The United States now has reported more cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, than any other country in the world—making it the epicenter of the global pandemic.
US cases of COVID-19 surpass 85K, deaths rise above 1,000
The number of reported cases of COVID-19 increased tenfold in the United States within one week, as more Americans are getting tested for the disease. As of Friday morning, state and federal officials had reported 85,381 cases of COVID-19 and 1,271 deaths linked to the new coronavirus in the United States.
The number of reported COVID-19 cases in the United States has now surpassed the numbers reported in any other country, making the United States the epicenter of the global pandemic. In total, officials as of Friday morning had reported about 541,200 cases of COVID-19 globally and 24,700 deaths related to the new coronavirus.
Public health experts have said the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States likely is lower than the actual number of cases in the country, because diagnostic testing is not yet rapid or widespread enough to get an accurate count of Americans currently infected with the new coronavirus. As such, experts have stressed the importance of implementing, maintaining, and adhering to strict social distancing measures to help slow the virus' spread and avoid overwhelming the nation's health care system.
Sara Keller, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, "We are the new global epicenter of the disease. … Now, all we can do is to slow the transmission as much as possible by hunkering down in our houses while, as a country, we ramp up production of personal protective equipment, materials needed for testing, and ventilators."
Trump eyes new system to categorize counties based on COVID-19 risk
The new coronavirus so far appears to have disproportionately affected cities and more populous areas in the United States. For example, New York officials as of Friday morning had reported 38,987 cases of COVID-19 and 432 related deaths, and Deborah Birx, who is leading the White House's coronavirus task force, on Thursday said the New York City metro area accounts for about 35% of all newly reported cases in the country. Birx said, in comparison, 19 states as of Thursday had reported fewer than 200 confirmed cases of the disease.
Noting the disparity, President Trump in a letter sent Thursday to governors wrote that his administration is considering creating a system to categorize counties based on whether they are low, medium, or high risk. "This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capacities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the nation's public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus," Trump wrote. He continued, "This will incorporate robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country. Under these data-driven criteria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk."
Trump, who in recent days has suggested he wants to ease strict social distancing measures and reopen U.S. businesses by April 12, wrote that the system could help states make "decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place."
Birx on Thursday said the White House's timeline for issuing the new system would depend on when officials are able to gather the detailed testing data necessary for developing it. However, she said she believes the United States has the ability to get that data and "utilize a laser-focused approach" to combating COVID-19. She said, "Why am I confident that we can do that? Because we do that in sub-Saharan Africa right now for HIV. That's how we're stopping the epidemic there. So we've done it. We've done it in resource-limited settings. So I do believe we can transpose that approach here to the United States and be able to have—we have granular data down to a GPS coordinate of a site of a clinic and hospital. We think that same thing can be done in the United States."
HHS urges states to expand providers' scope
Separately, HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a letter sent Tuesday asked governors to expand providers' scope as a way to bolster the U.S. health care system's capacity to treat patients.
Azar wrote that states could allow health care professionals who are licensed or certified in one state to practice in other states, either via telemedicine or in-person. In addition, Azar wrote that states could waive licensure or certification fees for providers, consider placing moratoriums on scope of practice limits, and allow for the expedited renewal of licensing and certification for certain health care professionals (McNeil, New York Times, 3/26; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/27; New York Times, 3/27; Ansari et al., Wall Street Journal, 3/27; Rummler, Axios, 3/26; Oprysko, Politico, 3/26; Miller/Sauderman, Associated Press, 3/27; Cirruzzo, Inside Health Policy, 3/26 [subscription required]).