The United States is closing in on the somber milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 as more than half of states are reporting a rise in cases.
The climb comes after many states had seen case numbers decline following a summer resurgence of infections.
Among the states reporting more new cases in the last seven days are Wisconsin, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas, all of which also are reporting a coronavirus positivity rate above 15%.
The positivity rate is the percentage of all the tests given that come back positive for coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advised governments in May that positivity rates should hold steady at 5% or lower for at least two weeks before businesses reopen. A total of 27 states and Puerto Rico have rates above that level, according to JHU.
But some states are still seeing improvements. Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York all have positivity rates below 1%, and Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont are all reporting fewer cases than last week.
The formula to reduce deaths and cases
Maryland reported a record low positivity rate on Sunday of 1.89%, and state officials encouraged the public to continue to be tested to keep cases under control. Many health experts say widespread testing is key to finding asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers, so those people can isolate and prevent the virus’ spread.
Smart testing as well as measures like distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks and washing hands are key to flattening the virus’ curve, Adm. Brett Giroir, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday.
“We are working every day. We do have a formula to reduce the deaths, reduce the cases, but we all have to be disciplined and diligent to make sure we obey that every single day,” he said.
In response to the impending harrowing milestone of 200,000 coronavirus deaths, Giroir said “every death is a tragedy” and the task force is working every day to bring them down.
CDC acknowledges coronavirus spreads through the air
Updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the coronavirus can be commonly spread through viral particles in the air.
The guidance previously said COVID-19 was mainly thought to spread between people within 6 feet of one another and through respiratory droplets “produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.”
The guidance, updated on Friday, still says Covid-19 is commonly spread between people in close contact with one another. But it also says the virus is known to spread through respiratory droplets “produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes.”
Infection can occur if the particles are inhaled “into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs,” the guidance says.
“There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes),” the page now says. “In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.”
Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland who studies how viruses are transmitted, told CNN the CDC’s new language was a “major improvement.”
Milton was one of the lead authors of a July letter signed by 239 scientists. They urged the World Health Organization to be more forthcoming about the likelihood people could catch the virus from droplets in the air. Afterward, WHO released a report detailing how the coronavirus can pass between people, including through the air during certain medical procedures and possibly in crowded indoor spaces.
“I’m very encouraged to see that the CDC is paying attention and moving with the science. The evidence is accumulating,” Milton wrote in an email to CNN.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and public health expert, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Sunday the guidance formalizes the CDC’s previous recommendations.
“What it means for folks is those masks are critically important,” he said. “They are the most important way to stop those aerosols from coming out of our mouths and noses and then getting in to other people’s mouths or noses.”
Study finds more links between pandemic and mental health
As COVID-19 intensified in the US, so did levels of stress and depression, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.
The study of more than 6,500 people found that several factors may have worsened people’s stress.
The biggest risk for symptoms of depression was a pre-existing mental health diagnosis prior the pandemic, researchers found.
But symptoms of stress and depression were also associated more with personal exposure, rather than public spread — suggesting “concerns about contracting the disease outweighed concerns about pandemic-related disruptions in daily life,” the researchers said.
“Approximately a quarter of the sample (23.5%) reported that they or a close other had been exposed to COVID-19 (e.g., experienced symptoms, were diagnosed),” researchers wrote in the report published Friday.
Employment also had a big impact, with those who lost their jobs suffering most, the study found.
The “data suggest that individuals who continued working during this early phase of the pandemic were less depressed than individuals who were not working, even though they were at greater risk for contracting the virus,” the researchers said.
Those “remaining employed as an ‘essential’ worker may have given new meaning to respondents’ work that reduced their risk for depression.”
Researchers said another factor in pandemic-related stress is how often participants were exposed to conflicting information from the news and social media.
People were immersed in news an average of seven hours a day, they found, and acute stress increased as time went on.
But consistent, accurate and reliable news reports may be one of the best ways to control stress, the researchers suggested.