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 August 7, more than 4.8 million people across every state, Washington, D.C., and four territories have tested positive for the disease, and more than 159,000 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 19 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in at least 177 countries, with at least 713,915 deaths so far.

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 August 7, there are at least 4,889,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and at least 159,588 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, the virus has spread rapidly — especially in regions of the country that were early to reopen, including the South and West. According to the New York Times, 18 states set single-day case records last week. The country has been identifying an average of approximately 55,000 new cases every day, more than double the daily average from mid June — yet new data from the CDC shows that throughout the country, the true number of infections has been anywhere from two to 13 times higher than the official count. Additionally, the country has been reporting around 1,000 fatalities every day and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is now predicting that the country will see about 220,000 deaths by November. July saw over 1.9 million new infections, almost 42 percent of all cases reported in the U.S. since the pandemic began, and over twice as many as were recorded in any other month.

California, Florida, and Texas have now surpassed New York with the highest number of recorded infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with all three states now recording well over 480,000 total cases. In the past week, California and Florida have reported more than 46,000 and 49,000 new cases, respectively; New York, which has largely succeeded in controlling its outbreak, had 4,556. The biggest clusters of cases have been in nursing homes, meat-processing plants, and correctional facilities, 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, federal data shows that Black and Latino people in the U.S. have been three times as likely to become infected as white people and that they have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus. Filipino-Americans and Native communities have also been hit especially hard by the virus.

Now 9 states are still seeing an increasing number of new coronavirus cases each day, with younger people accounting for a growing percentage of new infections. The Times reports that people ages 18 to 49 now account for more hospitalizations than those ages 50 to 64 or those over 65. 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 outbreaks, with Trump recently claiming falsely that “99 percent” of cases are “totally harmless” — the nation is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic. Testifying before the Senate on June 30, Fauci said that the recent spikes in cases “put the entire country at risk.” The WHO has warned that if current measures in the U.S. are not able to stop the spread of the virus, further lockdowns may be necessary.

Over the past two months, 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, a recent 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. 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 about 30 million Americans — one in five workers — are currently collecting unemployment benefits. Researchers at Harvard have estimated that nearly 110,000 small businesses closed permanently between early March and early May, and during the same period, an estimated 5.4 million American workers lost their health insurance. Though retail sales and the unemployment rate showed some improvement in May and June, 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. On August 2, Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, recommended the country implement four-to-six week lockdowns again. Otherwise, Kashkari predicted, “We’re going to have flare-ups, lockdowns, and a very halting recovery with many more job losses and many more bankruptcies.”

The Times reports that all 50 states have begun to reopen, 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.

On July 21, President Trump delivered his first coronavirus briefing since April, during which he seemed to acknowledge the seriousness of the current outbreaks for the first time in weeks. Though he reiterated his belief that the virus will “disappear,” as well as his false claim that the U.S. has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, he conceded that “it will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better.” He urged Americans to avoid crowded bars and wear face masks, denying his previous resistance to doing so himself. On Thursday, Trump abruptly canceled the portion of the Republic National Convention that was scheduled to take place in Jacksonville, Florida, next month, saying it “wasn’t the right time,” and that he would do “other things with tele-rallies and online.”

On a private call with governors on June 15, Vice-President Mike Pence downplayed the recent outbreaks, which he described as “intermittent” spikes, and encouraged governors to tell citizens that rising case numbers were the result of expanded testing. Soon after, President Trump reiterated this position, saying that he believes testing is “overrated” and “makes us look bad.” However, public-health experts have said that the country needs to do even more testing to control the outbreak. Testifying before Congress on June 23, Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of public health, said: “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.”

While it’s true that testing capacity has increased in many areas — the U.S. is currently testing about 785,000 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. Additionally, the Times reports that 37 states are still far below the minimum level of testing necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus.

New York City entered phase four of reopening on July 20, which allows some outdoor entertainment, including zoos and botanical gardens, to reopen. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not allowed many indoor activities to resume, including indoor dining, gyms, movie theaters, and museums, citing “an abundance of caution after seeing other states’ experiences,” and Mayor Bill de Blasio has extended the city’s ban on large public gatherings through September 30. Like most of the Northeast, New York has largely succeeded in controlling its outbreak, and Cuomo has said that travelers coming to New York from 34 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — areas currently experiencing surges in cases — must 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 a number of cities and states have walked back their reopening plans as a result. Some states experiencing surges have ordered bars to close, including Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California, and in July, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, recommended that other states experiencing surges should close bars and limit social gatherings to fewer than ten people. California governor Gavin Newsom has ordered restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, and zoos to stop all indoor operations. Texas governor Greg Abbott, who has been criticized for reopening the state too quickly, has 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. An increasing number of school districts have said that they will start the fall school year remotely, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Fransisco, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

In an interview on July 16, Fauci said he believes the country needs to “call a timeout.” “Not necessarily a lockdown again,” he clarified, “but say that we’ve got to do this in a more measured way. We’ve got to get our arms around this, and we’ve got to get this controlled.” However, President Trump struck a different note on Monday, advocating for further reopenings and saying, “A lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening, and we’ll see what happens with them.” Trump continued to push for further reopenings on July 28, despite the fact that a new federal report classified 21 states as being in a “red zone” requiring aggressive steps to halt the virus.

On the night of July 27, Trump also tweeted a viral video containing false and misleading medical information about COVID-19, including the false claim that hydroxychloroquine is a “cure” for the virus and that masks are not necessary. The tweet was subsequently taken down by Twitter, and Facebook and YouTube removed versions of the video.

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.

As testing capacity has improved in recent weeks, the Times reports that a number of laboratories are struggling to meet increased demand; in New York, widespread delays have meant that thousands of people have had to wait a week or longer for test results. Testifying before Congress in June, 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 recently that $1.4 billion in payments were erroneously sent to dead people). Senate Republicans are debating the terms of another $1 trillion aid package, which is expected to include more than $100 billion in funding for schools, aid for states to conduct testing, and additional direct payments to families, though there is ongoing disagreement about whether to extend the $600 weekly unemployment insurance benefit, which expired on July 31.

The Trump administration has announced deals to fund vaccine research by a number of companies, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Moderna, and researchers have made a number of early steps that look promising. Last week, Moderna and the National Institutes of Health began one of the first large studies to determine whether a potential vaccine is safe and effective. However, Fauci has said that a vaccine will not be ready until at least the end of this year or early 2021. Last 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.

On July 7, the Trump administration notified the United Nations that the U.S. will withdraw from the World Health Organization, effective July 6, 2021. In an effort to shift the blame for his own mismanagement of the crisis, Trump first announced that he would halt funding to the organization in April, a move that was met with widespread criticism from health officials and world leaders. A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry condemned the U.S.’s decision to withdraw, saying that it “undermines international anti-epidemic efforts, and in particular has grave implications for developing countries in urgent need of international support.”

Last month, the Trump administration ordered hospitals to send all COVID-19 patient information to the Department of Health and Human Services instead of to the CDC, raising concerns from health experts about transparency, and whether data may be withheld from the public. A day later, CNN reported that some data had already been removed from the CDC website, including current ICU bed occupancy, health care worker staffing, and personal protective equipment supply and availability.

On July 21, presidential candidate Joe Biden announced a $775 billion investment plan in caregiving programs, which would include a bailout for child-care centers, national pre-K, as well as more jobs and higher wages for caregivers. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has 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.

The CDC has recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings while out in public, and more than half of states now require residents to wear masks in public settings when social distancing is not possible.

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. The WHO recently acknowledged that evidence increasingly suggests that the virus can spread via airborne transmission — a revision that many scientists feel was long overdue.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week recently after Donald Trump was seen wearing a mask in public for the first time, Admiral Giroir, the assistant secretary of public health, said, “It’s really essential to wear masks,” adding, “We have to have like 90 percent of people wearing the masks in public in the hot-spot areas. If we don’t have that, we will not get control of the virus.”

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 is being updated daily with new developments.

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