As a third wave of COVID-19 sweeps across the United States, the country has reached another devastating milestone: more than 10 million people have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University numbers as of 2 p.m. E.T. on Monday. A million cases of the virus have been reported in the last 10 days alone.
Americans make up just 4.25% of the global population, but have accounted for nearly a fifth of the 50.4 million cases of coronavirus reported worldwide so far. Since the virus reached the U.S. earlier this year, experts have debated why the country has failed to control its outbreak, with many pointing to the lack of a unified national response. Looking at the trajectory of the data this November, there can remain little doubt that the virus is still spreading rapidly in almost all corners of the U.S., and it shows little sign of slowing down. Over the last 10 days alone, an average of about 102,300 new COVID-19 cases have been reported daily, for a total of about 1 million new cases.
States that had previously faced relatively minor outbreaks are increasingly driving new cases. Across the country, 29 states have reported record-setting daily case numbers in the last eight days, especially in the Midwest and West. For instance, Iowa reported 5,277 new cases on Nov. 5, and North Dakota reported 1,765 cases on Nov. 6.
While the U.S. outbreak has remained severe, there have been some glimmers of hope that Americans have become better able to cope with the disease. Although there is no cure for COVID-19, experts’ understanding of the disease has improved over time, and physicians have become better able to care for COVID-19 patients, meaning that fewer people in the U.S. die after contracting the disease than did in the early stages of the pandemic. Today, we also have better evidence that face masks are an effective way to curb the spread of the disease. At the same time, scientists have also learned that coronavirus can have long-lasting—and even life-altering—impacts for some patients, including those who are young and healthy.
Also on Monday, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that early data show the coronavirus vaccine it is developing is about 90% effective at preventing the disease, sparking new hope in the fight against the pandemic. However, even if such a vaccine becomes available by the end of the year, initially, there will only be enough doses for about 25 million people—a fraction of the number of vaccinations necessary to achieve herd immunity, and likely too late to forestall the current wave of infections rippling across the U.S.
An added challenge is that the U.S. is now headed into the holiday season, and the days are getting darker and colder, which scientists have long warned could enable the virus to spread faster, as people spend more time indoors. To curb the spread of the virus, individuals must continue to practice social distancing and masking, even if many have long since grown weary of altering their lives to protect themselves and their communities.
Formulating a national plan for combatting the virus will also be crucial for getting it under control, and for rolling out a coronavirus vaccine. President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that taking the helm of the country’s COVID-19 response will be one of his first priorities. On Monday, the Biden-Harris team announced the formation of a transitional COVID-19 Advisory Board to advise Biden’s team as it develops its response to the crisis.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement.