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A 25-year-old man from Nevada is the first American to be confirmed to have caught COVID-19 twice, and his second infection is worse than the first.

USA TODAY

Nineteen days after the presidential election, the United States has confirmed more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country, and the cases are growing at a rate never seen before the summer peak.

At current growth rates, the nation could set a record for new cases within a week in the first few days of November, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data collected by Johns Hopkins University. If the spread of cases gains momentum – as seen in late June and July – the United States could set a record in just over a week.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question. We had about 50,000 new cases yesterday,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Hopkins. “It’s not crazy to think we’ll get there sooner than we all want.”

The United States added more than 366,400 cases in the last week, nearly 50,000 higher than the previous week, a growth rate not seen since late June.

“We will have huge growth as we focus on the colder months, and this could be the potentially worst part of the epidemic in the United States, both in terms of new cases and even deaths,” he said. Dr. Peter Hottes, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Our lives will improve as we receive vaccines early next year, but we will go through a very turbulent time.”

Map of the coronavirus in the USA: Outbreak tracking

There are nearly 8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 217,000 people have died, according to John Hopkins. The pandemic affected all but three counties, and the proportion of positive coronavirus tests is increasing in the northwestern, midwestern and other northern states. From Wednesdayin the evening, 14 countries set new case records for one week, while four had a record number of deaths in one week.

“We start this third renaissance from a relatively high watermark. We see hotspots all over the country, and that really worries me because it’s difficult to control,” Rivers said.

Cases are growing in the Midwest with bubbles: North Dakota reports cases at a rate one-third faster, per capita, than any American state has had in the worst spring or summer waves.

South Dakota and Montana are also ahead of summer records, while Wisconsin is not far below, according to a visualization of John Hopkins University data by computer scientist from the University of Illinois Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider.

New cases are not the only figures rising. The percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations is also rising, Rivers said. The positivity of the test, in particular, helps to determine whether the increase in cases is simply the result of extended testing or an actual increase in transmission.

“Taken together, this is a pretty reliable indicator that things are going in the wrong direction,” she said.

Thirty-three countries have higher than recommended levels of positivity and more than 30 have seen an increase in the percentage of tests that return positive from the previous week, according to John Hopkins, who notes that test quality varies by country.

Epidemiologists are divided on whether the tide is a second “wave” or just a continuation of the first. The new daily cases peaked in the spring in mid-April at a seven-day average of nearly 32,000 cases per day.

Cases began to decline after that, but peaked again in mid-July, averaging more than 67,000 new daily cases. Cases fell again to a minimum of more than 34,000 new daily cases in mid-September.

Michael Osterholm, one of the country’s leading epidemiologists and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the coronavirus outbreak was more like a wildfire than a “wave.”

“Human wood will simply continue to burn wherever it can be found. If you don’t put it out, those embers lie there, and if you remove your repression activities, it will return immediately. That’s what Europe sees right now,” he said. “If we take our feet off the brake completely, you’ll see a widespread transmission everywhere.”

Research: Americans torn between rest and avoid the coronavirus

The increase is fueled by three main factors, Osterholm said. People are returning to social activities due to pandemic fatigue. Young people at school spread the virus among the more vulnerable. And the internal transmission increases as the cooler autumn weather drives people inside.

Dr. Greg Poland, director of the vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic, warned of a “no-go-back” when the nation exceeds testing capabilities, any ability to track contacts and the ability of the medical system to meet growing demand. The quality of health care will decline and mortality will rise, Poland said.

“This is a very bad premonition of what we have seen in the last week or two in cases of increase and we would be fools to wait until it becomes obvious,” Poland said.

It is difficult to predict exactly when the next peak will be, but several epidemiologists have said that the models may provide imperfect guidance. At the current rate, the new daily deaths will peak in late December, and the daily deaths will peak in mid-January, according to the Institute for Health Indicators and Assessment at the University of Washington. Masking nationwide will halve the projected peak of the case, but easing the mandates will double it, according to the model.

President Donald Trump continues to push for a vaccine until election day on November 3, but experts say the schedule is unlikely. Doses of each vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration can be sent by the end of the year or early 2021, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this week.

Mercedes Carneton, vice president of preventive medicine at the Medical Faculty of the University of Feinberg at Northwestern University, encouraged people to wear masks and maintain social distance in the fall and winter.

“We have to maintain that level of vigilance at this time and it is very difficult during the holidays,” she said. “As long as I don’t think I see my family, it’s really hard. But this chance could be a real gamble – almost Russian roulette.”

Contributed by: Mike Stuka, USA TODAY Network

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