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The US is approaching 8M COVID-19 cases, and the pace of new infections signals a tough winter

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Posted at 11:27 AM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-16 13:28:04-04

Daily coronavirus infection rates are climbing in the US as the nation nears 8 million official COVID-19 cases -- a sign the country is in for a tough winter, experts say.

The country's one-week average of new daily cases has moved above 53,000 -- an increase of more than 55% in just over a month, Johns Hopkins University data show.

Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, called the rising average "an ominous sign."

"This is the time when we could be entering one of the worst periods of our epidemic and one of our worst periods in modern American public health," he said Thursday. "I'm very worried for the nation."

Public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned in recent months the country should try to lower its daily cases ahead of the fall and winter months, to prepare for new challenges. Those include the flu season, which could create what doctors call a "twin-demic" with COVID-19; as well as temptations to hold more gatherings indoors as temperatures drop, including during the holidays.

But the national case trend isn't the only thing concerning experts:

  • Seven states saw a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday -- Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
  • Fourteen states set records for their seven-day average of new daily cases Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins.
  • The country's average test-positivity rate over a week has moved above 5%, the COVID Tracking Project says. The CDC's director previously suggested that communities' rates should be below 5% to comfortably have schools open.

And test positivity is much worse in certain states -- sitting above 20% Friday in Idaho, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Experts including Fauci have said rising positivity rates predict surges in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

An updated forecast from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects the US could reach more than 389,000 total COVID-19 deaths by February 1. More than 217,000 people have already lost their lives to the virus in the US.

'The virus is now winning'

More than 30 states accumulated more new COVID-19 cases this past week compared to the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

The 14 states that reached their highest-ever seven day average of new daily cases were: Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

New Mexico's governor called her state's coronavirus situation "the most serious emergency that New Mexico has ever faced" Thursday.

The state's test-positivity rate was 8.1%, she said. It's average of new daily cases over a week -- 457 as of Thursday -- is more than 400% higher than it was at one point in early September.

That comes just days after she issued new restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus -- including a limit on mass gatherings and a 10 p.m. closing time for establishments serving alcohol.

"The virus is now winning," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. "We're in uncharted waters."

In parts of the state, ICU beds are "full," according to New Mexico Health and Human Services Secretary David Scrase.

"This is a serious time for the state of New Mexico," Scrase said, adding the state's curve for seven-day average daily cases was "dwarfing previous curves."

Masks could save 70,000 lives

It doesn't have to be this way. Experts have repeatedly said that doubling down on simple safety measures including masks, social distancing and hand washing can help slow transmission of the virus.

Universal mask wearing could save the lives of more than 70,000 Americans in the next three and a half months, according to IHME projections.

And as cooler weather approaches, experts say, there are ways you can see some friends and family while still staying safe.

Global study finds remdesivir doesn't help

World Health Organization officials announced Thursday the antiviral drug remdesivir has "little or no effect on mortality" for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The agency says this is "conclusive evidence" about the drug -- and the findings are disappointing.

Until now, remdesivir was the only drug that appeared to have specific effects for COVID-19 and the only drug with an emergency use authorization specifically for the virus from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Prior to the WHO's study, a large controlled study of remdesivir in the US found that it shortens recovery time by about a third in severely ill, hospitalized adults with COVID-19, but does little to help those with milder cases.

Gilead Sciences, the drug's maker, said the findings did not mean the drug is of no benefit.

"The emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals validating the clinical benefit of Veklury (remdesivir)," Gilead said in a statement. "We are concerned that the data from this open- label global trial have not undergone the rigorous review required to allow for constructive scientific discussion."

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