ST. LOUIS ( -- COVID-19 case numbers in St Louis and across the country are spiking by the day. Data shows the Untied States is now leading the world with cases of the novel coronavirus.

Illinois cases increased by more than 600 on Thursday, reaching 2,538. Missouri’s cases reached 502.

While things look grim now, researchers at St. Louis University (SLU) say there is an end in sight and it's in large part due to social distancing. 

“There are cases in every zip code in our city,” St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson said.

Area leaders are calling on St. Louisans to follow stay-at-home orders and continue practicing social distancing.

“Our healthcare system projects our cases will double every couple of days,” Krewson said.

On top of this, sources tell News 4, the St. Louis County Council has been briefed to expect cases to double every three days with a possible total of 200,000 people infected. That's about 20% of the total population. Read more on this here. 

While death rates in the News 4 area remain low, Thursday marked the deadliest day in the country since the outbreak began.Around 248 new deaths were reported Thursday.

“The numbers are going to get worse,” Ana Rutschman said, a professor at St. Louis University.

Researchers at SLU are using data to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts to end the outbreak through social distancing.

“In the US, we are behind in testing, so infection rates are not reliable and what is reliable sadly is death,” Rutschman said.

Comparing the US mortality rate to countries like China and Italy, “we are sort of here, a 1/3 of the way up on the bell curve, so we're about to peak,” Rutschman said.

Professor Rutschman admits the next couple of days, even weeks are going to be rough but she says social distancing is working.

“According to all of the models we are going to do this and we are going to do it in a matter of weeks, not three or 4 months,” Rutschman said. 

Professor rutschman says being mindful of the 14-day incubation period, social distancing could be phased out in the next 30 days.

But don't think life will just jump back into normalcy.

“It's not one of those things where you get to say social distancing is over and we all get to come out,” Rutschman said.

That could bring a big second wave of the virus.

“Our best bet for now is to break things for 14 days, so we peak, and then come back down,” Rutschman said.

And then city leaders and health officials will have to come up with a plan to phase social distancing out and normal life back in.

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