In the span of a week and a half, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has doubled, yet officials are saying this is still the first wave of the pandemic.
“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a Facebook and Twitter livestream Monday. “I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline … that really never got down to where we wanted to go.”
The surge in recent weeks has led to a shortage of hospital beds and threatens to set the economy back even further. This virus is notorious for how contagious it is – and how easily people can infect others without symptoms, prompting warnings from health officials that the crisis could get even worse after images of packed beaches emerged over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“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.”
The rise in cases has also affected the turnaround time for getting Covid-19 test results. Quest Diagnostics said in a statement Monday results now take an average of four to six days, whereas in early June it was two to three days. Similarly, LabCorp told CNN its results are taking two to four days, when it had been taking one to two days.
Quest and LabCorp said they plan to increase their testing capacity in July.
On the same livestream with Fauci on Monday, Dr. Francis Collins, the National Institutes of Health director, tried to reassure Americans the country would get through the pandemic.
“We just need all of the people in America to have that confidence. Keep your optimism, keep your hope and do the right thing,” Collins said, adding that people need to continue sticking with the recommendations of wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding cramped spaces indoors.
“All of those simple and straightforward things that I know you’re a tired of. But the virus is still out there and needs all of us to keep this from getting any worse,” Collins said.
Almost 3 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19, including a growing number of young adults. More than 130,000 Americans have died from the disease, and some survivors are grappling with long-term complications. A possible factor in the rapid spread is silent transmission through asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday.
“Let’s remember there are 300 million people in this country who remain susceptible and have been uninfected so far, and this virus is far from running out of people to infect,” Walensky said.
“And until we change our behavior to prevent these infections, the infections are going to continue to soar.”
In 32 states, the rates of infection are still going up
With spikes in new cases, doctors are worried about more hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.
“We’re accelerating nationally. … The number of cases still continues to accelerate,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“We’re breaking records almost every day here in the state of Texas. People are piling into hospitals, into ICUs (intensive care units). We can’t really keep going at this rate,” he said.
“And it’s not only happening in Texas, of course. It’s happening in Florida, Arizona. We’re starting to see now a similar situation unfold on the Gulf Coast. And now we’re starting to see this in the Upper Midwest and in Tennessee as well.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms along with some Mississippi legislators tested positive for coronavirus. The situation in Mississippi led to Gov. Tate Reeves and his family to get tested after coming in contact with a legislator with the virus.
Like Walensky, Hotez described the spiraling situation as a “free fall.”
At least 32 states are reporting higher rates of new cases this week compared to last week, according to Johns Hopkins University data: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
In 14 states, the rates of new infections are generally holding steady: Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.
And only four states are seeing decreases in the rates of new cases: Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The rising number of coronavirus cases has led at least 35 states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico to implement some type of face mask requirement. A number of states don’t have statewide mandates, yet most advise people to wear masks in public. Other states like Florida are leaving it to local officials to rule on mask use.
In states with some type of mask requirement, the rules can range from a broad mandate to situational rules, such as rules regarding people being in close contact.
Correcting the President’s claim
During his Fourth of July speech, President Donald Trump claimed 99% of Covid-19 cases “are totally harmless” – countering what doctors and scientists say.
“That 99% harmless (claim) is ridiculous,” Hotez said.
“We know 15% to 20% of patients are hospitalized, and of those, about half go in intensive care with permanent injury,” he said.
“That was just an irresponsible statement.”
And long-term injuries from Covid-19 don’t just happen to the elderly. New Jersey physician Dr. Jen Caudle said she’s seen young patients suffer from strokes, shortness of breath, fatigue or the inability to smell and taste long after recovering from coronavirus.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to send a letter to the Republican Party of Texas executive director strongly encouraging the GOP to cancel its in-person state Republican convention on July 16, Turner said in a news conference Monday. The convention is the only event that hasn’t been canceled or rescheduled to next year, Turner said.
“I believe canceling the in-person convention is the responsible action to take while we are in a critical moment in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “The virus continues to spread in our community, and we must protect the employees, the people who are in our city, visiting our city, as best as possible.”
Some parts of the US opened ‘too early’
In Florida, officials shut multiple beaches throughout the state hoping to avoid July 4 crowds. The state reported 9,999 new coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing Florida’s total to more than 200,000 infections.
Texas reported its second highest day of new cases over the weekend. The state opened “too early, too much,” driving Houston hospitals to surge capacity in recent days, said Harris County government head Lina Hidalgo.
“Wishful thinking is neither good economic policy, nor good public health policy,” Hidalgo told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
“If we had stayed shut down for longer and opened more slowly, we would probably be in a more sustainable place in our economy.”
In Arizona, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told ABC’s “This Week” that her state “opened way too early,” attributing much of the “explosion” in cases to people between the ages of 20 and 44.
Fauci said Monday that to move ahead, the country needs to stop looking at the virus situation as an obstacle to reopening the economy.
“Rather than looking at the public health effort versus economic opening as if they were opposing forces – they’re not – we should use the public health effort as a vehicle and a pathway to get to safe reopening,” Fauci said. “It’s not an obstacle. It’s a pathway to do that. So we’ve got to make sure that we don’t create this binary type thing of ‘it’s us against them.’ It’s not. We’re all in it together.”
Florida authorities failed to contact trace
A CNN investigation found Florida health authorities often failed to perform contact tracing, which has long been considered a key tool in containing coronavirus outbreaks.
CNN spoke with 27 Floridians – or their family members – who tested positive for the virus and only five said they received a call from health authorities asking for their contacts.
It’s unclear how many contract tracers are employed by the state. A spokesperson for the state’s health department told CNN there are 1,600 people “currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida” but another said there are 2,300 “individuals involved in contact tracing.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, when someone tests positive for Covid-19, the department “conducts an extensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to identify individuals who may have had close contact with the virus.”
When CNN asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, how the nation is doing with contact tracing, he answered, “I don’t think we’re doing very well.”
Remdesivir should be reserved for very sick patients, official says
Only one antiviral drug, remdesivir, has received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for use in treating coronavirus infections. Remdesivir has been shown to shorten recovery time for people who catch the virus.
The US government intends to “surge remdesivir to the areas that most need it,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn said Sunday.
Hahn noted that the country’s remdesivir supply has not run out and is being distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Last week, HHS announced that it had shipped the final allocation of the antiviral drug, prompting concerns there would not be enough to help states experiencing sharp rises in infections.
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“The vice president and I and others were in Florida and this issue came up, and we are receiving that feedback and then shipping remdesivir,” Hahn said. “So it’s available for people who need it.”
The country currently has enough remdesivir if the pandemic doesn’t get any worse, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Sunday on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
For the supply to last, the drug should be reserved for very sick or hospitalized Covid-19 patients, Gottlieb said.
“But if the epidemic worsens and we want to extend use of the drug to patients who aren’t as ill but have preexisting conditions that predict that they may become very sick, we don’t have enough drug for that,” he said.
“We would have had to set the groundwork for that months ago, and we didn’t do that.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly linked holiday crowds over the 4th of July weekend to a surge in hospitalizations.
CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, Chuck Johnston, Wes Bruer and Dana Vigue contributed to this report.