By Madeline Holcombe and Jay Croft | CNN
With Covid-19 cases still soaring in the US South and Southwest and dozens of states pulling back on reopening plans, public health experts say the end of the pandemic remains out of sight.
While New York and New Jersey were the early virus hotspots, California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have become the states to watch, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.
Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that “the inevitable happened” after the US tried to reopen and he saw “pictures and photos and films of people at bars with no masks, congregating in crowds.”
The country’s “baseline” was around 20,000 new cases a day when reopening started.
“The problem is, since we started off our baseline so high, as we tried to open up, you saw that there was a wide variation in how that was done,” he said. Cases started to rise, “and now we’re hanging around 60,000. That’s untenable. We’ve got to turn that around, and that’s really the issue we’ve got to address right now.”
The United States saw a record number of new cases Tuesday with 67,417, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Tuesday, more than 3.4 million people had been infected, and 38 states reported an increase in the number of new cases from the week before.
As new cases continue to emerge, at least 27 states have paused or rolled back plans to reopen their economies. Covid-19 is a “pandemic of historic proportions,” Fauci said.
“We can’t deny that fact,” he said.
Fauci compared the current crisis to the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people globally and about 675,000 in the US. “That was the mother of all pandemics and truly historic. I hope we don’t even approach that with this, but it does have the makings of, the possibility of … approaching that in seriousness.”
Fauci told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he was not suggesting that tens of millions of people will die of coronavirus. He said this pandemic is “historic” in the sense that it is also a highly contagious and lethal novel virus, for which there is currently no vaccine.
What is different this time is that we have more tools at our disposal to combat the pathogen, as well as instant communications to warn and inform the public, Fauci said.
On Wednesday, several states took steps to promote the wearing of masks.
Alabama and Montana said they are required in public. The mandate from Gov. Kay Ivey is part of an amended safer-at-home order her office announced. In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock said face coverings are mandatory in certain indoor business settings for counties with four or more active Covid-19 cases and in outdoor group settings where more than 50 people gather and social distancing is not possible.
And as the number of cases soars in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday on Twitter that his state is “working around the clock to enhance hospital bed surge capacity” and urged residents to “wear a mask” and “practice social distancing.”
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is the latest national chain to require all customers to wear masks. The change is set to begin next week. Walmart joins Starbucks, Best Buy and Costco in requiring shoppers to wear masks.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone “should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public.” The CDC said “face coverings are meant to protect other people.”
Hopes for a successful vaccine
A major factor in determining how long the US will have to live with a coronavirus pandemic, experts say, is how quickly researchers can produce a vaccine.
Without one, CDC Director Robert Redfield said, “we’re going to have to go through two or three years of wrestling with this virus.”
But Redfield also said he has “never seen the government move faster” and is hoping that the nation will have a successful vaccine by January.
Creation of the vaccine is not the end of the virus, however. It must then be distributed to enough people, along with survivors of the virus, to establish herd immunity.
Companies developing vaccines have said they will be able to make up to a billion doses, Fauci said Tuesday. He is hopeful those vaccines can be developed and distributed within the next year to 18 months, he said.
Educator says coworkers worry about students and teachers dying
An elementary school teacher in California’s Orange County told CNN that her colleagues are extremely concerned after the county Board of Education voted this week to return children to schools without face masks or social distancing.
Denise Bradford, a teacher in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar, “We’re creatures of habit. We like our routines. We miss our kids terribly. We lay awake at night wondering if they’re OK. How horrible is it that one of the things on the list to do is to have a plan for students and teachers dying?”
Bradford said teachers in her district are concerned about the possibility of becoming infected with the virus that has claimed more than 7,000 lives in California and says they cannot return to school until it is safe.
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, who was part of the 11-person county Board of Education panel that voted for the school guidelines, told CNN he thinks face masks should be “optional” for children at schools and that it’s a decision “each individual school district needs to make.”
Despite the vote, many of the county’s 28 school districts won’t adhere to the board’s guidance. CNN has reached out or reviewed information from the districts. Of the districts that responded or posted plans online — more than half — none said it would return children to school without masks or social distancing.
California on Wednesday reported its second highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases and deaths with 11,126 new cases and 140 additional fatalities, according to data from state’s health department.
Laredo needs to use hotel as surge hospital
Hospitals in the South Texas city of Laredo are full, the city’s health authority, Dr. Victor Trevino, told the city council Tuesday.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency team will arrive in the city this week to convert a local hotel to a surge hospital site to treat Covid-19 patients, Interim Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Ramiro Elizondo said at the council meeting.
The site will provide 106 beds and will help expand the hospital capacity for non-ICU patients, he said.
Trevino said there is a still an issue in the area with ICU capacity that needs to be addressed.
“Even if we have temporary hospitals, we still have to press the issue of ICUs,” Trevino told the council. “To set up a temporary ICU would be a feat in itself, but we have to be pushing for that, because we could run out of Covid ICUs.”
Laredo officials reported another 162 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 3,373 — 2,383 of which are active cases. A total of 168 people are hospitalized and 71 of those are in the ICU, officials said.
The state reported on Wednesday a record high daily number of new cases with more 10,791.
Death toll predictions rise from surge
Before the development of any vaccine, thousands more Americans will die from the virus, an influential model says.
The model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now projecting that 224,000 people will die from the virus by November 1, which is an increase of almost 16,000 from the week before.
That jump is due to skyrocketing cases around the country, particularly in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, chair of the IHME Dr. Chris Murray told CNN’s Don Lemon.
On Wednesday, Florida reported 301,810 positive cases across the state, an increase of 10,181 cases from the previous day, according to new numbers released by the Florida Department of Health. A total of 19,334 people are currently hospitalized across the state.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday he has tested positive for Covid-19, and the state reported a record high number of new cases.
Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa last month and was spotted in the crowd without a mask, but based on contact tracing, the Oklahoma State Department of Health says the governor did not contract coronavirus at the rally.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Wednesday that there are 22,813 total cases in the state, up 1,075 from Tuesday. The previous daily record of 993 new cases was set on Tuesday. There are currently 561 people hospitalized due to the virus.
More states set coronavirus records Tuesday.
Mississippi has its highest numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations by far since the first case was reported, Gov. Tate Reeves said. California also set records with 6,745 hospitalizations and 1,886 ICU admissions, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.
The virus is so widespread that laboratories are getting more coronavirus samples than they can process, the American Clinical Laboratory Association said Tuesday