Surging Covid-19 cases across America: The first wave that never went away

Several grim milestones were passed over the weekend, suggesting the pandemic is stealthily regaining the upper hand in America - and beyond.

The worldwide death toll from Covid-19 surged past 500,000, with over 10 million cases.

Remarkably, a quarter of all deaths have been in the United States, despite its wealth, world class medical system and preeminent research institutes.

And here's the frightening element: the US has probably a far higher infection rate than is acknowledged. It may be ten times as high, according to some estimates.

That would imply there may be 25 million infections in America.  That would be almost 8% of the entire population.

The shape of this outbreak is changing geographically as well. When Covid-19 first struck America, the early hotspot was in New York.

Now the virus is spreading fastest in the south and south-west.  Florida, Texas, California, Arizona are all seeing alarming spikes.

Florida, for example, saw nearly 10,000 infections on Saturday alone - and another 8,500 on Sunday.  Even the state's Republican governor was forced to admit that Florida faces an explosion of cases.

This puts in jeopardy America's effort to reopen its economy and reverse the devastating economic toll of the virus.

Miami's beaches will be closed over the July 4th US holidays. 

California has ordered bars in seven counties to close. The inherent tension between controlling the virus and rescuing the economy is on display again all over America.

Some experts have debated whether this is a second wave of cases.  

But most view this as a continuation of the first wave, saying a calamitous failure of political leadership by the Trump White House ensured the virus was never successfully contained.

President Donald Trump storms out of a White House coronavirus briefing after clashing with two journalists. Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

President Donald Trump has consistently underplayed the significance of the pandemic, at times mocking the science, refusing to wear a mask, holding rallies, and making clear that reviving the economy was his absolute priority.

Now all that is coming back to haunt him - and it may be the nail in the coffin of his re-election effort.

Many epidemiologists have said that talking about "waves" is the wrong comparison entirely. Waves imply that there are natural peaks and troughs.

The Harvard public health expert Marc Lipsitch has said there is a much better metaphor - a forest fire. A spark can ignite an inferno and it rapidly intensifies until it has run out of fuel.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know