The Third Wave of COVID-19 in the U.S. Is Officially Worse Than the First Two

Chris Wilson
·2 min read
Chart of U.S. peak daily COVID-19 case rates
Chart of U.S. peak daily COVID-19 case rates

Credit - Chris Wilson / TIME

Just days before a momentous and unpredictable Presidential election, the United States has reached a new record high in the number of daily COVID-19 infections, surpassing the peak in mid-July during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic’s domestic toll. As of Oct. 24, there was a weekly average of 23.0 infections per 100,000 residents, up from 20.5 on July 19 and ticking rapidly upward. The country also set a new single-day record on Oct. 23 with 83,757 new cases.

There have been clear signs for weeks of a third wave of the pandemic in the U.S. as the weather gets colder and the virus has migrated from metropolitan regions to more rural settings. But it was far from certain, at the beginning of October, that the resurgence would surpass that of the summer, even though the figures were climbing far sooner than the timeline of the most promising vaccine trials, one of which was temporarily halted after a volunteer became ill but is set to resume soon.

We know now that the third wave will be worse than the second, which was far worse than the first, when cases peaked at 9.7 per 100,000 on April 7.

The twin threads of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Presidential Election that have cornered the headline market all year were perhaps destined to converge, but the timing couldn’t have come any more conspicuously, as deadlines for requesting and submitting mail-in ballots loom or have passed in many states and polling locations scramble to enact safety measures for those who vote in person.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ground many sectors of life to a complete halt or, at best, a crawl. Even after the election results are clear, which is unlikely to be next Tuesday evening, all signs suggest the winner will take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021 at a generous distance from Chief Justice John Roberts—if not by Zoom.