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A certified nursing assistant prepares to take a patient's nasal swab at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site outside the Southside Health Center, in Milwaukee, Wis., on Oct. 21, 2020.

BING GUAN/Reuters

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States on Thursday was the second highest on record, coming in just short of their midsummer peak as the spread of the novel coronavirus accelerates in nearly every region of the country.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all accelerating as cooler weather descends on much of the country. With 76,195 new cases on Thursday, the United States was approaching its one-day record high of 77,299 new cases on July 16, according to a Reuters analysis.

Only India has reported more cases in a single day: 97,894 on Sept. 17.

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U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attributed the increase in cases to behaviour of individuals, saying household gatherings have become a “major vector of disease spread.”

Asked about an assertion by President Donald Trump during Thursday night’s presidential debate that the United States is “rounding the turn” on coronavirus, Mr. Azar told CNN that Mr. Trump was trying to provide hope to Americans waiting for therapeutics and a vaccine.

“But we do need to acknowledge, and he does acknowledge, that we’re in a very serious moment right now,” Mr. Azar said.

On Thursday, there were 916 reported fatalities in the United States, a day after the country recorded more than 1,200 new deaths for the first time since August. COVID-19 deaths are up 13 per cent from last week, averaging 785 a day over the past seven days.

At the same time, the number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals climbed to a two-month high. There are now nearly 41,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients across the country, up 34 per cent from Oct. 1, according to a Reuters analysis.

North Dakota, with 887 new cases on Thursday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin. In terms of sheer numbers, Texas reported the most new cases on Thursday with 6,820 new infections, followed by California with 6,365.

Eight states set new records for single-day increases in cases, an ominous trend that is prompting some governors to issue new restrictions, including on bars and restaurants in some parts of Illinois. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah all reported their biggest daily increase in cases since the pandemic started.

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Seven states reported record numbers of COVID-19 patients in the hospital: Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the Midwest reached 11,369 on Thursday, a record high for a seventh day in a row.

Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, expressed worry about lack of compliance with public-health measures in the state where some groups have challenged Democratic Governor Tony Evers’s COVID-19 restrictions in court.

“If we don’t get that and we have such tremendous prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, I don’t see a great way out of this,” Dr. Pothof said. “The picture isn’t rosy.”

The Northeast remains the one region of the county without a significant surge in cases, but infections are trending higher there, forcing Boston public schools to shift to online-only learning this week. Vermont is a bright spot with no hospitalized COVID-19 patients and 16 new cases on Thursday.

In New York State, which was devastated by the pandemic in the spring, movie theatres will open their doors to live audiences for the first time in months, albeit at 25-per-cent capacity and with restrictions. But in New York City, theatres will remain darkened for now, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive.

Europe is also seeing a surge in cases and globally new infections hit a one-day record high of 423,290 on Wednesday.

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