By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
FRIDAY, July 17, 2020
Yet another daily record for new U.S. coronavirus cases was shattered on Thursday, with 75,600 new infections reported.
It’s the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken, The New York Times reported. The previous single-day record, 68,241 cases, was reported last Friday. The number of daily cases has more than doubled since June 24.
Things will likely get worse: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, warned in June that daily case counts could reach 100,000 a day if outbreaks across the country weren’t contained.
“What I think we need to do, and my colleagues agree, is we really almost need to regroup, call a timeout, not necessarily lock down again, but say that we’ve got to do this in a more measured way,” Fauci told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an interview Thursday. “We’ve got to get our arms around this and we’ve got to get this controlled.”
Deaths are also going up: On Thursday, Florida reported 156 new fatalities, its highest number yet. It was one of 10 states to reach a record for deaths in a single day this week, joining Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, the Times reported.
As case counts and deaths have continued to climb, more states, cities and major retailers have turned to face mask mandates to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Increasingly seen as a last hope to slow soaring infection rates across the country, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Thursday announced a face covering requirement after taking a more hands-off approach for months, the Times reported. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also issued a mask order on Thursday, after questioning whether such a mandate would be enforceable.
On Wednesday, Alabama, Montana and the city of Tulsa moved to make face coverings required in public settings, the Washington Post reported. Several large retailers also joined the trend: Walmart, Kroger and Kohl’s.
Masks are now mandatory in more than half of U.S. states, the Post reported, and Target and CVS on Thursday joined other retailers in announcing that all customers in their stores must wear masks.
States struggle to contain virus
The new mask mandates suggest that officials and business leaders across America are painfully aware that cases have spiked in 41 states over the past two weeks and things will only worsen if nothing is done, the Times reported.
Still, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp went against the tide and nullified all local mask mandates on Wednesday, the Post reported. That same day, Georgia recorded it second-highest number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 3,871 new infections reported.
Meanwhile, states continued to try to rein in surging case counts. California and Oregon rolled back their reopenings on Monday, two of several states across the country that are seeing spikes in cases.
On Wednesday, Florida surpassed 300,000 confirmed cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. The state is now third in case counts, behind only California and New York.
Florida took more than three months to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases, but then took just two weeks to jump to 200,000, CBS News reported. Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news conference Wednesday said the state is doing roughly 90,000 tests per day but the results were taking too long to process.
“One thing that I think is clear is that we need to get these testing results back in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said. He added that the state would be shifting business away from commercial labs that have not been able to return test results in 48 hours, as originally agreed upon when testing was expanded in the beginning of May, the newspaper said. Contact-tracers have also said delays in testing results are making their jobs more difficult.
Meanwhile, signs of new trouble are emerging in regions outside current hotspots: Twenty states and Puerto Rico reported a record-high average of new infections over the past week, the Post reported. In the Midwest, cases have been trending upward in every state except Nebraska and South Dakota.
Adding to the problem, long delays in testing are hampering efforts to contain future spread of the coronavirus, the Post reported. Many testing sites are struggling to provide results in five to seven days. Others are taking even longer, the newspaper reported, as outbreaks across the Sun Belt have strained labs beyond capacity.
Hospitals filling up
The case spikes are resulting in another grim fact: Hospitals across the South and West are being flooded with COVID-19 patients and are having to cancel elective surgeries and discharge patients early as they try to keep beds open, the Times reported.
In California, doctors are shipping patients as far as 600 miles away because they can’t be cared for locally, the Post reported. Nurses from around the country are pouring into Florida to shore up exhausted medical workers. Mayors in Texas are demanding the right to shut down their cities to avoid overwhelming hospitals.
On Thursday, health officials said they are concerned that hospitals will soon hit a breaking point, the newspaper said.
“We can withstand a surge. We can withstand a disaster. But we can’t withstand a disaster every single day,” Jason Wilson, associate medical director of the emergency department at Tampa General Hospital, told the Post. “How many jumbo jet crashes can you handle before you run out of capacity? That’s what we’re facing.”
Even though regular wards are being converted into intensive care units and long-term care facilities are being opened for patients too sick to go home, doctors say they are barely managing, the Times reported.
While hospital beds are easily converted for ICU use, the more difficult challenge is having enough advanced practice nurses who are qualified to care for such patients and equipment such as ventilators, hospital experts told the Times.
Hospitals can “pivot enough space,” Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida, explained. “The trick is going to be staffing. If you get people burned out, they get sick, then you lose critical care personnel.”
Beds aren’t the only thing hospitals are running out of now: Some states have ordered refrigerated trucks, to increase morgue space, the Times reported. In Texas, officials said the trucks were being readied because hospital morgues were filling up. In Arizona, two hospital systems in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, also plan to use refrigerated trucks. The mayor of Phoenix said Tuesday that the county morgue is close to capacity.
By Friday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 3.6 million as the death toll passed 138,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Friday were: New York with over 409,000; California with over 364,700; Florida with over 315,700; Texas with over 310,000 and New Jersey with over 178,400.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
Even as the pandemic is easing in Europe and some parts of Asia, it is worsening in India. On Friday, the country passed 1 million infections and 25,000 deaths, the Times reported. The surge comes weeks after a national lockdown was lifted. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.
About a dozen Indian states have re-instituted lockdowns in high-risk areas, the Associated Press reported.
Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2 million confirmed infections by Friday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Friday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at more than 758,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 13.8 million on Friday, with more than 590,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
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