The U.S. has surpassed 6 million positive coronavirus cases as the country struggles to reopen schools and rebuild its economy as the pandemic looms with no end in sight.
Coronavirus cases hit 6,000,243 on Sunday, according to NBC News data collection from health departments nationwide. The country has recorded more than 183,000 deaths due to the virus since the outbreak gained global attention in February.
Though cases have continued to rise in waves, many states have chosen to reopen their economies and schools. Universities and colleges that board students have particularly struggled to keep cases under control as young adults move back to campuses and nearby residences to begin in-person courses.
The University of Alabama reported more than 550 people — the majority of them students — tested positive for the coronavirus since classes began just over a week ago. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Notre Dame converted to virtual learning after an influx of new cases within a few weeks of students’ returns.
Professors told NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team last month that they held serious anxieties about returning to in-person learning amid the pandemic. Laura Crary, an art history professor at a liberal arts college in South Carolina, told NBC News that she is a single parent who also cares for her parents.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
“All it’s gonna take is one really bad case — student, faculty or staff — and the whole house of cards is going to come crashing down,” Crary said. “And I don’t want that case to be me.”
The response to the pandemic has also been heavily politicized as the virus becomes a dominant issue in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Both parties mentioned the pandemic during the conventions earlier this month, though the candidates offered dueling perspectives on the matter.
President Donald Trump boasted of the country’s response in his speech during the Republican National Convention just days ago, claiming that scientists would have a vaccine by the end of the year. He offered no evidence to support the statement.
Four vaccine candidates are in clinical trials in the United States, with one from Moderna being furthest along, but it’s impossible to know whether they will prove effective, according to NBC News’ fact check.
Joe Biden, former vice president and the Democratic nominee for president, called the U.S. response to the virus “the worst performance of any nation on Earth” at the Democratic National Convention.
“The president keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear,” Biden said in his address. “He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well I have news for him, no miracle is coming.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, some have said that mixed messages from the federal government and its agencies on safety guidance have hurt Americans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that states that healthy people who have been exposed to COVID-19 “do not necessarily need a test,” as long as they don’t have symptoms. Previously, guidance suggested testing for all close contacts of infected individuals because asymptomatic carriers could still spread the virus.
A spokesperson for National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, led by infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, told NBC News that Fauci had some concerns about the new guidance.
Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department for Health and Human Services, told reporters that the decision to change the testing guidance came Thursday, Aug. 20, the day Fauci had surgery to remove a noncancerous polyp on his vocal cords.
“Now reading them carefully, he has some concern that the revised guidelines could be interpreted as lessening the importance of asymptomatic spread of virus in the community,” the spokesperson said.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, walked back the guidance on Thursday and said that “all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients” may consider testing.