Florida has reported its highest single day spike for COVID-19 deaths and the number of infections in fellow hotspot state Texas has now surpassed 400,000, prompting fears the United States has lost control of the outbreak despite a plateau in cases across the country.
The death toll in Florida increased by 186 on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths in the third-most populous US state to 6,117, according the state’s health department.
It is the the highest single-day spike since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas, the second-most populous state, added more than 6,000 new cases on Monday, pushing its total to 401,477.
Only three other states – California, Florida and New York – have more than 400,000 total cases.
The widening outbreak has pushed the US death toll from COVID-19 closer to the 150,000 mark. The national death toll rose to 148,298 on Monday, with more than 4.3 million confirmed cases.
The surge in cases in Florida prompted President Donald Trump last week to cancel his Republican Party’s nominating convention events in Jacksonville in late August.
Major League Baseball has also postponed some games in its truncated delayed season after a number of Miami Marlins members tested positive for the virus.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope in the data from Texas, where the state health department reported that current hospitalizations due to COVID-19 fell on Monday.
The surges came as new COVID-19 cases across the US have started to decline for the first time in five weeks and the average daily toll of 66,000 infections is now the lowest it has been in 10 days.
Infections have been surging since early June when COVID-19 started spreading rapidly throughout the Sunbelt states and the US recorded single daily highs of more than 77,000 infections.
The US is now showing early signs that surging case numbers may be leveling out with week-over-week tallies showing infections have dropped two percent for the first time after rising steadily for five weeks.
The seven-day average for daily infections this week is now just under 66,000.
The downward trend in cases is prominent in the hotspot states of Florida, Texas, Arizona and California where governors and local officials rolled back reopenings to curb the infection rate. But even as cases start to plateau in those hard-hit states, 22 other states are currently seeing an increase in new infections.
Twenty states are seeing steady case numbers and eight states saw decreases in the number of infections in the last week.
Cases are mostly rising in the Midwest, which public health officials say is a sign the virus is spreading north from the Sunbelt states.
Infections also surged this week in some Northeastern states, like New Jersey, where infections fell after peaking in April.
The states that saw the highest increases compared to the previous week are Hawaii (87.6%), New Jersey (67%), Alaska (64%), Mississippi (52%), Connecticut (45.7%), Nebraska (44%) and Missouri (38.7%).
Meanwhile, deaths across the US have risen for the third straight week with 15 states reporting weekly increases in fatalities for at least two consecutive weeks, according to a Reuters tally of state and county reports.
In Texas, more than 1,000 people died in the last seven days, or 20 percent of the state’s more than 5,000 total deaths.
Deaths increased in the last week in Georgia (89%), Missouri (85%), Kansas (80%), South Carolina (73%), Louisiana (73%), New Mexico (65%) and Nevada (61%).
Even those deaths are rising across the US, they remain well below levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus.
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.
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.
Dr Deborah Birx, the head of the White House COVID-19 taskforce, has continued to urge states with rising infections to close bars, cut back on indoor dining and to mandate face masks in order to stop the spread of the virus.
She said the surge in cases that has plagued Sunbelt states since Memorial Day is now being seen elsewhere, which is a sign that the virus is now spreading North.
The states with rising cases should be closing bars, cutting back on indoor restaurant capacity and limiting social gatherings to 10 people, Dr Birx warned.
She also said all Americans should be wearing masks when out in public or around other people.
‘We can see what is happening in the South moving North,’ Dr Birx said. ‘We do believe there are states that do need to close their bars.’
Dr Anthony Fauci, a fellow task force member, said there were signs the recent surge could be peaking in hard-hit states like Florida and Texas while other parts of the country may be on the cusp of growing outbreaks.
‘They may be cresting and coming back down,’ Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s Good Morning America regarding the state of the outbreak in several Sunbelt states.
Fauci said there was a ‘very early indication’ that the percentage of coronavirus tests that were positive was starting to rise in other states, such as Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.