Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Adding to the clear trend of rising cases in the United States since early September, almost 60,000 more people have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide, updated data showed Thursday.
Research at Johns Hopkins University shows 59,500 new cases on Wednesday -- the greatest single-day increase since the middle of August.
The United States has added at least 50,000 cases in six out of the last eight days. Johns Hopkins data has shown a clear and steady increase in cases since the peak in July fell to a low of 24,000 cases on Sept. 7.
There were 985 deaths on Wednesday, according to the data -- the most since last week and just the third time the toll has reached that figure since the middle of September.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 7.92 million cases and 217,000 deaths in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.
Thursday, the nation's top infectious diseases expert condemned a report that senior Trump administration officials are receptive to pursuing a dangerous "herd immunity" strategy for addressing the crisis.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the idea "ridiculous" and "total nonsense."
Achieving herd immunity effectively amounts to letting COVID-19 spread unchecked nationwide until a large number of people are infected and develop an immunity. At that point, the strategy goes, the disease would virtually cease because there would be too few vulnerable people left to infect.
Most scientists have rejected the strategy because, they say, it would come at an unacceptable cost in large numbers of deaths.
"What that will do is that there will be so many people in the community that you can't shelter, that you can't protect, who are going to get sick and get serious consequences," Fauci told ABC's Good Morning America.
"If you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you'll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense."
Fauci's comments came after The New York Times reported Wednesday the White House had "embraced" the Great Barrington Declaration -- which argues against lockdowns and calls for a total resumption of normal activities.
The University of Washington predicted last month that there would be nearly 200,000 extra deaths over a four-month span if the government pursued a herd immunity strategy.
On Monday, World Health Organization Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called herd immunity "scientifically and ethically problematic."
"Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic," he said.
Tedros said another problem is that not enough is known enough about immunity to COVID-19, citing instances in which patients who have recovered from an initial bout have been reinfected.