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Nation hits 5 million coronavirus cases with few signs of slowing

Dr. Gabe Kelen of Johns Hopkins Medicine said the pandemic does not appear to have peaked in the U.S.
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As the U.S. surpassed 5 million coronavirus cases this weekend, the milestone was met with little fanfare as some school districts planned to reopen and thousands descended on Sturgis, South Dakota, for the world's largest annual gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts.

There were more than 160,000 deaths in the country as of Saturday, according to NBC News figures. No other nation has approached the United States' infection figures, with Brazil reporting more than half the American numbers: 2,962,442.

The new highs will not likely mark a plateau or peak if the nation continues to face the virus without a cohesive national strategy on mask-wearing and social distancing, said Dr. Gabe Kelen of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"There just doesn’t seem to be enough will in enough parts of the country to deal with this the way other countries have," said Kelen, director of Johns Hopkins' Department of Emergency Medicine. "We have politicized it tremendously. And a large number of people are in disbelieving mode or fatigued by the idea of staying put."

On Saturday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized people who packed the city's waterfront without observing social distancing. "Don't make us take steps backwards," she tweeted.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the Department of Water and Power to turn off utilities at party houses that repeatedly flout the rules after a woman was fatally shot at a large gathering at a mansion.

"These large parties are unsafe and can cost Angelenos their lives," Garcetti said at a news conference Wednesday.

In Thousand Oaks, California, a pastor vowed to open his church to 1,500 congregants Sunday in violation of a court order to stay shut.

California has the most cases in the nation—553,851—but the state with the most deaths remains New York, with 33,583.

Florida had the second-highest number of cases: 526,577.

President Donald Trump promised economic relief Saturday when he signed executive orders to defer payroll taxes through the end of the year for those earning less than $100,000 a year and provide federally enhanced unemployment benefits of $400 through Jan. 31.

Kelen said it's possible the pandemic could slow as fall approaches, and there's evidence that older Americans are taking mask-wearing and social distancing more seriously than younger people.

"There’s a little bit of a glimmer that some of the most vulnerable are managing the threat," he said.

What's more, he said, the rapid development of vaccines is reason for optimism.

"That works psychologically," Kelen said. "It certainly gives us hope that somewhere around the corner we’re going to have a vaccine."

At this rate, however, it will take about 40 days to reach another milestone in the U.S.: 200,000 deaths.

"Before the year closes out, we’re almost sure to see 200,000," Kelen said. "Is the worst behind us? If it’s slightly better than the worst, that’s still godawful."