A patient arrives at the emergency exit of Maimonides Medical Center in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, United States on October 14, 2020 as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Temperatures are colder in the northern hemisphere, and an insidious surge in new coronavirus cases is underway in the US and Europe.
Health officials have been warning of this possibility for months, and as these trends begin to emerge, countries are considering taking tighter measures to contain the spread of the virus.
"Our concern was that we would see a storm wave, that we would see a major resurgence in the fall," said Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "And that really has been something we've all been concerned about in public health for a while."
In the United States, coronavirus cases grew 5% or more in 38 states on Friday. This comes from a CNBC analysis of the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, which uses a weekly average to smooth the coverage. The nation is seeing an average of around 55,000 new coronavirus cases each day, up more than 16% compared to a week ago.
"It is still not too late to vigorously apply good public health measures, and I reiterate without necessarily closing the country," said White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Thursday during a taped Q&A across from Johns Hopkins University.
Fauci, the country's foremost infectious disease expert, has warned that the daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States remains dangerously high, especially as the upcoming flu season threatens to make the country's response to the pandemic difficult.
As the US dropped from its first peak in April, where cases were largely driven by New York and other northeastern states, the number of new coronavirus cases "stuck" around 20,000 a day, Fauci said. Ideally, the US would have reported fewer than 10,000 cases each day, he said.
Then, in the summer, cases resurfaced in the American sun belt as states tried to reopen their economies. The number of new Covid-19 cases every day rose to nearly 70,000 cases a day before subsiding again. However, since then, new cases have ranged between 40,000 and 50,000 cases per day.
"You cannot enter the cool months of autumn and cold months of winter with a high infection base in the community," said Fauci. He added that the rate of positivity, or the percentage of tests that are positive, is "going in the wrong direction" in more than 30 states.
"I'm pretty sad right now because it looks like there are more and more cases in most states," said Dr. William Schaffner, epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University. "There is a growing sense of coronavirus fatigue. People really want to get back to normal."
Schaffner said he expects the US to see a "significant third wave" of infections and that it will be made more complicated this winter by the spread of seasonal influenza, which causes many symptoms similar to the coronavirus.
People will spend more time indoors and likely not following public health guidelines when the colder temperatures kick in, which puts the cornoavirus at greater risk for the spread of the cornoavirus compared to outdoor activities, Schaffner said.
"During the summer, people went inside for air conditioning, but they spent more time outdoors. Still, this spread as people waned attention to social distancing and masking," he said. "As far as I can tell, it's growing."
Cases, hospital stays are rising in America's Great Plains
Unlike previous outbreaks in the United States, the coronavirus is now widespread in many rural American communities.
According to Johns Hopkins, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin continue to report the highest number of cases per 100,000 people in the country.
The outbreak has turned for the worst in some states. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers this week activated an alternative care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park that was opened to overflow coronavirus patients.
In North Dakota, where the number of cases has increased nearly 34% from a week ago, local officials fear some hospitals may not have the staffing necessary to treat critically ill coronavirus patients.
"We had a shortage of nurses before the pandemic, so the extra workload and hospital capacity that comes with Covid has impacted and impacted staffing levels," said Renae Moch, director of Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health.
Moch said some residents of more rural parts of North Dakota had sometimes had to drive hours across state lines to Montana and South Dakota to seek help because hospital beds in Bismarck, the state's capital, were full.
"For us this is the worst that has ever happened," said Moch. "I think especially with the flu season coming up and the potential impact of it as we near fall … we have to get this under control before it gets worse, and I'm sure it can get worse."
Dr. Allison Suttle, chief medical officer at Sanford Health, with hospitals in North Dakota and South Dakota, said they saw more Covid-19 patients and added beds to treat people.
With the current surge in coronavirus patients now versus earlier in the country's response to the pandemic, Sanford Health has had time to prepare and replenish supplies it needs, Suttle said, adding that it is confident it can treat patients seeking medical care.
However, people in rural states delayed their routine health care visits in the spring after they were told to stay home while the coronavirus swept the coasts. Now these people are coming to hospitals in worse shape amid the growing numbers of Covid-19 patients, Suttle said.
"What we see as Covid hospital admissions increase in direct correlation with the number of cases in our communities, we also see sick patients who delayed care in March and April and are now struggling," she said. "They require more intensive care, longer hospital stays, so all connections."
Covid-19 is spreading in Europe, Canada
The United States isn't the only country where new cases are reported.
When adjusted for population, the number of new coronavirus infections in Europe has now overtaken the United States. In Europe, 187 new cases per million people were reported, based on an average of seven days, compared to 162 new cases per million people in the US as of Thursday.
Europe – which includes the 27 EU countries plus the UK in CNBC's analysis of Hopkins' data – reports an average of around 97,000 new cases per day, up 44% from a week ago.
The World Health Organization warned on Friday that the European outbreak was "worrying" as the number of ICU beds declined in some regions. Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical director, said the organization knows "a number of cities across Europe where ICU capacity will be reached in the coming weeks".
The resurgence of the virus prompted France to declare a state of emergency for public health. The UK imposed stricter restrictions on indoor collecting and doing business in London and threatened to take further action nationwide if necessary. Germany has also introduced new measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, Canada is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections as the provinces of Quebec and Ontario report most of the country's Covid-19 death toll, Carissa Etienne, WHO regional director for America, said Wednesday.
– CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.