Hospital administrators and health experts warned desperately Wednesday that parts of the U.S. are on the verge of becoming overwhelmed by a resurgence of the coronavirus, lamenting that politicians and a tired-of-being-cooped-up public are letting a disaster unfold.
The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new COVID-19 cases, the highest in two months, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of new cases per day is now running just short of the nation's late-April peak of 36,400.
While newly confirmed infections have been declining steadily in early hot spots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma.
Some of them also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.
"People got complacent," said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. "And it's coming back and biting us, quite frankly." The stock market slid sharply Wednesday as the virus's resurgence clouded investors' hopes for a relatively quick economic turnaround.
The virus in the U.S. has been blamed for over 120,000 deaths - the highest toll in the world.
California, the most populous state, reported over 7,100 new cases, a record. Florida's single-day count surged to 5,500, a 25 per cent jump from the record set last week and triple the level from just two weeks ago.
In Texas, which began lifting its shutdowns early on, on May 1, hospitalisations have doubled and new cases have tripled in two weeks.
Gov. Greg Abbott told KFDA-TV that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" and might need new local restrictions to preserve hospital space in some places.
At Houston Methodist's eight Texas hospitals, the COVID-19 patient count has tripled in the last month, to 312. About 20 per cent of the coronavirus tests the hospitals conduct now come back positive, compared with roughly 2 per cent to 4 per cent in mid-May.
If the trends don't change, the 2,000-bed hospital chain could have 600 coronavirus patients in the next three weeks and could be forced to cancel nonessential surgeries, Boom said.
"We need everybody to behave perfectly and work together perfectly" to slow the infection rate, Boom said.
"When I look at a restaurant or a business where people ... are not following the guidelines, where people are just throwing caution to the wind, it makes me angry." In Arizona, cases will probably exceed statewide hospital bed capacity within the next several weeks if the trend continues, said Dr. Joseph Gerald, a University of Arizona public health policy professor.