New Covid-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations are continuing to rise sharply across the US, with deaths following behind, in the worst outbreak of the entire pandemic.
Experts say the federal government, led by the lame duck president Donald Trump, has “checked out”, weeks away from what would be early vaccine approvals.
On Tuesday, a coronavirus taskforce update from the office of Vice-President Mike Pence made no mention of transition efforts involving president-elect Joe Biden, as Trump has refused to concede defeat. Last weekend, leading public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci said Trump had not attended a taskforce meeting in five months.
“We should not find ourselves in this position,” Dr Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health, told NBC on Tuesday. “We’re 10 months into this pandemic, everybody knew this was coming, and again our federal government just didn’t prepare in the last couple months.
“It has decided to completely check out.”
The latest increase comes ahead of one of the most important holidays in the American calendar, Thanksgiving, which experts have repeatedly warned could lead to a “chain reaction” of super-spreader events as families celebrate indoors.
Experts have said Americans should wear masks, social distance, avoid indoor gatherings and not gather members of different households together. Jha said his own family had canceled traditional Thanksgiving plans, which usually involve his elderly parents.
“We’re so close to a vaccine rollout, this is not the time to start making bad choices,” he said.
Meanwhile, medical experts advising the president-elect, Joe Biden, on the pandemic fear that the federal government’s delay in recognizing Biden’s election victory could be compromising the US response to the virus, the experts said on Tuesday.
Vivek Murthy, co-chair of Biden’s Covid-19 taskforce, said the experts had not been able to speak to current administration officials dealing with the virus, even as infections surge in many parts all across the nation.
And that could damage the incoming administration’s ability to distribute a vaccine, for example, Murthy said.
“We need to talk to those individuals, we need to work together with them,” Murthy said on a call with reporters.
The Biden team were unable to access real-time data, including on hospital bed capacity and the amount of drugs and equipment in government stockpiles, said Murthy, a former US surgeon general.
American doctors and nurses, in a letter published on Tuesday, urged the Trump administration to share detailed information.
“Real-time data and information on the supply of therapeutics, testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity and workforce availability to plan for further deployment of the nation’s assets needs to be shared to save countless lives,” said the letter, signed by the leadership of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospitals Association.
In the last week, the US has recorded on average 150,000 new coronavirus cases a day, according to the Covid Tracking Project. During a summer peak in southern and western states, positive tests reached a high of about 70,000 a day.
Hospitalizations have also reached an all-time high. More than 73,000 Americans are currently hospitalized, compared with roughly 60,000 in summer peaks. The pandemic has also reached a wider area, worsening nursing shortages.
Deaths are expected to rise. They are considered a “lagging indicator”, because it often takes several weeks for people to die after contracting Covid.
The worst death rates from Covid-19 happened in the spring in north-eastern states. With hospitals overwhelmed, more than 2,000 people died per day. Today, more than 1,000 a day are dying and the number is rising.
Governors and mayors are taking measures to curb the pandemic but the restrictions are markedly different from those imposed across the board this spring.
In Michigan, the Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, placed restrictions on restaurants, casinos, sporting events, gyms and in-person classes for high school and college students. However, young children are still in school, an acknowledgment that they are both less likely to spread the disease, and of the need to maintain childcare.
“You don’t need a national lockdown, what you need is targeted, focused efforts on the things we know really are spreading the disease,” said Jha. “It’s good to see some states doing it, and I wish other states would follow suit quickly.”
A vaccine rollout is inching closer. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have announced early data which showed their vaccines could be more than 90% effective. This is far better than experts’ early expectations.
However, advisers to President-elect Joe Biden emphasized data must be independently analyzed before vaccine approval can be given. Furthermore, the two promising vaccines are also the most logistically difficult to distribute, because they require extreme cold storage.
“There’s a lot of work still in front of us to make sure these vaccines are still available to all Americans,” said Dr Rick Bright, a former head of US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Bright became a whistleblower during the Trump administration, and has since been appointed to Biden’s coronavirus advisory board.
“It’s important that the new team has all the information the current team has,” he said about the transition, which has been held up by Trump’s refusal to concede defeat.
“Lives are at stake here.”