The United States is in the midst of one of the worst waves of the coronavirus to date. More new cases were reported nationwide on Friday than any other day since the pandemic began.
The rise in falls has been steady and unstoppable since the beginning of October, with no plateau in sight. As of Friday evening, more than 82,000 cases had been reported nationwide, breaking a daily record of more than 6,000 cases set on July 16.
With that measure, Friday marked the worst day of the pandemic and health experts warned of another spike if cold weather sets in. The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has already increased by 40 percent last month. Deaths have stayed relatively flat but are often a trailing indicator.
The recent outbreaks, tracked by the New York Times through reports from state and local health officials, have been spread across the country, in states like Illinois and Rhode Island, which are enjoying a second boom, and in places like Montana and South Dakota, they are still enduring an initial flood of cases.
Thirteen states added more new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week than any other seven-day phase. By Friday, six states had set or pegged weekly records for new deaths. Wisconsin had its deadliest day of the pandemic on Wednesday, with a total of 47 deaths.
The geography of the pandemic has changed constantly since the coronavirus hit the United States last winter. Outbreaks hit the northeast in the spring, the sun belt in the summer, and now the states of the Midwest and West that hold the country’s 10 counties with the most recent cases per capita.
“It’s been climbing from climb to climb week after week,” said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Nothing has been added to the mix to slow things down.”
For many, the rising numbers brought back ragged memories of what it was like in mid-July when the virus raged through the sun belt.
Raymond Embry saw the worst at close range. His small Arizona medical clinic had about five coronavirus tests a day. That grew to dozens a day, and it spiked on July 16. 4,192 people stood in line for tests to find out if they had the coronavirus.
National records were set on that day, arguably the worst pandemic in the United States to date. By the end of that 24-hour period, a staggering 75,687 new cases had been reported across the country, and Arizona led the nation in per capita deaths.
“It was just overwhelming to try to find gloves and masks when people were saying PPE was widespread back then, and that’s just a lie,” Embry said, citing the lack of personal protective equipment that health workers are sure to need Testing.
On the Texas-Mexico border, mid-July was a nightmare. Johnny Salinas Jr., the owner of Salinas Funeral Home, handled six to seven funerals a day, a number he usually saw over a week before the pandemic. Some of them were family members and relatives of employees.
Local health officials said they had managed to control the spread of the virus in the spring until Texas lifted social distancing restrictions just before Memorial Day. Then the numbers soared. In July, Hidalgo County, where Mr. Salinas lives, had one of the highest per capita death rates in the state. It surprised Mr. Salinas.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Mr Salinas. “We didn’t know much about the virus. It killed a lot of people back then. “
These days, he stores masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, seals every other bench in the chapels to maintain social distance, and installs a plexiglass barrier to protect mourners from the dead.
“At the moment we are back to normal numbers,” said Mr Salinas. “But I’m nervous. People relax a little too much. I believe a second wave will come and it will be more scary than the first. “
The virus had already become heavily politicized over the summer, and in that regard the headlines that hit July 16 were not surprising.
That day, President Trump hosted an event on the South Lawn of the White House using pickups as props highlighting his efforts to pull back state regulations.
When Georgia experienced what was then the worst week of the pandemic, Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, was sued the mayor of Atlanta, a Democrat, on the city’s mask mandate. Republican Party representatives told delegates in a letter sent that day that they cut back plans for Congress in Florida, which at the time was reporting more than 10,000 new cases a day (Congress would eventually pull out of Florida entirely).
In July 16 press conferences, some Republican governors were persistently optimistic in places where the pandemic was worst, while some Democratic governors spoke with great concern about the state of the outbreak, unaware that the numbers were going to get much worse in their states.
“What we are seeing across the country is alarming,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat. at a press conference on July 16, a day the state reported 469 new cases. On Tuesday, Kentucky reported 1,288 new confirmed infections, nearly three times the number on the day the governor’s speech was given.
But in some other parts of the country, the virus felt far away that day.
On July 16, North Dakota cities held their annual summer festivals. People cheered the rodeos and danced maskless in the streets.
Erin Ourada, the administrator of Custer Health, a health department west of Bismarck, watched it all with foreboding.
“I don’t think the reality has hit the majority of North Dakota,” said Ms. Ourada. It was hard to think back to that summer period, she said this week, when “everyone was still living their life, so to speak, preparing for the next street dance they would meet”.
When the nation hit a record on Friday, experts voiced concern about what the coming weeks might bring.
Tests have become more available in recent months, and performing more tests can often uncover cases that might otherwise go unnoticed. However, experts said the surge in cases now cannot be explained simply by further testing. Even as cases of the virus increase, deaths have remained relatively constant at around 775 per day.
But North Dakota hospitals are trying to find available beds this week. The state now has the worst infection rate in the country relative to the population and is ending formal contact tracing, except in health care facilities, schools and colleges. Members of the National Guard call people to tell them they have tested positive.
She saw this coming as the number of cases rose steadily in late July, Ms. Ourada said, “and we have lived in it ever since.”
Mitch Smith, Amy Harmon and Sarah Mervosh Contribution to reporting.