The US has recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new Covid-19 cases, the highest level since late April, when the number peaked at 36,400, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
A coronavirus resurgence is wiping out two months of progress in the US and sending infections to dire new levels in southern and western states.
Administrators and health experts warned on Wednesday that politicians and a public that, in many cases, is tired of being cooped up are letting a disaster unfold.
While newly-confirmed infections have been declining steadily in early hot spots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma.
North Carolina and South Carolina joined some other states in breaking hospitalization records.
“People got complacent,” said Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. “And it’s coming back and biting us, quite frankly.”
With the US death toll creeping towards 122,000 on Wednesday, and confirmed cases at almost 2.4 million for the US, a widely-cited University of Washington computer model of the outbreak projected nearly 180,000 deaths by 1 October.
Stocks slid on Wall Street as the news dampened hopes for a quick economic turnaround. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 700 points for a drop of 2.7%. The broader S&P 500 fell 2.6%.
Experts urged Americans to continue following guidelines to stop the spread of coronavirus as, in total, seven states reported record-high hospitalizations and 19 others saw new cases rising compared to last week.
The increase is hitting states which eased lockdown restrictions in the past month. The federal government is also starting to roll back testing programs, including in states most affected by the resurgence in cases.
The record-high hospitalizations indicate the rise in cases is not simply because of increased testing, a point confirmed by the leading public health expert on the White House coronavirus task force, Anthony Fauci, and in sharp contrast to views put forward by Donald Trump.
Dr Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, said on Wednesday he expected that hospitals in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona would need to again suspend elective surgeries in order to have capacity to deal with coronavirus patients.
“They’re going to be on a trajectory to get overwhelmed again,” Gottlieb said on CNBC.
Epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers warned the national case count is going in the “wrong direction”.
Rivers, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in addition to her concerns about the increase in hospitalizations, she was worried about the higher percentage of positive tests.
“In some ways this feels worse than April, because at least then there was energy around gaining control,” Rivers tweeted. “I sense less of that now.”
Rivers is one of several public health experts to express concern that people are taking public health guidance less seriously though the threat of infection remains.
States across the US have eased lockdown restrictions, but with inconsistent policies on what can open, where crowds can gather and how much these rules are enforced. Outside a Trump rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, few people wore masks and social distancing guidelines were ignored.
Despite eased restrictions across the country, it is still important to follow local health guidance. This includes wearing masks, frequent hand washing and isolating if experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
Texasgovernor Greg Abbott urged people to stay at home, as a children’s hospital in Houston was forced to admit adults because of increasing coronavirus cases.
Texas began lifting its shutdowns on 1 May and hospitalizations have doubled and new cases have tripled in two weeks. Abbott told local station KFDA-TV that the state is facing a “massive outbreak”.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, California reported over 7,100 new cases in 24 hours, an all-time high. Florida’s single-day count surged to 5,500, a 25% jump from the record set last week and triple the level of two weeks ago.
Rocky Vaz, the director of emergency management for the city of Dallas, told the website that the city had asked the federal government to extend the testing program but it refused.
Testing is crucial for monitoring the spread of the illness and for helping people to know when to isolate and warn others of possible exposure.
Republican senator John Cornyn of Texas offered a rare rebuke of the president from the GOP over the president’s decision to wind down funding for testing sites – including some in Texas.
“I know there’s concern, concern I share, over some of the statements being made about withdrawing federal support for coronavirus testing in Texas at the end of June,” Cornyn said. “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not a time to retreat from our vigilance in testing.”
He called on the White House to extend federal support for Texas, “at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed”.
And a spokesman for Ted Cruz, the other Republican senator of Texas, told NBC News that he “has urged and will continue to urge [health officials] to extend the community testing sites in Texas”.