July 16 was arguably the worst of the pandemic in the United States to that point, setting records nationwide. By the end of that 24-hour period, a staggering 75,687 new cases had been reported around the country, the highest count on a single day over the past seven months.
Now the nation is approaching that record once more. Thursday ended with 75,064 new cases, the second-highest number of cases on a single day, and the cases continued to mount on Friday, nearing the record amid a new surge of outbreaks as cold weather sets in.
The geography of the coronavirus has constantly changed since the first cases showed up in the U.S. last winter. It struck the Northeast in the spring, the Sun Belt in the summer and now the states of the Midwest and the West, which hold the 10 counties in the country with the most recent cases per capita.
Back in July, Raymond Embry’s small Arizona medical clinic had been giving about five coronavirus tests a day. That grew to dozens a day, and then came the surge: There were 4,192 people lined up for tests to find out if they had the coronavirus in a single day.
By July 16, as the nation was hitting its worst day, Arizona was leading the nation in recent deaths per capita.
“It was just overwhelming trying to find gloves and masks, when especially back then people are telling you P.P.E. is widely available and that’s just a lie,” Mr. Embry said, referring to shortages of the personal protective equipment that health workers need to safely do testing.
But in some other parts of the country on July 16, the virus felt far away. Towns in North Dakota were holding their annual summer festivals. People cheered the rodeos and danced together, maskless, in the streets.
Erin Ourada, the administrator for Custer Health, a public health department just west of Bismarck, watched it all with foreboding.
“I don’t think the reality had hit the majority of North Dakota,” Ms. Ourada said. It was hard to even think back to that summer period, she said this week, when “everyone was still just kind of living their lives and getting ready for the next street dance they were going to hit up.”