Updated at 6:12 p.m. ET
The global death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, neared 13,000 on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and by Saturday evening the global number of confirmed cases topped 300,000.
Among the countries hit hardest recently are Italy, Iran and Spain, where the death toll was above 1,000 in each country as of Saturday afternoon. Italy has the highest death toll in the world, at nearly 5,000, surpassing mainland China, where the virus was first diagnosed.
Italy's death toll continued its spike Saturday with 793 deaths, setting a new record since Friday's record 627 deaths, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports. Spain also faced a sharp increase, with 235 deaths in a single day on Friday.
The United States has also faced a major surge in cases in recent days. As of Saturday, the country has more than 24,000 cases in total, a number that's on the rise since testing capabilities expanded over the past week.
As of Saturday evening, the U.S. had conducted more than 182,000 tests in total, yielding over 23,000 confirmed positive results, according to the COVID Tracking Project. As of a week ago, the number of tests conducted was just over 20,000.
But NPR's Rob Stein reports that the U.S. is still far behind other countries that have been testing more aggressively, such as South Korea, which had tested more than 300,000 people as of Thursday.
In an attempt to enforce social distancing amid the lack of testing, the governors of New York, California and Illinois all announced statewide "stay at home" or similar orders to slow the spread of the virus.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all nonessential businesses in the state to close by 8 p.m. Sunday, NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports. Essential businesses that will remain open include grocery stores, pharmacies and public transit.
Today I signed an Executive Order directing ALL non-essential business statewide to close in-office functions effective on Sunday at 8PM.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 20, 2020
Here is the list of essential businesses & services excluded from the order: https://t.co/iKMf5Sd7ae
New York City is now in dire straits, with more than 7,500 confirmed cases in the city alone as of late Friday, according to the city's Department of Health. As of last week, the entire state had confirmed fewer than 800 cases.
"I hate to say this, but it's true: We are now the epicenter of this crisis," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Friday. At the time of the news conference, the city had confirmed just over 5,000 cases.
This week, New York University ordered its students to completely move out of university housing by Sunday to make dorm beds available in the likely case of a hospital bed shortage.
President Trump also announced at a press briefing Wednesday that one of the country's hospital ships would station itself in New York Harbor to assist with hospital capacity amid the outbreak.
The striking increase in case numbers is because of more widespread testing and could also signal that the virus is spreading. Experts say that many cases likely remain unconfirmed because of a continued lack of testing availability.
NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that COVID-19 spreads stealthily: It can take up to two weeks from contracting it to develop symptoms, and cases are often mild. This means carriers can be out spreading the virus without even realizing they have it.
Epidemiologists say the best-known ways of combating the stealthy spread are social distancing, even among seemingly healthy people, and widespread testing.
"You should be testing as much as possible," Columbia University researcher Jeffrey Shaman told Brumfiel. "Because that informs people to stay home. If they are themselves infected and they're mild symptomatic, you tell them, 'You're staying home for the next 14 days or 21 days — and just do it.' "