Experts attribute the record-breaking number of coronavirus cases in the United States to the increasing tiredness of Americans keeping up with pandemic practices such as social distancing and wearing masks.
The US reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases during the pandemic last week with 84,232 positive tests on October 23. This is a nonprofit, according to the COVID Act Now, tracking the geographic spread of the virus in the US, meaning the number of new cases has more than doubled since the end of the summer when the US had 40,123 cases on September 1.
According to the methodology of the COVID Act Now, there is not a single state that is on the right track to contain the virus.
These numbers have raised the alarm among public health experts, who are concerned about rising case numbers across the country as much of the United States faces winter temperatures and the traditionally socially stressed holiday season.
"The spread is explosive in many parts of the country, including areas with more limited health infrastructure," said Dr. Leana Wen, visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University School of Public Health and former health commissioner in Baltimore. “We are already seeing that hospitals are overwhelmed and patients have to be redirected to other locations for care. It is extremely worrying. I cannot stress how bad the situation is right now. "
The four experts surveyed for this story say several factors are responsible for the record high number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States. However, what is different about this increase compared to spring, for example, is that it happens in different parts of the country. Chris Meekins, director of health policy at Raymond James, predicts the US will suffer 100,000 cases a day over the next few weeks.
El Paso, Texas, with 128.7 cases per 100,000 people, implemented a 10:00 p.m. this week. until 5 a.m. curfew. Some Kansas City, Missouri hospitals have turned away ambulances because they are already overwhelmed, according to ABC News. Hospitals in northern Idaho are considering moving COVID-19 patients across state lines to less crowded facilities in Portland and Seattle.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said this week that he sees the current surge in cases as "an exacerbation of the original first wave" in the US.
Many experts agree that the first wave hit the U.S. on a rolling roll, hitting New York and parts of the Northwest in the spring, then the Sun Belt states like Arizona and Texas in the summer, and now the virus has for the most part the greatest impact in the Midwest , although infections are increasing in almost all states. "The third phase is really nationwide now, from the sea to the shining sea," said Meekins, "but mostly the seeds were formed in the upper Midwest."
What is responsible for the recent surge in cases?
1. Falling temperatures mean more people are socializing indoorsas Americans shift their social lives from a summer of patios and backyards to living rooms and bars. A preprint published in September, a kind of preliminary scientific study, found that socializing outdoors posed a significantly lower risk of transmission than outdoors.
"When temperatures have dropped, look where the areas with the highest positive test rates, for example, are," Meekins said. "It's the upper Midwest, where temperatures have obviously dropped, and Montana (and) Idaho." Billings, Montana, is high this week at 41 degrees Fahrenheit – Montana cases are at an all-time high of 67.9 cases per 100,000 residents on October 26th. (By comparison, New York has 8.4 cases per 100,000 people.)
2. People deal with "pandemic fatigue". After nearly eight months of near-constant concern about the virus since the first US lockdowns in March. "People are tired of being cooped up and they may not always use the best judgment," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the medical department at Mount Sinai South Nassau in New York.
And because pandemic policies differ from state to state, the lack of a coordinated national response means that individuals have to make their own decisions, which can be stressful over long periods of time. "Some states are doing a lot to control the spread of COVID," said Malia Jones, epidemiologist and associate health geography scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Other states are doing very little. And without everyone working together towards the same goals, these things often conflict with one another. "Wen also notes:" It is difficult to ask people to do their part if the federal government does not do theirs. For example, the White House hosts social events when we ask people not to see their loved ones.
3. This leads to more social gatherings with extended families and friends than the smaller "pods", Zoom hangouts, and Netflix parties that people relied on in the early days of the pandemic. "What drives it are individual behaviors, including what is very important, losing our vigilance towards people we know," Wen said. “There is a magical thinking. We don't want to believe that they could be asymptomatic carriers. "
While experts say they are concerned that large political rallies, such as the one held by President Donald Trump's re-election campaign, could put participants at risk, it is mainly small gatherings of friends and families that are responsible for spreading the virus, despite Glatt notes that “it is a problem when we allow certain things and ignore good public health. "
4. The return of students in September is likely a cause of this wave of infectionswhen students were traveling around the country to return or start the college year. A preprint released on Sept. 23 found that colleges reopened for face-to-face teaching had been linked to 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day in the U.S. "They add to the number of cases in the county," said Martin Andersen, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of the study's authors, previously told MarketWatch.
"This confusion of people – students moving from place to place to go back to school – only led to the spread of disease across the country," Jones said. "If it had only been Labor Day, we probably would have seen limited coverage."
What can we expect in the next few months?
The upcoming holidays – Halloween and Thanksgiving – and the personal vote for the November 3rd presidential election are all events that have the potential to increase the spread of the virus within communities.
Experts suggest that polling stations are likely to use social distancing, masks may be required, and contact between individuals is limited. They are not widely viewed as a concern.
With the exception of indoor parties and bars, Halloween remains an outdoor holiday that can be tweaked to create social distance and allow masks to be worn during the typical masked holidays. "It's been a tough year becoming an epidemiologist," said Jones. "I'm very tired of telling people they can't have their thing … I learned this year that I can't save the world, but I can save Halloween."
By this she means using tongs to distribute candy, moving trick or treating away from front doors and outside, and gathering small groups of people outside for costume contests and scavenger hunts.
However, Thanksgiving will be a critical holiday that is already weighing on public health experts. ("Traditional Thanksgiving celebrations have all of the characteristics of the super-spreader events," Jones said.) They're usually spent indoors with extended family members who you don't always see, involve food, and usually last for hours. "It's one thing to say, I'm not going to meet my family for Labor Day," Meekins said. "It's a whole different level for a lot of people to say, I'm not going to get together for Thanksgiving, or I'm not going to get together for Christmas."
For families and friends who choose to meet up, plans to follow the guidelines and quarantine for 14 days and get pre-tested by the time the vacation begins can be a moot point. "The demand for tests will be much higher because of the number of sick people," Wen said. "By then, the backlog could be so great that it would not be appropriate to run tests for backup purposes."
One more thing: The result of the presidential election is likely to affect the course of the current wave of infections. For example, if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, he has announced that he will implement a national mask mandate. "I am excited to see what the outcome of the elections will mean for messaging around the virus," Meekins said.