The coronavirus that has been pushed to the awareness sideline by a watershed moment in U.S. race relations has quietly reached 2 million U.S. infections.
The Johns Hopkins virus dashboard counted more than 27,000 new cases Wednesday alone, a day that saw almost 1,000 U.S. deaths. More than 113,000 Americans have died.
As the nation slowly reopens after months of lockdown, the pandemic that paralyzed the global economy is still very much among us. Despite a decline in U.S. deaths for six weeks in a row, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says the U.S. must be prepared for 100,000 victims in the next few months.
"The pandemic is still here. Between 800 and 1,000 people are dying a day," Jha tweeted. "We can't become immune to this. We can't."
And even the 2 million infections is a lowball number, says Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina. The latest information from the CDC suggests that for every four symptomatic cases there is one asymptomatic case, which would suggest that the true infection burden nationally would be about 2.4 million, she says.
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While good news on the numbers emanate from cities such as New York and Chicago, states such as Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina are seeing surges. A record 1,698 new cases of were announced Thursday by the Florida Department of Health.
And it's not just the United States. India is reporting a spike: Nearly 10,000 new cases reported Thursday. South Korea, the world's success story for its triumphant effort to flatten the curves for new cases and deaths, is now seeing a worrisome infection boom.
"As the virus is spreading quickly, there is a limit in containing the spread just by tracking people who have made contact with COVID-19 patients," warned Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official in South Korea.
Health experts understand the urgency in reopening the U.S. economy. About 1.5 million Americans filed first-time applications for unemployment insurance last week, pushing the tally over the past 12 weeks to a record-smashing 43 million people.
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But reopening comes at a cost. Nolan says the nation already is seeing more cases related to Memorial Day and summer vacation travel, gatherings for a wide variety of events ranging from the historic protests sweeping the nation to pool parties.
After months of lockdowns, then a slow reopening and mass demonstrations over racial inequities, it's not clear whether Americans are prepared to continue making social distancing sacrifices that could be needed to stem the outbreak.
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The next two weeks will provide an indication of whether a full-scale second wave of infections – which would mean an exponential growth in cases – is occurring or whether we are seeing a "flare-up" that shows itself as a short-term spike, Nolan says. Either way, the solution for now is hand-washing, social distancing and related measures that public health officials have preached for months.
"The next year will be a new normal for us all," Nolan said. "We are going to see some transitions that will hopefully with time allow us as a nation to eventually return to life as we knew it."