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On The Trail: A third coronavirus wave builds just before Election Day

A new wave of viral infections is washing over the nation just weeks before Election Day, putting a new spotlight on a crisis that has come to define President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE’s struggle for re-election.

For months, public health experts have warned of an increase in the number of cases that would accompany lower temperatures in the fall and winter. As people move inside more, they said, the coronavirus was likely to spread.

Those predictions have come true — earlier and more significantly than expected.

“We’re in a really precarious time,” said David Rubin, a pediatrician who runs the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose models show devolving situations across much of the nation. The pandemic “is accelerating, and it’s accelerating quickly. We’re now seeing hospitals exceeding capacity in the Upper Midwest, in Salt Lake, where hospitals are filling up, and it’s just mid-October.” 

The number of new coronavirus infections confirmed over the last week rose in 44 states compared to the week prior, according to The Hill’s analysis. Cases have declined for two or more consecutive weeks in just two states, California and Hawaii.

Several states now rank at the top of the worst outbreaks in the world. In North Dakota, where Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has resisted any new restrictions, the per capita infection rate last week was 711 per 100,000 residents — a rate more than twice as high as New York’s during its initial surge in April, and almost two times larger than the worst outbreaks in states like Arizona and Florida over the summer.

More than one in every 200 residents of South Dakota, and more than one in every 250 residents of Montana and Wisconsin, tested positive for the virus in just the past seven days. Texas recorded 36,000 new cases in the last week, while Illinois, California and Florida all reported more than 20,000 additional cases.

Case data show that more younger people are contracting the virus. While those younger people are less likely to be hospitalized or die, more infections will by nature lead to more people in the hospital. And those younger people, even asymptomatic ones, may become vectors who expose older and less healthy people with whom they come into contact.  

“What we know from the experience from the summer is that rising cases in younger people tends to be followed by a rise in cases among more vulnerable people,” said Rich Besser, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now heads the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “If you look at the curves and the trends in America, they’re very concerning.”

Already, Wisconsin has opened an auxiliary field hospital to deal with surging demand for care. More than 80 percent of intensive care unit beds in Alabama, Kentucky and Rhode Island are occupied.

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