coronavirus

Everything to Know About the Coronavirus in the United States

A drive-through COVID-19 screening site in Yorba Linda, California. Photo: MediaNews Group via Getty Images

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In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the United States should brace for a domestic coronavirus outbreak. Over the past four months, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. has risen dramatically, and the U.S. currently has the largest outbreak in the world. As of July 2, more than 2.7 million people across every state, Washington, D.C., and four territories have tested positive for the disease, and more than 128,655 people with the virus have died.

In March, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and President Trump declared a national state of emergency. Now, infection rates continue to grow across the globe: More than 10.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in at least 177 countries, with at least 517,477 deaths so far — meaning that as of early July, the U.S. accounted for about 25 percent of global coronavirus deaths.

Here’s everything to know about the spread of the virus in the U.S.

How many new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S.?

As of July 2, there are at least 2,748,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and at least 128,655 people with the virus have died.

Though cases had been on a downward trajectory after the widespread lockdowns in March and April, in recent weeks, as states have reopened, the virus has spread rapidly, especially in the South and West. On Tuesday, the U.S. recorded more than 48,000 new cases, setting a single-day record for the fourth day in the past week. On Thursday, the country broke its own record again, reporting 55,220 new cases nationwide, after charting nearly 53,000 on Wednesday. The New York Times reports that the number of new virus cases has gone up 80 percent in the last two weeks. Still, public-health officials say that the true number of Americans who have been infected is far higher, with the CDC estimating that the number of cases is likely ten times the 2.6 million that have been recorded.

New York has had by far the largest outbreak in the country, though the number of new infections and deaths in the state have declined significantly in recent weeks. As of Thursday, the state has 399,642 confirmed cases and 31,814 deaths, including those presumed to have died from the virus who had not tested positive. While the biggest outbreaks were initially clustered in dense urban areas, the New York Times reports that on a per capita basis, a number of small cities and rural communities in the South and Midwest have been among the hardest hit. The biggest clusters of cases have been in nursing homes, food-processing plants, and correctional facilities — all places where social distancing is a challenge. Coronavirus cases in prisons and jails have doubled in the past month, and more than 40 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have been linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Additionally, data shows that Latinos in the U.S. have been infected at disproportionate rates, and that Black Americans have been hospitalized for COVID-19 at four times the rate of white people.

Now 38 states are still seeing an increasing number of new coronavirus cases each day, with younger people accounting for a growing percentage of new infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, has cautioned that despite the optimism from the Trump administration — which has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the current outbreak — the nation is still in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic. Testifying before the Senate on Tuesday, Fauci said that the recent spikes in cases “put the entire country at risk.” He added: “We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned.” The WHO warned last week that if current measures in the U.S. are not able to stop the spread of the virus, further lockdowns may be necessary.

In recent weeks, as thousands of protesters have gathered across the country to demand justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, epidemiologists raised concerns that the demonstrations could lead to a rise in coronavirus cases. However, early results appear encouraging: A new study analyzing data from Black Lives Matter protests in 315 cities found “no evidence” that the protests led to a spike in COVID-19 cases. In Seattle, thousands of protesters have been tested for the coronavirus, and less than one percent have been positive. Preliminary data from St. Paul and Minneapolis showed that about 1.4 percent of protesters had tested positive, and New York City has yet to see an uptick in cases following the protests. Epidemiologists have expressed some surprise that the demonstrations have not led to more cases, and speculate that this may be because the risk of transmission is lower in outdoor settings, as well as the fact that most protesters wore masks.

How long will it take to reopen the country?

As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to rise throughout March and April, many states urged or ordered residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus. As of mid-April, 316 million Americans in 42 states were under orders to stay at home except for essential activities, and 48 states suspended in-person classes for the rest of the school year.

The widespread lockdowns have had serious economic consequences, and more than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs since the outbreak began. Though retail sales and the unemployment rate showed some improvement in May, the chair of the Federal Reserve has said that the U.S. economy is in a “downturn without modern precedent,” and economists are increasingly concerned that many lost jobs may never come back.

The Times reports that all 50 states have now begun to reopen in some way, though public-health officials have warned that reopening too soon — and without widespread testing available — could lead to a resurgence of cases. Testifying before the Senate on May 12, Fauci warned that reopening prematurely could lead to needless suffering and death as well as further economic setbacks. “The real risk is that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” Fauci said. His characterization of the situation is a stark contrast to President Trump’s, who recently said, “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”

In an interview with Fox News on June 17, Trump said that the coronavirus is “fading away.” However, according to the Times, nationwide, cases have risen 80 percent over the past two weeks, and eight states tallied record numbers of new cases on Tuesday. California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona are among the states emerging as the country’s latest epicenters; in Florida, the daily case count has risen fivefold in the last two weeks.

Testifying before Congress last week, Fauci said that parts of the country were seeing a “disturbing surge” of infections as states reopen without adequate testing and contact tracing. “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges we are seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona, and other states,” he said, adding that “the virus is not going to disappear.”

On a private call with governors on June 15, Vice-President Mike Pence downplayed the current outbreaks, which he described as “intermittent” spikes, and encouraged governors to tell citizens that rising case numbers were the result of expanded testing. President Trump reiterated this at his campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20, saying that he asked “my people” to “slow the testing down” so that the numbers wouldn’t look as bad. The four doctors who testified before Congress last week, including Fauci, said they knew of no such request and that they believe the country needs to do more testing. “The only way that we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected, and can pass it, and to do appropriate contact tracing, is to test appropriately, smartly — and as many people as we can,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of public health.

While it’s true that testing capacity has increased in many areas — the U.S. is currently testing about 500,000 people a day — public-health experts have said that it’s not accurate to attribute the rise in cases solely to this and have warned that the outbreak is far from under control.

New York City entered phase two of reopening on June 22, which allows thousands of employees to return to offices, as well as outdoor dining and in-person retail shopping. Additionally, hair salons, barbershops, and real-estate firms can now resume business. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city is on track to enter phase three on July 6, which includes reopening personal-care businesses and expanding outdoor recreation, though he said Wednesday that the city will postpone allowing indoor dining indefinitely. New York has largely succeeded in controlling its outbreak, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that travelers coming to New York from 16 states currently experiencing surges in cases will have to quarantine for 14 days.

Meanwhile, across the country, new clusters of cases have been found via gatherings in bars, churches, and other recently reopened places, and the Times reports that at least a dozen states and cities are walking back their reopening plans as a result. A number of states experiencing surges have ordered bars to close, including Arizona, Florida, Texas, and a number of counties in California. The Times reports that North Carolina will pause its reopening for three weeks and require residents to wear face masks. After Texas reported a record high of new cases last week, Governor Greg Abbott, who has been criticized for reopening the state too quickly and not requiring people to wear masks in public, also paused the state’s reopening and urged residents to stay home. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has announced that the state will not move forward with the next phase and urged people to avoid indoor spaces with poor ventilation, crowds, and close contact with others. Some Florida counties have also said they will close beaches over the Fourth of July weekend.

On June 20, President Trump held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma — his first since the coronavirus outbreak began. While the crowd for the indoor event was smaller than the Trump campaign had anticipated — the 19,000-person stadium was about one-third empty — many are concerned that it could be a “super spreader” for the virus, as most attendees did not wear masks or adhere to social distancing. Disregarding requests from local officials to cancel the event or move it outdoors, the Trump campaign claimed that the rally would be “a safe opportunity to congregate” — though they also issued a disclaimer requiring attendees to agree not to sue the campaign or the venue if they contracted the virus at the event.

What is the federal government doing to fight coronavirus?

In March, President Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, effectively freeing up to $50 billion in federal funds to help states and territories fight the spread of the virus, which he said would include expanding access to testing.

On May 24, the Trump administration announced a new testing strategy, which holds states responsible for planning and carrying out all testing. Public-health experts and Democratic leaders have criticized the proposal, saying that it will pit states against each for supplies and may result in large inequities in testing capacity.

Testing capacity has improved in recent weeks, and the country is currently testing about 500,000 people a day. However, the Times reports that as the virus has continued to spread in recent days, a number of laboratories are struggling to meet increased demand. Testifying before Congress last week, federal health officials said that the U.S. currently has the capacity to do 15 million tests a month, which they expect to increase to 40 to 50 million by the fall. Additionally, the U.S. currently has about 28,000 contact tracers — but Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, has said the country will need 100,000 by September to contain the spread of the virus.

On March 19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would close its borders with Canada and Mexico, barring entry to all nonessential travelers. President Trump has also barred entry of all foreign nationals who have been in high-risk countries, including China, Iran, and much of Europe, within the last 14 days. The CDC has advised against all nonessential travel throughout most of Europe, South Korea, China, and Iran and has advised older and at-risk Americans to avoid travel to any country. The Times reports that the European Union reopened its borders on July 1 to visitors from 15 countries, but that it will block American travelers due to the country’s failure to contain the spread of the virus.

On March 27, President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus plan, the largest in modern American history, which sent direct payments of around $1,200 to millions of Americans who earn less than $99,000, along with an additional $500 per child. The first round of deposits went out on April 11 (though the Government Accountability Office said this week that $1.4 billion in payments were erroneously sent to dead people). The plan also substantially expands unemployment benefits, including extending eligibility to freelance and gig workers, and provides aid to businesses and companies in distress. The expanded unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of July, and the Trump administration has said that it does not plan to extend them, and will focus instead on bringing people back to work. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has extended the tax-filing deadline to July 15, and President Trump signed another $484 billion relief package in late April, which will provide aid to small businesses and funding for hospitals and testing. On May 15, the House approved a new $3 trillion relief package, which would include nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, as well as another round of $1,200 payments to Americans.

Researchers have made a number of early steps toward a vaccine that look promising. A coronavirus vaccine that has been tested in eight people appears to be safe and effective, according to the manufacturer, Moderna, which plans to begin additional tests soon. On May 5, Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech announced that they were beginning human trials for a possible coronavirus vaccine in the U.S., and the U.S. government has pledged to provide up to $1.2 billion for vaccine research to the drug company AstrZeneca. However, Fauci has said that a vaccine will not be ready until at least the end of this year or early 2021. Earlier this month, British scientists announced that they have identified the steroid dexamethasone as a possible COVID-19 treatment, noting that it has been shown to reduce the death rate of patients on ventilators by a third.

Meanwhile, last week the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act. If they succeed, as many as 23 million Americans would lose access to their health insurance.

What should I do to minimize my coronavirus risk?

In most cases, COVID-19 is not fatal, but it appears to pose the greatest risk to elderly people and those with preexisting conditions. According to the CDC, eight out of ten deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have been adults age 65 and older. Doctors and medical workers may also be at greater risk, due to their higher-than-average odds of exposure.

On April 10, President Trump said that the CDC is now recommending that Americans wear masks when they are out in public, though he stressed that the guidelines were voluntary, and said he would not wear a mask himself. A number of states now require residents to wear masks in public settings when social distancing is not possible, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and CNN reports that the CDC is expected to issue an updated recommendation on the public-health benefits of masks soon.

The guidance on masks is driven in part by concern about the number of asymptomatic individuals who may be infected and spreading the virus. The prevalence of asymptomatic spread has been a source of recent confusion after a WHO official said on June 9 that transmission of the virus by individuals without symptoms appears to be “very rare.” However, the organization reversed course a day later, saying the next day that up to 40 percent of transmission may occur through asymptomatic individuals. Fauci has previously estimated that between 25 and 50 percent of people infected with the virus may not experience any symptoms.

Testifying before the Senate on Tuesday, Fauci said, “We recommend masks for everyone on the outside, anyone who comes into contact in a crowded area. You should avoid crowds where possible. And when you’re outside and do not have the capability of maintaining distance, you should wear a mask at all times.”

If you have symptoms associated with coronavirus — coughing, fever, respiratory issues — call your doctor before showing up at their office: The virus is highly contagious and you want to limit the possibility of spreading it. If you are sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home and self-isolate, confining yourself to one room as much as possible and wearing a face mask when you have to interact with others. Wash your hands frequently — soap and water and at least 20 seconds of scrubbing — and avoid touching shared household items, cleaning “high-touch” surfaces (like your phone) regularly. Your health-care provider and even local health department will help you determine how long it’s appropriate for you to keep up these precautions.

Regardless of whether or not you have symptoms, though, keep your hands clean, and seriously, stop touching your face and just stay home.

This post has been updated.

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