Another day, another set of records falls as the explosion in COVID-19 infections roars undeterred across the nation.
Wednesday's one-day record count of 102,831 was the first daily total to surpass 100,000. It translates to an average of more than 70 Americans reporting positive every minute. A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday shows 22 states set records for new cases for a seven day period – and five states had a record number of deaths in a week.
Four NFL teams closed their practice facilities Thursday and at least four college football games scheduled for this weekend were shelved as the pandemic creeped through the sports world.
"The seasonal uptick has been predicted for months," said Dennis Carroll, who led the pandemic unit at the federal Agency for International Development for nearly 15 years. "We knew this would happen, but denial has ruled."
The week ending Wednesday had 629,012 new cases reported. It's worth noting that the week ending Oct. 25 set a record, too – with 481,511 cases. We're already more than 30% above that record from less than two weeks ago. And climbing.
It's not easy to determine how high the numbers will go.
"Unfortunately we don’t have a crystal ball," said Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert and professor at the University of South Carolina. "We do have a portion of the population with prior exposure, so that should help mitigate and slow transmission compared to March when everyone was vulnerable to infection."
Nolan warned, however, that respiratory infections routinely are worse in the winter as people gather indoors. Forced-air and other types of home heating can dry out the inside air and thus the respiratory tract lining, making people more susceptible to infection, she said.
Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University, noted that the record-breaking data coincides with increased political and other activities in recent weeks amid eased restrictions in some states. It's not clear how each state will react to the rising numbers, he said.
"It is difficult to predict the expected ceiling for this spike in cases," Omenka said. "However, at this rate, it is within reason to expect it to stretch into the coming weeks."
Carroll said too little has been done during the summer months to put in place the widespread testing and contact tracing needed to tamp down a cold season surge. Preparation could have allowed for targeted closures and isolation of the virus as opposed to the "blunt instrument of community-wide shutdowns," he said.
Carroll blamed a "continued failure in leadership" that ignored opportunities to bring the virus under control.
The United States has reported more than 9.4 million cases and more than 233,000 deaths.
"As it stands, we’re no better prepared than the spring, meaning widespread closures and shutdowns as we are witnessing in Europe are inevitable," Carroll told USA TODAY. "This is tragic situation. People are and should be outraged."
New seven-day case records were set Wednesday in Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The trend is ominous. Forty-four states had more cases in the latest week than in the week before, an analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Thirty-nine states had a higher rate of people testing positive than the week before, an analysis of COVID Tracking Project data shows.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, is among the droves of experts who continue to urge Americans to wear masks, wash their hands regularly and vigilantly social distance. But pandemic fatigue and other factors have meant those protocols are not always followed.
A vaccine would take the pressure off, and experts say the first vaccines could be approved as soon as next month. But it could be many more months before they become widely distributed. Still to be determined: Will most Americans want to get vaccinated? Will vaccines reach communities of color?
"It seems that at least part of the explanation that Americans are resisting wearing masks and social distancing is related to the desire to have freedom and independence and to not be told by a higher authority of how they should live their lives," Glatter said. "But without a viable vaccine, these the only options we have right now."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19: Daily U.S. infection toll surpasses 100,000 cases