U.S. sets new daily record with 71,000 confirmed COVID cases, highest deaths since late May

The silver lining is that we also set a new daily record on tests with more than 830,000 conducted. But if you’re thinking that the case count is an artifact of that, check out the graph on hospitalizations. Clearly infections are rising in the population if we’re seeing a trend like this:

It’s mostly happening in the south and California, but not exclusively:

Stat has a long piece out today assessing America’s struggle with the virus as essentially “Sweden but worse.” Sweden had a deliberate strategy: They kept (most) things open but relied on citizens to use good judgment and voluntarily isolate from each other. They also had a uniform national policy to solve the problem of outbreaks in “lax” areas bleeding over into “strict” ones. And there was no hyperventilating about the virus being some sort of hoax, leading people to take it less seriously. “In some ways you could say we’re doing Sweden, but unintentionally,” said an American epidemiologist of how things have shaken out here by contrast. We ended the lockdowns, but in our case many people aren’t showing good judgment about socializing. We don’t have a national policy and realistically couldn’t have one due to federalism. There’s lots of paranoia surrounding the virus, from the efficacy of masks to proper attribution of cause of death.

Result: Sweden’s suffered a high number of deaths per capita but their epidemic isn’t raging the way ours is. It’s depressing enough to lead some to grasp at the possibility that Sweden — and New York, and European hot spots — have reached herd immunity without realizing it. There’s lots of chatter lately about chunks of the population maybe having immunity to the virus due to T-cells instead of antibodies. It could be that the reason New York City’s case counts remain ultra-low is that everyone there has either died from infection, developed antibodies, or fought the virus off via T-cells. There’s nowhere left for SARS-CoV-2 to go locally. If that’s what happened in NYC, maybe Texas, Florida, and Arizona are en route to the same outcome.

The wrinkle in that hopeful theory is that New York (and Sweden, to a lesser extent) paid a steep price in order to reach immunity. Tate Reeves, the governor of Mississippi, did a little back-of-the-envelope math on Twitter a few nights ago to try to reckon with what herd immunity would require in his state:

Even if the threshold for herd immunity is much lower than scientists expect due to T-cells, there’s still going to be plenty of pain on the path to achieving it. The only person who’s happy with New York’s performance on COVID-19 is Andrew Cuomo.

Another thing New York and Sweden have in common is devastating outbreaks in their nursing homes, a key driver of the high death tolls in both jurisdictions. The story of America’s “second wave” until recently was that the virus was mostly spreading among young adults, which helped explain why for weeks the number of daily deaths nationally didn’t rise. Recently, though, that’s begun to change. Yesterday 52 people tested positive at a single nursing home in Austin, Texas. More than 1,800 infections in nursing homes across Texas have been reported since last Friday. The rest of the Sun Belt is seeing the same trend:

Facilities in the Houston and Tampa metropolitan areas marked a nearly 800% cumulative increase in new cases among residents from the last week of May through the week ended June 28, the most recent period available, with more than 400 new cases during that period in both cities. In Phoenix, the increase topped 900%, more than three times the national increase, as nursing homes reported 545 new cases. Data from Miami and San Antonio nursing homes showed fast growth in cases as well.

“We first see it in the community, and then we see it in the residents and staff, and then you see the deaths,” said David Grabowski, a professor at Harvard Medical School who studies nursing homes. “As it spreads to these new states, we’re not that much farther along than we were in the Northeastern states in March and April” in efforts to shield residents from the virus, he said…

The latest data also show nursing homes in some hard-hit areas still struggle to obtain protective equipment needed to slow the virus’s spread. In the Phoenix area, for instance, 25% of facilities reported in the federal data having less than a week’s supply of at least one category of protective gear, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, in June’s final week.

What sort of death toll in nursing homes might be required in order for Texas and Florida to reach herd immunity?

Given all the ominous and discouraging data lately, we’re left to wonder if there wasn’t a political motivation for this:

It’s hard to see why the White House would snatch away data-gathering duties on COVID-19 from the CDC in the middle of a pandemic and hand it to a more politicized agency like HHS unless they were hoping to suppress some or all of the numbers for political reasons. But that theory is compromised by the fact that the states all publish their own numbers. The COVID Tracking Project data that forms the basis for this post is based on state data, not the CDC. In fact, as I write this, there *is* data on the CDC webpage that’s featured in Ornstein’s tweet (although it’s from two days ago, not current). Has the White House relented? Unless the states stop publishing their individual daily numbers, there’s no way for Team Trump to hide the ball on how bad the pandemic is. Plus, according to the Times, Deborah Birx was part of the plan to move data-gathering from the CDC to HHS. Unless she’s in on the alleged cover-up, I’m not sure what the allegation here is.

I’ll leave you with this tweet, which neatly encapsulates the sterling American effort in managing coronavirus: