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Florida’s new COVID cases are outpacing entire continents

Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance is more important now than ever. (Max Bender on Unsplash/)

Stay-at-home orders and mask mandates have finally helped to quell COVID-19 cases in the New York area. But testing data shows that while NYC may have been the first pandemic hotspot in the US, it certainly won’t be the last.

How bad is COVID-19 in the US right now?

According to a case tracker managed by Johns Hopkins University, more than 3.3 million people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in the United States so far. Nearly 135,000 of those patients have died.

More troubling than the case counts themselves is the fact that cases are climbing upward in large chunks of the country. A huge outbreak that started in New York City in March has been largely squashed thanks to measures like mask-wearing mandates and the closures of theaters and bars. Cases are still rising in 39 states, as well as in Puerto Rico, Washington, DC and in the US Virgin Islands. Researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute estimate that a mere 14 states are actually testing enough people to recognize the depth of the problem.

On Sunday, Florida broke a record for the most COVID-19 cases reported by any single state in a one-day period. At a total of 15,300 cases, Florida outranked the new case count for the entire European continent by 16 patients. As the virus spreads, hospitalization and death rates continue to rise. Meanwhile, Disney World has reopened its gates.

Once case counts start to spike, it takes weeks for hospitalizations and fatalities to follow suit.A disease has to spread for a while in a community before enough people catch it and unknowingly pass it around for some individuals to get seriously sick. But there are already signs of ICU crowding and increased deaths in the country’s newest hotspots, and things will only get worse.

“We do expect deaths to go up,” Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary with the Health and Human Services department, told ABC. “If you have more cases, more hospitalizations, we do expect to see that over the next two or three weeks before this turns around.”

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Why is COVID-19 still spreading?

In general, states that have reopened bars, restaurants, and retail are seeing a bigger uptick in cases than states that have encouraged people to stay home. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently pointed out to Five Thirty Eight that the behavior of individuals also matters. While some states truly opened too quickly, he said, others tried to slowly and responsibly reopen a few businesses—only for citizens to throw caution, along with their social distancing practices and masks, to the wind.

“Many of the citizenry said, ‘You know, well, I’m either going to be locked down or I’m going to let it all rip,’” Fauci said.

Cell phone data also suggests that more people traveled for July 4 than for Memorial Day, which likely contributed to case surges. Parties are a particularly dangerous activity when it comes to COVID transmission. Private summer gatherings—as well as bars and clubs in reopened states —have been traced to new COVID-19 clusters, particularly among young people.

What can I do to keep from getting or spreading COVID-19?

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, evidence was spotty on how best to prevent its spread. Now it’s become clear that wearing masks is key to lowering transmission and perhaps preventing deadly cases. Public health experts resoundingly recommend wearing face coverings whenever you leave the house or interact with people from outside your household. Here’s our latest guide to understanding how masks keep you and other people safe, and instructions for making your own mask at home—with or without a sewing machine.

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Social distancing is also crucial. Maintaining a distance of six feet or more from people outside your household drastically reduces your risk of transmitting COVID. Even if you stay far away from people, it’s best to wear a mask and play it safe since neither method is a complete guarantee against spreading the virus.

The third tool in the anti-coronavirus trifecta is proper hand washing. If you wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, wear a mask whenever going out, and keep your distance from other people, your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 is basically nill. But any sloppiness makes your risk go up: Sitting in a bar full of strangers is dangerous, even if you keep a mask on when you’re not sipping. Going for a walk without your mask is still risky, even if you try to avoid all passersby. Coming back inside and forgetting to wash your hands leaves you more vulnerable than if you immediately gave them a good scrub.

How bad is COVID-19 globally right now?

While some countries—New Zealand in particular—have managed to crush COVID for now, cases are still rising globally.

“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing on Monday. “The virus remains public enemy number one.”

Tedros added that there would “be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future,” and that he expected the pandemic to get even worse before things improve.

The virus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019, has infected around 13 million people worldwide and killed more than 569,000.

How do I know if I have COVID-19?

Many people with COVID-19 have few symptoms, if any. So it’s important to wear a mask and practice social distancing even if you feel fine. But even if you’re already being careful, you should still look out for symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control, known COVID-19 symptoms now include fever or chills, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, a sudden loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have an existing condition that causes some of these symptoms, such as seasonal allergies or a gastrointestinal disorder, take note of what is normal for you. If you suddenly begin to experience worse than average symptoms, they may be due to COVID. The context of you and your household’s behavior is also important: a bit of a cough after weeks of careful social distancing is less worrisome than one developed just days after going out to a restaurant.

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If you find out that someone you’ve recently been in close contact with has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should operate under the assumption that you have it.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of COVID or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID, you should get tested. Confirming your infection will allow those who’ve come into close contact with you to take necessary precautions. It will also help doctors keep tab on your symptoms in case your illness starts to take a turn for the worse.

If you experience trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, bluish lips or face, an unusual level of confusion, or an inability to wake or stay awake, the CDC says to seek immediate medical attention.

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