Coronavirus deaths across the United States have increased by 36 percent in a week with states in the Sunbelt and Midwest seeing the largest weekly spikes – even after President Donald Trump claimed fatalities were going down and the virus was under control.
Deaths related to COVID-19 have now risen nationally for four straight weeks with more than 8,500 Americans dying in the seven days ending August 2.
The US has now racked up more than 156,000 coronavirus deaths, by far the most of any country, and is fast approaching an off-the-charts five million confirmed cases, easily the highest in the world.
A total of 22 states have now reported increases in deaths for at least two straight weeks, including hotspots California, Texas and Florida, according to an analysis of data by Reuters.
Deaths in Arizona, another hotspot state, decreased last week for the first time since they started to surge in early July.
It comes as Trump insisted the virus was well-controlled across the US despite the country averaging about 65,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths per day.
In an interview with Axios on HBO, which was filmed last Tuesday but aired on Monday, Trump said deaths were declining in states including Florida, Texas and Arizona.
He did not elaborate on what data he was referencing to draw those conclusions.
Based on an analysis of weekly death tolls, West Virginia saw the biggest weekly spike, compared to the previous seven days, with deaths soaring by more than 366 percent after adding 14 new deaths to its 117 total.
The number of deaths in Virginia rose by 174 percent after increasing by 140, bringing the death toll to 2,218.
South Dakota’s deaths spiked 140 percent after adding 12 new fatalities, bringing the total to 135.
Deaths also surged 130 percent in Texas when 2,407 new deaths were added, bringing the total to 7,500.
The death rate is a lagging indicator and can continue to rise weeks after new infections drop. A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected.
Even though deaths are now rising across the US, they are below the levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus.
Deaths surged in April in the weeks after coronavirus infections spiked mostly in the Northeast. The number of fatalities are now increasing in Sunbelt states and across the Midwest after infections surged there throughout June and July.
While deaths have risen for a month, the number of new cases across the US has fallen for a second straight week.
The number of new COVID-19 cases reported last week fell 5 percent from the previous week.
California, Florida and Texas collectively accounted for nearly 180,000 of the new cases, though new infections were lower in all three states compared to the previous week.
Cases rose week-over-week in 20 states, including in Oklahoma where cases have risen for nine weeks in a row, in Montana where cases are up for eight straight weeks, and in Missouri where infections have risen for seven weeks.
Testing for COVID-19 fell by 6 percent in the United States last week, the first decline since late May, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.
Nationally, 8.2 percent of tests came back positive, still higher than the 5 percent level that the World Health Organization considers concerning because it suggests there are more cases in the community that have not yet been uncovered.
Thirty-one states had positivity test rates above 5 percent, including Alabama at 22 percent, Mississippi at 21 percent and Florida and Kansas at 19 percent.
Confirmed infections in the US have now topped 4.7 million, with new cases running at more than 60,000 a day. While that’s down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are still on the rise in 20 states.
Trump, in his Axios interview, declared that coronavirus was ‘under control’ in the US and that the country’s death rate was ‘lower than the world’.
‘They are dying, that’s true. And you have – it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague,’ Trump said.
Citing a series of charts and graphs regarding death rates in comparison to cases, Trump said: ‘The United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world, than Europe.’
After checking the charts, Axios reporter Jonathan Swan clarified that he was asking about deaths as a proportion of the population, saying: ‘That’s where the US is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.’
Trump hit back claiming he ‘couldn’t do that’.
‘You have to go by where – look, here is the United States,’ Trump said, holding out of his charts. ‘You have to go by the cases.’
‘Why not as a proportion of the population?’ Swan asked.
‘What it says is that when you have someone where there’s a case, the people that live from those cases,’ Trump said.
Swan argued that it was relevant to compare the number of deaths to a country’s population but Trump insisted: ‘You have to go by the cases’.
Trump went on to say: ‘Death is way down from where it was. Where it was is much higher than where it is right now.’
When Swan pointed out that deaths were now going back up nationally after initially declining throughout May, Trump claimed ‘it’s going down again’.
‘It’s going down in Arizona. It’s going down in Florida. It’s going down in Texas,’ Trump claimed.
Swan, who had pointed out that it’s national numbers that had gone down, asked with disbelief: ‘It’s going down in Florida?’
‘Yeah it leveled out and it’s going down, that’s my report as of yesterday,’ Trump said. It wasn’t immediately clear what day Trump’s latest reports were referring to.
While cases in Florida now appear to be declining, deaths continued to spike to single day highs last week.
After Trump repeated his previous claims that the US has more cases that anywhere else in the world because more tests are being undertaken, the reporter pointed to the surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
‘If hospital rates and deaths were going down I’d say terrific, you deserve to be praised for testing, but they’re all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital, 1,000 dying a day,’ Swan said.
Regarding the increased testing, Trump said: ‘Don’t we get credit for that? Because we do more tests, we have more cases.’