Sep 3, 2020 - Health

Colleges drive a new wave of coronavirus hotspots

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Washington state case count does not include Sept. 1; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

America’s brief spurt of progress in containing the coronavirus has stalled out.

Why it matters: We had a nice little run of improvement over the past month or so, but cases are now holding steady at a rate that’s still far too high to consider the outbreak under control.

By the numbers: The U.S. confirmed roughly 41,600 new infections per day over the past week — largely unchanged from the week before.

  • Three populous states — Arizona, California and Texas — continued to improve, but those gains were canceled out by rising caseloads in 18 states, including seven where daily infections were up by more than 50%.
  • Nationwide, testing was up about 5%, to an average of roughly 730,000 tests per day.

Details: Each week, Axios tracks the change in each state’s coronavirus outbreak, compared to the week before. We use a seven-day average to minimize disruption from the quirks in how states report their data.

The big picture: The U.S. has never managed to get the virus contained, and as we have plowed ahead with reopening anyway, every new phase has caused another spike in infections.

  • The general reopening effort in May was clearly tied to the summer surge in cases, and now reopened universities appear to be the new hotspots.
  • At the University of Alabama, for example, 1,200 students and over 150 employees have caught the virus since classes resumed, and now the state overall has some of the biggest increases in the country.
  • Alabama’s population is about one-fourth the size of New York state’s, but its coronavirus outbreak is twice as big. (Alabama recorded an average of nearly 1,500 new cases per day over the past week, compared to 676 per day in New York.)

Where it stands: One-off events also make matters worse.

  • South Dakota’s daily caseload more than doubled over the past week, the worst increase in any state. The outbreak there spiked after the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally and the Smash Mouth concert it featured this year.
  • Even the states that are improving still have a lot of coronavirus. California’s outbreak is slowing down, but the state is still adding an average of almost 5,000 new infections per day. Florida is holding steady at around 3,600 new cases per day.

The bottom line: This is not — or at least, did not need to be — a choice between locking down forever, which is impossible, or simply being OK with 1,000 deaths per day, which is horrifying.

  • The way to avoid that choice is to get cases under control. The U.S. has never done that.

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