The United States now has the most known coronavirus cases of any country in the world, passing Italy and China.
The U.S. had 82,404 cases as of Thursday evening, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, vaulting to the top spot amid ramped up testing.
The milestone is a foreboding distinction for the United States, setting off alarms that the epidemic continues to get worse in the country.
Experts have raised warnings that the U.S. trajectory is continuing to climb. The U.S. had more than 14,000 new cases on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and the number of new cases announced each day continues to climb.
Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, wrote on Twitter that the U.S. case trajectories are “alarming.”
He added that the distribution of cases around the U.S. is also concerning, in contrast to China, which imposed a stringent crackdown to keep cases largely confined to Hubei province, where the outbreak began.
“China had a bonfire in Hubei but was stamping out sparks everywhere else,” he wrote. “We’ve now got a bonfire in NYC and campfires almost everywhere else – and all still shooting out sparks.”
A study from the University of Washington on Thursday warned that between 38,000 and 162,000 people could die in the United States in the next four months from the virus, and that hospital capacity could be overwhelmed as soon as the second week of April.
The worsening situation comes as President Trump has expressed eagerness in recent days to ease up on measures that have closed businesses and urged people to stay at home. Experts are urging the president not to ease up on those restrictions yet, warning the crisis could get even worse.
Trump, asked about the milestone for the U.S. on Thursday, said it reflected increased testing, and questioned China’s numbers.
“I think it’s a tribute to the testing,” he told reporters. “We’re testing tremendous numbers of people.”
“I’m sure you’re not able to tell what China is testing or not testing, I think that’s a little hard,” Trump added.
The spike in cases in the United States also comes as testing improves, so the country is better able to identify cases that previously went undetected.
The Trump administration has taken intense criticism for the extremely slow rollout of tests in the initial weeks of the outbreak. The situation has been improving recently as more private labs have come on line to do mass testing, though problems remain.
“The rise of COVID cases in US is unrelenting,” tweeted Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “A sign that we had many more un-identified cases while we couldn’t test…and a lot of community transmission still. Long way to go turn this around.”