US coronavirus cases increased by 97,000 on Friday, by far the largest one-day jump since the start of the pandemic, with Midwestern states leading a wave of infections, hospitalisations and deaths across the country just days before the presidential election.
The sharp increase, which beat Thursday’s record of 88,400, took the weekly total for the US to 548,000 infections, a record for a seven-day period since the disease started spreading across the country in March, according to the Covid Tracking Project data. On average, the country has added more than 78,300 cases a day during the past week.
Friday’s increase was led by the big industrial states of the Midwest, many of which are key battlegrounds for Tuesday’s election. Illinois and Ohio set single-day records with 6,943 and 3,845, respectively. Wisconsin had 5,096 new confirmed cases, its second-highest daily increase, according to the state health department.
The US attributed a further 933 fatalities to coronavirus, taking the overall tally above 221,000 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Both President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden campaigned in Midwestern states hit hard by the outbreak on Friday, where they attacked each other’s plans for dealing with the pandemic.
In Wisconsin, which has one of the highest infection rates of any state hit by the autumn spike, Mr Trump claimed Mr Biden would completely close down the US economy — a claim the former vice-president has repeatedly denied.
“You’ll have no school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no Fourth of July, no future,” he said at a rally in Green Bay. “Biden wants to keep everyone locked up.”
Speaking in Iowa, which also recorded its highest one-day rise in cases on Friday with 2,203 infections, Mr Biden accused the president of “waving the white flag” and surrendering to the virus. “The American people don’t give up,” he said at a drive-in rally in Des Moines. “We don’t cower; nor do I.”
The seven-day average across the Midwest hit a record 26,869 new cases a day on Friday. Some analysts suggest that states where coronavirus cases rise leads to a fall in Mr Trump’s support in recent public opinion polling.
It is not the only region where cases climbed over the past week, however. As of Friday, the seven-day average of cases in 46 states and the District of Columbia was higher than a week ago, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. Hawaii is the only place in the US with a seven-day average below where it was four weeks ago.
Largely rural western states such as Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota have had cases shoot higher in recent days, while they are also increasing again in East Coast states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which were hardest hit by the pandemic in its early months.
New York this week reached the half-a-million case mark and Florida on Friday became the third state to top 800,000 infections, providing a potential warning that some big states have had their multi-month efforts to “flatten the curve” stall or go into reverse.
Seven-day average case rates in the most populous states of California and Texas are up 29 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively, over the past four weeks, while Arizona’s has more than doubled. Over the same period, the level of hospitalisations in Texas has jumped by 74 per cent, and by 54 per cent in Arizona, although it was down 1 per cent in California.
More than half of all US states are on track to record their biggest monthly volume of cases in October. That has taken the total number of infections confirmed nationally this month to 1.75m, currently second only to the 1.9m cases added in July. Overall, the US has recorded nearly 9m cases since the pandemic began.
October is also on track to be the deadliest month for at least 14 states, topping the previous record of 12 states in May.
While some of the increase in cases can be explained by the increase in nationwide testing capacity, and improved knowledge and preparedness for the disease has helped keep death rates lower than during the early stages of the crisis, hospitalisations have displayed a worrying upward trend.
The number of people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus hit 46,688, the highest since mid-August. A record 47 states and Washington DC now have levels of hospitalisations higher than four weeks ago, threatening to strain resources.
Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert and a top White House coronavirus task force member, said in a CNBC interview earlier this week that there were a “large number” of states that were “heading in the wrong direction”.
“This is going to get worse because we’re going more into a colder season, as we get through the fall and into the winter with the holiday season going, we’ve got to do something different,” he said. “We can’t just let this happen. We’re going to have many more hospitalisations, and that will inevitably lead to more deaths. So, this is an untenable situation.”
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