U.S. Passes 4 Million Coronavirus Cases
The U.S. surpassed four million coronavirus cases on Thursday, a little more than two weeks after it hit three million confirmed cases.
The number of hospitalizations is also on the rise. Around 59,600 people were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday, according to COVID Tracking Project data reported by CNN. That's only around 300 fewer than during the previous peak in mid-April.
"We've rolled back essentially two months' worth of progress with what we're seeing in number of cases ... in the United States," Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health, told CNN on Thursday.
It took more than three months for the U.S. to move from its first reported case to one million cases April 28, The New York Times reported. It took another 43 days for the country to hit two million cases June 10, 27 days to hit three million July 7 and just 16 days to reach four million Thursday. (Johns Hopkins figures put the time between three and four million cases at 15 days, according to CNN). Cases are now rising by an average of more than 2,600 per hour, according to Reuters, the highest rate in the world.
The US coronavirus epidemic went from: 1 to 1 million cases in 99 days 1 million to 2 million cases in 43 days 2… https://t.co/945kDh4dgW— Eric Feigl-Ding (@Eric Feigl-Ding)1595576029.0
Deaths are also increasing. The country reported more than 1,100 deaths for the third day in a row Thursday. However, that number falls below the 2,000 or so deaths a day reported in April. Still, the U.S. has now confirmed 144,305 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University data as of Friday morning. That's nearly double the next-highest death toll in Brazil.
It's also much higher than initial expert projections.
"Nationwide, a total of 82,141 COVID-19 deaths (range of 39,174 to 141,995) are currently projected through the epidemic's first wave. US COVID-19 deaths are estimated to rise through April 15, the country's projected peak of deaths per day," a model from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted in late March, as NPR reported.
The U.S. has now passed the upper end of that projected death toll and the first wave is not yet over.
Cases are currently rising in 39 states, as well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to The New York Times. Especially hard-hit states include California, Florida and Texas, which have all reported high case counts, according to NPR. Arizona and Louisiana have also reported high numbers of cases relative to their populations.
Florida broke its record for the most new deaths in a single day Thursday with 173 reported. Its hospitals are also feeling the strain. Intensive care units (ICUs) have reached capacity in more than 50 of them, and only 15 percent of the state's ICU beds remain available, CNN reported.
"Any spike in cases or increase in hospitalizations is going to put our ER system and hospital systems in peril," Tampa, Florida emergency room physician Dr. Damian Caraballo told CNN.
President Donald Trump on Thursday reversed course and said he would cancel the portion of the Republican National Convention scheduled to take place in Jacksonville, Florida in August, The New York Times reported. He had pushed party officials to move it there because the original site North Carolina would not promise large crowds.
"The timing for this event is not right," Trump said, as Reuters reported. "It's just not right with what's happened recently, the flare-up in Florida. To have a big convention it's not the right time."
The decision comes as Trump has begun to downplay the pandemic less in recent days, encouraging measures like face masks, The New York Times pointed out.
At least 41 states now require face coverings, and some experts think a combination of masks and social distancing can get the outbreak back under control, according to CNN.
This is essentially the strategy proposed by U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir.
"We have to do our mitigation steps: Wear a mask, avoid the crowds. We won't see hospitalizations and deaths go down for a couple of weeks because (they are) lagging indicators, but we are turning that tide," he told the Fox News Network in an interview reported by Reuters.
But some public health experts want the country to go further. More than 150 medical experts, teachers, nurses and others have signed a letter sent to the Trump administration, prominent Congresspeople and state governors Thursday calling for another lockdown to restart efforts to control the virus, as CNN reported.
With uncontrolled spread of #COVID19 in many parts of the U.S., it's time to shut it down, start over, and do it ri… https://t.co/IWm5Ypiiys— U.S. PIRG (@U.S. PIRG)1595342455.0
"In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. You didn't use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly," the letter said. "Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential activities."
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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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