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More Than 120,000 In A Day: U.S. Faces Record-Breaking Number Of Coronavirus Cases

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Even as we wait for election results, the pandemic is ravaging the nation, and the number of infections is up. Emergency rooms and intensive care units are filling. The death toll is climbing. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has been following that. And, Rob, I've described a very grim situation here. Can you give us an update, more details on what's happening?

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, Audie, every time we talk about the pandemic, the picture just looks worse, unfortunately. More than 9 million people in the United States have now caught the virus. And if you look at the map of the country, the virus is surging and setting records from coast to coast. It's rebounding in parts of the Northeast that had beaten it back, and it's rising again across the South and just absolutely pummeling the Midwest and shooting up out in places in the West.

So, you know, more than 100,000 new infections were reported in a single day for the first time this past week. But that record, it was immediately eclipsed the next day when more than 120,000 more people were reported infected. I talked again today about this with Dr. Tom Frieden. He used to run the CDC.

TOM FRIEDEN: Throughout much of the country, you have really big increases, doubling and tripling of cases. It's entered the exponential phase, and that means it's going to get worse and, frankly, a lot worse before it gets better.

STEIN: And, you know, Audie, based on the current trajectory, the average daily case count could easily soon double again.

CORNISH: So the spread of the virus is appearing to accelerate in many parts of the country. What does this mean for hospitalizations?

STEIN: You know, we're seeing hospitals being pushed to the limit around the country. More than 53,000 COVID-19 patients are already hospitalized. Intensive care units are reaching capacity in some places. And that's really scary because it could be getting to the point where the medical system just won't be able to keep up. In fact, the Pentagon is deploying three medical teams to El Paso, Texas, to help out there because things are so bad. And Wisconsin is in really tough shape.

And we can't forget, more than 235,000 Americans have already died from COVID, and more than 1,200 are dying in a single day now. Dr. Frieden says all this couldn't be happening at a worse time, with the winter and the flu season looming.

FRIEDEN: This is a terrible time. The confluence of factors here is extremely problematic. We're heading into holiday season, when there'll be more people getting together, more people traveling and more cold weather - so harder for people to socialize out of doors. This is a very dangerous time.

CORNISH: What are health officials saying about what can be done to beat this back?

STEIN: Well, you know, it's definitely not too late to fight back. We do know what can slow the virus down, and it's nothing surprising - you know, wearing masks and staying away from other people as much as possible, especially when we're indoors. Some states are rolling back their reopening plans in response to all this or, you know, imposing new restrictions, like restricting indoor dining at bars and restaurants and requiring more mask wearing. But others are still resisting taking those kinds of steps, even if they're being really slammed now.

And, you know, it's hard because there's a lot of pandemic fatigue right now in the country, and - but if this doesn't happen, the death toll could really hit unimaginable levels in the coming weeks and months.

CORNISH: You know, Rob, despite these numbers, we had very high turnout in the national elections. What have you learned about the effect of the pandemic on this process?

STEIN: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. NPR crunched some numbers about this and found something that may sound surprising - support for President Trump actually increased in many of the counties that had the highest death rates from COVID-19. Now, it's really hard to interpret that. It could be people in these places are really invested in the president's approach and are kind of doubling down to stick with it or - you know, or maybe the pandemic did hurt the president, that his support might have increased even more in these places if they hadn't suffered so much. We just don't know. So this is something that researchers are just starting to pick apart.

CORNISH: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein.

Thank you.

STEIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.