CDC notes 'distressing trend' of rising COVID cases

In their first press briefing in more than 2 months, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials warned that the country is approaching a "critical phase" in the COVID-19 pandemic, while also expressing optimism that one or more vaccines will be available for distribution before the end of the year.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing a distressing trend here with COVID-19 in the United States, with COVID-19 cases increasing in nearly 75% of the country," CDC Deputy Director Jay Butler, MD, told reporters in Atlanta. "The past week, we've seen nearly 60,000 cases a day on average, as well as 700 deaths."

Butler attributed the nationwide increase in cases to more people moving indoors as the weather gets colder, as well as smaller, intimate gatherings of families and neighbors that are taking place indoors. Butler emphasized four general rules that translate into higher risk of COVID-19 spread—the more closely people interact with others, the longer the interaction lasts, interactions taking place indoors, and interactions involving a lot of people.

"Understanding these risks, and how to adapt different prevention measures, can help you protect yourselves and your families and your communities," he said.

Butler said the agency is "cautiously optimistic" that vaccines will be available, in limited quantities, before the end of 2020, and said that all states have submitted their initial plans to the CDC on how to safely distribute and administer vaccines once they're available.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that if and when the Food and Drug Administration approves a vaccine, the government will have supplies manufactured and ready for distribution. He laid out a potential timeline in which there could be enough of an approved vaccine to immunize the most vulnerable by the end of the year, and seniors, healthcare workers, and first responders by the end of January.

"There is hope on the way, in the form of safe and effective vaccines, in a matter of weeks or months," Azar said.

Increases seen across the country

The United States reported 60,315 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, with 933 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. The country now has at least 8,312,109 confirmed infections, and 221,694 deaths.

As Butler noted, unlike the previous surges in the spring and the summer, which were driven by hot spots in the Northeast and the South, the "third wave" of infections are occurring in nearly every region of the country. The COVID Exit Strategy website lists 32 states as having uncontrolled spread, and 11 as trending poorly.

The Midwest continues to be one of the hardest-hit areas. In Wisconsin, which yesterday reported 4,591 new COVID-19 cases after working through a backlog of data caused by a weekend outage, Gov. Tony Evers pleaded with residents to start changing their behavior.

"If we continue to make excuses for not doing this, we will have more deaths, we will have more people with COVID-19, and, frankly, we will have a lot less economic activity in the state of Wisconsin," Evers said at a press conference, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "This is a critical time, folks."

In neighboring Michigan, officials in Washtenaw County yesterday issued a stay-at-home order to the entire Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan. The order was issued after county health officials traced 61% of 600 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the county since Oct 12 back to the campus.

"The situation locally has become critical, and this order is necessary to reverse the current increase in cases," county health officer Jimena Loveluck, MSW, said in a press release.

Under the order, which will remain in effect until Nov 3, students must remain in their residences unless attending class, working in jobs that can't be performed remotely, or accessing dining services.

But states in the Northeast are on edge as well as cases rise following a summer of low virus activity. In response, the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut yesterday issued a joint statement urging residents to avoid unnecessary or non-essential travel between the states, Reuters reported. But the governors said they would not attempt to impose quarantines on visitors from other states.

European surge continues

Meanwhile, countries across Europe continue to report record new daily infections. Among them is Poland, which saw 10,040 new cases today, according to Reuters. One of the new restrictions the Polish government is considering to help mitigate virus transmission and reduce the strain on the healthcare system is moving all primary school students to distance learning.

In Belgium yesterday, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told lawmakers that the country will need to postpone all non-essential hospital procedures to deal with the country's surge in new COVID-19 cases. The number of COVID-19 patients in the country's intensive care units is doubling every 8 to 9 days, Reuters reported.         

Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Croatia also reported new record highs today.

In other international developments:

  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) announced today that it has signed agreements with two pharmaceutical companies—Biofabri in Spain and GC Pharma in South Korea—to reserve manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine designated by CEPI. The vaccines manufactured under the agreement will be procured and distributed through the COVAX Facility, a global initiative to enable equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

  • A new report from the United Nations notes that women make up 69% of frontline healthcare workers battling the pandemic, and as a result face a higher risk of infection than men in the workplace. The report found that although women are less likely to die from COVID-19 than men, they face additional challenges related to the disease, including increased risk of domestic abuse and violence due to isolation measures imposed by governments.

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