(CBSDFW/CNN) — Despite hopes for relief this summer, the US is battling the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — so much so that across the South and Southwest contact tracing is no longer possible, according to a health expert.

“The cases are rising so rapidly, that we cannot even do contact tracing anymore. I don’t see how it’s possible to even do that,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday.

His comment comes as the United States nears 3 million officially reported cases. The country averaged just under 50,000 new cases daily over the last week — the highest rate recorded, and twice as high as a month ago.

The rapid rise in cases is considered a surge, not a second wave, because the infection numbers never lowered to where officials hoped they would, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Facebook and Twitter livestream Monday.

“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Fauci said.

More than 130,300 people in the US have died from coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Though Florida set a record for most new cases in a single day over the weekend, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education Richard Corcoran announced Monday in an emergency order that its schools will open their doors in August.

But the state is among at least 24 that are pausing or rolling back their reopening plans for the summer in light of surging cases.

“Let’s wait and see,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday of moving to Phase 3 of his state’s plan, which means the state will keep bars closed and restaurants at 50% capacity. “I know how frustrating this can be, but right now, with this pandemic flaring up in a majority of other states, this is not the time to take a risk.”

‘We are in a free fall’

At least 31 states have showed an upward trend in average new daily cases — an increase of at least 10% — over the last seven days, as of Tuesday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington state, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Only four states have seen average daily cases decline more than 10% over those seven days: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

One of the main drivers of cases now could be “silent spreaders,” or people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, according to a new study.

The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that asymptomatic or presymptomatic hosts could be responsible for half of cases.

“We are in free fall,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. “You see the footage of what happened this past weekend. And people are either naive to the influence of their actions, or they’re simply resigned to ignore it.”

After weeks of health officials encouraging the public to wear face masks, at least 35 states along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico have implemented face covering requirements to help mitigate the virus’ spread.

Rising cases threaten hospital capacity

With increased spread comes concerns about exceeding hospitals’ capacity.

Along with 1,214 new cases, Dallas County reported a 16% increase in new hospitalizations Monday.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released a letter urging the governor to implement more statewide restrictions as the state reached its highest number in both categories.

“Think of hospitalizations as the sickest of the sick, the part of the iceberg above the water. In order for the numbers to increase dramatically with hospitalizations, the amount of the iceberg underneath the water must grow exponentially,” Jenkins said.

In Florida, 43 hospitals across 21 counties — including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Orange Counties — have hit capacity and show zero ICU beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

In response to President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless,” Dr. Boris Lushniak told Wolf Blitzer Monday on the Situation Room that the hospitalizations tell a different story.

“Yes, some people asymptomatic. Yes, some people have mild cases of disease. But in essence, we also are having a lot of people who are being hospitalized,” said Lushniak, who is dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and a former deputy surgeon general.

“These are not harmless cases; this is not a harmless pandemic. And we need to be strong enough to begin correcting the president,” he said.

US commits $1.6 billion to COVID-19 vaccine maker Novavax

The US government has announced it’s giving the largest government COVID-19 vaccine contract to date, as a race to find and deliver an effective vaccine continues.

Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine program, on Tuesday announced a $1.6 billion contract with Novavax, a Maryland biotech company.

Novavax is the fourth company to receive federal funds to conduct large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials and manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine. Each trial is expected to include 30,000 people.

Novavax’s $1.6 billion will allow the company to test the vaccine and scale up production in advance of its possible approval, with the aim of delivering 100 million doses by February, Stanley Erck, Novavax’s president and CEO, told CNN.