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22 days from Election Day, pandemic shows no sign of slowing as U.S. edges closer to 8 million cases

In other coronavirus news: "Totally negative" Trump to hold Florida campaign rally; North Dakota running out of hospital beds.
Wisconsin Remains One Of Top U.S. Hotspots For Coronavirus Infections
Members of the Wisconsin National Guard test people for the coronavirus at a temporary test facility set up in the parking lot of the corporate headquarters of United Migrant Opportunity Services in Milwaukee on Friday.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Covid-19 hospitalizations were skyrocketing in New York again Monday as the United States was just days away from recording it 8 millionth confirmed case of the coronavirus.

Once the center of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., New York has seen its number of hospitalizations jump by 77 percent compared to the same period last month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed that the increases are the result of specific clusters.

"We're dealing with a very specific situation which is the clusters," he said in a news release over the weekend. "Overall the state is doing very well."

Meanwhile, Idaho, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the three highest rates of new infections in the country, and Texas was close to eclipsing California as the state with the most confirmed cases.

With the presidential election 22 days away and early voting underway in many states, the country had already logged over 7.8 million Covid-19 cases, and that number was expected to climb over 8 million by late Thursday, according to a projection by NBC News.

That staggering sum seemed unimaginable back in February when President Donald Trump, whose much-criticized handling of the Covid-19 crisis has become a key campaign issue, insisted that the U.S. was in "very good shape" and that it was prepared to take on the pandemic.

The U.S. continues to have the world's highest death toll, with nearly 216,000 fatalities as of Monday, according to the latest NBC News numbers.

Six states — Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia — have all reported record single-day increases in numbers of new coronavirus cases.

In other coronavirus news:

  • Grappling with a surge in new cases, North Dakota had only 22 intensive care unit beds available in the entire state, the Grand Forks Herald reported. "This is spreading so rampantly that we can't keep up," said DeeAnna Opstedahl, who supervises patient care at CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson hospital. She said the spike started after the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally in August.
  • Record numbers of new infections were also being reported around the world, especially in Europe. The United Kingdom has had the highest number of deaths on the continent, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been getting pushback from a pandemic-weary public opposed to his plans to reimpose restrictions to slow the spread.
  • The virus has edged closer to Pope Francis. Four members of the famed Vatican Swiss Guards have tested positive.
  • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat whose aggressive response has received bipartisan praise, said he would quarantine after a member of his security team tested positive.
  • In Wisconsin, where cases have been spiking, a judge upheld Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' mask mandate and rejected a lawsuit filed by a conservative group working with the Republican leaders of the Legislature to overturn it.
  • Disillusioned U.S. doctors are heading to New Zealand in search of better working conditions and a break from the "anti-science philosophy" that has hampered the U.S. response. "America will suffer an exodus of professionals to other countries that have responded better, with economies that have recovered faster," Dr. Judy Melinek, a California doctor making the move, told CNBC. New Zealand has reported just 1,851 cases and 25 deaths since the start of the crisis.

New York still has the most deaths, with 34,132, the figures show, but most of those were reported in the early days of the pandemic, when heath officials were still trying to come to grips with the new virus.

Since then, however, New York has been able to flatten the curve, and it now has the nation's third lowest rate of new infections (after Maine and Massachusetts), with 1.18, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.

Still, clusters of infections have popped up in Brooklyn and Rockland County, which are home to large groups of Orthodox Jews. And Cuomo's attempt to clamp down on those neighborhoods has been met with resistance and lawsuits.

A Trump-supporting Brooklyn City Council candidate named Harold "Heshy" Tischler was arrested Sunday in connection with a violent demonstration in the Borough Park neighborhood last week, during which a local reporter was injured.

Cuomo has repeatedly urged Orthodox rabbis to refrain from holding large religious services where worshippers are crammed together inside synagogues and where few wear masks.

"Love your neighbor as yourself," Cuomo, citing the Book of Leviticus, said in a phone call with reporters Sunday. "The point here is to save a life and not to endanger others."

Elsewhere in New York City, life remained far from normal. The annual Columbus Day Parade was a virtual celebration of Italian pride, and Cuomo was grand marshal.

The virtual guest of honor? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading expert on infectious diseases, who has, since Trump tested positive for Covid-19, intensified his criticism of the White House's response to the crisis and issued increasingly dire warnings about the progress of the pandemic.

"We're not in a good place," Fauci warned last week.

Trump was heading to Florida for a campaign rally Monday a little over a week after he was hospitalized after having tested positive. He claimed Sunday, without providing any evidence, that he had "tested totally negative" and that he had "beat" the virus that has felled so many Americans.

On Monday, Trump's physician wrote that the president had tested negative "on consecutive days" using an Abbott rapid test. While the Abbott antigen test is known for fast results, it is also known to have a higher failure rate.

More than three dozen Trump aides and allies have come down with infections, along with four White House residence staffers. Many of the infections have been tied to a Sept. 26 event Trump held in the Rose Garden to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, whose confirmation hearings got underway Monday.

Outside the Senate hearing room, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows refused to keep his mask on when talking to reporters. "I'm not going to talk through a mask," Meadow said, and the he walked off.

Trump has been accused of hurting the country's pandemic response by politicizing the use of masks. He only recently began wearing one in public, and he presides over rallies where there is little mask-wearing and almost no social distancing.

Florida recorded a steep increase in the numbers of new cases and deaths in the spring after it reopened — at Trump's urging — after only a month of lockdown. The state's 11.74 positivity rate is one of the highest in the country, and it has reported 15,551 deaths and 734,491 infections since the start of the pandemic.

Texas reported 1,272 coronavirus deaths in the last two weeks, second only to Florida. During the same period, it logged 63,676 new cases — the most of any state.

As of Monday, Texas had 831,789 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17,044 deaths. California, by comparison, had 857,137 cases and 16,574 deaths.