The U.S. has led the world in the number of positive cases since late March, when it surpassed the case count in Italy, an early COVID-19 hot spot, and China, where the virus was first reported. By Wednesday, over 1.6 million cases had been reported in the U.S., according to a virus tracker created by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil and Russia followed as the countries with the second and third-highest case counts, with fewer than 400,000 cases reported in each country.
The U.S. also leads the world in the number of COVID-19 deaths, with the United Kingdom following far behind at fewer than 40,000 deaths and all other countries reporting even fewer virus-related fatalities.
Though the 100,000 death count marks a grim milestone for the U.S., federal officials have predicted the numbers of COVID-19 cases and fatalities will continue to rise. According to death rate projections shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week, as many as 110,000 Americans are expected to die from COVID-19 by June 13. The death rate projections have fluctuated since the pandemic began, with some early estimates predicting fewer deaths than have currently been reported and others saying the U.S. could see more than 240,000 fatalities.
Even so, states across the country have begun the process of reopening their local economies and lifting restrictions put in place when the pandemic began.
New York, which has been the hardest hit state in the U.S. with more than 364,000 cases and nearly a quarter of the entire country’s deaths by Wednesday, began allowing some regions to reopen earlier this month using a slow, phased approach. On the opposite coast, California has also begun lifting restrictions for regions that qualify for early phases of reopening, despite reporting more than 96,000 cases and 3,800 deaths on Tuesday.
Places of worship in the U.S. also began to reopen to congregants last week. Though they were initially discouraged from holding in-person services due to the CDC’s restrictions on groups of 10 individuals or more, President Donald Trump last Friday announced he was adding places of worship to the federal list of essential services and called for governors to reopen them immediately.
Schools have also presented a question for states unsure of how to plan for the start of the next academic year in the fall. While some governors decided early they would keep schools closed to in-person instruction through the end of the academic year, Trump on Sunday said in a tweet that schools “should be opened ASAP.”
While many health experts have advised caution as states begin pulling back their pandemic restrictions, some of the nation’s top COVID-19 advisors have said in recent days that they believe it is time for the country to begin moving forward.
During meetings with the press last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said for the first time he thought many states were ready to begin reopening.
While he said there was a possibility outbreaks would continue to pop up during the reopening process, he said responsible strategies for resuming some aspects of normal life would be key to keeping new case counts low and stifling outbreaks when they occurred.