Covid-19 infections were trending upward again Monday in the United States as thousands of students returned to New York City classrooms and public health experts warned that a “twindemic” could be on the horizon as we head into flu season.
Two days after the U.S. recorded its 200,000th Covid-19 fatality, the number of confirmed cases in the country was closing in on 7 million and accelerating, according to the latest NBC News figures.
The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. dipped below 40,000-per-day for the first time since June on Sept. 11, the day America marked the 19th anniversary of the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
By Friday it was back over 40,000 again, according to an NBC News tally.
That’s still far less than the record 70,000-plus infections that were being logged in June. But the upcoming flu season could derail progress made in bringing down the coronavirus infection rate, experts warned.
“As the United States and the rest of the globe tries to gain its footing with a pandemic that has already killed nearly a million people and sickened almost 30 million, it faces another virus this fall that could devastate our progress thus far: the season flu,” Johns Hopkins University warned in a press release in advance of a conference of public health experts Tuesday that will address the issue. “That is, unless we take action now to minimize cases with effective, widespread vaccination.”
Before the pandemic, only about half the U.S. population heeded the advice of most doctors and got a flu vaccine during the 2018-19 season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While President Donald Trump appears determined to unveil a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day —even if experts and FDA officials might object — “the cold reality is that we should plan for a winter in which vaccination is not part of our lives,” The Atlantic reported.
“We must, over the next few weeks, get that baseline of infections down to 10,000 per day, or even much less if we want to maintain control of this outbreak,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said in an email to the magazine.
Texas, which started reopening in the spring at Trump’s urging as the coronavirus crisis was starting to spread across the South and Sun Belt, continued to lead the nation in new cases with 53,949 reported just in the last two weeks.
California was next with 49,687, followed by Florida with 37,323, figures for the last two weeks showed.
The CDC is forecasting “an uncertain trend in new Covid-19 deaths reported over the next four weeks” and predicting 3,000 to 7,100 more deaths during the week ending Oct. 10.
Trump, as he has done repeatedly since the start of the deadly pandemic, dismissed the ominous new trend line Monday as “fake news” and praised his administration’s much-criticized response to a crisis that has tanked the nation’s economy and endangered his re-election chances.
“We’re rounding the corner on the pandemic,” Trump said on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” show, making a false claim that went unchallenged by his hosts. “And we’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job, a phenomenal job.”
But right now, the U.S. accounts for over a fifth of the nearly 1 million deaths reported worldwide and over a fifth of the 31 million-plus confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 dashboard.
And Trump continues to be dogged by accusations that he lied to the American public about the dangers of the pandemic, after he was caught on tape in February privately telling journalist Bob Woodward that Covid-19 was “deadly stuff.”
Fears that the pandemic could get worse as the weather gets colder and prompt new lock downs especially in Europe, which has seen a recent spike in new Covid-19 cases, sent stock prices tumbling Monday.
In other coronavirus news:
- Thousands of pre-school students and students with disabilities returned to classrooms Monday in New York City, which has the nation’s largest public school system. It was the first wave of public school students to physically return to classrooms, a process that Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly delayed after the teachers union threatened to strike if stricter safety measures weren’t put into place and more staffers weren’t added. Kids from kindergarten through eighth grade are supposed to return on Sept. 29 while the middle schools and high schools are scheduled to re-open for in-person learning on Oct. 1. New York was the nation’s Covid-19 hot spot in March and April when public health experts were still trying to figure out how to stop the spread. It continues to lead the nation with 33,934 deaths. But on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported the state had an infection rate of under 1 percent and just 573 new cases — and no deaths — were reported overnight. Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the former head of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, warned in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that sending older kids back into the classroom poses health risks because they are more likely to mix with friends and less likely to wear face masks.
- For the second time in less than a week, the CDC had to walk back information that was posted “erroneously” on its website. This time the embattled agency scrubbed a line added Friday which said that the virus can be transmitted through tiny, aerosolized droplets that are “produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.” That was replaced with the previous language, which states that the virus is thought to spread “between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).” Earlier, the CDC did a rewrite after it was revealed that the agency had tweaked its guidance last month to say that people who have come in contact with Covid-19 but have no symptoms need not be tested. Now it says “If you have been in close contact, such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and do not have symptoms, you need a test.” Testing people who have been exposed to the virus, even if they don’t feel sick, is critical to stopping further transmission, public health experts say.
- By day, William B. Crews is a public affairs specialist for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is led by Fauci. But Crews is also “streiff,” a contributor to a right wing website who has trashed Fauci as a “mask nazi” and has spread misinformation about the coronavirus that that the agency that pays his salary has been combating for months, The Daily Beast reported. Now a fervent Trump supporter, “streiff” has derided his boss as the “attention-grubbing and media-whoring Anthony Fauci.” Fauci has frequently drawn fire from Trump for not supporting the president’s more optimistic predictions about the progress of the pandemic and survived a White House attempt to discredit him.
- Public health officials in Missouri were bracing for a possible spike in new Covid-19 cases after thousands of bikers roared into the Lake of the Ozarks region for a rally that began last Wednesday and ended on Sunday. There was next to no social-distancing or mask wearing at the 14th annual Bikefest Lake of the Ozarks. “If I was worried about getting sick I would have stayed home,” one attendee told MSNBC. But there is reason to worry. Last month, after South Dakota hosted a big biker bash in the town of Sturgis, the state reported thousands of new cases and hundreds more were reported in the surrounding states. So far one death in Minnesota has been linked directly to the rally. Adjusted for population, North Dakota and South Dakota led the nation in new infections in the last two weeks, with 568 and 405 respectively. Economists have warned that the Sturgis rally may have caused as many as 250,000 Covid-19 infections. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican and Trump ally, dismissed that, saying the economists “made up” the number.