Over the past seven days, the country recorded more than 500,000 new cases and counted its nine millionth case since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday, at least 90,000 new cases were logged — an all-time high and the equivalent of more than one case per second — and there is no end in sight to the latest surge.
Unlike past peaks, where a few areas drove up case numbers, this time the virus has gripped nearly every corner of the country, including many areas that avoided surges of the past.
Colorado counted 2,000 new cases, Illinois logged 6,400, and more than 1,000 were found in New Mexico — all record daily highs for those states. Over the past week, 24 states added more cases than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic, while new cases are increasing in 42 states.
If we look at a better indicator of the strength of the latest surge — hospitalizations — the situation appears equally severe. Hospitalization data, collected by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus reached record highs in almost half of states in recent weeks. Over the past month, hospitalizations have surged by 46 percent.
The death rate remains lower than it was at its peak, averaging around 800 deaths per day. But as we’ve seen in past waves, deaths can lag cases and hospitalizations by several weeks. Even if a surge in deaths doesn’t materialize, the death rate also plateaued over the past month and has not dropped as much as experts had hoped after the summer surge.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of a bitter presidential contest in which the pandemic — and the government’s response to it — is the dominant issue.
Already, the pandemic has complicated the voting process. Voters in several swing states are casting their ballots at the same time the coronavirus reaches new peaks in their communities. In places like Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, it’s creating uncertainty about how easily people will be able to vote.
Unlike in the spring, when the virus was deadliest where Democrats live, the new surge includes Republican-dominated sections of the Great Plains and the Mountain West. And in the battleground states, a growing share of cases is emerging in counties that supported Mr. Trump in 2016.
Election Day next week will be unusual in many ways, but it’s not the first time the country will vote during a pandemic. During the midterm elections of 1918, cases also surged in October. Campaigning in person was restricted, as were speeches and rallies. Voter turnout was low and those who cast ballots voted for change, flipping both chambers of Congress in favor of the Republican Party.