The number of coronavirus infections in the United States shot past 13 million on Friday, worsening the world’s largest outbreak. The milestone came as Americans embarked on a Black Friday that looked different from holidays past.
The U.S. has had one of the world’s highest per capita caseloads in the past week. And every day for more than two weeks, the country has set records for the number of people in the hospital, with the latest figure surging past 90,000 for the first time on Thursday.
At the same time, the nation saw a steep drop-off in new cases on Thursday, but it was a mirage, not progress, because many states did not report data on the Thanksgiving holiday. More than 103,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths were recorded on Thursday — compared with 187,000 cases and 1,962 deaths that had been recorded the prior Thursday, Nov. 19.
For that very reason, the numbers were artificially high on Friday, when many states reported two days’ worth of data. That pushed the country past 200,000 cases in a single day for the first time, with more than 203,000 reported as of late Friday night, along with more than 1,400 deaths.
And the blurry data could persist longer. Health officials in Vermont have said they would forego reporting on both Thursday and Friday. Additionally, access to testing was likely to decrease for a few days, meaning more infections could go uncounted. In Louisiana, testing sites run by the National Guard were slated to be closed both Thursday and Friday. In Wisconsin, some National Guard testing sites are closed all week.
“I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans,” Dr. Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University and an emergency physician, told The Associated Press.
Public health experts repeatedly warned Americans to stay home on Thanksgiving, and many heeded the advice. But while overall travel within the country was down significantly from prior years, the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than half a million people flew on Thursday alone, in addition to the approximately four million who had already traveled since Sunday. AAA had projected a downturn in road travel, and still expected tens of millions of people to drive to celebrations.
Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of higher-risk activities for spreading Covid-19 included “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving,” an attempt to persuade people to sit tight — or make purchases online — on Black Friday.
The latest virus surge began accelerating across much of the country in mid-October. The nation went from eight million cases to nine million in just over two weeks in October; from nine to 10 million in 10 days; from 10 million to 11 million in just under seven days; and from 11 million to 12 million in just five days, hitting that milestone on Nov. 20. The pace to the 13 millionth case slowed, coming after seven days.