Second wave of virus in US hits plateau, but few experts celebrate

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NEW YORK – As coronavirus deaths in the United States rise rapidly, public health experts see a glimmer of good news: The second wave of confirmed cases appears to be leveling off. Scientists are by no means celebrating, warning that the trend is being driven by four major hard-hit countries – Arizona, California, Florida and Texas – and that cases are increasing in nearly 30 states in total, with the outbreak. center of gravity apparently moving from the solar belt towards the Midwest.

Some experts are wondering if the apparent improvements in workload will continue. It’s also unclear when deaths will start to decline. Deaths from COVID-19 do not evolve perfectly with the infection curve, for the simple reason that it can take weeks to get sick and die from the virus.

The future? “I think it’s very difficult to predict,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist.

The virus has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the United States, by far the highest death toll in the world, as well as more than half a million others around the world.

Over the past week, the average number of COVID-19 deaths per day in the United States has climbed more than 25%, from 843 to 1057. Florida reported 253 more deaths on Thursday, setting its third consecutive record in a single day, while Texas had 322 new deaths and California 391.

The number of confirmed infections nationwide has exceeded 4.4 million, which could be higher due to limitations in testing and the fact that some people are infected without feeling sick.

In other developments:

– Collateral damage from the virus has increased, with the US economy contracting at a staggering 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter – by far the worst quarterly drop from 1947 records. And more than 1 4 million layoffs Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, further proof that employers continue to cut jobs five months after the crisis began.

– Amid the epidemic and bad economic news, President Donald Trump for the first time publicly launched the idea of ​​delaying the November 3 presidential election, warning without evidence that an increase in postal voting would lead to a fraud. Changing election day would require an act of Congress, and the notion met immediate resistance from Republicans and Democrats.

– Herman Cain, the former CEO of the pizza chain who in 2012 unsuccessfully sought to become the first black candidate to win the Republican nomination for president, has died of complications from the virus at 74.

Based on a seven-day moving average, daily coronavirus cases in the United States fell from 67,317 on July 22 to 65,266 on Wednesday, according to data on file at Johns Hopkins University. That’s a drop of about 3%.

Researchers prefer to see two weeks of data pointing in the same direction to tell if a trend is real. “But I think it’s real, yes,” said Ira Longini, a University of Florida biostatistician who has been tracking the coronavirus and has been a source of disease forecasts used by the government.

The Associated Press found that the seven-day moving average for new cases peaked over two weeks in California and fell in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Trends in Arizona, Texas and Florida “are starting to bend the curve a bit,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, public health researcher at Johns Hopkins. Those states, along with California, contributed a large number of cases each day to the national tally. So when those places progress, the whole country looks better, she says.

Also, in another possible silver lining, the percentage of tests that come back positive for the virus across the United States has fallen from an average of 8.5% to 7.8% over the past week. .

But with the epidemic warming in the Midwest, Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has ordered masks worn statewide due to a spike in cases, joining some 30 other states that have taken such measures.

The latest wave of cases became evident in June, weeks after states began reopening following a deadly explosion of cases in and around New York City in early spring. The daily number of cases rose to 70,000 or more earlier this month. Deaths, too, began to increase sharply, after a lag of a few weeks.

Some researchers believe the recent stabilization is the result of more people adopting social distancing and other precautions.

“I think a lot of people wear masks because they’re scared,” Longini said.

But Dr Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, said the trend could also be due to the virus’s natural dynamics that scientists do not yet understand.

Without robust testing and other measures to control the virus, a third spike is possible – or even likely – given that only 10% of Americans have been infected so far, experts said. And there is no reason to believe that the peak cannot be bigger than the first two.

“This disease will continue to spread until it finds individuals susceptible to tinder – like any good fire,” said Khan, a former senior investigator of infectious disease outbreaks at the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.

Fauci said he was “somewhat comforted” by the recent plateau. But a stabilization of cases around 60,000 is “still at a very high level”. He said he was also concerned about the rise in the percentages of positive tests in states such as Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.

“It’s a warning sign that you might see a flare,” Fauci said. “They really have to jump all over the place. ”

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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