The US death toll from COVID-19 could surpass 500,000 by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks, according to researchers, as 14 states set new records for one-day increases in infections.
The latest estimate by the widely cited University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reflects fears that cold winter weather will drive Americans indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
Nationwide, 76,195 new cases were reported on Thursday, according to a Reuters analysis, just shy of the single-day record high of 77,299 reported on July 16. Only India has reported more cases in a single day: 97,894, on Sept. 17.
“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.
The number of possible deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95 per cent of Americans would cover their faces, the IHME said, echoing a recommendation by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
US Health Secretary Alex Azar attributed the increase in cases nationwide to the behaviour of individuals, saying household gatherings have become a “major vector of disease spread.”
Asked about an assertion by President Donald Trump during Thursday night’s presidential debate that the United States is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic, Azar told CNN that Trump was trying to provide hope to Americans waiting for a vaccine.
Pennsylvania, a swing state which is expected to play a crucial role in the November 3 presidential election, reported its largest single-day increase in cases since the pandemic began.
Also reporting record one-day increases were the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
On Thursday, there were 916 reported fatalities in the United States, a day after the country recorded over 1,200 new deaths for the first time since August.
The number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals has climbed to a two-month high. There are now more than 41,000 hospitalised patients with coronavirus across the country, up 34 per cent from October 1, according to a Reuters analysis.
North Dakota, with 887 new cases on both Thursday and Friday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.
Dr Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, expressed anxiety about lack of compliance with public health measures in the state, where some groups have challenged Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ COVID-19 restrictions in court.