Coronavirus deaths have spiked by 1,300 in 24 hours as Florida and Georgia both reported a record daily surge in fatalities – but the number of cases across the United States continues to decline even as Hawaii sees the highest rate of COVID-19 spread.
The US reported a single day spike of 1,300 deaths on Tuesday despite the weekly average death toll dropping last week for the first time in more than a month.
The increase in deaths was driven, in part, due to Florida and Georgia reporting record high fatalities.
Florida reported 276 new deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to just over 8,500. The spike came after deaths in the hotspot state declined 10 percent last week compared to the previous seven days.
Meanwhile, the number of cases in Florida continue to trend downwards following a huge summer spike across the Sunbelt states. The state reported 5,800 cases on Tuesday, down from the record 15,000 in mid-July.
In Georgia, a record high of 136 deaths have been added to the state’s 4,350 death toll. There has been an uptick in deaths in the state since late July and the average death toll increased by five percent last week compared to the previous seven days.
The increase in deaths comes after infections across the state started trending upwards in late June. Cases appeared to plateau in Georgia in late July but are now increasing slightly after a decline in the first week of August.
More than 164,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19 and the average number of deaths has remained at just over 1,000 per day for two weeks.
While the average daily death toll is still high, it remains below levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus.
Cases, which have now surpassed 5.1 million, have been falling nationally for three straight weeks and the average daily infection toll remains steady at about 52,000.
Infections increased in only 11 states last week, including Hawaii where the rate of spread is now the highest in the country.
Hawaii had kept the virus at bay for most of the summer, but new cases have more than doubled and are repeatedly seeing daily triple-digit increases.
The state’s Governor David Ige said last week that he would be reinstating inter-island travel restrictions that require people to quarantine for 14 days in a bid to curb the spread.
The increases seen in Hawaii and the 10 other states are minimal compared to the outbreaks that plagued hotspot states in June and July and are not enough to reflect an uptick in the national infection toll.
In the last week, 11 states saw increases in COVID-19 cases including Hawaii (124%), Vermont (27%), North Dakota (19%), Indiana (18%), South Dakota (16%), Illinois (15%), Virginia (15%), Arkansas (7%), Idaho (5%), Kansas (5%) and Minnesota (3%).
The continuing decline in national cases comes largely from the recent hotspots of California, Arizona, Florida and Texas where infections have slowed after seeing huge spikes in the last two months.
Despite the encouraging trends in the Sunbelt states, health experts have warned that cities including Boston, Chicago and Baltimore could become hotspots due to increasing infections.
White House taskforce coordinator Dr Deborah Birx, as well as other public health researchers, have flagged their concerns in the last week about high infection rates in those cities.
Dr David Rubin, director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia PolicyLab, told the Daily Beast that Baltimore appeared to be in the middle of an outbreak based on the city’s transmission rate.
He said it might be down to the city’s high density and high poverty rate, as well as its close proximity to hotspot Sunbelt states.
The transmission rate is also a factor in Chicago.
‘Cook County is going to get colder quickly,’ Rubin said. ‘They’re clearly growing again. They’re not doing enough distancing, and their numbers are creeping up. If they don’t get their case counts down, they have plenty of room to grow again.’
While case numbers are down in Boston, the PolicyLab researchers fear the city could see an outbreak in the fall.
‘Boston has looked better than much of the country, and they’ve escaped scrutiny,’ Rubin said. ‘They’re growing as quickly as other parts of the country, just from a lower numerator.’
Even though cases are trending downward in the majority of states, the nationwide daily case rate is still high compared to the peak in April and public health officials have warned there is much more work needed to bring the national curve back to baseline.
Health experts have attributed the current decline in cases and deaths to policy and behavior changes in the hotspot states behind the summer surge where governors and local officials rolled back reopenings to curb the infection rate.
They say the widespread adoption of masks, social distancing and closing down bars all helped, while some scientists believe that increasing population immunity may have also played a role.
Experts say, however, that US is not close to reaching herd immunity.
The decline in deaths and cases comes about three weeks after President Donald Trump, who for months refused to publicly wear a mask, urged Americans to cover their faces in public to stop the spread.
While the average daily death toll is still high, it remains below levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus – mostly in the original epicenter of New York.
Deaths surged in April in the weeks after coronavirus infections spiked mostly in the Northeast. The number of fatalities started spiking in Sunbelt states and across the Midwest after cases surged in June and July.
Deaths are 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.
Health experts have indicated the death toll may not be as bad this time around possibly because a large share of the current cases are younger people, who are less likely to die, and because of advances in treatment and knowledge of the virus.
Experts warn, however, that unless the curve is pushed down much further, hospitals will continue to be stretched and people will continue to die.