The latest coronavirus surge is raging across the American heartland, most acutely in the Midwest and Mountain West.
This harrowing third surge, which led to a U.S. single-day record of more than 85,000 new cases Friday, is happening less than two weeks from Election Day, which will mark the end of a campaign dominated by the pandemic and President Trump’s much-criticized response to it.
As of Friday evening, 15 states have added more cases in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic: Wisconsin, a battleground in the presidential election, Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, South Dakota, Montana, Arkansas, Alaska, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and North Dakota. And four states have added more deaths this week than in previous weeks: Wisconsin, Kentucky, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
North Dakota leads the nation in coronavirus cases per capita. Illinois is averaging more than 4,100 new cases per day, up 85 percent from the average two weeks ago. And Pennsylvania, another battleground state, on Friday reported a record of 2,258 cases.
The virus will be front of mind for voters in several key states: in Ohio, where more people are hospitalized than at any other time during the pandemic, and especially Wisconsin, home to seven of the country’s 10 metro areas with the highest numbers of recent cases. On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order restricting the size of indoor gatherings to 25 percent capacity on Friday.
Experts worry that the growing numbers in need of hospital care will only get worse if cases continue to mount, especially in rural areas where medical facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.
Citing a rise in hospitalizations across the state, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced a strengthening of coronavirus restrictions in certain counties, capping gatherings at 10 people from no more than two separate households. For the third straight day, Colorado announced a new single-day cases record on Friday (eight more states also set records Friday).
Overnight, nearly 2,500 people were hospitalized in Illinois, the state’s top public health official, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said in a news conference Friday afternoon. The mayor of Chicago, Lori E. Lightfoot, announced a curfew on nonessential businesses beginning at 10 p.m. on Friday.
In the latest presidential debate on Thursday night, President Trump asserted that the virus was “going away” as he defended his management of the pandemic. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, attacked Mr. Trump’s handling, calling for much more aggressive federal action for the “dark winter” ahead.
President Trump and many supporters blame restrictions on business activity, often imposed by Democratic governors and mayors, for prolonging the economic crisis initially caused by the virus. But the experience of states like Iowa, which recently set a record for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, shows the economy is far from back to normal even in Republican-led states that have imposed few business restrictions.
Iowa was one of only a handful of states that never imposed a full stay-at-home order. Restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons and bars were allowed to reopen starting in May, earlier than in most states. Many businesses worry they won’t be able to make it through the winter without more help from Congress. Others have already failed.
Defying the guidance of infectious disease experts, who say that universal masking and social distancing are essential to limiting the virus’s spread, has eroded support for both Mr. Trump and Gov. Kim Reynolds in Iowa, especially among voters over 65, normally a solid Republican constituency, according to public and private polls. Mr. Trump and Senator Joni Ernst — whose seat could play a decisive role in determining control of the Senate — are both in tight races in a state that the president easily won four years ago.
The high case count in part reflects increased testing. With about one million people tested on many days, the country is getting a far more accurate picture of how widely the virus has spread than it did in the spring.
But public health officials warn that Americans are heading into a dangerous phase, as cooler weather forces people indoors, where the virus spreads easily. It could make for a grueling winter that tests the discipline of the many people who have grown weary of masks and of turning down invitations to see family and friends.