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Two months after last peak, US hits grim new record in COVID-19 cases

Arizona, Texas, and South Carolina are the new pandemic hotspots

Arizona Continues To See Rise In Coronavirus Cases
Customers shop at a mall in Glendale, Arizona.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There were 38,672 positive COVID-19 tests reported in the United States today, a new record high, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization housed at The Atlantic that collects data on the pandemic. The count surged past the previous high of 36,001, reported on April 25.

Early in the pandemic, the US caseload was driven by outbreaks in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Those states have largely controlled the transmission of the virus, and daily case counts are down. The outbreak is now accelerating in the South and the West. States like Arizona, Florida, California, and South Carolina — which had relatively low numbers of cases early on — are home to the lion’s share of the newly diagnosed cases.

The US is testing more people for COVID-19 now than it was in April, but that’s not the only reason for the skyrocketing case numbers. The percentage of the tests done in the country that come back positive is ticking back up, as well. In Arizona, for example, over 20 percent of tests are coming back positive. At the start of the month in that state, only around 10 percent of tests were positive.

The spikes in some states began a few weeks after those same states lifted stay-at-home orders, even though they hadn’t met some expert-recommended benchmarks.

Leaders in many of those states are also reluctant to enforce strategies that could help slow the resulting spread of COVID-19: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, for example, resisted calls to announce a statewide mask mandate. This week, he encouraged Texas residents to stay home, but said he would not reintroduce restrictions on businesses. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said that there would not be a second lockdown order.

As cases surge, President Trump and the federal government are withdrawing from the virus response. The administration announced Wednesday that it’s withdrawing federal support for 13 COVID-19 testing sites and turning management — and supply acquisition — over to the states. Seven of those sites are in Texas.

Trump also said at a campaign rally this weekend that the country should slow down testing to avoid adding new cases to the US tally.

Some COVID-19 patients weren’t worth counting, Trump indicated. “The young man is 10 years old. He’s got the sniffles. He’ll recover in about 15 minutes. That’s a case!”

White House officials said that Trump was kidding and that he didn’t actually want to slow testing down. Trump said on Monday that he wasn’t kidding.