The United States, after battling the coronavirus for eight months, recorded over 99,000 new cases on Friday, a global record. Two dozen states reported their worst weeks for new cases; none showed any improvement.
Fourteen states reported single-day records for new cases on Friday: Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oregon, Kansas, Ohio, Colorado and Maine. And three states hit record deaths: Tennessee, Montana and New Mexico.
At least 1,200 counties — a full third of the country — now qualify as a virus hot spot, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in private a call with governors on Friday. But on the same day, President Trump once again sought to play down the severity of the coronavirus. At a campaign rally in Michigan, he ridiculed a reporter for wearing a mask, claimed that “doctors get more money if somebody dies from Covid” and implied that deaths from the virus were artificially inflated.
The outbreaks look different across the country, with the surge cresting at varying levels in different clusters of states.
In the Great Plains, North Dakota and South Dakota have recorded extremely high numbers of cases for weeks: The Dakotas are ranked first and second nationally in cases per capita. Officials in North Dakota reported a single-day record on Friday for the second day in a row. The neighboring states of Montana and Wyoming also hit single-day records for new cases on Friday.
In the Midwest, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan are experiencing swift, alarming rises in case counts. In Illinois, new cases have increased 70 percent in two weeks, with more than 8,010 new cases on Friday, the second single-day record in a row. Ohio reported 3,845 new cases on Friday, the second single-day record in a row. And Michigan has been averaging more than 2,800 cases per day for the past week, an increase of 91 percent from the average two weeks ago.
In the Northeast, though numbers in states like New Hampshire and Maine remain low, they are backsliding after long periods of stability. Maine in particular has seen three of the four highest single-day totals this week. Rhode Island limited gatherings to 10 people on Friday, after a single high school party led to five positive coronavirus cases in the state and 1,000 people in quarantine.
In the West, Colorado and Utah both reported single-day records for new cases. Last Friday, Utah officials issued urgent pleas saying they were planning to open a field hospital. A week later, the state reported a record 2,260 new cases. Officials deployed a statewide wireless emergency alert because of the rising case counts on Friday, which read: “Almost every county is a high transmission area. Hospitals are nearly overwhelmed.”
Hospitalizations and deaths are also trending upward. Across the nation, more than 46,600 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, an increase of about 25 percent over the past two weeks, according to The Covid Tracking Project. The country has averaged just over 800 deaths a day over the past week.
On Thursday, more than 1,000 Americans died from Covid-19, an increase of 16 percent from two weeks ago. On the same day, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, said in an appearance on Fox News that deaths were down to “almost nothing.” In total, more than 229,000 Americans have died from the virus.
Cities, too, are issuing warnings as cases tick upward. Mayor London Breed of San Francisco announced that the city was temporarily pausing the reopening of certain businesses and activities that were scheduled to resume on Tuesday: Restaurants will now stay at 25 percent capacity for indoor dining, and indoor pools and locker rooms at gyms will remain closed, among other changes.
Yet experts warn that the variability may simply end with the virus resurging to high levels across the entire country.
“We’re going to see much less evidence of regionalization of this virus over the course of the next several weeks,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota. “I think this is going to ultimately end up being an entire country on fire.”
This week, the United States reached its worst week for virus cases, with more than 500,000 new cases reported in the past week and at least 90,000 new cases reported on Thursday. The country also crossed the threshold of nine million infections since the pandemic started. The virus still has the potential to infect millions more, since the country has not neared herd immunity, Dr. Osterholm said. “The virus is going to keep coming back,” he said.
The combination of pandemic fatigue, more indoor transmission of the virus during the winter, and the reopening of businesses and activities, such as sports, could mean that states that are not experiencing an increase in infections may see one soon. “I don’t see any location in the United States that’s going to be free of a major increase in cases,” Dr. Osterholm said. “And I think we’re just getting started.”
When high case counts emerge in communities, the spillover to surrounding populations is rapid, he said. The situation, he noted, can be likened to a “coronavirus forest fire.”
“A forest fire never burns evenly everywhere,” Dr. Osterholm said. “But if the embers are still around, they ignite again, and then that area does burn eventually. And I think that that’s what we’re seeing here.”
— Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Mitch Smith and Rebecca Halleck
At a rally in Michigan on Friday, President Trump repeated an extraordinary and unfounded claim that American doctors were profiteering from coronavirus deaths.
“You know our doctors get more money if somebody dies from Covid,” Mr. Trump said, adding that in Germany and other countries, deaths are characterized differently if there appear to be multiple causes.
“With us, when in doubt, choose Covid,” he said.
Medical professionals and organizations quickly decried those comments and lauded the work of nurses, doctors and other health care workers, many of whom have risked their lives and worried about the health of their families as they cared for people who were infected with the coronavirus.
“The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting Covid-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge,” said Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, in a statement on Friday.
“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” she added.
Misleading claims about inflated death counts related to the coronavirus surfaced as early as April.
Coronavirus cases are rising in Michigan as a third wave of infections spreads across the country. This week, the state recorded a 91 percent increase in new cases from the average two weeks earlier.
Mr. Trump made a similar false claim about physicians at a campaign rally on Oct. 24 in Wisconsin — another state that has seen a surge in cases this month — when he said that “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” for reporting more deaths due to the coronavirus.
That prompted a backlash from organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“These baseless claims not only do a disservice to our health care heroes but promulgate the dangerous wave of misinformation which continues to hinder our nation’s efforts to get the pandemic under control and allow our nation to return to normalcy,” the American College of Emergency Physicians said in a statement on Sunday.
On the campaign trail, the president has often declared that the virus was vanishing — even as case counts soared — and attacked Democratic governors and other local officials for keeping public-health restrictions in place.
The coronavirus continues to scythe through the halls of long-term care facilities despite an array of safety measures and bans on visitors put in place months ago to slow the devastation.
More than 87,000 residents and workers have died of the virus, which has infected more than half a million people tied to facilities, and new clusters continue to erupt with numbing regularity: 16 people reported dead this month at a nursing home in Chesterfield, Va.; all 62 residents of a Kansas nursing home infected.
At the same time, the damage of solitude is being overlooked, families and advocacy groups say. They say that widespread lockdowns are still necessary to protect people from the virus, but also that facilities must now confront a growing physical and mental toll of social isolation as the pandemic shows no sign of abating.
Separation from family and friends is among the hardest deprivations of the pandemic. Experts say the absence can inflict particularly serious damage on people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, thousands of whom have been confined to their buildings since March.
Operators of long-term care facilities say they are facing an impossible choice between depriving residents of vital human contact and inviting the virus inside.
“We have to walk a very fine line,” said Robin Dale, president of the Washington Health Care Association, a trade group that has noted a recent uptick in virus cases in the state’s facilities amid a new surge nationally. “We need to work toward more in-person visits, but it is difficult right now.”
With Thanksgiving less than a month away, the travel industry is focused on a group that has become central to the health of airlines and hotels: those who have yet to commit to plans.
The latest available data shows that 1.1 million people in the United States booked airline travel for any point in November. That figure, from early October and compiled by OAG, a data analytics firm, suggests a massive drop in Thanksgiving travel. Last year, 10.7 million people had booked Thanksgiving travel by early October, OAG reported.
That means nine million would-be travelers could be on the fence.
At the same time, airline seating capacity has dropped drastically. The three major domestic airlines — United Airlines, Delta Airlines and American Airlines — plan to make 13.1 million seats available the week of Nov. 23. That’s down from around 20 million seats.
It is likely that these airlines will collectively cut one-third of the flights as Thanksgiving week nears, said John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG.
The reason for the drop in expected air travel has a lot to do with the rise of the undecided traveler, Mr. Grant said. Increasingly, he said, people are waiting until a week or two before air travel to buy tickets. This is a huge change from the past and from holiday periods in particular, when plans might be made three to six months in advance.
Fliers’ uncertainty isn’t solely because of the fear of becoming infected with the coronavirus. According to Mr. Grant, people have learned that inexpensive flights can be available on late notice, or they have been put off by canceled flights or airlines’ slowness to refund money if travel plans are changed.
The upshot: “There are a huge amount of undecided travelers, holding off placing their bets,” he said.
Asked to predict how air travel will play out at the end of November, Mr. Grant said many will stay home. “It could be a last-minute and very busy Thanksgiving if a whole set of conditions occurred,” he said. “I doubt they will.”
While roughly 85 percent of office workers remain at home in New York City, some corporate leaders, eager for their expensive spaces to hum again, have been offering increasingly generous incentives to bring employees back. The reasons are varied — real estate firms, for example, have a vested interest in demonstrating the safety of office work by engaging in it themselves — but employees and company representatives said it came down to the value of in-person collaboration.
“Working at home was quite isolating,” said Steve Doan, 34, who works in marketing for L’Oréal out of its Hudson Yards offices. “I get people interaction, I get those casual meetings, instead of scheduling a quick 10-minute conversation, I can just shout across the hall and get a yes or no answer.”
And then there are the perks.
Bloomberg LP, whose executives — from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on down — prize in-person work, will pay for commuting costs of up to $75 each day.
JP Morgan Chase and the media conglomerate Hearst have expanded child care offerings. The New York Stock Exchange has arranged for discounted parking. Goldman Sachs offers free lunch.
The real estate company SL Green even offers an educational pod for employees’ children to do remote learning, supervised by tutors paid by the company.
At the same time, the vast majority of those who have been showing up in person to work — particularly those deemed essential, including grocery store workers and delivery people — have not been offered perks to do so, and are often paid less than those working from home.
And bringing back any number of office employees carries with it the chance that someone will become infected.
SL Green has had one such positive case so far, over the summer; that employee’s close contacts at work were told to stay home and get tested, said Edward V. Piccinich, the chief operating officer at SL Green. No other cases have so far emerged.
“You could pick up anything anywhere,” he said.
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