The number of Covid-19 cases reported across the country is rising so fast that US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warns it could be the worst week since the pandemic began.
"This week, we will probably have our highest number of cases that we've ever had on a daily basis in the United States," Adams said Friday at the Meridian Global Leadership Summit on Global Health Diplomacy.
More than 70,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the US for the first time in the past three months on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Thursday was the highest day for new infections since July 24 and the day with the fourth highest total ever, at 71,671. Thirty-two states reported rising Covid-19 infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
So far on Friday, there have been 50,852 new cases, Johns Hopkins says.
Adams cautioned that hospitalizations are starting to go up in 75% of the jurisdictions across the country and officials are concerned that in a few weeks, deaths will also start to increase.
The good news, Adams said, is that the mortality rate in the country has decreased by about 85% thanks to multiple factors, including the use of remdesivir, steroids and better management of Covid-19 patients.
More than 41,000 people were hospitalized across the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project. This is the highest level of nationwide hospitalizations since Aug 20.
The number of people hospitalized has increased by 33% since the beginning of October, the CTP says.
Deaths are also creeping upward, with 856 on Thursday, Johns Hopkins says. The 7-day average of deaths continues to climb and is up to 763. That is the highest level of average weekly deaths in a month.
In White House coronavirus task force reports obtained by CNN this week, officials say there are "early signs of deterioration in the Sun Belt and continued deterioration in the Midwest and across the Northern States." And more state leaders have sounded the alarm on increasing infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Study: Masks could save 100,000 by end of February
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says the "fall/winter surge has begun" -- just a couple weeks behind Europe -- and will intensify in November and December before reaching a peak in January.
"Many states will face enormous pressure on hospital capacity and will likely have to re-impose some social distancing mandates," IHME said. "The best strategy to delay re-imposition of mandates and the associated economic hardship is to expand mask use."
The IHME said in another study Friday that if 95% of Americans wore masks in public, more than 100,000 lives could be saved through February.
The study notes that about 49% of US residents report that they "always" wear a mask in public.
At that rate and with states continuing to remove social distancing mandates, the US death toll could reach about 1 million by February 28, according to the study.
Just one state is headed in the right direction
Oregon is the only state whose Covid-19 statistics are trending in the right direction, according to Johns Hopkins data, which also show:
- At least eight states reported record-high hospitalizations Thursday: Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio ,Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
- At least 12 states saw their highest seven-day averages of new daily cases: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
- And at least six states -- Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah -- reported their highest daily case counts.
Health officials issued a stay-at-home order for all University of Michigan undergraduate students this week amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
"There's a little bit of Covid-19 fatigue going on," said university president Mark Schlissel.
"It's the undergraduate population. And the epidemiology of these cases shows us that they're not happening due to spread in our classrooms or in our campus facilities. They're happening under social circumstances, where small numbers of people let their guard down," he said on CNN's "New Day."
In Nashville, Tennessee, hospitals are reporting a 40% increase in patients. Hospital officials say a major surge of new Covid-19 cases could threaten their ability to serve patients with many diagnoses requiring hospitalization.
And in New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said anyone not wearing a mask could get a $500 ticket.
Small gatherings, house parties helping drive the surge
In its state reports, the White House task force recommended "strong mitigation efforts," including "mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private."
That comes just days after the group expressed concerns about small household gatherings helping drive the surge of cases.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday family gatherings are the top source of transmission in his state.
Experts fear the holidays might raise infections. Doctors worry that college students returning home could bring the virus, with large family gatherings for Thanksgiving and other events adding to the spread. Infectious disease experts say virtual celebrations might be best this year.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday that household gatherings have become a "major vector" of coronavirus spread.
"This is being driven by individual behaviors at this point," he told CNN's Jim Sciutto. "We've got to keep focused on washing our hands, watching our distance and wearing our face coverings when we can't watch our distance, and in particular being careful in household gatherings."
Remdesivir gets FDA approval
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration approved remdesivir for the treatment of Covid-19 infection, the drug's maker, Gilead Sciences, announced Thursday.
The drug, sold under the brand name Veklury, has been used under emergency use authorization since May. It's the first drug to be approved for treating Covid-19.
"Veklury should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care," the company said in a statement.
But earlier this month, World Health Organization officials said that a study had shown the antiviral drug has "little or no effect on mortality" for patients hospitalized with the virus and doesn't seem to help patients recover faster either. The WHO said the study provided "conclusive evidence" and the findings were disappointing.