AP Photo/John Minchillo U.S. has most coronavirus cases in the world
AP Photo/John Minchillo

The U.S. now has more than 82,000 confirmed cases, surpassing China, where the virus first spread and 81,782 people have fallen sick as of Thursday evening.

The United States officially has the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world, surpassing China on Thursday.

The U.S. now has at least 82,404 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a database compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In China, where the virus first spread, 81,782 people have fallen sick.

Nearly 1,200 Americans have died so far and both the number of cases and deaths are expected to surge in the coming days as the virus continues to spread. From Seattle to New York City to New Orleans, hospitals are finding themselves overwhelmed by cases with no end in sight.

Trump held a press conference on Thursday, around the same time the U.S. officially surpassed China. He spent it attacking the news media, calling them “corrupt” and “fake news,” downplaying the pandemic’s long-term economic impacts, and passing the blame for the surge of cases.

He also said that America’s passing of China in cases was attributable to the large number of tests the U.S. has done, when in fact, America’s testing shortage has become something of a national scandal.

America’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus came on Jan. 21 in Washington State, but President Trump initially declined to pursue more aggressive testing for the disease out of fear that more positive cases would hurt his bid for re-election

Trump also downplayed the severity of the virus for six weeks, comparing it to the flu, and ignored a 69-page National Security Council playbook on fighting pandemics. According to that playbook, the government should have begun efforts at least two months ago to obtain personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, and gowns.

They didn’t. And now, more than two months after the first case appeared in the U.S., doctors and nurses are reporting severe shortages of those supplies

The CDC also botched the development of its first coronavirus test and is still struggling to develop enough tests. The Trump administration has since allowed private and academic labs to develop their own tests, which has ramped up the pace of testing. The shortage, however, remains massive and has allowed the disease to spread quickly. The administration’s testing failures were so severe that in February, as more people across the U.S. became sick, government labs processed only 352 COVID-19 tests, an average of only 12 per day in a nation of more than 300 million people, according to CDC data.

Trump has repeatedly shifted blame for the shortage of testing. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he famously said during a press briefing.

By mid-March, Trump finally seemed to acknowledge the reality of the crisis and his administration began recommending Americans practice social distancing to help limit the spread of the virus. More than 150 million Americans are now under “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent hospitals from having to ration care, choosing who lives and who dies.

These new efforts have had devastating economic consequences, causing more than three million people to lose their jobs, with many wondering if they’ll even have a career in the future. The stock market has also crashed, plunging over 30% in the past month, though it appears to be rebounding this week as the federal government is on the brink of passing a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package.

The economic consequences have been so dire that Trump is concerned they’ll hurt his re-election campaign and is now considering pivoting away from the public health steps taken in to address the growing coronavirus. Trump has signaled that he may go against the advice of his own public health officials and reopen the economy by Easter, which falls on April 12.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and other top public health experts have warned against prematurely scaling back social distancing measures, arguing that it would harm efforts to contain the virus and devastate U.S. hospitals. 

“You’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci told CNN Wednesday. “So you’ve got to respond, in what you see happen.”

The Imperial College of London estimates that 2.2 million Americans would die if the virus were allowed to run its course without major efforts to slow its spread. With significant mitigation efforts however, the number of expected deaths would be 1.1 to 1.2 million Americans.

On Thursday, despite the continued surge in deaths and cases, Trump reiterated that he wants to begin re-opening the economy, at least in some states and localities. 

In contrast, China has been under a near-total lockdown for two months, which is how the mammoth nation of 1.4 billion has limited the number of COVID-19 cases to under 82,000. It’s only in recent days that China appears to be slowly re-opening its economy. 

But other countries are now following in its footsteps. India, which has 1.3 billion people, is now also under a total lockdown for at least 21 days, in order to slow the spread of the virus, while many European nations, including Italy, France, and Spain, are also under complete lockdowns.

In the United States, meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to spread unabated, ticking towards 100,000 cases. At the current rate of growth, the U.S. is on track to potentially pass one million cases sometime next week.