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US COVID-19 crisis deepens as deaths top 250,000

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As COVID-19 deaths topped 250,000 today, the White House coronavirus task force signaled that the nation’s pandemic situation is worsening, with more overrun hospitals and deaths potentially approaching 2,000 a day in the lead-up to Christmas—unless strong mitigation measures are taken.

Meanwhile, the global COVID-19 total topped 56 million today, as Europe’s cases slowed but its deaths rose.

Stark predictions ahead of holidays

Administration officials told CBS News that task force doctors informed Vice President Mike Pence that the United States might average 1,500 deaths a day by next week and as many as 2,000 a day by Christmas, unless more steps are taken.

Concerned about surges in community spread that are already filling hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs), the doctors recommended temporarily closing bars and stopping indoor dining at restaurants and urged Pence or President Donald Trump to address the public on steps they can take.

Meanwhile, the latest coronavirus task force memo—shared with governors and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity—said 47 states are now in the “red zone,” meaning that their new cases are more than 100 per 100,000 residents per week. The only states not on the red zone list are Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont. The memo said current measures aren’t enough to flatten the curve and pushed for more antigen testing and for states to strengthen their warning to the public before Thanksgiving gatherings, which will likely amplify the spread of the virus.

Yesterday, the United States reported 161,934 new cases and 1,707 more deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard. There are 76,823 Americans currently hospitalized for COVID-19, up from 73,014 the day before, the COVID Tracking Project said.

Surges in multiple states are straining the nation’s testing system, leading to long lines and longer turnaround times for results, NPR reported. So far this month, the daily average of tests conducted each day is more than 1.4 million.

And although promising news about vaccine efficacy, such as today’s developments with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the possibility that two vaccines may be cleared for emergency use in the weeks ahead, state and local public health experts told Politico that they’re worried states might not be ready to start distributing them by December. Some of the hurdles include logistical challenges, critical funding shortages, and scant federal guidance on who should be prioritized to receive the first doses.

Emergency use for first self-test

In other quickly moving developments, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first COVID-19 device for self-testing at home. The Lucira All-In-One Test Kit is available by prescription for single use and provides rapid results at home.

Authorized for at-home use in those ages 14 and older, individuals collect a nasal swab sample, swirl it in a vial, then place it in the test unit. The unit’s light-up display shows a result in 30 minutes or less.

The authorization also allows the test to be used by health providers, who must collect the sample when testing those younger than 14.

Jeff Shuren, MD, JD, who directs the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in the statement that the test’s authorization is a significant step forward in the nation’s pandemic response. “Now, more Americans who may have COVID-19 will be able to take immediate action, based on their results, to protect themselves and those around them,” he said.

In other US headlines:

  • In a letter to President Trump yesterday, leaders of the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Nurses Association urged full cooperation and sharing of critical COVID-19 with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, and today Biden met with frontline healthcare workers in a virtual event, NBC News reported today.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that public schools will transition to all-remote learning tomorrow, now that the 7-day average test positivity has reached the 3% threshold. Elsewhere, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker yesterday announced new state restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including tighter capacity on retail stores and caps on funeral attendance, WBEZ reported.
  • Overall US totals rose to 11,468,739 cases and 250,029 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Europe’s cases slow, but deaths rise

In its weekly COVID-19 situation update yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe is still reporting the most new cases, but the number has declined 10% in the past week due to tightened public health and social distancing measures. It added, however, that Europe’s deaths rose sharply last week, with 29,000 new fatalities reported.

Cases in the Americas rose sharply last week, up 41%. And the Eastern Mediterranean, African, and Western Pacific regions also reported increased numbers, though not as steep.

In other global developments:

  • Though cases in France have slowed, the country became the first in Europe to top 2 million cases. Switzerland said its ICUs have reached capacity, and Turkey become the latest country in the European region to tighten its restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • South Australia state, which is battling a cluster in Adelaide that has grown to 36 cases, yesterday announced a 6-day “circuit breaker” lockdown, the BBC reported.
  • Japan’s COVID-19 cases today topped 2,000 for the first time, with infections increasing steadily over the past 6 days, according to the London-based Independent.
  • The global total today topped 56 million, less than 2 days after passing 55 million, rising to 56,075,527 with 1,345,851 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.





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