Coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Sunday that federal health officials are recommending the closing of bars, cutting indoor restaurant capacity and limiting social gatherings to 10 people in states where COVID-19 cases are climbing.
Birx added that “100%” of individuals should wear masks in public or around others, the Washington Post reported, as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases climbed past 4.2 million.
“We can see what is happening in the South moving North,” said Birx, referring to soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in states including Florida, Texas, Alabama and Georgia.
“We do believe there are states that do need to close their bars,” she said. Birx has visited states in the South and Southwest, and is now focused on Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia, the Post reported.
As of Sunday, the seven-day averages for new cases hit fresh highs in several states, including Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming, the Post reported. At the same time, Nevada, Texas and South Carolina set records for their seven-day averages of daily deaths, while Mississippi and North Carolina tied their previous highs, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, Florida passed New York on Sunday with the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. Only California has more reported infections.
In Florida, cases have soared in July, the New York Times reported. Over the past week, there have been an average of about 10,500 cases per day, an increase of about 19 percent from the average two weeks earlier, the newspaper said. There have been at least 5,853 deaths in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic.
There was some good news on the vaccine front Monday: the first of 30,000 planned volunteers in the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine trial will begin to get shots created by the U.S. government. The vaccine is one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race, the Times reported.
The volunteers won’t know whether they actually got experimental vaccine, developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., or a placebo injection, the Times reported. After two doses, scientists will track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.
Testing delays bedevil efforts to curb spread
Across the country, laboratories are being crushed by the surge of coronavirus tests, the Associated Press reported.
The bottlenecks are creating problems for workers kept off the job while awaiting results, nursing homes struggling to keep the virus out, and for the labs themselves, the wire service said. Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, fueling fears that people without symptoms could be spreading the virus if they don’t isolate while they wait.
“There’s been this obsession with, ‘How many tests are we doing per day?'” former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the AP. “The question is how many tests are being done with results coming back within a day, where the individual tested is promptly isolated and their contacts are promptly warned.”
Frieden and other public health experts have called on states to publicly report testing turnaround times, calling it an essential metric to measure progress against the virus.
In an effort to find a faster and cheaper way of testing Americans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency approval to pooled testing, which combines test samples in batches, the AP reported.
With pooling, laboratories would combine parts of samples from several people and test them together. A negative result would clear everyone in the batch. A positive result would require each sample to be retested.
The technique works best when fewer than 10% of people are expected to test positive, the AP reported. For example, pooling would not be cost-effective in Arizona, where a surge has pushed positive test results to well over 10%.
More states, retailers turning to mask mandates
As cases and deaths have continued to climb, more states, cities and major retailers have turned to face mask mandates to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Roughly two-thirds of states now require face coverings to be worn in public, with Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota the latest to introduce statewide mask mandates, the Post reported.
Increasingly seen as a last hope to slow soaring infection rates across the country, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas announced a face covering requirement last week after taking a more hands-off approach for months, the Times reported. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also issued a mask order last week, after questioning whether such a mandate would be enforceable.
And Alabama, Montana and the city of Tulsa moved to make face coverings required in public settings, the Post reported. Several large retailers also joined the trend: Walmart, Kroger and Kohl’s, Target and CVS now require all customers in their stores to wear masks.
The new mask mandates suggest that officials and business leaders across America are painfully aware that cases have spiked in 41 states over the past two weeks and things will only worsen if nothing is done, the Times reported.
By Monday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 4.2 million as the death toll passed 146,700, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Friday were: California with over 459,000; Florida with nearly 424,000; New York with over 416,400, Texas with nearly 396,000 and New Jersey with over 181,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
In Hong Kong, officials said Monday they will ban public gatherings of more than two people, suspend all inside dining and mandate masks in public places including the outdoors, the strictest measures issued against COVID-19 since the virus began spreading widely in January, the Post reported.
Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung, said the measures will take effect Wednesday and continue for seven days before they are reviewed again.
Hong Kong has been recording more than 100 new cases for several days straight, even after barring all inside dining after 6 p.m. and reducing public gatherings to just four people, the Post reported. New cases have been discovered at food markets, a slaughterhouse and public housing estates. A significant number of the cases cannot be traced to existing clusters.
On Saturday, Vietnam said it will evacuate 80,000 people from the central city of Danang after four residents tested positive this weekend. The country had gone 100 days without a single case of local transmission, the Times reported.
The evacuation is expected to take at least four days. The evacuees are mostly local tourists; Vietnam remains closed to incoming foreign tourists, the Times reported.
Things continue to worsen in India. On Monday, the country passed 1.4 million infections and nearly 33,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. The surge comes weeks after a national lockdown was lifted, and it’s prompted some parts of the country to revert back to stricter social distancing measures. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.
Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.4 million confirmed infections by Monday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Monday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 811,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 16.2 million on Monday, with nearly 649,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.