Fmr. CDC director doubles down on importance of masks, social distancing

A top health expert warns US needs a “comprehensive approach” to the Covid-19 pandemic, following a week of several states reporting alarming trends.

“Testing does not replace safety measures including consistent mask use, physical distancing, and hand washing,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday in a statement.

His remarks came as a response to the President’s and the first lady’s positive Covid-19 tests. Their diagnoses, Frieden said, serve as “a reminder that Covid-19 is an ongoing threat to our country and can happen to anyone.”

At least 24 states are now reporting more new cases than the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The country is averaging about 41,781 new cases daily and showed no progress last month in lowering its baseline — something that could have potentially helped combat the surge that health officials say is coming.

Worrying trends across US

In many states, local and state leaders are already reporting dramatic milestones.

Kentucky reported its second-highest number of daily cases Friday, ending a week the governor said saw an “escalation” of cases.

“This week is going to shatter last week’s record for number of cases,” Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday. “The situation is getting very dangerous in Kentucky.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week the state was facing a “cluster situation” with more than a dozen zipcodes reporting high positivity rates. That comes as thousands of students in New York City returned to schools.

And in Wisconsin, the governor announced the state hit a record of daily deaths this week and urged residents not to try and “live like we’re back to the way things used to be.”

But other US communities pushed further into reopening. Florida cleared the way for bars and restaurants to fully reopen. Mississippi lifted its mask mandate. In California, several counties moved into less restrictive tiers of the state’s reopening plan while in Nevada, officials loosened limits on public gatherings.

Hospitalizations rise

According to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP), hospitalized patients also increased this week for the first time since July. The country reported more than 30,000 hospitalizations on Thursday, CTP data shows.

While deaths are still dropping, “the decline appears to have slowed,” CTP said in a Thursday blog post.

In Wisconsin, hospitalizations more than doubled last month, according to CTP.

In one part of Wisconsin, a healthcare professional warned the community is “nearing a crisis.”

“This spike we’re seeing in Brown County, Wisconsin, should be a wake-up call to anyone who lives here that our community is facing a crisis,” said Dr. Paul Casey, medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

One of Green Bay’s four hospitals has more patients than the entire city had at its peak in April, Dr. Casey told CNN on Thursday.

Report: These should be the vaccination phases

Several companies are carrying out Covid-19 vaccine Phase 3 trials in the US, but when a safe and effective vaccine will be available to the US population remains uncertain.

Experts advising the federal government say frontline healthcare workers and those who provide health care facility services should be the first to get vaccinated, followed by people at high risk of severe illness due to underlying health conditions.

Next should come older adults living in congregate settings, like nursing homes, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) committee said in a final report.

But local leaders should also give priority to vulnerable communities, the committee said. That addition comes after criticism over the group’s draft report that was issued last month, which did not mention minority communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

The committee recommends that within each phase of vaccinations, authorities prioritize people in high vulnerability areas, identified by a tool like the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. The index uses US Census variables to identify communities in particular need of disaster support which the committee says considers the factors that place racial minorities at higher risk of Covid-19.

The third phase proposes vaccination for young adults, children and those in industries where people may receive some protection but are still at risk of exposure, such as banks and universities.

A vaccination for children, the committee said, will depend on whether a vaccine has been tested in that population. Pediatric specialists recently called for Covid-19 vaccine trials to begin for children saying that population has been “stuck in neutral.”

The final phase covers anyone who has yet to receive vaccination.

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