The outlook for the pandemic continues to worsen, and many areas of the United States are experiencing their worst weeks yet. The country reported a record of more than 500,000 new coronavirus cases in the past week.
It’s not just a few areas driving the surge, as was the case early on. Half of U.S. counties saw new cases peak during the past month. Almost a third saw a record in the past week.
In the Upper Midwest and Mountain West, records are being smashed almost daily, and in some counties as much as 5% the population has tested positive to date.
Some records come with an asterisk. With less widespread testing capacity in the spring, cases went undercounted then compared with now.
And in some less populous places, a record number is not necessarily a very high one. Orleans County in Vermont, for example, saw eight cases in the past week — a record for the rural county of about 27,000 people on the Canadian border, but hardly a severe outbreak.
Florida’s Taylor County, a county of similar size, had 32 cases in the past week, four times as many as Orleans but far fewer than the record 600 new cases it had during the first week of August.
Yet many parts of the Sun Belt that were summer hot spots continue to record substantial numbers of new cases daily, even if they are falling short of their summer peaks.
And other critical metrics underscore the severity and acceleration of the current outbreak. Hospitalization data, which the COVID Tracking Project collects at the state level, shows that the number of people hospitalized with the virus reached record highs in almost half of states in recent weeks.
The recent surge in cases has not yet brought a similar surge in reported deaths, which can lag cases by up to several weeks. But already deaths are increasing in about half of states.
In the past month, about a third of U.S. counties hit a daily record of more deaths than any other time during the pandemic.
The daily death toll is lower than it was at its peak, but on average, about 800 people who contracted the coronavirus are dying each day. In April, when New York City was hit hard, more than 2,000 people died on the worst days.
Recent studies have provided some hope that improved treatment has led to a better survival rate among the hospitalized. But experts worry that the 46% increase in hospitalizations compared with a month ago could overwhelm hospital capacity — especially in rural areas with limited health resources.
With case counts trending upward in almost every state — and 21 of those states adding more cases in the last week than in any other seven-day stretch — officials in parts of the country are once again implementing control measures. Residents of El Paso, Texas, are under a two-week stay-at-home order, and indoor dining was halted in Chicago on Friday.
“This was preventable,” said Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper, whose mother died from the virus this summer in El Paso and who said she was frustrated by the government response as her “hometown is getting ransacked.” She said, “My mother did not have to die.”