The country’s second surge has arrived—and it is hammering states, such as Texas and Arizona, that escaped the first surge mostly unscathed.
This new surge is large enough to shift the entire country’s top-line statistics. In terms of new confirmed cases, three of the 10 worst days of the U.S. pandemic so far have come since Friday, according to data collected by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. The seven-day average of new cases has now risen to levels last seen 11 weeks ago, during the worst of the outbreak in New York. The U.S. has seen more cases in the past week than in any week since the pandemic began.
Since June 15, most of these new cases have come in the South. The ongoing outbreak there is the second-worst regional outbreak that the U.S. has seen so far. Only the springtime calamity that befell the Northeast—which was one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks anywhere in the world, if not the worst—exceeds what is now happening across the Sun Belt.
Ominously, sparks from the Sun Belt outbreak may be landing in other parts of the country and igniting new blazes of infection. Since June 15, Ohio and Missouri have seen their average daily case counts increase by the hundreds. Virginia, which battled the virus in May but has so far escaped this month’s surge, has also seen cases rise in the past few days.
The national surge is driven primarily by potentially disastrous situations in Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Many virus statistics in these states now look like straight lines pointing upward. In Arizona, where President Donald Trump held a large indoor rally this week, the situation is particularly bleak. Over the past month, the number of confirmed cases there has grown nearly fourfold; the number of people hospitalized has more than doubled. On Tuesday, the state reported more than 3,500 new cases in one day. That’s equal to 494 new cases for every 1 million residents, a figure that rivals New York State’s numbers in March and April.
Were it not for Arizona’s terrifying surge, spikes in other states would register as major events. Texas has seen an explosion: On June 1, it reported about 600 new cases of COVID-19; yesterday, it reported more than 5,000. Its hospitalizations have more than doubled in the same period. Florida, for its part, has reported an average of 3,756 new COVID-19 cases each day for the past week, a fourfold surge in daily cases compared with a month ago. And in South Carolina, new cases have grown sevenfold since mid-May. The Palmetto State now records nearly 950 new COVID-19 cases every day, or about 184 new daily cases for every 1 million residents.
Across the country, 10 states have set new records for case counts in the past three days.
Why are these spikes happening? The answer is not completely clear, but what unites some of the most troublesome states is the all-or-nothing approach they took to pandemic suppression. The stay-at-home order in Texas, for instance, lifted on April 30. A day later, the state allowed nearly all of its businesses and public spaces—stores, malls, churches, restaurants, and movie theaters—to open with limited capacity. It has since further loosened those restrictions. Arizona allowed some stores and businesses to reopen in early May; it lifted its stay-at-home order on May 15 and allowed bars, gyms, churches, malls, and movie theaters to reopen around the same time. And while the state mandated some form of capacity restrictions, those rules were regularly breached: For weeks, photos and videos have shown scenes of crowded Arizona bars and nightclubs.