Coronavirus-related deaths in the US have begun to rise to levels not seen since the summer outbreak in the American sunbelt, with fatalities reaching a new high on Tuesday in the hard-hit state of Wisconsin.
Health authorities in Wisconsin, which has been among the US states with the most Covid-19 cases per capita since the new spike in infections began this month, confirmed 64 deaths over the past 24 hours, the state’s highest one-day death count since the pandemic began.
A rise in coronavirus deaths historically has followed new outbreaks by two to four weeks, and has been preceded by a surge in hospitalisations. The US reached a new high in daily infections last week and on Tuesday had 44,000 beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, the highest total since mid-August.
Over the past week there have been 11 states whose seven-day average of deaths has reached a record high, the most since early August, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
The seven-day average of coronavirus deaths topped 800 a day on Sunday for the first time since mid-September. On Tuesday, the US recorded 931 fatalities, among the highest tallies since the summer; on Thursday, the death toll hit 1,143, the biggest daily jump during the most recent outbreak.
Despite the rise in fatalities, the rate of Covid-19 victims who are dying is generally lower than in the early stages of the pandemic, thanks to more knowledge about the disease as well as better treatment and preparation. The US also has vastly increased its testing capacity, meaning daily case rates may not be directly comparable with earlier outbreaks.
The rise in deaths could complicate President Donald Trump’s claim that the new jump in cases has not led to more fatalities. At a rally in Michigan on Tuesday, he insisted the focus on new cases was misplaced.
“Covid, covid, covid, covid, we have a spike in cases. You ever notice they never use the word ‘death’, they use the word ‘cases’,” Mr Trump said. “You know why we have so many cases? Because we test more.”
Anthony Fauci, one of the senior members of the White House’s coronavirus task force, on Monday described the situation of record case rates as “quite precarious”, particularly heading into the colder weather.
The latest wave of Covid-19 cases is becoming more prevalent in rural communities. They tend to have older populations that are at greater risk of being affected by the virus. Hospitals in some of these areas are already experiencing staff shortages, which could jeopardise their ability to deal with any potential surge of people requiring care.
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In addition to Wisconsin, Tennessee and Oklahoma were the states where the seven-day average of deaths hit a record on Tuesday.
There were also signs the downward trend in deaths for some of the sunbelt states hit over the summer had slowed, or gone into reverse. Summer hotspots such as Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas all recently managed to bring average death rates to multi-month lows, but Texas now has a fatality rate that is higher than it was a week ago, while California’s is flat.
Southern states, collectively, averaged 356 deaths a day over the past week, down 15 per cent from where they were four weeks ago, but up 2 per cent compared with seven days ago. States in the Midwest, which have borne the brunt of the new outbreak, have averaged a combined 244 fatalities a day over the past week, up 35 per cent from a week ago and 83 per cent above the daily average from four weeks ago.