The US logged nearly 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 nationwide Thursday—the highest daily total yet in the course of the pandemic—and many states continue to see an alarming rise in the spread of disease.
Cases have been increasing in 30 states, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracking effort. On Friday, 11 states set their own records for the average number of new cases reported in the past seven days, according to the Washington Post.
Though the rising case counts can sometimes reflect a rise in overall testing, many states are also seeing high and increasing percentages of positive tests—that is, the fraction of test results that come back positive, which is considered a more useful metric for assessing if disease spread is actually increasing. If states increase testing while the spread of COVID-19 stays the same or declines, the fraction of tests coming back positive would gradually decline.
In a press briefing Friday, Vice President Mike Pence noted that there are now 16 states that are seeing both a rising number of new cases each day and increasing rates of positive tests.
Currently 21 states and Puerto Rico have a 7-day average positive rate above 5 percent—a threshold that the World Health Organization has recommended to determine when it’s safe to begin reopening. The hardest hit states include Arizona, which has a 23 percent positive rate, and Texas and Florida, which have about a 13 percent positive rate.
Florida reported a record of nearly 9,000 cases Friday while Texas reported nearly 6,000 on Thursday. Both states have reinstituted lockdown measures, including restrictions on bars and restaurants. Some areas of Texas are struggling to care for COVID-19 patients as hospitalization rates surge.
A better place
Despite the grim figures and trends, Pence took an upbeat tone in the press conference Friday. As a country, the vice president said, “We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives.”
Though he acknowledged that some states were struggling with skyrocketing cases, he highlighted improvements in testing capacity, treatments, and supplies of protective gear for healthcare workers.
“As we see the new cases rising—and we’re tracking them very carefully—there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago, that we’re in a time of great losses and great hardship on the American people,” Pence said. “The reality is we’re in a much better place.”
Pence also noted that though cases are increasing, deaths are decreasing. He noted that treatment and care have improved for severely ill patients and many new cases are seen in people under 35—who are at less risk of developing severe disease and dying.
But infectious disease experts say it’s too early to celebrate and many expect the deaths will climb in the weeks to come. That includes infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is a member of the federal coronavirus task force.
In Congressional testimony Tuesday, Fauci fielded a question about whether the decline in deaths could be attributed to the disease mainly spreading in younger, healthier people now.
“I think it’s too early to make that kind of link,” he replied. “Deaths always lag considerably behind cases.” He added that even if the cases are in younger people who may not suffer with the disease, they may go on to infect more vulnerable people, who may go on to die from the infection.
So far, there have been more than 2.4 million cases of COVID-19 in the US and nearly 125,000 deaths.