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On April 24, the U.S. recorded its worst day of coronavirus infections yet.
Two months later, as most of the developed nations in Europe and Asia are reporting significant declines in case numbers, that record was broken, as the pandemic continues to rage out of control in the U.S., straining hospital resources, forcing states to enforce quarantines against visitors from other states, and making some lawmakers delay reopening their states.
Health officials on Wednesday reported 36,880 cases, beating the previous record of 36,739, set on April 24, while multiple states in the South and West of the country reported huge spikes in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
As of Wednesday, 2.3 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, and 121,979 of them have died, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Daily records were set Wednesday in the three most populous U.S. states — California, Texas, and Florida — with all three breaking records that had been set just days before.
Nationwide, cases are up 30% compared to the beginning of this month, while more than half of U.S. states have seen coronavirus caseloads increase over the past week, according to data gathered by Axios.
New York and other states imposed quarantines on visitors from states with high coronavirus numbers on Wednesday, while hospital authorities in Houston warned of an impending crisis in ICU wards as cases mount.
But in the White House, a smiling Donald Trump greeted Polish President Andrzej Duda, and continued to say the crisis was over.
“I think you're going to have a big surprise, a beautiful surprise, sooner than anybody would think,” Trump said, referencing some unidentified advances in vaccines or other coronavirus therapies, for which he once again provided no evidence.
But health experts continue to warn that the pandemic is accelerating, and is being made worse by the complete lack of a national strategy to deal with the crisis.
“A public health train wreck in slow motion,” is how Dr. David Blumenthal, a health care policy expert, described the current situation in the U.S. during a webinar organized by Alliance for Health Policy and the Commonwealth Fund on Wednesday.
Record-breaking infection rates
While the resurgence of coronavirus cases is hitting almost all parts of the U.S., the biggest spikes in cases are in the southern and western parts of the country.
Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and California all reported their highest single-day totals on Wednesday.
In California, more than 7,000 new cases were reported Wednesday, smashing the previous record of 5,000 cases set just 24 hours earlier.
According to Axios data, new cases are up 77% in Arizona this week, 75% in Michigan, 70% in Texas, and 66% in Florida.
Despite the huge uptick in confirmed infections and hospitalizations, many lawmakers resisted the urge to reimpose strict lockdown measures.
“We are NOT overwhelmed,” Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson tweeted, claiming the rise in cases in the state was linked to increased testing. “We are NOT currently experiencing a second wave. We have NO intentions of closing Missouri back down at this point in time.”
But some governors have taken action to try to reduce the virus spreading.
In North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that the state would pause reopening for three weeks and would require people to wear face masks in public.
In Washington State, where cases are also rising, Gov. Jay Inslee also said residents would have to start wearing masks in public. “This is about saving lives. It’s about reopening our businesses,” Inslee said, “and it’s about showing respect and care for one another.”
Quarantines for interstate travelers
When the U.S. last recorded its highest daily coronavirus total, New York was the epicenter of the outbreak. Since then, the state has managed to curb the spread of the disease and the number of infections in the city is declining.
Now, authorities there are taking measures to stop those figures rising again. On Wednesday Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would be requiring all visitors coming to New York from states hard hit by the virus to quarantine for 14 days.
The “joint travel advisory” was announced in conjunction with New Jersey and Connecticut, who will also be requiring a two-week quarantine.
“We now have to make sure that the rate continues to drop,” Mr. Cuomo said. “A lot of people come into this region and they could literally bring the infection with them. It wouldn’t be malicious or malevolent, but it would still be real.”
The decision about which states are included in the travel advisory will be based on health metrics and will change depending on the situation in those states. The travel restrictions currently apply to visitors from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — and New Yorkers returning from those states.
Failure to adhere to the quarantine rules could see people fined thousands of dollars.
‘On the verge of being apocalyptic’
On Wednesday, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner told the City Council that the city’s ICU bed were filled 97% capacity, with COVID-19 patients accounting for more than a quarter of all patients in intensive care.
Other Texas cities are also recording significant spikes in infections, including Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
"The big metro areas seem to be rising very quickly and some of the models are on the verge of being apocalyptic," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN.
Houston could see a four-fold increase in daily cases by next weekend, Hoetz said, citing models tracking the infection rate.
“That is really worrisome and as those numbers rise, we're seeing commensurate increases in the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions," he added. "You get to the point where you overwhelm ICUs and that's when the mortality goes up.”
Trump refuses to quarantine
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse not better across the country, Trump continues to push for a complete reopening of the economy.
He is also refusing to adhere to local regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the virus: this week he failed to wear a mask during a trip to Arizona.
He is expected to visit his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey this weekend, and even though New Jersey is one of the states forcing visitors to self-quarantine and Trump recently Arizona is one of the states on the travel advisory list, the president has said he will not self-quarantine.
“The president of the United States is not a civilian,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told NBC, adding: “With regard to Arizona, the White House followed its COVID mitigation plan to ensure the president did not come into contact with anyone who was symptomatic or had not been tested.”
Experts at the World Health Organization said Wednesday that if the Americas cannot get the outbreak under control through social distancing and tracking and tracing of patients, they will have to reimpose lockdown measures.
“It is very difficult to take the sting out of this pandemic unless we are able to successfully isolate cases and quarantine contacts,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO health emergencies program. “In the absence of a capacity to do that, then the specter of further lockdowns cannot be excluded.”
Cover: Healthcare workers wait under a tent at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)