US at 'critical point' as COVID-19 cases up nationwide

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is setting new records as infections continue to spike in the Midwest and other parts of the country.

The United States reported 73,240 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 985 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. A USA Today analysis of that data shows that over the past 7 days the nation has added more than 500,000 new cases, the most new cases seen in a week since the pandemic began in March.

A member of the White House coronavirus task force said today that the nationwide increase in cases isn't just a reflection of increased testing.

"We are at another critical point in the pandemic response," Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, told NBC's Today Show. "Yes, we're getting more cases identified, but the cases are actually going up. And we know that, too, because hospitalizations are going up."

Overall, there have been 8,836,861 confirmed US COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and 227,409 people have died, according to John Hopkins.

Cases, hospitalizations surge in Midwest

Among the hardest-hit states in this latest wave of infections has been Wisconsin, which yesterday reported 5,262 new COVID-19 cases and 64 deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Those are by far the most new cases and COVID-19 deaths the state has seen since the pandemic began.

There are 1,365 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, including 339 in intensive care units. Wisconsin hospitals are at 85% capacity, and state health officials worry the situation will get worse.

"It's a nightmare scenario, frankly, that this could get quite a bit worse in the next several weeks or months before it gets better," Ryan Westergaard, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of DHS, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

At a press conference, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers asked residents to limit social gatherings to a circle of five people, the paper reported.

North Dakota is also seeing uncontrolled spread. On Oct 26, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, told state officials that the use of masks in retail establishments in the state capital of Bismarck was the poorest she's seen during her nationwide tour of states, ABC News reported.

"Over the last 24 hours as we were here, and we were in your grocery stores, and in your restaurants and frankly even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been," Birx said during a roundtable with local leaders.

There is currently no statewide mask mandate in North Dakota, which, according to the most recent coronavirus task report, has the highest rate of cases in the country. Yesterday, however, the Bismarck City Commission voted 3-2 to implement a mask mandate that will start on Nov 1 and last until at least Dec 8, when the commission next meets, according to The Forum. The mandate has no penalties for non-compliance.

In Illinois, where the 7-day average of new infections per day has more than doubled since the beginning of the month, Gov. JB Pritzker announced yesterday that he is ordering all bars and restaurants in Chicago to halt indoor service starting Oct 30, WBEZ reported. Pritzker, who's announced similar restrictions in other counties around the state in recent days, said at a press conference that there have been twice as many COVID-related hospital admissions in Chicago compared with a month ago.

"We can't ignore what is happening around us—because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring," Pritzker said.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has seen 21 straight days of more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases, and the 643 Minnesotans currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is the new high-water mark for the state, State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters today during a conference call.

"We're in a strengthening winter storm," Malcolm said. "We need everybody to do their part, not just for their own good, but for the good of their community and the good of the state."

But while the Midwest is seeing some of the worst spikes in the nation, nearly all of the country is seeing coronavirus cases climb. According to the COVID Exit Strategy website, which measure how states are faring based on cases, testing, and hospitalization rates, 36 states are seeing uncontrolled spread of the virus, and 10 are trending poorly.

New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states in the first wave of COVID-19 infections in the spring, is among the states trending poorly. As NJ.com reports, the 1,010 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across New Jersey's 71 hospitals is the most seen in the state in 4 months. State officials yesterday reported 1,663 new cases, the 10th straight day of more than 1,000 positive tests.

Antibody drug agreement

In other US developments:

  • Drug maker Eli Lilly today announced an agreement with the US government worth $375 million to supply 300,000 vials of the investigational COVID-19 antibody drug bamlanivimab if it is granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration. Lily announced earlier this week that a trial of bamlanivimab in hospitalized COVID-19 patients had ended after investigators found no benefit from the drug, but previous trials have indicated bamlanivimab may reduce viral load, symptoms, and risk of hospitalization in patients with recently diagnosed mild-to-moderate COVID-19. The company submitted its EUA request in early October.

  • The Boston Athletic Association announced today that next year's Boston Marathon will be postponed until at least the end of 2021 because of the pandemic.

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