This isn’t a third coronavirus wave — it’s a tsunami. 3 charts show how much worse the fall surge is than any before.

A medical worker puts on protective equipment at an ICU in Houston, Texas. Callaghan O’Hare/Reuters
  • The US’s fall coronavirus surge is already larger than the ones in the spring or summer, though it hasn’t lasted as long.
  • The US shattered daily records for cases and hospitalizations in November.
  • The fall surge is poised to become to longest and deadliest one yet.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US’s coronavirus outbreak has spiraled even further out of control — but the reality is that it was never contained. The nation is still mired in its first wave of infections, which started around nine months ago, since cases never dropped sufficiently.

Since then, there have been glimmers of hope as cases dipped lower in June and September. But daily cases have remained above 15,000 since they first crossed that threshold in March.

Now, the nation’s skyrocketing case surge has become a tsunami of infections.

Daily cases topped 100,000 in November for the first time. Over the last week, they have continued to climb, reaching an all-time high of more than 150,000 on Thursday.

It’s the nation’s largest surge yet, with more than 4.4 million cases recorded since the start of September.

By comparison, the country’s summer surge, from June through August, resulted in nearly 4.2 million cases. And the spring surge from March to May resulted in nearly 1.8 million cases — though many went uncounted at that time. (Research suggests that the actual case tally during the spring was 10 times higher than the one reported.)

The current surge is also poised to last much longer than its predecessors. The chart below shows how long each surge has lasted, from trough to peak.

The trough marks the day when weekly average cases hit their lowest point between surges. From spring to summer, that day was June 9, when fewer than 20,000 cases were recorded, on average, in the last seven days. September 12 marked the low point between the summer and fall surges. The weekly average that day was around 34,000 cases.

By this metric, the spring and summer surges each lasted roughly 100 days. But in this recent surge, it has been 60 days since the last trough, and the line is still going up.

According to a recent, ominous prediction from Pantheon Macroeconomics, the US could be on track to record 1 million daily coronavirus cases by the end of 2020 if average cases continue to grow 34% from week to week, as they are currently. Other models don’t expect the number to get that high, however.

A record-breaking fall surge

The US’s fall surge has shattered records both nationally and globally. In addition to a record number of daily cases ever recorded in a single country, the US recorded its highest-ever weekly case average on Thursday: nearly 130,000 new cases per day.

The nation also recorded its highest number of single-day hospitalizations (more than 67,000) and highest weekly average number of hospitalizations (more than 60,000) on Thursday.

Daily deaths haven’t caught up to the peak levels we saw in the spring, but they are starting to trend upward. The US recorded a weekly average of more than 1,000 deaths on Friday — a 21% increase over the prior week, and a 31% increase from the average daily death toll recorded two weeks prior.

Since September, the coronavirus has killed 58,000 people in the US. Roughly 75,000 died from June to August and nearly 104,000 were killed between March and May. On the country’s deadliest day, May 7, more than 2,700 people perished.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that the US could see nearly 200,000 additional deaths from now through March 1.

“I am tremendously concerned,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider. She said she expects this surge to be the deadliest yet.

“The other surges were very localised,” Ranney said. “This is different because it is truly nationwide.”