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Soaring coronavirus infections make indoor gatherings even riskier

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

No state in America could clear the threshold right now to safely allow indoor gatherings.

The big picture: This is bad as the pandemic has ever been — the most cases, the most explosive growth and the greatest strain on hospitals. If businesses were closed right now, it would not be safe to reopen them. And holiday travel will be risky no matter where you’re coming from or where you’re going.

By the numbers: Over the past week, the U.S. averaged more than 154,000 new cases per day, the highest rate of the entire pandemic.

  • The number of new infections rose in 46 states, held steady in three, and declined in only one — Hawaii.
  • This week's nationwide totals are a 30% increase over last week, which was a 40% increase over the week before that. Daily infections have been rising by at least 15% for the past six weeks.
  • Testing was up about 11% over the past week. The U.S. is now conducting about 1.5 million tests per day. That’s a lot, but cases clearly are still rising faster than testing.

Between the lines: Whatever metric you might use to decide whether it’s safe to have a large Thanksgiving get-together, or to sit inside a bar or restaurant, the answer is probably no.

  • Experts recently told The Atlantic that they wouldn’t feel comfortable attending an indoor dinner party at all, but that it would be least risky in areas with only about 10-25 new cases per day, per 100,000 people.
  • At most, only about 27% of American counties meet that standard.

Back in the spring, when businesses were closed and the Trump administration laid out the criteria for opening them, it said states should only open restaurants after seeing a 14-day decline in new infections — and even then, only at highly limited capacity.

  • That was then and this is now, but if you consider that measurement as a rough guide for safety, it’s a bar the U.S. absolutely cannot clear: No state has seen two straight weeks of improvement since September.
  • Reopening was also supposed to be conditioned on hospitals’ capacity, which is now nearing a breaking point in many parts of the country.

The CDC’s travel guidelines aren’t as specific, but they advise Americans to consider both their potential exposure at home and the caseload at their destination.

  • Outbreaks are bad and getting steadily worse in every state except Hawaii, so as long as you’re not coming from or going to Hawaii, both your starting point and your destination would be in high-risk states, no matter where you’re going.

The bottom line: Eating and drinking indoors with large groups of people, at a time when 150,000 people are contracting the virus every day, is about as risky as it gets.

Each week, Axios tracks the change in new infections in each state. We use a seven-day average to minimize the effects of day-to-day discrepancies in states’ reporting.

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