NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency and extended a face coverings mandate into November to fight a flare-up of coronavirus cases, as the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.
In-person social gatherings led to cases skyrocketing among people aged 18 to 24, Evers said, as he pleaded with students who returned to colleges for the fall semester to stay out of bars and wear masks.
"We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus,” the governor said in a statement announcing his decision.
The United States continues to have world’s highest number of COVID-19 deaths. On a weekly average, it is losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.
During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths were regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.
"The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering and in some respects stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, told CNN.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he had done a phenomenal job on the pandemic that has infected nearly 6.9 million Americans.
He said the 200,000 milestone was "a shame” and deflected blame onto China.
Trump used a video address to the annual United Nations General Assembly to attack Beijing for not stopping the spread of what he called the "China virus.”
"We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world -- China,” he told the UN’s diplomatic showcase event, which is being held almost entirely online because of the pandemic.
Trump has repeatedly played down the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis, even as the United States has suffered one of the world’s highest death tolls.
His handling of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn has battered his standing among many voters.
His presidential rival Joe Biden on Tuesday acknowledged the 200,000 U.S. deaths as a "staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around.”
"There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic - and we can’t forget that,” he wrote on Twitter.
The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by year end, with the daily death toll potentially skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.
Deaths rose 5% last week after falling for four weeks in a row, according to a Reuters analysis. Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died from COVID-19, one of the highest rates among developed nations.
"We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We’re only nine months into this pandemic,” said Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the systemwide special pathogens program at New York City Health + Hospitals.
Looking at deaths alone, though, provides an incomplete picture of the true toll of the pandemic, Madad said, because researchers are only just beginning to learn about the long-term health complications that Covid-19 causes. She added that the death toll of 200,000 likely underestimates the total number of deaths caused either directly or indirectly by Covid-19.