NATIONWIDE — The United States hit a new daily high of new coronavirus infections Friday, reporting more than 83,000 new cases, the highest such total since the coronavirus pandemic began.
One day after the U.S. set a daily record for new confirmed coronavirus infections, it came very close to doing it again.
Data published by Johns Hopkins University shows that 83,718 new cases in the U.S. were reported Saturday, nearly matching the 83,757 infections reported Friday. Before that, the most cases reported in the United States on a single day had been 77,362 on July 16.
Close to 8.6 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and about 225,000 have died. Both statistics are the world’s highest. India has more than 7.8 million infections but in recent weeks its daily numbers have been declining.
U.S. health officials have feared the surge of infections to come with colder weather and people spending more time indoors, especially as many flout guidelines to protect themselves and others such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington currently forecasts that the country’s COVID-19 death toll could exceed 318,000 by Jan. 1.
The grim figure is a stark reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, even as President Donald Trump said "we're rounding the turn" on the pandemic at Thursday's final presidential debate, a claim he repeated Friday at a campaign rally in Florida.
A PolitiFact fact check said the president's claim was false.
The U.S. death toll has grown to 224,906, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The total U.S. caseload reported by the University Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden slammed Trump's pandemic response in a campaign speech Friday, using nearly all of his 25-minute address to criticize the current administration’s handling of COVID-19 while simultaneously laying out his own plans to clean up after Trump.
"In June, when we began to see the resurgence of COVID-19, I called out President Trump for wavering, & waving the white flag of surrender to the virus,” Biden said Friday. “But then, it was as if he decided to go on offense for the virus, holding rallies with no masks, no social distancing, where people contracted the virus."
Biden slammed Trump's comments when asked during a town hall if there was anything he would do differently about the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"When Trump was asked this week what he'd do differently to get the pandemic response right from the start, his answer was, and I quote, 'not much," Biden said. "'Not much.' As many as 210,000 avoidable deaths, there's not much he would do differnetly? The United States is 4% of the entire world's population, yet we make up 20% of all the deaths worldwide."
He asked, "If this is a success, what does failure look like?"
Biden’s pandemic plan would encourage universal mask wearing, supply a stockpile of personal protective equipment, and make sure that safe and effective treatments and vaccines are available for all Americans.
Biden also stressed that no American should ever be forced to choose between taking a vaccine and putting food on their table, insisting that a potential vaccine be available at no cost.
“Once we have a safe and effective vaccine, it has to be free for everyone. Whether or not you're insured,” Biden said. “Let me say that again, the vaccine must be free and freely available to everyone.”
“I'll listen to the scientists, and I’ll empower them,” Biden added.
Soon after his address, Biden released a tongue-in-cheek link to “President Trump's plan to beat COVID-19” on Twitter. The link led to a website that read, in part: “The Trump plan to defeat the Coronavirus and reopen safely does not exist.”
In Florida Friday, Trump continued his attack line on China, blaming the country for the pandemic.
“We’re going to quickly end this pandemic, this horrible plague that came from China,” Trump said about the coronavirus. “We’re not going to forget what they did.”
About three weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19, Trump appeared without a mask, as he regularly does at his rallies — along with a vast majority of his supporters.
“I can’t close myself up,” the president said. “One day I got it and the first lady got it … We see a lot of people, and we’ve got a job to do, and we beat it.”
The impact is being felt in just about every part of the country — a lockdown starting Friday at the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s reservation in South Dakota, a plea by a Florida health official for a halt to children’s birthday parties, dire warnings from Utah’s governor, and an increasingly desperate situation at a hospital in northern Idaho, which is running out of space for patients and considering airlifts to Seattle or Portland, Oregon.
“We’ve essentially shut down an entire floor of our hospital. We’ve had to double rooms. We’ve bought more hospital beds,” said Dr. Robert Scoggins, a pulmonologist at the Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d’Alene. “Our hospital is not built for a pandemic.”
In the southern Idaho city of Twin Falls, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center said it would no longer accept children because it is overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Except for newborns, all under age 18 will be sent 128 miles away in Boise.
Among those in northern Idaho joining Scoggins at a meeting of Idaho’s Panhandle Health District was board member Walk Kirby.
“People are dying, they’re going to keep dying and catching this stuff,” Kirby said. “How many people won’t wear a mask? The same people that won’t get vaccinated for it.”
Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert proclaimed Friday to be “a record day for Utah — but not a good one” as COVID-19 cases reached an all-time high for the state.
“Up until now, our hospitals have been able to provide good care to all COVID and non-COVID patients who need it,” he said. “But today we stand on the brink. If Utahans do not take serious steps to limit group gatherings and wear masks, our healthcare providers will not have the ability to provide quality care for everyone who needs it.”
By public health order, masks are required in 21 counties, said Herbert, urging Utah residents to wear one whenever they are around someone outside their immediate household.
The seven-day rolling average for new daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 61,140 Thursday, compared with 44,647 two weeks ago. The record was reached July 22 when the rolling average was 67,293 in the midst of a summer outbreak driven largely by surges of the virus in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
The U.S. surge mirrors a similarly widespread spike in Europe, where Rome, Paris and other major cities are reining in nightlife as part of the increasingly drastic measures undertaken to slow the spread of the pandemic. French authorities said the country had recorded over 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, becoming the second country in Western Europe after Spain to reach that number.
The head of the World Health Organization warned that countries in the Northern Hemisphere are at a “critical juncture” as cases and deaths continue to rise.
“The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.