WACO, Texas — Despite hopes for relief this summer, the US still is battling the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, so much so that across the South and Southwest contact tracing — a key component to combating the virus — is no longer possible, a health expert says.
“The cases are rising so rapidly, that we cannot even do contact tracing anymore. I don’t see how it’s possible to even do that,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN.
His comment comes as the United States nears 3 million officially reported cases. The country averaged just under 50,000 new cases daily over the last week — the highest rate recorded, and twice as high as a month ago.
The rapid rise in cases is considered a surge, not a second wave, because the infection numbers never lowered to where officials hoped they would, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Fauci said.
More than 130,300 people in the US have died from coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Though Florida set a record for most new cases in a single day over the weekend, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education Richard Corcoran announced Monday in an emergency order that its schools will open their doors in August.
But Florida is among at least 24 that are pausing or rolling back their reopening plans for the summer in light of surging cases.
“It’s hard to do economic re-openings successfully if we don’t get cases in check,” Dr. Mark McClellan, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who is advising Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about coronavirus, told CNN on Tuesday.
Abbott last week ordered most of Texas’ population to wear masks in public to help curb transmission.
“We really do need the vast majority of people to do this: to not just avoid crowded bars, but … (also) to wear the mask,” McClellan said.
Michigan governor calls for ‘mask-up campaign’
At least 31 states have showed an upward trend in average new daily cases — an increase of at least 10% — over the last seven days, as of Tuesday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington state, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Only four states have seen average daily cases decline more than 10% over those seven days: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
One of the main drivers of cases now could be “silent spreaders,” or people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, according to a new study.
The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that asymptomatic or presymptomatic hosts could be responsible for half of cases.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday called for a “national mask-up campaign,” saying it is necessary for everyone to wear masks to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think that if everyone endorsed this, it’s a simple, cost-effective thing that we could do to really mitigate spread,” Whitmer told CNN’s “New Day.”
After weeks of health officials encouraging the public to wear face masks, at least 35 states along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico have implemented face covering requirements to help mitigate the virus’ spread.
Rising cases threaten hospital capacity
With increased spread comes concerns about exceeding hospitals’ capacity. At least seven states reported record numbers of Covid-19 hospitalizations on Monday: California, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center is seeing a rising number of patients that need a ventilator, chief medical officer Dr. Joseph Varon said Tuesday.
Medical staff there are “putting in anywhere between 16 to 20 hours a day,” Varon told CNN.
In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, a hospital in the city of Weslaco set up tent outside to help deal with an influx of Covid-19 patients, CNN affiliate KVEO reported.
The 25-foot tent is meant to help South Texas Health System emergency room doctors treat and additional 20 coronavirus patients, adding to the 14 that the facility could otherwise handle.
“We are trying to reserve out in-house ER for the sicker patients,” hospital director Pablo Laredo told KVEO on Monday.
Along with 1,214 new cases, Texas’ Dallas County reported a 16% increase in new hospitalizations Monday.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released a letter urging the governor to implement more statewide restrictions as the state reached its highest number in both categories.
“Think of hospitalizations as the sickest of the sick, the part of the iceberg above the water. In order for the numbers to increase dramatically with hospitalizations, the amount of the iceberg underneath the water must grow exponentially,” Jenkins said.
In Florida, 43 hospitals across 21 counties — including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Orange Counties — have hit capacity and show zero ICU beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).
In response to President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless,” Dr. Boris Lushniak told Wolf Blitzer Monday on the Situation Room that the hospitalizations tell a different story.
“Yes, some people asymptomatic. Yes, some people have mild cases of disease. But in essence, we also are having a lot of people who are being hospitalized,” said Lushniak, who is dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and a former deputy surgeon general.
“These are not harmless cases; this is not a harmless pandemic. And we need to be strong enough to begin correcting the president,” he said.
US commits $1.6 billion to Covid-19 vaccine maker Novavax
The US government has announced it’s giving the largest government Covid-19 vaccine contract to date, as a race to find and deliver an effective vaccine continues.
Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s Covid-19 vaccine program, on Tuesday announced a $1.6 billion contract with Novavax, a Maryland biotech company.
Novavax is the fourth company to receive federal funds to conduct large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials and manufacture its Covid-19 vaccine. Each trial is expected to include 30,000 people.
Novavax’s $1.6 billion will allow the company to test the vaccine and scale up production in advance of its possible approval, with the aim of delivering 100 million doses by February, Stanley Erck, Novavax’s president and CEO, told CNN.