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COVID-19 Cases In U.S. Reach Record Highs Again


There are numbers other than vote tallies this week. The pandemic continues to ravage America coast to coast. More and more lives are being devastated every day. The coronavirus seems to be spreading unchecked at a record pace. We're joined now for the latest from NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks so much for being with us.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Sure thing, Scott.

SIMON: Just a month or two ago, it seemed to be - there seemed to be some cautious signs that the pandemic was getting better. Today it just seems one grim milestone after another.

STEIN: Yeah, Scott, unfortunately, the U.S. keeps falling farther and farther behind the virus in this race. Just this week, the U.S. passed two sad milestones. More than 100,000 new infections were reported in a single day for the first time. The next day, more than 121,000 cases were reported. And yesterday, more than a 126,000 new infections are now being reported inside the White House. And, you know, Scott, this accelerating spread of the virus is pushing the U.S. past 9 million total infections. And we're now perilously close to 10 million. I talked about this with Dr. Tom Frieden. He used to run the CDC.

TOM FRIEDEN: The pandemic is out of control in most of the United States. Currently, the virus has the upper hand.

STEIN: And the scary thing is the virus seems to be starting to spread exponentially, which means the worst could be yet to come, especially with winter looming.

SIMON: Could you point us to those places on the map, those communities where the virus does have the upper hand?

STEIN: That's another disturbing thing about our current situation. The surge isn't just hitting one part of the country like the first two spikes. This one is nationwide now. Record numbers of cases are being reported in dozens of states from coast to coast - in parts of the northeast, like Maine and Connecticut, which either had never been hit hard before or had beaten the virus back. Cases are rising across southern states, like Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, in western states, like Colorado and Utah. But it's especially bad in the Midwest, like states like Wisconsin and states like Michigan, Illinois and North Dakota. I talked about this with Bill Whitmar. He runs Missouri's Public Health Lab.

BILL WHITMAR: In mid-Missouri, the middle part of the state where I'm located, there's about a four-county area where the cases are just - they're horrible in terms of numbers. In fact, the positivity rate in the four-county area that I'm located in has risen to 50, 55, 57%, which is unbelievable.

STEIN: It's - you know, it's unbelievable because it means more than half the people getting tested are infected.

SIMON: And, Rob, looking into those figures, how many people are getting seriously ill and even dying?

STEIN: More than 53,000 COVID patients are already so sick that they're in the hospital right now. And that's getting close to as bad as things have gotten at any point in the pandemic. And that's already pushing hospitals to the limit in some places like El Paso, Texas, and Wisconsin. Even though doctors have gotten a lot better at saving people's lives, the number of people dying is increasing. More than 236,000 people have already died in the U.S. from COVID. And more than 1,200 are now dying every day. Here's Dr. Frieden again.

FRIEDEN: COVID is already the third-leading cause of death in the United States. And for each death, there are an estimated nine people grieving.

STEIN: Dr. Frieden estimates the death toll could easily hit a quarter of a million by Thanksgiving.

SIMON: And with that kind of death toll, have we've been able to measure how the pandemic may have affected the election?

STEIN: So, you know, we know the pandemic shifted millions of votes to mail-in ballots and caused states to change many of the ways they count ballots. And one might think areas that got hit the hardest might have been less likely to support the president. But my colleague Sean McMinn has been looking at the numbers, and that's not what he found. Support for Trump grew in the counties with the highest death rates. Now, that may mean many things. Maybe voters see Trump's strategy as the best option and want to stick with it. But for all we know, maybe his support would have been even higher in those counties had the pandemic never happened. So, you know, as they say, more research is needed on that point.

SIMON: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein, thanks so much.

STEIN: You bet, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.

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