As President Trump considers lifting social distancing restrictions in order to restart the economy, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a dire warning: the nation could become the new center of the coronavirus pandemic.
The worst is yet to come — now is not the time to lift restrictions
In the U.S., the number of cases is growing fast with each passing day. As of March 24, there are over 46,000 confirmed cases across the country, which have resulted in 593 deaths so far.
“We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential [to become the centre of the pandemic],” the WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.
The real number of cases might be a lot higher, though. According to the data that we’ve analyzed, one in 7,120 Americans are now confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Countries such as Spain and Italy, some of the hardest hit in the world and just a couple of days ahead of the US, report one confirmed case for every 1,170 and 940 people, respectively. So, there’s a lot of catching up to do both in terms of testing and disease spread.
For instance, coronavirus cases in the United States are doubling faster than in any other country, according to a recent report released by the infectious disease analytics team from MITRE, a Bedford-based nonprofit. The data suggests that the number of cases in the United States doubles every 1.75 days — a lot faster compared to South Korea’s 23 days. Unlike the U.S., South Korea tested a lot and imposed severe social distance measures early on in its outbreak.
At this rate, most Americans could become infected within months unless social distancing measures are actually tightened, rather than loosened as the Trump Administration is currently considering at the end of the country’s current 15-day lockdown. Around the world, an estimated 1.7 billion people have been urged and even ordered to stay at home by their local governments.
“The rate of increase in domestic cases is now estimated to be in the range of 25 to 40% per day near to or eclipsing the alarming rates of case growth occurring in France and Italy,” the report reads.
“We believe that COVID-19 cases are currently underrepresented in large part due to our current limited testing capability and the multiday period of asymptomatic infectivity,” the authors stated.
In Spain, there are nearly 40,000 confirmed cases and 2,696 deaths, while the situation in Italy continues to be dire — there are nearly 63,000 confirmed cases and 6,077 deaths in the Italian peninsula, bringing the case fatality rate to nearly 10% (although much of that comes from how Italy counts fatalities). One in four Italians is over 65 years old, many of whom have at least one underlying chronic disease — the most vulnerable group to COVID-19 respiratory complications that can result in death.
The worst cases of COVID-19 rob a person of their ability to breathe, so patients have a very high risk of dying unless they get life-sustaining oxygen from machines. Public health experts estimate that there are fewer than 100,000 ventilators in the United States but millions of patients struggling to breathe might need such care.
In order to avoid the total collapse of the national healthcare system, as Italy and Spain are currently experiencing, it is paramount that the US government continue the lock-down. These measures include closing all schools and virtually all places of social gathering, sealing or restricting the border until the pandemic is over, and preparing for the second wave of infection.
“We are well past keeping the virus out of the country and must focus resources on limiting community transmission,” wrote the MITRE researchers.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.