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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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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