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Hospitals across the country at 100% capacity. Positive testing rates in the double digits. One hundred thousand new coronavirus cases, or more, per day. Individual states passing 1 million cases since the pandemic started.
November 2020, it turns out, doesn’t just look like March and April—it looks much worse.
Even as a president-elect who has promised a more stringent focus on public health prepares to take office in two months, the U.S. is in the worst shape it’s ever seen since the pandemic began. More than 142,000 new coronavirus cases were reported on Wednesday across the U.S., according to the New York Times, as the country continues to smash records day after day.
The 14-day average of new COVID cases is up 69% and more than 65,000 people are currently hospitalized across the country, according to the Times. On Tuesday, the state of Texas surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, making it the first state to do so. California currently has more than 995,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins, and could surpass 1 million as well as early as today.
For reference, there are just nine countries in the world aside from the United States that have registered 1 million cases so far; China, the most populous country in the world and where the virus was first discovered, has reported fewer than 92,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins. The U.S. has seen more than a hundred times that amount, reporting 10.4 million cases as of Wednesday.
Nearly every state in the country has seen a precipitous rise in cases over the past two months. The biggest increase has been in the Midwest—the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, and Minnesota have all seen dramatic spikes, and some states have more than doubled their numbers of new cases in the last few weeks.
Hospitals in North Dakota and northwest Wisconsin hit 100% capacity this week, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Tuesday that asymptomatic healthcare workers could continue to work in hospitals. But Burgum directly contradicted all available evidence in making his case against another lockdown, saying that "shutting down the economy doesn't necessarily slow the spread [of the virus].”
The third wave of the pandemic is even slamming places that have long had the virus relatively under control. After the March and April peak in the New York metropolitan area, the pandemic remained largely mitigated through the summer relative to other hot spots around the country, but has come roaring back in the fall.
Nearly one in five people who took a coronavirus test in Newark, New Jersey, over three days last week tested positive, the New York Times reported. New Jersey reported more than 3,000 new cases Wednesday, and new cases there have risen nearly 90% over the past two weeks, according to the Times.
In response, some states are beginning to implement moderate restrictions, though nothing nearly as strict as they did in March and April. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that beginning Friday, private in-home gatherings would be limited to 10 people and restaurants would close at 10 p.m. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced an indoor dining ban earlier this month; Illinois has seen a 127% increase in new cases over the past two weeks, according to the Times.
The outgoing Trump White House has all but given up on combating the virus. The coronavirus task force has not held any public briefings in weeks, and the White House election-night watch party appears to have been yet another superspreader event, with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other Trump advisors testing positive.
With the federal government changing hands in two months, however, President-elect Joe Biden named longtime advisor and former Obama White House Ebola response coordinator Ron Klain as his chief of staff Wednesday, signaling that the pandemic will be a top priority for the next administration.
Biden has also named his own shadow coronavirus task force, including former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Rick Bright, the former Trump administration whistleblower who was fired in April. Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Minnesota and another member of the Biden “advisory board,” said Wednesday that another lockdown should be on the table.
“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” Osterholm told Yahoo! Finance. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks.”
But with Trump refusing to concede the presidential election and his political appointees refusing to begin the transition to the next administration, Biden is currently being blocked from access to key instruments of the federal government that’s usually afforded to incoming presidents. Officials at agencies like the CDC, FDA, and NIH—including Dr. Anthony Fauci—cannot legally speak with Biden’s advisors until that process begins, according to Politico.
Trump’s refusal to concede has reportedly led to an atmosphere where federal agencies are effectively ignoring reality. “We had an entire senior leadership team meeting with no acknowledgment of the election, the transition, anything that might be changing,” a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services told Politico. “It was eerie.”