As U.S. Blows Past 4 Million Covid-19 Cases, It Must Take Disease 'Seriously'

Concerns grow as diagnoses explode; Treasury Sec. Mnuchin promises relief package soon.

The U.S. blew past 4 million known cases of Covid-19 this week and the world now stands at more than 16 million recorded infections as of Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University disease-tracking map.

Total deaths in the U.S. have also risen to nearly 147,000 as hospitals in states such as Texas have warned of becoming overwhelmed and California and Florida are getting hit especially hard. 

Two new major hot spots nationally, Florida and California, have even surpassed New York's totals -- with Florida at a total count of nearly 424,000 and California at nearly 449,000 -- according to numbers compiled by Reuters on Sunday.

The surge comes after many states had declared reopenings -- and as some states have shifted gears to stricter policies. It also comes amid debates about school and university reopenings.

"I think public health measures will oscillate between tighter and more relaxed modes in the coming six to 12 months," said Ben Cowling, a professor at the Hong University School of Public Health, in an email to TheStreet over the weekend, speaking to the situation in the U.S. "When numbers are lower, measures will relax. When numbers increase, measures will tighten."

Cowling doubted the nation would ever get to zero new cases without a vaccine.

But people must take Covid-19 "seriously," he said, and do more to encourage those who suspect they have the virus self isolate and get tested, even with mild symptoms, if they want to reduce the spread of the disease.

Cowling was part of a group researchers at Hong Kong University's medical school who, in collaboration with other universities and the World Health Organization, recently documented in the journal Science the importance of testing and isolating patients to shorten the time period one infectious person can pass the disease on to another person.

While much of Asia -- including Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, mainland China and Singapore -- has aggressively worked to contain the coronavirus, which first emerged in China last year, the U.S., Brazil, India and Russia have seen cases shoot upward in recent months. 

"The virus really clearly has the upper hand in the U.S. And what we're learning around the world is that it doesn't go away," Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told "Fox News Sunday." Dr. Frieden, who was talking about the risks of reopening schools in the fall, specifically pointed out the dangers of spreading the virus in indoor restaurants and bars.

Calling the U.S. a "laggard," Dr. Frieden criticized the nation's inability to get its death rate under control and its lack of a unified approach to combating the disease and informing people about it.

"One of the things that concerns me most is that we're not on the same page," Dr. Frieden said to Fox host Chris Wallace.

In an effort to help contain the virus, even more major companies have imposed mask policies for employees and customers last week, joining the patchwork of states and local governments that have enacted their own measures. McDonald's  (MCD) - Get Report on Friday became one of the latest big American corporations to say it will begin a face-mask requirement for diners, joining Walmart  (WMT) - Get Report, Target  (TGT) - Get Report, Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Report and others.

But the U.S. will need to do more than impose mask policies, Cowling told TheStreet.

"Mask wearing would certainly help, but we have seen in Hong Kong that universal use of masks is not sufficient to stop Covid-19 transmission in the community. Masks work, but we can't rely on masks, we need additional public health measures as well as masks," he said. 

Despite the U.S.' uneven policies on the containing the coronavirus and quick attempts by states to reopen, the economy has suffered with tens of millions unemployed and an uptick in jobless claims to 1.416 million for the week that ended July 18.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told "Fox News Sunday" that the Trump administration and lawmakers "want to move quickly" on another long-awaited relief package as federal unemployment and eviction measures expire and the Payroll Protection Program for businesses is coming to a scheduled end. Mnuchin said that a "trillion dollar" proposal would be introduced Monday. 

Mnuchin added that the administration and Republicans are "on the same page" on the planned effort. 

The White House's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, on the same day said on CNN's "State of the Union" program that part of the proposed recovery package would include $1,200 checks to Americans.

This story has been updated.