COVID-19 death toll in the US reaches 150,000, by far the highest in the world

COVID-19 death toll in the US reaches 150,000, by far the highest in the world

BOSTON — Confirmed deaths from the novel coronavirus in the US hit 150,000 on Wednesday, by far the highest toll in the world.

One of the great mysteries of the coronavirus is how quickly it rocketed around the world.

It first flared in central China and, within three months, was on every continent but Antarctica, shutting down daily life for millions. Behind the rapid spread was something that initially caught scientists off guard, baffled health authorities and undermined early containment efforts — the virus could be spread by seemingly healthy people.

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As workers return to offices, children prepare to return to schools and those desperate for normalcy again visit malls and restaurants, the emerging science points to a menacing reality: If people who appear healthy can transmit the illness, it may be impossible to contain.

In the U.S., the spread of the virus seemed to have been trending downwards particularly in the Northeast just before the start of summer. States like New York, Massachusetts and Maine started closing down businesses and schools early in March, but not early enough. In other parts of the country, such as Florida and Texas, regulations on quarantining, mask usage and social distancing were seldom enforced.

Now, cases are surging in spots where the virus hadn’t hit as hard the first time around. Also on Wednesday, Florida was hit with 216 new coronavirus deaths, breaking a record for the second day in a row.

Researchers have exposed the frightening likelihood of silent spread of the virus by asymptomatic and presymptomatic carriers. But how major a role seemingly healthy people play in swelling the ranks of those infected remains unanswered — and at the top of the scientific agenda.

The slyness of the virus remains on the minds of many scientists as they watch societies reopen, wondering what happens if silent spreaders aren’t detected until it’s too late.

Travelers with no coughs can slip past airport screens. Workers without fevers won’t be caught by temperature checks. People who don’t feel tired and achy will attend business meetings.

And outbreaks could begin anew.

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