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Nearly the entire U.S. has become a COVID hot spot, government map shows

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WASHINGTON — While top health officials continue to warn about a post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge in the weeks to come, the U.S. is already experiencing an unprecedented wave of the pandemic that has turned virtually the entire country into a hot spot, according to a new internal government map.

Last week, the U.S. passed a threshold once considered almost unimaginable — recording more than 200,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. Midwestern states like Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio have been particularly hard hit in the latest surge.

Yet even with COVID-19 striking rural areas with particular force, a map included in an internal brief produced by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services shows that almost every state in the country has multiple counties marked as “sustained hotspots.”

Source: DHHS
Source: DHHS

The brief, dated Nov. 28 and marked for official use only, defines areas as “sustained hotspots” if they have “a high sustained case burden and may be higher risk for experiencing healthcare resource limitations.”

Early in the pandemic, government health experts used hot spots to track which parts of the country were starting to see spikes in cases, even if their overall infection rates weren’t yet high. But as the latest map makes clear, much of the country is now defined as either an emerging hotspot” or “elevated hotspot.”

Another map contained in the report shows the dramatic overall picture of case counts: much of the U.S. continues to be draped in red, denoting counties that have between 200 to 499 cases per 100,000 people, and dark red, which indicates more than 500 cases per 100,000 people.

The overall incidence rate of COVID-19 for the last seven days is 336 cases per 100,000 people, up from what was already a record-high 322 cases per 100,000 in mid-November.

Source: DHHS
Source: DHHS

There were some slight improvements over the past week compared with the previous one: the mortality rate had decreased by 1.7 percent, test positivity had dropped by 0.7 percent and the total number of new cases had dropped by 5.7 percent.

But those indicators are expected to grow worse in the coming weeks as cases emerge as a result of travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, recently warned that the U.S. in the coming weeks “may see a surge upon a surge.”

Health officials have desperately sought to limit the inevitable spike from the Thanksgiving holiday, with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams telling people over the weekend that if they traveled or attended gatherings with people not in their household, they should take steps to protect others, including through testing and self-isolating. “We need you to think about what you did over the holidays,” he said.

Even with the first two vaccines expected to become available in the coming weeks, public health officials are warning that the pandemic is continuing to burn across the country, pushing hospitals past their limits as ICU beds dwindle. More than 267,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to data posted by the John Hopkins University.

In a tweet on Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that his state was approaching “the tipping point” and according to projections “will run out of current ICU beds before Christmas Eve.”

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