Erin Kissane is managing editor of the COVID Tracking Project.
The United States saw more new cases this week than any week since the US COVID-19 outbreak began. After several weeks of increasing case counts in the South and West regions, new infections and hospitalizations are now surging in both places.
The current surge may still be regionally concentrated: Only the South and West, so far, have posted alarming new case numbers. But the Midwest is showing early signs of moving in the wrong direction, with nearly a third more tests coming back positive now than came back positive on June 15. The Northeast continues to recover from its early spring outbreak.
The US Census regions we use have widely diverging populations. The South region is home to more than twice as many people as the Northeast region, which makes a rising set of outbreaks in the South particularly alarming in terms of total population potentially affected. It also means that despite the rise in cases, the outbreaks in the South and West have not yet come close to the per-capita peak of the catastrophic outbreak in the Northeast.
At the national level, testing is up. The United States is finally meeting the 500,000 tests per day minimum recommended by the Harvard Global Health Institute in April, but only barely. On May 7th, the Institute issued an updated estimate that the United States will need to perform 900,000 tests per day to get ahead of the virus, and recommendations from other groups are even higher. As we near the end of June, we’re not even close to that mark.
Testing has risen much more in some areas than in others. A national goal of 500,000 tests per day suggests, when scaled to the U.S. population, that individual states and territories should test about 150 people for each 100,000 residents. But only 17 states and the District of Columbia met the minimum this week.
This week on the COVID Tracking Project blog, we looked into the possibility that the surge of new cases is merely an artifact of expanded testing. All available data suggests that it is not. At least one state with an ongoing surge, Florida, has seen its number of daily tests shrink in the last week.
Since April 21, national data has shown that the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 was steadily falling. That trend ended this week. While the Northeast continue to trend downward, rising hospitalizations in the South and West have now eclipsed it.
Combined data from the three states with the sharpest rises in new cases—Arizona, Florida, and Texas—is particularly bleak. Tests in these three states rose nine percent from last week, while cases surged 74 percent. The percentage of positive tests blew past the WHO’s minimum recommendation of 10 percent, let alone the WHO’s recommended five percent for reopenings. For this three-state group, it was the third-highest week of deaths so far this year.
At The Atlantic, two of our project founders have written a deep dive on the pandemic's progression in the United States and what we will likely see in the coming weeks and months based on the data being reported now. In the next few days, we’ll summarize what we know—and don’t know—about the lag in COVID-19 death reporting, and about indications that the age demographics of newly identified cases has changed.