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Virus death toll hits 150,000 even as new US cases plateau

Bloomberg News — By David R. Baker and Jonathan Levin Bloomberg News

July 29-- The number of Americans killed by the coronavirus topped 150,000 Wednesday as death tolls surged to records in some of the hardest-hit and most populous states.

California and Florida, two places most affected by the pandemic's current surge, reported daily fatalities that easily topped previous records, even as new infections appear to have reached a plateau. Texas, which already raised its death tally by 13% this week after changing how it reports cases, also set a new high in daily fatalities Wednesday.

Deaths continue to rise even though the wave of new infections that began in June, sweeping across the South and West, appears to have leveled off. New cases reported each day are holding even or falling in half of U.S. states, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics, as public officials impose mask orders and freeze efforts to restart their economies. But fatalities still increase, as people stricken by the virus weeks earlier succumb.

"What we're now reaping is what we sowed," said Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, commenting on his state's outbreak. "Even if we were able to plateau in cases, we're plateauing at a pretty high level."

Around the U.S., the pandemic continued to bend life to its will Wednesday.

Texas is establishing a field hospital at the McAllen Convention Center along the U.S.-Mexico border to ease the strain on medical facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet. Illinois stopped recreational sports and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan advised against traveling to a swath of Southern states with spiking COVID-19 cases, Florida among them.

The Sunshine State on Wednesday reported 216 new deaths among residents, easily topping the previous record of 186 set just a day earlier. Virus-related deaths in California hit 197, well above the previous high of 159 reached last week.

At the same time, California's rolling 14-day average for new cases, after soaring throughout June and early July, has held steady for the last week, with roughly 9,250 new cases per day. Florida's daily count peaked at 15,300 on July 12 and has since fallen to 9,446.

"As you have fewer COVID positive patients in the hospital, we think-and I'm pretty sure with the good work they're doing-you'll see mortality decrease as well," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week, appearing with AdventHealth doctors in Orlando. "And obviously, we want to get there."

Texas reported a record 313 deaths, pushing the cumulative total to 6,190, according to state health department figures. The total caseload rose by 9,042, or 2.3%, to top 400,000.

Deaths have also spiked in Georgia. The seven-day moving average has more than doubled since July 20, hitting a record of 48 on Tuesday. The state reported 79 more deaths Wednesday. The moving average of new cases, meanwhile, remained relatively stable, above 3,600 per day for the last week.

The wave of COVID-19 deaths is projected to crest at around 7,506 in the week ending Aug. 15, driven by outbreaks in places including Florida, Texas and California, according to an average of models tracked by the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Reich Lab. That would bring total U.S. fatalities to 166,748 by mid-August.

Deaths are projected to cross the 200,000 threshold on Sept. 29, according to the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation model.

Even as some states reach a plateau in cases, others are still climbing. Illinois reported 1,393 new infections on Wednesday, up from 1,076 a day earlier, and its seven-day rolling test positivity rate has climbed in recent weeks to 3.8%. The state's Metro East area near St. Louis, Missouri, has a rate of 7.8%.

The state is setting limits on youth and adult recreational sports amid fears that a recent uptick in cases may lead to an all-out surge, and further restrictions on public activity. The plan, which goes into effect in mid-August, temporarily halts competitive play for most high- to medium-risk sports such as football and soccer.

"Right now, things are not heading in the right direction," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a news conference. "If things don't change, a reversal is where we are headed."

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