The United States is being ravaged by a deadly pandemic that is growing exponentially, overwhelming health care systems and costing thousands of lives, to say nothing of an economic recession that threatens to plague the nation for years to come.
But the American public seems to be over the pandemic, eager to get kids back in schools, ready to hit the bar scene and hungry for Major League Baseball to play its abbreviated season.
The startling divergence between the brutal reality of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the fantasy land of a forthcoming return to normalcy has public health experts depressed and anxious about what is to come. The worst is not behind us, they say, by any stretch of the imagination.
“It’s an absolute disconnect between our perceived reality and our actual reality,” said Craig Spencer, a New York City emergency room doctor who directs global health in emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “To look at the COVID case count and the surge in cases and to think that we can have these discussions as we have uncontrolled spread, to think we can have some national strategy for reopening schools when we don’t even have one for reopening the country, it’s just crazy.”
The number of dead from the virus in the United States alone, almost 136,000, is roughly equal to the populations of Charleston, S.C., or Gainesville, Fla. If everyone in America who had been infected lived in the same city, that city would be the third-largest in the country, behind only New York and Los Angeles. More people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus than live in the state of Utah. By the weekend, there are likely to be more confirmed coronavirus cases than there are residents of Connecticut.
There are signs that the outbreak is getting worse, not better. The 10 days with the highest number of new coronavirus infections in the United States have come in the past 11 days.
Case counts, hospitalizations and even deaths are on the rise across the nation, not only in Southern states that were slow to embrace lockdowns in March and April.
California, the first state to completely lock down, has reported more than 54,000 new cases over both of the last two weeks. Nevada, about one-thirteenth the size of California, reported 5,200 new cases last week. States where early lockdowns helped limit the initial peak like Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio are all seeing case counts grow and hospital beds fill up.
Only two states — Maine and New Jersey — have seen their case counts decline for two consecutive weeks.
We are nearing the point where pretty much most of the gains we had achieved have been lost,” said Christine Petersen, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa. “All of us are hoping we magically get our acts together and we can look like Europe in two months. But all the data shows we are not doing that right now.”