That has taken the total number of infections confirmed nationally this month to 1.65m, currently second only to the 1.9m cases added in July. Overall, the US has recorded nearly 9m cases since the pandemic began.
October is also on track to be the deadliest month for at least 14 states, topping the previous record of 12 states in May.
While some of the increase in cases can be explained by the increase in nationwide testing capacity, and improved knowledge and preparedness for the disease has helped keep death rates lower than during the early stages of the crisis, hospitalisations have displayed a worrying upward trend.
The number of people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus topped 46,000 for the first time since mid-August. A record 47 states and Washington DC now have levels of hospitalisations higher than four weeks ago, threatening to strain resources.
Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert and a top White House coronavirus task force member, said in a CNBC interview earlier this week that there were a “large number” of states that were “heading in the wrong direction”.
“This is going to get worse because we’re going more into a colder season, as we get through the fall and into the winter with the holiday season going, we’ve got to do something different,” he said. “We can’t just let this happen. We’re going to have many more hospitalisations, and that will inevitably lead to more deaths. So, this is an untenable situation.”
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