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Pandemic accelerates with 18.5 percent jump in new U.S. cases

In other coronavirus news: Pelosi says Covid-19 relief deal is near, Spain tops 1 million cases and cancer research is a pandemic casualty.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Preparations for the first day of the school year in Boston
Kindergarten teacher Princess Bryant prepares her classroom for virtual teaching at the Tynan Elementary School in Boston last month.Brian Snyder / Reuters file

The pandemic is accelerating as the United States climbs the third peak of Covid-19 infections that public health experts have been warning about, the latest NBC News analysis revealed Wednesday.

In the last two weeks, the 781,142 confirmed cases of coronavirus reported nationwide was an 18.5 percent jump over the previous two weeks, the figures showed.

And in four of the last seven days there were more than 60,000 cases reported -- something that has not happened since the end of July.

It was grim confirmation of the alarm that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other pandemic experts have been sounding for days while President Donald Trump, back on the campaign some two weeks after he was hospitalized with Covid-19, has been trying to convince the country that “we’re rounding the turn.”

“We in the U.S., sadly, are now between 50,000 and 60,000 cases per day,” Fauci said Wednesday at a virtual joint meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and other medical organizations that specialize in combating infectious diseases.

In other coronavirus news:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats and the White House are close to finalizing a deal to provide another round of relief to the millions of Americans affected by the pandemic.
  • The preservation of Obamacare during the pandemic has emerged as a potent political issue with the presidential election less than two weeks away, especially for the millions of Latinos whose coverage is threatened by the Trump Administration's latest attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act.
  • Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani falsely claimed China "manufactured" Covid-19 and "deliberately spread it all over the world" in footage from the soon-to-be-released movie sequel to "Borat" seen by NBC News reporter Daniel Arkin.
  • Cancer research has become a casualty of the pandemic as funding has dried up and the focus has turned to finding a Covid-19 vaccine.
  • All 62 residents of a Kansas nursing home tested positive for the coronavirus and 10 have died, officials there reported.
  • Many coronavirus survivors are dealing with another trauma related to their life-changing illness — dramatic hair loss. “I’ve had to limit hair washes because I’m terrified,” Stacey Maravola told NBC News.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who tested negative on Monday, announced he was self-quarantining and getting re-tested because on Saturday he came into contact with somebody who had tested positive.
  • Spain became the first western European nation to record more than a million Covid-19 cases. But the number of new cases have been dropping in Estonia because people have been following safety guidelines. Much of Europe is already being battered by a second wave of coronavirus infections.
  • The U.S. continues to lead the world with the most Covid-19 cases (8.3 million) and deaths (222,275), according to the latest NBC News numbers.

Earlier, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that the entire country could see a resurgence of new Covid-19 cases.

“We’re likely to grapple with a situation where really every part of the nation is going to be lit up by infection,” Gottlieb said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Case in point: Boston, the biggest city in a state that succeeded in flattening the coronavirus curve, announced it was shutting its public schools and shifting to remote learning on Thursday.

Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday that he had made the call after Boston’s seven-day Covid-19 test rate jumped to 5.7 percent from last week’s 4.5 percent rate.

“We have said all along that we will only provide in-person learning for students if the data and public health guidance supports it, and this new data shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” Walsh said in a statement.

The World Health Organization advises governments that before reopening they must maintain a testing positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for 14 days.

Overall, the Covid-19 test rate in Massachusetts is 1.13 percent, the second lowest in the country after Maine, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The other states in the region -– New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey -– also have among the lowest rates in the country.

But all the Northeastern states have seen, in recent weeks, upticks in the number of new cases -– mirroring the surge of new infections being seen in the rest of the country, especially in the Midwestern and Mountain states, the figures show.

Nationwide, public health experts and doctors on the ground have said, the numbers have been going up as states have loosened Covid-19 restrictions to restart the economy, as more students have returned to classrooms, as colder weather has driven people indoors, and as resistance to wearing masks and social distancing has grown.

"What we see is a small family gathering, coming up to the cabin for a weekend, a wedding, a funeral, or either a gathering of 8-10 friends where these are people you trust," Dr. David Wilcox in Bemidji, Minnesota, told NBC News. "And so the social distancing and the masking kind of go away and it's a little more of the hugs."

A Trump campaign appearance last month in Bemidji, a small community 200 miles north of Minneapolis, resulted in 16 attendees testing positive for the coronavirus. As has been the case at most of Trump’s campaign events, there was almost no social distancing and little or no mask wearing.

Trump has frequently made the false claim that the rise in new coronavirus cases is due to an increase in testing. But NBC News found that there has been a lag in testing in at least six states where there has been a significant increase in new infections.

Also, Trump has recently resumed making inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of masks at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

In Kansas, which has seen an eruption of new cases, a 59-year-old man angry over Wichita's mask mandate was arrested recently for threatening to kidnap and slash the throat of Mayor Brandon Whipple.

“We've got to get back to, I think, that discussion that really makes America great, where the best ideas rise to the top based on logic not based on fear," Whipple said Wednesday on MSNBC.

And in Florida, a Sarasota County school board meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to extend a mask-wearing requirement for students turned contentious and police removed a man who refused to wear a face covering as he denounced the mandate as "tyranny."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revamped coronavirus guidelines Wednesday which, among other things, stressed the importance of wearing a face mask to stop the spread of infection.