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Explained: Why the United States is worried about another Covid-19 surge

One third of the US, especially Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, is now reporting some of its highest case counts since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Written by Abhishek De , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 22, 2020 1:14:39 pm
A pharmacist works while wearing personal protective equipment in the Elmhurst neighborhood in New York City (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

From reporting a low of around 30,000-35,000 new Covid-19 cases a day in early September, the United States is witnessing a massive spurt in infections, averaging 50,000 new cases daily. One third of the country, especially Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, is now reporting some of its highest case counts since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, the United States reported nearly 60,000 cases, the highest daily total since mid-August, taking the nation’s total to more than 7.9 million infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The death toll has touched 216,904, with the 14 days of October accounting for 9,940 deaths already. However, the fatality rate in October (1.45 per cent) has remained well below the overall rate of 2.7 per cent.

Over the past week ending Wednesday (October 8-14), the US reported a total of 366,417 new cases, an increase of more than 25 per cent over the last week of September, when 2,92,958 cases were detected. Moreover, over the past week the US recorded an average of more than 52,000 new confirmed cases daily — about 12,000 higher than the average number of new daily infections one month ago.

Covid-19 cases in the US. (Source: JHU)

Hospitalisations have also gone up in recent weeks, raising concerns among authorities over a shortage of beds with winter fast approaching. According to the Covid Tracking Project, which tracks hospitalisations in real time, there are 37,046 patients currently hospitalised nationwide — highest since August 28.

What has worried health experts is the fact that infections are surging in more than 20 Midwestern states and rural areas despite these regions seeing relatively a lower caseload in the summer. In the mid-June to July period, densely populated Sun Belt cities like Arizona, Florida were reporting record cases.

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On Wednesday, Ohio reported more than 2,000 new cases — the state’s largest single-day jump since the pandemic began. According to the Covid Tracking Project, there are 1,042 patients currently hospitalised in Ohio — the most since August 2. In an appeal to the public, Governor Mike DeWin recently urged people to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana have announced the country’s highest number of cases on a per capita basis, NYT reported. Other states with large rural areas like Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Alaska and Oklahoma have recorded more cases in the past seven days than in any other week since the start of the pandemic.

Students line up to have their temperature checked before entering an elementary school in the Kensington neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York (AP)

Wisconsin, which has been reporting over 3,000 cases over the past week, has capped indoor public gatherings to no more than 25 per cent of the total occupancy limits besides restricting customers at bars and restaurants. “Please stay home, limit gatherings and travel, and wear a mask whenever you go out so we can flatten the curve and get back on track,” Governor Tony Evers tweeted earlier this week.

However, more worrying signs are being reported from Europe, which is witnessing about 100,000 cases daily, prompting France to re-impose night curfews while other European nations are closing schools.

What is fuelling the rise in US Covid-19 cases

Experts have said the rise in Covid-19 cases in the US comes with the onset of winter and temperatures going down besides negligence in following Covid-19 precautions like wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

“This is the fall/winter surge that everyone was worried about. And now it’s happening. And it’s happening especially in the northern Midwest, and the Northern states are getting hit very hard,” CNN quoted Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, as saying.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected that more than 135,000 people in the US could die within the next three months. “This winter — this November, December, January, February — could be the worst time in our epidemic,” Hotez said.

Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said a higher test positivity rate and rise in hospitalisations were a worrying sign. “We are headed in the wrong direction. Together, I think these three indicators give a very clear picture that we are seeing increased transmission in communities across the country,” NYT quoted Rivers as saying.

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