The U.S. coronavirus death count climbed past 150,000 on Wednesday, a milestone that none had predicted would come so soon.

In April, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hoped that no more than 60,000 people in the country would die from the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. In May, a renowned research center predicted that number would be just over 70,000 by early August. When the death tally spiked in May, President Donald Trump predicted that between 75,000 and 100,000 people could die from the new coronavirus, the newspaper said.

But the daily COVID-19 death tallies have kept piling up: On Wednesday, more than 1,300 new deaths nationwide were reported, with Washington state’s death count not yet recorded, the Washington Post reported. That’s the highest one-day count since the latter half of May.

Thirteen states reached their highest seven-day averages for novel coronavirus deaths, the newspaper reported. California, Florida, Idaho and North Carolina broke their records for virus-related deaths reported in a single day on Wednesday. With 217 new deaths on Wednesday, Florida joined Texas as one of eight states that have counted 200 single-day deaths at some point during the pandemic, the Post reported.

“The mortality is going to march in lockstep with our transmission,” Dr. Sarah Fortune, chair of immunology and infectious diseases at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, told the Times.

“We have to do better in terms of limiting transmission,” Fortune added. “We have this terrible death toll because we have done a lousy job at limiting transmission.”

On the vaccine front, the final phases of testing for two potential COVID-19 vaccines were launched this week.

In one trial, the first of 30,000 volunteers will be given either a vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the U.S. National Institutes of Health or a placebo shot, the Post reported.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also announced that it was starting a 30,000-person final phase vaccine trial, to be conducted at 120 sites globally.

Fauci predicted that researchers would probably be able to tell whether the Moderna vaccine was effective by November or December, although he added that it was a “distinct possibility” an answer could come sooner. Pfizer officials have said the company expects to be able to seek regulatory authorization or approval for its vaccine by October, the Post reported.

Testing delays

Still, laboratories across the country are being crushed by the surge of COVID-19 tests, the Associated Press reported.

The bottlenecks are creating problems for workers kept off the job while awaiting results, nursing homes struggling to keep the virus out, and for the labs themselves, the wire service said. Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, fueling fears that people without symptoms could be spreading the virus if they don’t isolate while they wait.

“There’s been this obsession with, ‘How many tests are we doing per day?'” former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the AP. “The question is how many tests are being done with results coming back within a day, where the individual tested is promptly isolated and their contacts are promptly warned.”

Frieden and other public health experts have called on states to publicly report testing turnaround times, calling it an essential metric to measure progress against the virus.

By Thursday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 4.4 million as the death toll passed 150,000, according to a Times tally.

According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday were: California with nearly 488,000; Florida with over 451,000; Texas with nearly 422,000, New York with over 418,000, and New Jersey with over 182,400.

Nations grapple with pandemic

Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that Hong Kong faces a “large-scale community outbreak” and that the city’s healthcare system could crumble under pressure if cases continue to climb, the Post reported.

Lam made the remarks late Tuesday as Hong Kong introduced new lockdown measures — the strictest restrictions on residents since the pandemic began. Under the new rules, group gatherings are banned along with restaurant dining, and face masks are now mandatory, the Post reported.

As Lam urged people to abide by the health and safety advice to stay home and practice social distancing regulations, she said the looming outbreak could “lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly.”

On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported 118 new coronavirus cases, with at least 113 of those locally transmitted infections.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s coronavirus outbreak has spread to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s two largest cities, Reuters reported. New cases have also been detected in Vietnam’s central highlands, known as the “coffee belt.”

All were reportedly linked to people traveling from Danang, which began evacuating tourists over the weekend and is now in a state of lockdown. In total, 30 cases have been identified outside the city, according to Vietnam Television, Reuters reported.

Vietnam had gone more than three months without reporting any locally transmitted coronavirus cases. But a 57-year-old man in Danang, a popular beach resort, tested positive on Saturday. The country has yet to record a single death linked to COVID-19, Reuters reported.

Things continue to worsen in India. On Thursday, the country neared 1.6 million infections and almost 35,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. The surge comes weeks after a national lockdown was lifted, and it’s prompted some parts of the country to revert back to stricter social distancing measures. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.

Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with over 2.5 million confirmed infections by Thursday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.

Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Thursday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at nearly 833,000, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 17 million on Thursday, with nearly 668,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.