The number of reported cases of the new coronavirus in the United States topped two million on Wednesday, as many states in recent weeks have seen their rates of newly confirmed cases accelerate—leading some health experts to warn that the country already may be nearing a second wave of its Covid-19 epidemic.
US cases of new coronavirus surpass 2M, as nearly half of states see growth rates accelerate
In recent weeks, the United States as a whole has seen a slowdown in the country's growth rate of newly reported cases, largely because of progress being made in the Northeast and Midwest.
However, rates of newly reported cases of the new coronavirus are accelerating in nearly half of states, particularly in the South and West and among states that were both slow to implement restrictions intended to curb the virus' spread and quick to lift them. For example, Axios' "Vitals" reports that Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon this week saw their numbers of newly reported infections increase by more than 50%, while Texas on Wednesday reported its highest one-day total of new infections since the epidemic began.
Officials in some states have attributed their rising Covid-19 rates to an increase in testing for the new coronavirus. However, observers have noted that for many states—including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah—increases in hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, began after Memorial Day.
Observers also have said the recent accelerations of newly confirmed cases in some states have outpaced those states' increases in testing. Further, they've noted that boosts in testing across the country are now allowing states to have a more accurate tally of how widespread their outbreaks of the new coronavirus really are, which could indicate that some states still are "a long way away from getting the[ir] outbreak[s] under control," "Vitals" reports.
As of Thursday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of 113,097 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 112,174 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.
Experts warn epidemic's 2nd wave may be on the horizon
Given that rates of newly reported coronavirus infections are once again rising in many states, experts are warning that America already may be entering a second wave of its epidemic.
"Worse times are ahead," said Joe Gerald, an associate professor and public health researcher at the University of Arizona who has helped the state track its new coronavirus outbreak. "The preponderance of evidence indicates community transmission is increasing," he said.
Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said, "There is a new wave coming in parts of the country. It's small and it's distant so far, but it's coming."
According to Bloomberg, experts say evidence particularly indicates a second wave of the new coronavirus is building in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. Barbara Ferrer—public health director for California's Los Angeles County, where the rates of newly confirmed cases and deaths related to the virus have remained mostly stable after peaking early in the epidemic—said, "We're not at the tail end of anything."
Federal, state responses appear to fizzle
The warnings come as the Trump administration seemingly has taken steps to scale back the federal government's role in the country's response to the epidemic, Politico reports. For example, the White House's task force on the new coronavirus no longer sends daily updates to state officials, and CDC has started to deviate from its practice of providing state officials with top-down, comprehensive briefings during daily conferences, and instead is encouraging states to offer their own updates on what's happening in their areas, according to Politico.
The administration also recently notified state health officials that it intends to transfer daily responsibilities related to the country's response to the epidemic from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to HHS.
Marcus Plescia, CMO of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said, "The acuity of the response is not what it was, so they're trying to go back to a little more of a normal ongoing presence."
An official with direct knowledge of the administration's strategy to address the epidemic told Politico that the administration plans to prepare for a second wave of the epidemic by boosting testing for the new coronavirus and accelerating the development of treatments for Covid-19 and a vaccine against the new coronavirus, among other activities. "We're delivering the supplies and resources that states asked for. This doesn't need to be the public 'coronavirus show' every day anymore," the official told Politico.
Meanwhile, governors in some states have said they do not plan to suspend their plans to reopen nonessential businesses or to re-impose other measures they had put in place earlier this year to help curb the new coronavirus' spread, even as states see spikes in their daily rates of newly reported infections.
For example, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said re-implementing any coronavirus-related restrictions would be a last resort for curbing infections in the state. "We want to avoid going backwards if we possibly can," Cooper said.
Similarly, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said, "Shutting down is not the answer." Instead, McMaster said, Americans need to "arm ourselves with the knowledge of what we need to do to be safe" and "now need to practice what we have learned."
Public health experts, too, are urging Americans to continue being vigilant about practicing social distancing and other tactics that can reduce their likelihood of transmitting or contracting the new coronavirus, particularly as states continue to reopen.
Bill Miller, the senior associate dean for research at Ohio State University's College of Public Health, said, "As places have been opening up, many people are taking it as a message that everything is OK and back to normal." He continued, "I'm definitely worried that we're going to see some upswings, maybe not everywhere, but in many places across the country."
Jeffrey Shaman of the Columbia University School of Public Health said, "It seems that we, the [United States], has given up and accepted this disease as a facet of life," but "[i]t didn't have to be this way, and it still doesn't going forward" (Court/Baker, Bloomberg, 6/10; Chappell/Stein, NPR, 6/10; Pell et al., Washington Post, 6/9; Bernstein, Reuters, 6/9; Sullivan, The Hill, 6/10; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 6/11; Diamond, Politico, 6/10; Stolberg/Weiland, New York Times, 6/10; Ollstein/Goldberg, Politico, 6/10; Janes et al., Washington Post, 6/10; New York Times, 6/11).