THURSDAY, June 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The United States recorded its worst day of new coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, as health officials around the country reported a total of 36,880 new cases on Wednesday.
COVID-19 infections in the United States had been slowing since the previous record of 36,739 cases back on April 24, but case counts have roared back in recent weeks, The New York Times reported.
On Thursday, the latest evidence of the pandemic's economic toll also arrived, with the U.S. Labor Department reporting that 1.5 million more jobless claims were filed last week. It's the 14th straight week that new unemployment claims have topped 1 million, the Times noted.
Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising fastest in the South and West. Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas reported their highest single-day totals on Wednesday, but case numbers have been rising in more than 20 states, the Times reported. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state logged more than 7,000 new cases on Wednesday.
A handful of states have brought the virus under control after being slammed in the early stages of the pandemic. Determined to keep case counts low, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey said Wednesday they will now mandate quarantines for travelers coming from states that are experiencing large spikes in new cases, the newspaper said. As of Thursday, that included residents of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, the Times reported.
The climbing case counts prompted the World Health Organization to issue its own warning on Wednesday.
"It is very difficult to take the sting out of this pandemic unless we are able to successfully isolate cases and quarantine contacts," said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program. "In the absence of a capacity to do that, then the specter of further lockdowns cannot be excluded."
Ryan added that the growing number of coronavirus cases in the Americas has not peaked, and that the region was likely to see sustained numbers of cases and then deaths in the coming weeks, the Times reported.
"Deaths always lag considerably behind cases," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, told Congress on Tuesday. In the weeks to come, he and others said, the death toll is likely to rise, the Washington Post reported.
By Thursday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 2.4 million as the death toll neared 122,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday were: New York with over 394,400; California with nearly 196,000; New Jersey with almost 170,000; Illinois with over 140,000; and Texas with almost 131,000.
Millions infected unknowingly in March
Meanwhile, a new study suggests that as many as 8.7 million Americans came down with coronavirus in March, but more than 80% of them were never diagnosed, CNN reported.
A team of researchers looked at the number of people who went to doctors or clinics with influenza-like illnesses that were never diagnosed as coronavirus, flu or any of the other viruses that usually circulate in winter. There was a giant spike in these cases in March, according to the study published June 22 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Only 100,000 cases were officially reported during that time period, and the United States still reports only 2.3 million cases as of Monday. But there was a shortage of coronavirus testing kits at the time, CNN reported.
The team turned to CDC data collected from each state for influenza-like illness. The agency asks doctors to report all cases of people coming in for treatment for fever, cough and other symptoms caused by influenza.
"The findings support a scenario where more than 8.7 million new SARS-CoV-2 infections appeared in the U.S. during March and estimate that more than 80% of these cases remained unidentified as the outbreak rapidly spread," said Justin Silverman, of Penn State University, and colleagues, CNN reported.
Masking, social distancing
Meanwhile, White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro said that the federal government was working to replenish the national stockpile of medical equipment and supplies in preparation for another surge of the virus this fall.
"We are filling the stockpile in anticipation of a possible problem in the fall," Navarro told CNN. "We're doing everything we can."
Reimposing prior precautions could turn some states' rising numbers around, experts say.
"Uniform masking would go a long way," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said during an appearance on "Morning Joe" last week.
Dr. Peter Hotez, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said, "I don't see any option other than to start re-implementing significant levels of social distancing."
Hotez told CNN, "Things opened up prematurely. We didn't complete that social distancing period that we needed to do, and now we're seeing this very sharp acceleration."
An old drug brings new hope
There was some good news last week, however. Researchers at Oxford University in England announced that dexamethasone, a widely used, low-cost steroid, appears to cut the death rate for ventilated COVID-19 patients by one-third. It also lowered the death rate for patients who require oxygen (but are not yet on a ventilator) by one-fifth, the Times reported.
"Bottom line is, good news," Fauci, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the AP. "This is a significant improvement in the available therapeutic options that we have."
But at least three manufacturers of the drug reported shortages on Wednesday, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, STAT News reported. Two of the manufacturers cited increased demand as a reason t=for their shortages.
Meanwhile, the search for an effective vaccine continues. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said that it would provide up to $1.2 billion to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University, in England.
The fourth, and largest, vaccine research agreement funds a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers, the Times reported.
The goal? To make at least 300 million doses that could be available as early as October, the HHS said in a statement.
The United States has already agreed to provide up to $483 million to the biotech company Moderna and $500 million to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine efforts. It is also providing $30 million to a virus vaccine effort led by the French company Sanofi, the Times reported. Moderna said a large clinical trial of its vaccine candidate could begin in July.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
Even as the pandemic is easing in Europe and some parts of Asia, it is worsening in India. The country has loosened some of the social distancing enacted in the world's largest lockdown, even as cases surge. As of Thursday, India had over 473,000 cases, a Johns Hopkins tally shows.
Brazil has also become a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 1.2 million confirmed infections by Thursday, according to the Hopkins tally. U.S. President Donald Trump has issued a ban on all foreign travelers from Brazil because of the burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases in that country, CNN reported.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Thursday, that country reported the world's third-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 613,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 9.4 million on Thursday, with almost 483,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.