The coronavirus is racing through the U.S. with alarming speed, with known cases crossing the 150,000 mark for the first time and hospitalizations at their highest levels since the pandemic began.
California joined Texas in recording its millionth case, as the nation recorded more than 163,000 infections on Thursday alone.
Many cases in communities aren’t recorded, and some of the infected don’t get sick at all, but the underlying trends are worrying.
The seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths has reached more than 1,000 per day in the U.S.
Over 67,000 people are hospitalized, up from 36,000 a month ago and a level that exceeds the New York-New Jersey crush last spring and summertime surge in the Sun Belt.
The virus is rampant in the Upper Midwest. Wisconsin opened a field hospital and North Dakota and South Dakota are No. 1 and No. 2 in per-capita deaths over the past seven days, while elsewhere in the country, Northeast governors are worried about another surge and El Paso, Texas, called in mobile morgues.
Experts say the country in a tough spot. The virus is spreading exponentially, but the bulk of the population is still susceptible to the disease, so the safest path to herd immunity is through a forthcoming vaccine.
The alarm bells are ringing even as Americans tire of rolling restrictions that have upended their lives, ruined the economy and threatened holiday gatherings.
Governors and city officials across the country are telling people not to mix households on Thanksgiving, or to at least limit the size of their gatherings. Some leaders are imposing nighttime curfews at bars and restaurants, while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a stay-at-home order that says people should only leave for work or school or essential needs like food and medicine.
“We’ve really painted ourselves into a corner as a nation,” said Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We’ve essentially allowed this virus to get so out of control that we are now going to see lockdowns and shutdowns that we were trying to avoid.”
President Trump will update the nation on Operation Warp Speed, his campaign to speed vaccines and medicines to fight COVID-19, from the White House on Friday.
He’s largely stayed out of view since Election Day, as he contests results showing he lost to Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden. He also hasn’t delved on the topic on Twitter, except to complain that Pfizer did not release good news about its vaccine until after people voted.
The world is cheering the rapid development of a vaccine that can bring the virus down to manageable levels in 2021, though experts say people can’t give up the fight while they wait.
“Never in history has vaccine research progressed so quickly. We must apply the same urgency and innovation to ensuring that all countries benefit from this scientific achievement,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros A. Ghebreyesus said. “But we have a long way to go. The world cannot put all its eggs in one basket and neglect the many other tools at our disposal.”
Dr. Mina said the nation needs a rapid-antigen testing program that lets a wide swath of the public screen themselves at home on a frequent basis. He said companies are working on simple tests that can detect when people are most infectious, but federal regulators haven’t acted fast enough to approve them for widespread use.
“We have to treat the public health problem first,” Dr. Mina said. “And if we do that, then the medical problems resolve themselves.”
Food and Drug Administration officials say they’re working around the clock to provide new testing options while weighing thorny questions about how sensitive the tests should be and what type of guidance users should receive from health professionals.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, says he will make the virus his top priority once in office. He’s named a COVID-19 advisory board, emphasized robust testing and mask-wearing and said he wants $25 billion from Congress to assist the vaccine rollout.
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