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U.S. reports more than 71,600 new Covid cases, near record highs, and hospitalizations rise

A patient recovering from COVID-19 at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Illinois, on September 30, 2020.
Terrence Antonio James | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

The United States reported more than 71,600 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, approaching a record number of daily infections set in late July as the outbreak takes root across the Midwest and hospitalizations rise.

Covid-19 cases are now growing “really in all parts of the country,” with particularly high transmission rates in the Midwest, Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a distressing trend here in the United States,” he said on the call. The surge is likely due to cooler temperatures as the nation enters the fall, he said, adding that “smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors may be driving transmission as well, especially as they move indoors.”

Coronavirus cases grew by 5% or more over the past week in 38 states as of Thursday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University that uses a weekly average to smooth out fluctuations in daily reporting. The nation is now averaging roughly 61,100 new coronavirus cases every day.

“The pandemic is not over,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday. “Here in the United States, we’re approaching a critical phase.”

Some people point to an increase in coronavirus testing to explain the rise in cases. While that’s true, cases have increased at a much faster pace than testing. The U.S. conducted more than 1.1 million tests on Thursday and a record 1.2 million tests on Monday, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, an independent volunteer organization launched by journalists at The Atlantic.  

Since Oct. 1, testing has increased by nearly 11%. That compares with a 46% jump in the average daily rate of new infections over that same period, from roughly 42,000 per day to more than 60,000, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Infectious disease and public health experts, including White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, have warned that rising Covid-19 cases could complicate the nation’s response to the pandemic as it approaches the end of the year.

“If steps are not taken to reduce transmission at the community level, it’ll come to no surprise that health-care systems start to feel a pinch and start to head towards capacity and beyond capacity,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto, told CNBC in a recent interview.

Covid-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise, a worrying trend that public health experts warn can be a better indicator of an outbreak’s severity because it doesn’t count asymptomatic cases. More than 40,000 people are currently in the hospital with the coronavirus in the U.S., according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Thirteen states reached record high hospitalizations on Thursday, based on a weekly average. Many of them are in the West and Midwest, including Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to a CNBC analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

With only 11 days until the Nov. 3 election, former Vice President Joe Biden said during Thursday’s presidential debate that America was headed for a “dark winter” with no clear prospect for a Covid-19 vaccine available to a majority of people until the middle of next year.

President Donald Trump was as optimistic as ever, saying the U.S. is “rounding the corner” in the outbreak.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all,” Trump said. “We’re opening up our country, we’ve learned and studied and understand the disease, which we didn’t at the beginning.”

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