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The United States saw a devastating surge in coronavirus infections during July, with more than 1.9 million new cases reported — by far the most tallied in a single month and a grim sign that the country had lost its grip on the pandemic.
The month’s infection total reported by states was more than double that of June and represents about 42 percent of the 4.5 million cases the country has logged since the outbreak started, according to tracking by The Washington Post. Nationwide, testing has steadily increased — in July, it rose from about 600,000 to 820,000 tests per day — but soaring positivity rates and hospitalizations made clear that virus transmission was accelerating.
Coronavirus-related deaths also rose after declining during April and May: The country saw 25,259 fatalities in July, up more than 3,700 from the previous month, according to The Post’s data. Health experts predicted daily deaths would continue to trend upward in August, trailing spikes in infections by a few weeks. On Friday, the U.S. death toll surpassed 150,000.
Here are some significant developments:
- Further imperiling the Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals, who reported two positive coronavirus tests Friday, reportedly saw another four positives on Saturday, one of which was a player. For the second straight day, that night’s Cardinals-Brewers game was called off, marking the 16th game of this MLB season to be postponed.
- Top White House officials traveled to the Capitol Saturday morning for rare weekend talks with Democratic leaders on a coronavirus relief package, a day after emergency unemployment benefits expired for some 30 million Americans.
- Over the past week, 24 states surpassed a case increase of more than 100 cases per 100,000 people — a metric the White House and Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, have defined as “red zone” states, where the spread of the virus is serious enough to warrant stricter public health precautions.
- The United States tallied 1,315 coronavirus deaths Friday, the fifth day in a row the country has reached a four-digit death toll, according to data analysis by The Post.
- Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, told Congress on Friday that a “diversity of response” from states had hampered efforts to bring down the number of new infections. In contrast, he said, many European nations went into near-total lockdowns.
States in the South and West were most severely affected by the new wave of infections. Florida more than tripled its caseload, with 318,000 new cases in July, according to The Post’s tracking. California added more than 270,000 cases and was on track to soon become the first state to record half a million infections. Texas reported 261,000 cases.
The number of deaths rose most in those states, too, with Texas reporting 4,415, Florida reporting 3,362 and California reporting 3,025. Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee and the Carolinas also reported sharp increases.
The spikes in fatalities have alarmed medical workers nationwide. In Houston, one of the country’s hardest-hit metropolitan areas, the chief medical officer of United Memorial Medical Center said he signed more death certificates in the last week of July than at any point in his career.
“I have been in the middle of earthquakes, in the middle of bombings, in the middle of tsunamis. I’ve been involved in every possible catastrophe that you can imagine. And by far, this is the worst,” Joseph Varon told Houston’s ABC affiliate.
The virus was spiraling out of control because people were disregarding health guidelines, Varon said. “My motto has been, you know, at the present time, I’m pretty much fighting two wars, a war against covid and a war against stupidity,” he said. “And the problem is that the first one I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult to treat.”
Amid the rise in cases and deaths, the country’s virus response remains fractured and halting. Officials at all levels of government spent July sparring over whether to roll back reopening plans and institute mask mandates and other public health requirements recommended by leading health experts.
“We reopened too quickly in many places around the country, we haven’t been unified and consistent in our messages, and now we see where we are,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in a CNN interview Friday.
The pandemic has also had a harsh impact on the economy, with the nation’s gross domestic product shrinking at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter. At midnight Friday, tens of millions of American workers lost $600 weekly unemployment payments after congressional leaders failed to reach an agreement on how to extend the benefit, which has helped keep many households afloat the past four months.
July’s spike in infections was accompanied by backlogs, long lines and shortfalls in key components for testing as people in new virus hot spots converged on sites to find out whether they were infected. Many patients across the country reported waiting a week or more for results — a delay that effectively renders tests useless in controlling the virus’s spread.
“Testing charade continues,” former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden tweeted Friday. “We shouldn’t pay a dime for any test that takes more than 72 hours to come back.”
Brett Giroir, who leads the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing efforts, acknowledged in a Friday congressional hearing that getting results to patients within three days was not possible at this time. “It is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today, given the demand and the supply,” he said.