“We will easily reach six-figure numbers in terms of the number of cases,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Friday evening. “And deaths are going to increase precipitously over the next three to four weeks, usually following new cases by around two to three weeks. ”
It comes as the country’s seven-day average of daily new cases surpassed 63,000 on Friday – an 84% increase since the average began to rebound in mid-September, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials say the steep slopes follow the reopening of schools and colleges across the United States and have been driven largely by small gatherings – often family events – which are increasingly moving to the indoors, where the virus is likely to spread.
Unlike many European countries which are also experiencing peaks, the United States has never lowered its daily baseline very far, meaning the composition of cases could be worse, experts say.
And that’s before several popular holidays, when health officials fear more Americans will let their guard down and choose to visit family and friends and cause further surges.
In North Dakota, with the nation’s highest per capita new case rate, Gov. Doug Burgum called for a “Thanksgiving challenge,” urging residents to follow mitigation tips like masks and distancing social to reduce the number by the holidays.
“It would be really great to share with all of you over Thanksgiving that our numbers are dropping as we enter the holiday season,” he said on Friday. “That we have more and more hospital capacity. That our schools have remained open, that our businesses are open during this holiday season. ”
34 states report an increase in cases
The president has said in recent days that the country is turning the corner when it comes to the pandemic. But alarming trends across the country tell a different story.
At least 34 states reported more new cases of Covid-19 last week than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins. In Georgia, health officials reported their highest single-day case count on Friday since early September. Ohio health officials reported a record high of new daily cases for the third day in a row, and in Oklahoma, officials reported more than 1,000 new infections for the fourth day in a row.
Illinois Director of Public Health Dr Ngozi Ezike made an emotional appeal to residents about the importance of face masks.
“As we see the numbers increase in hospitals, people are bringing in more beds, trying to prepare for the Covid units again. And those staff who have gone through all this pain trying to save as many people as possible are seeing history repeat itself. himself, ”she said. “We don’t have a vaccine yet, but we have a mask, and we’re asking people to use it, and I don’t know what else we can say. ”
In Tennessee, hospital officials said new cases in the Nashville subway increased 50% in the past two weeks, and area hospitals saw a 40% increase in patient numbers. during the same period.
And Colorado officials have issued a new ordinance limiting gatherings to 10 people from no more than two households in response to climbing infections and hospitalizations.
“We need to reduce the size of gatherings with people from fewer households – we are asking everyone to ‘shrink their bubble’ to reduce the spread,” said the executive director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, in a press release Friday.
‘This is not an exercise’
Despite the troubling trends, health officials maintain that basic public health measures can help make a difference: masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and frequent hand washing.
“They seem very simple, but we don’t do it consistently and that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing these breakouts,” Dr Anthony Fauci said on Friday. “We can control them without shutting down the country. “
New modeling study from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s forecasting team shows that if 95% of Americans wore masks in public, more than 100,000 lives could be saved until February .
But despite forecasts and warnings from experts, face coverings remain a point of contention in the United States. It may be time for the country to impose the use of masks, Fauci said.
“I think it would be a great idea for everyone to do it consistently,” he said. “If people don’t wear a mask, then maybe we should make it mandatory,” he said.
A senior World Health Organization official on Friday also urged country leaders to “take immediate action to prevent further unnecessary deaths, the collapse of essential health services and the closure of schools again.”
“As I said in February and I repeat it today, this is not an exercise,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference.
Expert: vaccine may not come this year
While many experts and officials have worked to give optimistic estimates on when a Covid-19 will be available, that timeline remains uncertain.
National Institutes of Health Director Dr Francis Collins said on Friday that while he is “cautiously optimistic” that the United States will have a licensed vaccine by the end of the year, he has stated that this “might not happen and it might take longer.”
But Collins added that it was good news that the United States had more than one vaccine candidate in development.
“If you bet everything on one vaccine, I’d be a lot more worried,” he said.
His remarks came the same day drugmakers AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson announced they were set to resume their suspended Covid-19 vaccine trials in the United States, both of which saw health concerns among participants.
And when a vaccine is approved, experts have said it’s crucial that enough Americans get it. If only half of the country is ready to be vaccinated, Collins warned, Covid-19 could stick around for years.
“When I look at the attitudes that currently exist about this vaccine and who would be interested in taking it, it’s really, really disturbing,” Collins said at a National Press Club virtual event. “I have spoken so optimistically about how we will probably have a vaccine by the end of the year, but if only 50% of Americans are interested in taking it, we will never get to that point. ‘immunity. the population where Covid-19 is disappearing.
CNN’s Alta Spells, Shelby Lin Erdman, Gisela Crespo, Naomi Thomas and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.