The US made no progress in lowering its baseline of Covid-19 cases in the past month despite experts’ urgent admonitions to reduce the daily count of new cases before the challenging fall and winter seasons.
Hours before President Trump announced Friday that he and his wife tested positive for the virus, the average of daily new cases nationwide stood around 42,785. That’s about 500 more than on September 1, data from Johns Hopkins University shows, and more than double what the US saw in June, when lockdown restrictions began to ease.
“No matter how you slice it, that’s not good,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said last week. “We’re looking at 40,000 new cases per day. That’s unacceptable and that is what we’ve got to get down before we go into the more problematic winter.”
“We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted early Friday. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”
‘We are nearing a crisis’
Experts like Fauci say now is the time for cities and states to double down on safety measures to help combat a coming surge of Covid-19 cases. Among those measures are face masks, which remain the country’s most powerful tool against the virus until a vaccine becomes available.
If 95% of Americans wore masks, around 96,000 lives could be saved by January, according to projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The institute’s director, Dr. Chris Murray, has warned of an explosion of Covid-19 cases in the coming months and a “deadly December” coming up. The IHME projects the US could see more than 3,000 daily deaths by the end of this year.
It also projects more than 370,000 Americans will have died by January. More than 208,000 have already died in the US since the start of the pandemic, and more than 7.3 million have been infected.
States setting Covid records
Local leaders across the US are stressing similar warnings, with 25 states reporting more new Covid-19 cases than the previous week.
On Friday, Kentucky reported 1,039 new cases of Covid-19, the second-highest number of new cases the state has reported since the pandemic began, Gov. Andy Beshear said in pre-recorded remarks he shared on his Facebook account.
The state has seen the highest four-day period of new cases in the last four days, Beshear said.
“This week is going to shatter last week’s record for number of cases. We have to do better,” the governor said. “It’s very real and the situation is getting very dangerous in Kentucky.”
Beshear had a mask on while taping his message, saying he was wearing one “because the escalation here in Kentucky continues to get worst and we have to wear these. All of us.”
This week Nebraska reported its highest number of new Covid-19 cases since May, while in Wisconsin, local and state leaders sounded the alarm after the state recorded its highest Covid-19 death count and hospitalizations.
“We are nearing a crisis in my community,” said Dr. Paul Casey, medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “This spike we’re seeing in Brown County, Wisconsin, should be a wake-up call to anyone who lives here that our community is facing a crisis.”
Amid alarming trends, worries for schools
Meanwhile, as communities across the US report worrying Covid-19 trends, more students have returned to class.
Thousands of young students in New York City went back to school as the state reported new clusters and hot spot ZIP codes. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday at least 11 ZIP codes had a positivity rate higher than 3%, with some running as high as 6%.
Still, de Blasio championed what he called a successful return to school and encouraged parents to sign waivers that will allow their children to be tested monthly, with testing starting next week.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that there are 1,258 positive cases of Covid-19 among students and teachers across the state.
In Connecticut, where some communities are reporting an uptick in Covid-19 cases, more than 130 students and school staff tested positive for the virus last week out of more than out of 600,000 students and staff, Gov. Ned Lamont said.
“Almost all of those who tested positive, that did not happen at school, that did not happen in the classroom, that happened off-campus,” Lamont said.
“Maybe a party, maybe some sports, but that’s – perhaps the classroom is one of the safest places you can be.”
Worries remain for older students, too, as colleges in every state of the country have reported infections. New studies show that Covid-19 cases surged among college-age individuals just as universities reopened.
And this week, a North Carolina university announced a student who was seemingly otherwise healthy, died after Covid-19 complications.
Diversity important in vaccine trials, expert says
Amid the ongoing battle against the pandemic, a timeline for when a vaccine will be available to the US population remains unclear. If Moderna’s vaccine is proven safe and effective, it could be widely accessible by late March or early April, CEO Stéphane Bancel said this week.
But as companies test out their vaccines, it’s key that a diverse group of Americans – including the elderly – take part in the ongoing clinical trials underway, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said this week.
In vaccine development guidelines issued in June, the FDA discussed the importance of including different populations in those trials, Hahn told the National Consumers League.
“We have made it clear that our expectation is that the data we receive will be generalizable to all of Americans,” he added.
That point, he said, is very important to the agency.
The commissioner’s comments come amid an effort by health officials to help reassure Americans that the agency’s Covid-19 authorization and approval process meets the highest scientific standards and won’t be influenced by politics.
“If and when we approve or authorize the vaccine, the public should have complete confidence in that decision,” Hahn said this week.
CNN’s Shelby Lin Erdman, Kristina Sgueglia and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.