A top health expert warns US needs a “comprehensive approach” to the Covid-19 pandemic, following a week of several states reporting alarming trends.
“Testing does not replace safety measures including consistent mask use, physical distancing, and hand washing,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.
His remarks came as a response to the President’s and the first lady’s positive Covid-19 tests. Their diagnoses, Frieden said, serve as “a reminder that Covid-19 is an ongoing threat to our country and can happen to anyone.”
Twenty-four states saw their number of new cases rise at least 10% this week from the week before, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, and 19 states were holding steady.
Only seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas – reported decreases in new cases of at least 10% compared to last week.
The country’s seven-day average of new daily cases – about 42,400 – is more than 20% higher than where it was September 12, when it was at two-month low of about 34,300.
It’s still below a summer peak of roughly 67,000 from July – but health officials have said even daily cases in the 40,000s are far too high if the country wants to avoid a dangerous surge in the coming months, when cold weather will nudge people indoors more often.
The states reporting rising numbers of new cases are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
More than 7.3 million people have been infected by the coronavirus nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins data. More than 209,000 people have died.
Worrying trends across US
In many states, local and state leaders are reporting worrying milestones.
Wisconsin reported 2,892 new cases on Saturday, a record number for the state. The previous record – 2,887 new cases – was set earlier this week.
Gov. Tony Evers urged residents to wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, telling them in a message on social media that the “surges we’re seeing across our state are not an indication that masks don’t work.”
“This underscores what we’ve said all along, which is that masks only work if everyone wears them,” the governor said.
Kentucky on Saturday reported its highest number of cases for a single day, 1,275, according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office. Additionally, the state reported the highest-ever weekly total of new coronavirus cases.
The numbers show that “we have to do better,” Beshear said in a video statement. “Everybody needs to be wearing a mask.”
Saturday’s update caps weeks of increases: Kentucky’s seven-day average of new cases – more than 800 on Friday – is well above the 500s and 600s of early to mid-September, Johns Hopkins data show.
“We’ve got to get back to enforcing these rules because 1,275 cases are going to result in a lot of death, too,” Beshear said. He said his office would provide details on Monday on how to “step up” mask enforcement.
California surpassed 16,000 deaths on Saturday when the state Department of Public Health reported 88 deaths.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week the state was facing a “cluster situation” with about 20 zip codes – many of them in New York City – reporting high positivity rates. That comes as thousands of students in New York City returned to schools.
The New York City Health Department is tracking four “concerning clusters” in southern Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Central Queens and Far Rockaway, it said in a statement Saturday. Twelve neighborhoods in the city are seeing positivity rates of above 3% and account for 30% of the city’s new cases over the last 2 weeks, despite the fact they only represent 9% of the city’s population, the statement said.
Other US communities pushed further into reopening. Florida cleared the way for bars and restaurants to fully reopen. Mississippi lifted its mask mandate. In California, several counties moved into less restrictive tiers of the state’s reopening plan, while in Nevada, officials loosened limits on public gatherings.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, the average number of people hospitalized for coronavirus in a week rose recently for the first time since July.
This past week saw an average of about 30,000 hospitalized – a rise of 2.4% from the previous week, and the first jump after eight weeks of decline, CTP reported.
While daily deaths in the US are still dropping, “the decline appears to have slowed,” CTP said in a Thursday blog post.
In Wisconsin, hospitalizations more than doubled last month, according to CTP.
In one part of Wisconsin, a health care professional warned the community is “nearing a crisis.”
“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,” said Dr. Paul Casey, medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new daily infections soared in recent weeks, from the high 600s and low 700s in late August to its all-time high of 2,439 on Friday.
One of Green Bay’s four hospitals has more patients than the entire city had at its peak in April, Dr. Casey told CNN on Thursday.
Report: These should be the vaccination phases
Experts advising the federal government say frontline health care workers and those who provide health care facility services should be the first to get vaccinated, followed by people at high risk of severe illness due to underlying health conditions.
Next should come older adults living in congregate settings, like nursing homes, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee said in a final report.
But local leaders should also give priority to vulnerable communities, the committee said. That addition comes after criticism over the group’s draft report that was issued last month, which did not mention minority communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
The committee recommends that within each phase of vaccinations, authorities prioritize people in high vulnerability areas, identified by a tool like the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. The index uses US Census variables to identify communities in particular need of disaster support which the committee says considers the factors that place racial minorities at higher risk of Covid-19.
The third phase proposes vaccination for young adults, children and those in industries where people may receive some protection but are still at risk of exposure, such as banks and universities.
A vaccination for children, the committee said, will depend on whether a vaccine has been tested in that population. Pediatric specialists recently called for Covid-19 vaccine trials to begin for children saying that population has been “stuck in neutral.”
The final phase covers anyone who has yet to receive vaccination.
CNN’s Gregory Lemos, Lauren Mascarenhas, Aditi Sangal and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.