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U.S. Coronavirus Cases Surpass 9 Million


Public health experts said it would happen, that there would be a second, even a third spike in coronavirus infections. But the speed at which the virus has surged this fall has taken many by surprise. And with cooler temperatures and the upcoming holidays, the numbers may get worse. Will Stone covers the pandemic and joins us. Will, thanks so much for being with us.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Every week seems to bring another round of dire statistics. And each statistic, of course, represents a human being. Where do things stand now?

STONE: We are breaking records in all the wrong ways. The other day, the U.S. had more than 90,000 new cases in a single day. That's a first. For perspective, we started October averaging around half that number of cases a day. And this is clearly a nationwide phenomenon. The country added more than half a million cases in total this past week, another record. And hospitals are getting busier. With this many cases, some people are going to get really sick. It's not quite at the levels we saw in the summer when we had about 60,000 people hospitalized, but it appears to be getting closer to that.

SIMON: After about nine months of dealing with this virus, much of the country has experienced some kind of spike. There was the northeast in the spring, the South in the summer. Now, obviously, the Midwest. How does this compare?

STONE: It's tempting to look back at these previous peaks and try to gauge where we are at now in that curve. But the truth is, this is completely new territory for the country. The virus has never been so widespread and increasing in so many places all at the same time. In the West, cases are up more than 40% over the past two weeks. In the northeast, that number is 67%. Hospitals are getting full in quite a few different places - in Utah, in parts of Texas, in Wisconsin, even New Mexico. Dr. Michael Mina at Harvard says it could go on like this for two more months.

MICHAEL MINA: I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we start to detect 200,000 cases a day a month from now. This is just going up and up and up, and it is accelerating. I think in much of the country, there still has not been too much behavioral change despite the skyrocketing cases.

STONE: And Mina says this was all predicted, that there would be a big increase as the weather turned because respiratory viruses tend to be more transmissible. And when it's colder, people spend a lot more time indoors. The only unexpected thing is, frankly, experts I speak to are just surprised at how fast we got here.

SIMON: And on this weekend, Will, what is the situation in the Midwest?

STONE: The Midwest is still in really bad shape. Cases started accelerating in September, and it now has more cases per capita than the Northeast or the Sunbelt had during their big spikes. States like Wisconsin and Illinois are each adding about as many cases or even more than a state like California, which has more people than both of those states combined. I spoke to professor Jaline Gerardin at Northwestern about the situation in a state like Illinois.

JALINE GERARDIN: We definitely don't have enough capacity to deal with what is currently happening, so it seems to me like we need to change something drastically in order to change that, like, human behavior side of the scale.

STONE: On Friday, Chicago did ban indoor dining and told people to limit gatherings. But the question is, can states get this under control without something more dramatic like a broader lockdown of businesses or a shelter-in-place order? Gerardin says that's a blunt instrument and can have all sorts of other consequences. But in some places like El Paso, this was necessary. Actually, county leaders ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down for two weeks because the health care system simply can't handle this many patients day after day.

SIMON: Reporter Will Stone has been covering the pandemic for NPR. Will, thanks so much.

STONE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone
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