Along the way, nearly every previous landmark for measuring the pandemic has been overwhelmed. The country reported about 300,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, more than in any previous week of the pandemic so far. This shattered the old record of more than 215,000 new cases, which was set last week. On June 16, Vice President Mike Pence bragged that the U.S. was seeing an average of 20,000 new infections a day, a decline from the April high of about 30,000 new daily cases. Since Pence’s boast, the U.S. has recorded more than 30,000 new cases on every day but four. Six days ago, the country reported more than 40,000 daily cases for the first time. Now it has smashed through the 50,000 mark.

These cases aren’t all mild. At least 37,000 Americans are now hospitalized with COVID-19, the same number as were in sick beds in late May. This number is likely a substantial undercount: Florida, which is facing one of the largest outbreaks, does not report its total hospitalization figures, though it says it will publish that data soon. What data we do have suggest that health-care systems are overwhelmed. In Houston, for instance, the Texas Medical Center has filled 100 percent of its intensive-care-unit beds…

The country has not yet faced a moment like this in its pandemic. The calamity in the Northeast happened when most Americans were sheltered at home. No matter how much infection raged in New York, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, the country’s adherence to social distancing kept new conflagrations from sparking elsewhere. But now the country is divided: The South is burning with infection at the same time other regions are trying to reopen. This feat—opening one region while suppressing the pandemic in another—has never been done before, and there is no guarantee that it can be done. Many public-health leaders signaled this week that they do not think it is possible.