U.S. Coronavirus Case Count Passes 9 Million
The U.S. topped nine million coronavirus cases Thursday as the pandemic continues to rage ten months since the first case was confirmed in January.
Also on Thursday, the country broke its record for the most cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began: at least 89,000 new cases according to The New York Times and more than 91,000 according to City A.M. Together, the two figures suggest the country is no closer to getting the disease under control.
"I think it's surprising how quickly it happened," Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine infectious disease expert Dr. Larry Chang told The New York Times. "I thought we would do a better job as a country getting organized and coming up with evidence-based national plans for mitigating this epidemic. So, while I'm not surprised we reached this number, it happened a lot faster than I thought it would."
The U.S. continues to lead the world in both coronavirus cases and deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has claimed nearly 230,000 U.S. lives. However, daily deaths, which tend to lag behind infections, are still much lower than they were in the spring, The New York Times pointed out. They are trending at around 780 a day.
There are several indications that the disease is spreading in the U.S. like never before. The country is averaging 75,000 cases a day, the worst average so far. More than 20 states reported more cases this week than at any other time during the pandemic, and no states reported a steady decline in cases.
Further, 12 states set individual records Thursday for the most new cases recorded, City A.M. reported: Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio and Oregon.
"This surge is larger than any other wave or surges that we've seen yet," University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee school of public health epidemiologist Amanda Simanek told The New York Times. "This is the pattern that may continue to happen if we don't suppress the infection down to levels that are manageable."
Simanek said she was worried that cases were increasing just as cold weather forced people inside, where the coronavirus spreads more readily.
National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci also warned about the upcoming holiday season. He said new infections were emerging because small groups of families and friends were gathering without masks and without practicing social distancing measures, and these types of get-togethers tend to increase around the holidays.
"We're going into a precarious situation," Fauci said, as NBC News reported.
The pandemic in the U.S. has come in three main waves, The New York Times pointed out. In the spring, spikes were concentrated in large Northeastern cities. In the summer, the Sun Belt was the hardest hit. The current surge began in the Upper Midwest and Mountain West weeks ago but has now spread throughout the country to both rural and urban areas, putting a strain on local hospitals.
Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah nurse Dani Beebe told The New York Times she was worried her hospital would not have the staff to tend to patients in the extra beds they had put in. And Wisconsin is running out of both intensive care unit beds and nurses, NBC News reported.
New cases are also surging in several battleground states in the upcoming U.S. election, City A.M. pointed out.
That contest pits President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the virus and now claims the U.S. is "rounding the turn" on the pandemic, according to NBC News, against former Vice President Joe Biden, who has consistently criticized Trump's response to the new disease.
One battleground state that saw an uptick in cases was Pennsylvania, which reported its 200,000th case Thursday.
"The news that Pennsylvania has passed the grim milestone of 200,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases is a tragic reminder that President Trump has failed at his most basic and essential duty, to keep American families safe," Biden said in response, as NBC News reported. "Rather than working to contain the spread of the virus, President Trump continues to peddle the lie that America is rounding the corner on this pandemic."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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